With all the excitement over the midterm election’s Rainbow Wave, it might be easy to overlook the disturbing outcome of the race for a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, where Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready by just 0.6 percentage points.
Harris holds intensely homophobic views, going far further than average Republicans. In a 2015 speech, he lamented that homosexuality was no longer criminalized, decrying contemporary “moral decay.”
“We have watched in one generation where homosexuality was once criminalized to now we see the criminalization of Christianity,” Harris said.
Previously, Harris was the key organizer and financer of the state’s Amendment 1, which banned marriage equality in North Carolina. During that campaign, Harris’ wife wrote a column for their church calling homosexuality an illusion and claiming that sexual abuse causes people to become gay.
“The only position set forth in the Bible is that homosexual behavior, like all forms of sexual behavior, is a choice,” Beth Harris wrote.
Mark Harris, a reverend, was notorious for using his church as a political organizing point for Amendment 1, hosting Republican meetings and inviting anti-gay politicians like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Tony Perkins to attend. In addition, his First Baptist Church funneled $50,000 to the Amendment 1 campaign.
“There is not the medical evidence that an individual that chooses the homosexual lifestyle is born that way,” he told a reporter in 2013. “That is a choice.”
He went on to claim, inaccurately, “It’s kind of like if you get down to the issue of the evidence of global warming, you’ve got scientists on both sides; you have the medical community on both sides.”
Given an opportunity to correct himself during the campaign this year, Harris doubled-down on his claims about homosexuality, saying, “There’s data on both sides… but it is still a choice. I do still stand by that.”
Harris also campaigned for North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which blocked trans people from using bathrooms and also invalidated nondiscrimination laws statewide.
In fact, his expressed attitudes toward gender took an even more alarming turn, telling reporters that women have a duty to submit to their husbands. He criticized women for forgetting “basic things, like how to prepare a meal, how to sew on a button, how to keep a home, how to respond to a husband,” and claimed that allowing women to have careers was not “a healthy pursuit for a society.”
Donald Trump hosted a fundraiser for Harris during the campaign, and his candidacy was also backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group Family Research Council (FRC), an organization dedicated to opposing queer and trans equality. FRC promised their followers that Harris would back so-called “turn away the gays” bills, writing, “he understands the great danger in forcing peace-loving Americans to violate their deeply-held religious beliefs and will work to protect the rights of conscience.”
The Harris campaign was also backed by Christian nationalist David Lane, an activist whose expressed goal is establishing America as a theocracy exclusively for Christians. Lane’s agenda includes replacing textbooks with the Bible, impeaching judges who rule in favor of marriage equality, and the election of religious politicians like Mark Harris.
Karen Pence, wife of anti-LGBTQ Vice President Mike Pence, campaigned on Harris’ behalf as well, calling him “a devoted servant of God.” She was joined by Facebook celebrity Elizabeth Johnso, largely known as the author of the blog ActivistMommy.com. In a livestream hosted by the Family Research Council, Johnson told reporters that LGBTQ groups are “sneaking into schools” to “rape the minds” of students, and also claimed that the Human Rights Campaign infiltrates schools to teach children how to have anal sex.
Harris was opposed by a coalition of progressive religious organizations in the state, including SouthPark Christian Church, Statesville Christian Church, and Many Voices.
When Harris arrives in Congress, it will be with an overwhelmingly anti-LGBTQ agenda. On his campaign website, he promises to expand loopholes allowing churches to influence politics — as he did with his own in pushing for North Carolina’s marriage ban. He also pledges to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded LGBTQ access to health care. And while LGBTQ people are disproportionately likely to be the victims of hate crimes involving guns, Harris advocates for limiting gun safety laws.
Beyond his attitudes towards LGBTQ citizens, Harris holds various alarming positions. He called the NAACP “out of touch,” told the local Pilot newspaper in 2015 that the Constitution permits local governments to establish an official state-backed religion, and said he would abolish the Department of Education. Harris also said that Jews should convert to Christianity in order to bring about peace in the Middle East.
He’s also likely to follow the agenda of SPLC-designated hate groups like the Family Research Council, which continues to push discredited practices like “pray away the gay” conversion therapy camps. Harris could also emerge as a major obstacle to passing legislation like the Equality Act, which would expand nondiscrimination protection nationwide. He may also try to push for federal versions of “turn away the gays” religious liberty bills, as well as weakening marriage equality by granting loopholes to businesses and individuals that don’t want to recognize same-sex relationships.
Harris also said that he would support Supreme Court justices who would overturn marriage equality.
It’s a disappointing outcome in a race that Harris was at one point expected to lose. In a poll over the summer, a conservative organization showed that Dan McCready was leading by seven points. But the seat has traditionally been held by Republicans, with Trump taking the district by 12 percentage points in 2016.
The lift that McCready enjoyed over the summer had worn off by Election Day. Now, with the slimmest of victories, Harris is headed to Congress — where the damage he seeks to inflict on LGBTQ Americans could be immeasurable.
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