By Michelangelo Signorile
A little over two weeks ago, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly marched into the mother of all battles against the forces of intolerance, and it hasn't nearly ended. He said that gays are winning the battle over marriage because they have "the compelling argument," and that those opposed to gay marriage need to come up with an actual argument rather than just "thump the Bible." This erupted into in a made-for-YouTube shouting match with Laura Ingraham, which O'Reilly happily hosted on his Fox show, and sent the American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer into spasms. O'Reilly is "a pompous, arrogant windbag," Fischer said, which was kind of like Lindsay Lohan calling Judy Garland a boozer and a pill popper.
Since then, O'Reilly, who spent years railing against gay activists and belittling gay marriage, has gotten cover from none other than Glenn Beck, who only last year accused gays of trying to "destroy" marriage. Beck, who converted to Mormonism years ago, has spent the past 12 months sort of being all over the place on the issue, but he now says the "principle" of gay marriage is right.
Even a sulking Rush Limbaugh was forced to admit that gay marriage "is going to happen" and that "the genie is not getting put back in the bottle." And when O'Reilly's fellow Fox commentator Sean Hannity recently attempted to make his and the right's position against gay marriage clear, it blew up in his face. Just a day before O'Reilly railed against the Bible thumpers, Hannity egged on Dr. Ben Carson to say the words that have plunged the Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and conservative rising star into boiling hot water, comparing homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia while he came out against same-sex marriage. Carson's now been forced to back out of giving the commencement speech at Johns Hopkins University.
O'Reilly continues to come under attack from "pro-family" groups and moralizing conservative bloggers, but he's been getting a lot of support for his position from Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who has promoted marriage equality and has taken on anti-gay advocates such as Maggie Gallagher, founder of the National Organization for Marriage. Suddenly, there's actually discussion and debate about gay marriage on Fox News -- with real live conservatives supporting it -- and it looks like these two will be leading that debate.
None of this is to let O'Reilly off the hook for his idiotic and ugly positions of the past on the issue (and surely he'll be attacking gay activists for one thing or another in short order), nor is it to negate the fact that O'Reilly is quite cognizant of keeping his ratings high as he sees support for gay marriage rise rapidly in the polls. But if the debate over marriage equality now needs to move into the heart of the Fox News audience, it's certainly not a bad thing to have O'Reilly as the guy taking on the anti-equality crowd.