Swamp Gas Speaks

Over and Out

Politics really do make for some strange bedfellows. Take the case of Mel Martinez, former housing secretary under George W. Bush who resigned to run for Bob Graham's Senate seat. Martinez is in a crowded field of Republican candidates who are all eager to flaunt their conservative bona fides. When the Senate began debating a constitutional amendment earlier this summer to ban gay marriage, Martinez really started cooking with gas. Standing near the altar of the First Baptist Church of Orlando on July 11, Martinez promised to fight the "homosexual agenda" by supporting the constitutional ban.

Gay marriage? Ugh. "It's a direct threat to the institution; it's a direct threat to the values of society," he warned.

To get his message out, Martinez hired a willing and well-connected adviser to court the religious-right vote: John Dowless, former director of the Christian Coalition in Florida and now an Orlando-based political consultant. You may remember Dowless. He was one of the featured speakers at the "Reclaiming America for Christ" conference last fall at Coral Ridge Church in Fort Lauderdale. Organized by D. James Kennedy, the gathering was a gluttony of antigay rhetoric, with one speaker pronouncing that gays make God want to vomit.

Dowless' job, then, is to help Martinez connect with the Florida conservatives who most hunger for his brand of demagoguery. As Dowless fulminated to the Palm Beach Post in June, "Same-sex marriage has reenergized religious conservatives."

Not surprisingly, Dowless' role in the Martinez campaign has miffed many gays and lesbians. Now, some gay activists have publicly outed Dowless as homosexual. The Washington Blade, the capital's gay newspaper, recently described Dowless as "gay and conflicted about how to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion and his political beliefs." Dowless said as much this past April to several men, including a Washington Blade editor, while at Lava Lounge, a gay club in Orlando, according to the article.

When a Blade reporter subsequently contacted Dowless at his office, he declined to talk about his sexual orientation. "Oh come on, I'm not going to talk about that," he reportedly said. "I'm just not going to address that with you or anyone else. That's about me, not about the Martinez campaign." Dowless didn't return phone messages left by Tailpipe.

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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