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What I mean to say is....
The beginning of the end of Westboro Baptist Church
by Beau Burriola - SGN Foreign Correspondent

"The jury must decide whether the defendant's actions would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, whether they were extreme and outrageous and whether these actions were so offensive and shocking as to not be entitled to First Amendment protection."

So were the words of U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett in the trial against Westboro Baptist Church for picketing the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder back in March, 2006. The verdict, handed down on October 31, left the world-famous, loudmouthed congregation sitting silent in the court; no singing, no chanting, and no waving of their colorful, offensive signs. For once, perhaps, they thought it best to keep quiet.

The nearly 11-million-dollar verdict may just prove to be a watershed in the history of Gay rights, without the Gay community having done a thing.

For years, Westboro members have protested funerals. They protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard. They picketed the funeral of Sago Mine victims and of Coretta Scott King. They have picketed the funerals of countless fallen American soldiers. Early this year, they even picketed the funeral of anti-Gay legend Jerry Falwell, apparently for not being anti-Gay enough. As the list of names of those funerals picketed has grown, the church has found itself more and more isolated from anyone.

Somewhere along the way, they went too far. If somehow people in this country believed it was okay for them to picket Shepard's funeral in 1998 - or at least were prepared to accept it - they have since decided that everyone's funeral cannot be picketed. If those people weren't prepared to find the picketing of a Gay man distasteful, they certainly are prepared to react to the picketing of a funeral for a soldier.

"The hell with your flag. The hell with your fag army, your fag courts, your fag-run government." In only a few years of ridiculous hate rants against every topic and group under the sun, the words of Rev. Fred Phelps have ignited a huge counter-movement across the country. By tying everybody in together, Phelps has managed to do exactly the opposite of what his clan intended to do. The world is finally accepting that there are limits to hate. Gay people and those who dislike us alike are finally calling for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric of blind hate.

The October 31 verdict marks the beginning of the end of WBC. Not only has it been disclosed that the church cannot afford the penalty, but also the world has finally decided that the bizarre rants of Fred Phelps and his family are no longer welcome in a civilized America. Finally, unlike ever before, a general line has been drawn to define when it is not okay to blindly hate.

Soon enough, there will be no more Westboro Baptist Church. Having imploded from the pressure of its own hate, the organization will no longer be able to afford to display their offensive slogans anywhere further than their own driveway. Having isolated the world, the group will no longer find a single willing ear among the masses. Having been struck down from their self-righteousness, the family will be left to find some new way to place themselves above other people.

For Gay Americans who have long wondered where the journey of the Westboro Baptist Church would end up, the answer is a welcome lesson: that those who spend their lives hating will - sooner or later - find themselves the victims of their own bile. Our solace is just the fact that they destroyed themselves.

Hate is something that, if left uncured, will rot into resentment and cause black hearts to implode. The case of Westboro Baptist Church is just another good example of that.

Beau Burriola is a Queer writer who thinks that Phelps looks a bit like the scary preacher in Poltergeist. beaubrent@gmail.com
visit Beau at www.beaubrent.com

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