In the latest battle of the culture wars, conservative politicians are rallying around TV personality Phil Robertson, who was suspended from the popular reality show "Duck Dynasty" by the A&E network because of his coarse criticism of gays.
Among those defending him are Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, all Republicans. Cruz and Jindal are considered possible GOP presidential candidates in 2016.
"The reason that so many Americans love Duck Dynasty is because it represents the America usually ignored or mocked by liberal elites: a family that loves and cares for each other, believes in God, and speaks openly about their faith," Cruz wrote on Facebook.
"If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him--but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree."
Palin rote on Facebook, "Free speech is an endangered species. Those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us."
Jindal, governor of Robertson's home state, said, "Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don't agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views." Jindal added: "In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment."
The furor underscores the extent to which a cultural and political divide still exists regarding the issue of homosexuality.
The movement in favor of same-sex marriage has been gaining strength in many areas of the country, with New Mexico's highest court legalizing same-sex marriage this week. New Mexico has become the 17th state to make such unions legal. But many conservative Christians and Catholics are in opposition, and they remain a powerful force in GOP politics, especially in states that will have early nominating contests in the 2016 presidential race, such as Iowa and South Carolina.
Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, told The Washington Post that conservative Christians "feel like they're under siege in a culture that is increasingly intolerant and discriminatory toward their views, and they don't feel represented." Reed said evangelical voters "are paying attention, and they are going to remember who stood up."
A&E suspended Robertson Wednesday after he told GQ that homosexuality is a sin and compared it to bestiality and promiscuity.
"It seems like, to me, a vagina--as a man--would be more desirable than a man's anus," he said. "That's just me. I'm just thinking, there's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin. It's not logical, my man."
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," Robertson said, "bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men." Robertson, referring to the Bible, also told GQ, "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolators, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers, they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
In the same GQ interview, Robertson made controversial comments about race when he was growing up. "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," he said. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field....They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people.'"
He also observed, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: 'Were they happy?' They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."
In a joint letter to the president of A&E, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign expressed "outrage and deep concern about the recent racist, homophobic and ill-informed remarks made by Phil Robertson."
However, more than 70,000 people had signed an online petition as of early Thursday night calling for A&E to reinstate Robertson, according to CNN. Some conservative activists are urging a boycott of the show.
And Robertson released a statement that, "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity."
A&E explained its suspension of Robertson by issuing a statement that, "We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."
Duck Dynasty follows the lives of Robertson and his family, which runs a company that specializes in duck calls and other duck-hunting gear. The show is scheduled to resume next month.
A new season's episodes have already been filmed and, despite Robertson's suspension, the network apparently has no plans to suspend or cancel the next season of the popular show, according to The New York Times.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.