OKLAHOMA CITY – A YouTube audio clip of a state lawmaker's screed against homosexuality, which she called a bigger threat than terrorism, has outraged gay activists and brought death threats rolling in.
"The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, OK, it's just a fact," Rep. Sally Kern said recently to a gathering of fellow Republicans outside the Capitol.
"Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted, you know, more than a few decades. So it's the death knell in this country.
"I honestly think it's the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat," she said.
The former school teacher has been a magnet for coast-to-coast condemnation, including a jab from comedian Ellen Degeneres, ever since someone posted her comments on the Internet last week. State police said they are investigating death threats against her.
Back home in the Bible Belt, though, the response has been mixed. Kern has gotten support from her fellow Republicans.
"I would submit to you that the vast majority of the folks in our caucus, particularly those who consider themselves conservative, stand with and support Sally," said state Rep. Randy Terrill.
Democratic Gov. Brad Henry, however, said Kern's views are not representative of most Oklahomans. He said politicians should "think before you speak."
"To have equated the gay community with terrorism ... and to have called us the biggest threat to America is to dehumanize gay people in the worst possible way," Denis Dison, spokesman for the Washington-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Friday.
That group's leaders fear remarks such as Kern's coming from an elected official could lead to violence against gays.
Kern, who is finishing her second term, has tried unsuccessfully to pass bills to rid libraries' children's sections of books that have homosexual themes. She told the group that school children are being indoctrinated by gay activists.
"We're not teaching facts and knowledge any more, folks," she said. "We're teaching indoctrination, OK, and they are going after our young children, as young as 2 years of age, to try to teach them a homosexual lifestyle is an acceptable lifestyle."
In the same speech, she said gays are "infiltrating city councils" across the country.
"It spreads, OK, and this stuff is deadly and it's spreading and it will destroy our young people," she said. "It will destroy this nation."
Kern said she made these comments on about four different occasions to small groups of Republicans, and she thinks the recording was made at one of these meetings in January. Various recordings of it have generated more than a million hits on YouTube.
Kern's office received more than 23,000 e-mails in less than a week, mostly condemning her views, and thousands more to her home computer, many of them "vulgar, vile and profane," she said.
Kern said she has no regrets for her statements and denies she was gay-bashing. Her Christian faith teachers her to be loving to individuals, but not their lifestyle, she said.
Some people, including Degeneres, did not take her remarks that way.
"Hi, it's Ellen Degeneres, the gay one," the comedian said when she left a message in a call to Kern's office during her TV show this week.
Degeneres said she wanted to talk to Kern about some "misinformation."
"I'm trying to figure out which society has disappeared that I didn't know of," she said.
Kern said she had no interest in talking to the entertainer. "That would be like throwing myself into the lion's den and I'm not going to do that," she said Thursday.
Kern, the wife of a Baptist minister, said "everything is being played out of proportion."
Most of Kern's colleagues have steered clear of commenting on her statements, but some say the state's image is taking a beating.
"I think it is a shame those type of things tend to show that we are a people who seem not willing to look at the big picture of the world and recognize there are other people out there with other religions, other viewpoints. I think we are somewhat intolerant of that," said Rep. David Braddock, a Democrat.
Last summer, more than two dozen Oklahoma House members refused complimentary copies of the Quran from an ethnic advisory council, offending Muslims. Republican Rex Duncan led the boycott, condemning Islam as a religion and saying most Oklahomans do not endorse "the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology."
Like Kern, Duncan stood by his comments.
Rabbi Russell Fox of Oklahoma City's Emanuel Synagogue said Oklahoma is becoming more exposed to different religions and cultures and some citizens and leaders "are having a hard time making an adjustment."
Fox said he did not believe Oklahomans were necessarily less tolerant than people in other areas of the country, "but I think we have a political culture that plays upon and uses intolerance in some very unhealthy ways."
"It's demagoguery, that's the old word for it," he said