Pulse: Controversies: More, Michael?
Outside City Hall, Michael Marcavage stands behind a tarp that reads “SODOMY SEPARATES FROM HOLY GOD,” singing “Victory in Jesus” along with a crowd of supporters. On this day, the Lord — and a Common Pleas Court judge — has dismissed hate-crime and other charges that could have sent Marcavage, 25, away until age 72. The charges stemmed from last October, when he and 10 others were jailed for crashing the OutFest gay pride block party, bullhorns in hand, with signs declaring “PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD.”
The OutFest arrest wasn’t the first time the Lansdowne resident made news, but his anti-gay protest has turned into a savvy career move — catapulting him to cause célèbre status and appearances on Hannity & Colmes and MSNBC. The question now is, was OutFest for Marcavage what the Montgomery bus boycotts were for Martin Luther King Jr. — the beginning of a long, effective career as an activist? Or what “Sunglasses at Night” was for Corey Hart — a one-hit wonder?
Marcavage first made headlines as a student in Simpson, PA, a small town not far from Scranton, when he protested his high school’s plan to show the “coming out” episode of Ellen in 1997. At Temple University, he majored in broadcast journalism and dabbled in acting, using a talent agent and handsome headshots to land a Comcast commercial and a scene that was cut from M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. Combining his activism with his fascination with media, he also interned at the Clinton White House as a press aide, fielding questions from Sam Donaldson.
Marcavage’s religious crusade began in earnest when he demanded to counter a student play at Temple that depicted a gay Jesus-like character, who is asked by Pontius Pilate, “Art thou the King of the Queers?” When his demand was denied, his emotional reaction prompted school officials to commit him for psychiatric observation. The American Family Association came to Marcavage’s defense, and along with a federal lawsuit against Temple still pending at press time, the incident prompted about 2,000 letters and postcards in his support.
Since then, Marcavage has founded Repent America, a Christian fundamentalist website whose mailing list is 5,000 and growing. He has also become a professional nuisance, supporting Rick Santorum during a gay protest, confronting Ed Rendell about abortion on his inauguration day, and disrupting meetings to confront Lansdowne’s openly gay council member and halt the town’s movement toward becoming, as he says, “a homosexual Mecca.”
But for all the dust he’s kicked up, nothing swirled like the storm following OutFest. Marcavage found unexpected support from the ACLU, which defended his constitutional right to free speech, and Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and co-author of the sexual preference amendment to the state’s hate-crime law. “I was very concerned with the charges in this case,” she said, minutes after they were dismissed in court. “It wasn’t how [the law] was intended to be used.” Conservatives, meanwhile, called Marcavage “the Christian Rodney King,” claiming the case was proof of a growing anti-religious sentiment in our increasingly Queer Eye culture. Betty Jean Wolfe, president of Philadelphia’s faith-based Urban Family Council, condemns Marcavage’s tactics, but sees him as a symbol of a growing anxiety. “I think he’s where a lot of people are in their concern for the advancing normalization of homosexual behavior,” she says. “The question is, how do you respond?”
Looking ahead, the gay community is meeting with the D.A.’s office and a police liaison task force to prepare for more “street preaching.” For his part, Marcavage is unsettlingly vague about his ultimate goals. “I believe homosexual behavior should be outlawed,” he says, and when asked whether homosexuality should be a capital crime, he declines to comment. He expects Repent America to march on this month’s gay equality forum, and at OutFest once again in the fall. If he’s only able to round up a handful of his faithful, or, more importantly, if he’s monitored more effectively by police and largely ignored by the gay community, his future as a Christian soldier and guest on Fox News might be in jeopardy. Regardless, he’s not prepared to put down the bullhorn just yet. “There is a battle being waged in this nation,” he says, “not only against Christianity, but for the souls of the American people. We have people who are headed to Hell for all eternity.”