Will Perkins has sold cars in Colorado Springs, Colo., since 1945. When he was contemplating taking a stand against aggressive gay-rights efforts back in 1991, he sat down with his son Tom, who by then was president of Perkins Dodge, to discuss if it would hurt the business. "He said, 'Dad, it's the right thing to do. Go for it,'" recalled Mr. Perkins, 72.
He did and helped found Colorado for Family Values, spearheading the drive for Amendment 2, a "no special rights for homosexuals" bill. Colorado voters passed it in 1992 but the Supreme Court struck it down in 1996. Amendment 2 was one of many battles in the war, continuing today, over what makes a "family" (WORLD, "Unholy Matrimony," April 6, 1996).
Today the situation is mixed in Mr. Perkins's hometown, just as it is across the country. In May Colorado became the 33rd state to pass a bill defining marriage as a heterosexual union and denying recognition to homosexual marriages performed in other states (at present, no state authorizes them and only Vermont has legal provision for gay "civil unions"-see page 37.) Still, for the second year in a row Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace officially proclaimed Aug. 20-27 a gay "PrideFest Week" in Colorado Springs, complete with music festival, parade, and rally.
Mr. Perkins stepped down from Colorado for Family Values to run against Ms. Makepeace in the 1999 election. He was crushed. Voters elected, according to the local daily paper The Gazette, the most liberal city council ever. Post-election commentators speculated that, by focusing on fiscal issues (he sported a lapel button that read, "I'm allergic to taxes"), Mr. Perkins failed to energize social conservatives, but liberal voters turned out in droves. Mr. Perkins now charges that many pastors seldom teach biblical principles on controversial public policy issues, and many Christians don't vote: "They feel like things are wrong, but they don't know exactly why and the only teaching they get is from the secular media."
"When I began [pro-family activism], I was as naïve as you could be," said Mr. Perkins, and unprepared to be called a racist, right-wing homophobe. "If you don't embrace what these people are doing, they interpret that to mean that you hate them as a person." Would he do it all again? "In a heartbeat," he said firmly. "I believe that the homosexual issue is a watershed issue in the church today." He'd like to resume working on the issue, but may not represent Colorado for Family Values again.
Two months after he resigned from the governing board to run for mayor in February 1999, CFV executive director Paul Jessen quit, citing unspecified personnel changes. Jim Witmer, CFV director of operations and now its only employee, says that last year the organization nearly folded but finances have "turned around." "Mr. Perkins sits on the advisory board and we would still consider his advice key," said Mr. Witmer. "He has told us he's available, but whether he will have a role in the future I don't know."