Republican Roy Moore fights sex scandal with help of homophobic supporters

US Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has been backed by his fiercest religious allies as he tries to fight back against allegations of sexual misconduct.

His Alabama campaign has been rocked by claims about his relationships with teenage girls decades ago.

He held a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, designed to send a powerful message to the political world that religious conservatives across America remain committed to the former judge.

The event also revealed an aggressive strain of homophobia rarely seen in mainstream politics - in recent years, at least.

Mr Moore first caught the attention of many in the LGBT community after describing homosexual conduct as "an inherent evil against which children must be protected" in a 2002 child custody case involving a lesbian mother.

In 2005 he said "homosexual conduct should be illegal".

He also said there is no difference between gay sex and sex with a cow, horse or dog.

Mr Moore's stand - combined with the fiery comments from his supporters - unnerved some in Birmingham's relatively small LGBT community.

"It made me extremely angry," said Mackenzie Gray, 37, who came out as transgender in 2010.

She says most people in her life do not know she was born a man.

"My fear with the religious leaders and the hateful rhetoric we're hearing is that it's going to start escalating into something even larger. It's dangerous."

Indeed, other LGBT activists suggested this week that open acceptance of Mr Moore's anti-gay rhetoric goes back to a dark and violent time in Alabama history.

Mr Moore's Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, is best known for prosecuting the men who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, nearly 40 years after the 1963 crime that killed four black girls.

Racial tensions have lingered in the state, even as the violence lessened. In 2000, Alabama became the last state in the country to overturn its ban on interracial marriage.

The state has been slow to embrace gay rights as well, with 81% of voters supported a ban on same-sex marriage in 2006. Only neighbouring Mississippi, with 86%, scored higher.

Patricia Todd, the state's first openly gay state representative, says she has faced at least four death threats in recent years, and local LGBT leaders meet quarterly at the FBI office in Birmingham to help identify potential hate crimes.

In contrast to many conservative politicians with national ambitions, Mr Moore has made little attempt to change his tone on LGBT issues as equal rights for the gay community has earned increasing acceptance among mainstream America.

His hero status among many Christian conservatives was cemented in 2016 when, as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he refused to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage nationwide.

He was later suspended, the second time he was forcibly removed from the state Supreme Court.

Mr Moore's unapologetic positions - and repeated promises to take them to the Senate if elected on December 12 - were celebrated at the news conference by religious leaders who travelled from as far as Colorado, Ohio and Texas to stand at his side.

Rabbi Noson Leiter, who once called Hurricane Sandy's destruction "divine justice" for same-sex marriage, lashed out at "homosexualist gay terrorism".

North Carolina-based Christian activist Flip Benham has previously warned that the policies that protect the civil rights of transgender people would trigger "bloodshed coursing down the corners of our streets".

At the news conference he said: "We're praising everything that God says is wrong and will destroy you. Homosexual sodomy destroys those who participate in that behaviour and nations that approve of it."

AP


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