Hateful protests by late pastor's Kansas church helped gay-rights cause, both sides believe

Fred Phelps Sr. led his small Topeka church for more than two decades in a bellicose crusade against gays and lesbians, declaring that the U.S. was doomed because of its tolerance of homosexuality.

But the tactics of Phelps and his Westboro Baptist followers created public circuses that some say may have helped the gay-rights movement.

Protesters targeted grieving families at military funerals and taunted people entering other churches, often carrying signs with anti-gay slurs and vulgar language or symbols.

Following Phelps' death Wednesday at age 84, some gay-rights advocates suggested his church created sympathy for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered.

Religious leaders who oppose gay marriage also said the pastor's tactics clouded the debate over such issues and put them on the defensive in discussing both policy and faith.