Unless I missed it (and I’ve searched for it) there was no coverage when Attorney General Tim Fox appointed Dale Schowengerdt to be his solicitor general and that’s surprising, given Schowengerdt’s legal career built on bigotry against the gay community. According to the Attorney General’s web page, Schowengerdt spent eleven years with “a public interest non-profit law firm that focuses on constitutional law.” What’s not mentioned is that that law firm and Schowengerdt seemed almost exclusively fixated on anti-gay causes cloaked in the rhetoric of promoting religion or that, as part of his work, Schowengerdt spent time with some reactionary, racist figures promoting their agenda.
Schowengerdt was the senior legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which in its thirty-year history, has argued that homosexuality is linked to pedophilia, fought against gay people working in churches, and most recently, fought against gay marriage and for the right of business to discriminate against the LGBTQ community for religious reasons. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Alliance Defending Freedom as an extremist group that has “supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ”
And the quotes collected by the SPLC back those claims.
Mr. Schowengerdt built his career working for an organization like that and traveled the country arguing against gay marriage and for discrimination. Just a sampling of his work:
- In 2012, he was writing to the National Review in favor of the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act.
- In 2014, he was called a “dubious hired gun” when he showed up in Kansas to tell a city commission that it’s okay to discriminate against people for their sexuality before constructing some absurd anecdotes to justify his position.
- In 2011, he went to Hawaii to defend a bed and breakfast owner who wanted to discriminate.
- In 2013, he was speaking against birth control mandates in insurance plans.
- Before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, Schowengerdt was arguing that people seeking domestic partnerships were just gaming the system for money:”Marriage is under attack because certain special interest groups are trying to reduce it to little more than a benefits system for emotionally attached couples.”
While some of Mr. Schowengerdt’s work is still available at the Alliance Defending Freedom, it appears some of his more inflammatory blog posts have been scrubbed, but Archive.org includes some blog posts from Mr. Schowengerdt that include him condemning “anarchist homosexuals” and opposing anti-discrimination laws in 2010.
It doesn’t end with his legal work, either. Mr. Schowengerdt also chose to spend at least some of his time promoting his views to some dangerous extremists. In 2013, he appeared on a show hosted by Bryan Fischer, who has called for the criminalization of homosexuality, blamed homosexuality for the Holocaust, and made racist statement after racist statement in his hate-filled career. I’m not sure what kind of financial calculation Mr. Schowengerdt and the ADF made to appear on a program like that, but it certainly calls his judgment into question. In fact, it turns out he was a semi-regular guest on the show.
Finally, on the point of judgment, Mr. Schowengerdt himself has expressed views that I think would trouble many Montanans. In a 2003 law review article that is frequently cited by anti-gay groups to this day, Schowengerdt made some claims against same-sex marriage that look even more retrograde and repugnant today:
Some might be tempted to write those off as the intemperate remarks of a young man, but Schowengerdt spent the next 10+ years of his life arguing those same points.
Mr. Schowengerdt absolutely has the right to his beliefs, but given his career up to this point, Montanans deserve to know what his priorities are and to ask legitimate questions about how his worldview might inform his work at the Attorney General’s office. In fact, in 2007, the Republican governor of Missouri tried to replaced the Democratic Attorney General with Mr. Schowengerdt in a case about Planned Parenthood. It seems fair to ask Mr. Schowengerdt if he still agrees that ideological beliefs are a legitimate reason to remove someone from a state’s AG office.
Montanans deserve to know what the agenda of the Attorney General’s office is, and that Mr. Fox chose to obscure Mr. Schowengerdt’s background demonstrates that he knows it’s problematic to appoint such a singularly focused ideologue to represent the legal rights of the state of Montana to the job. Given that the AG’s office has failed to represent Montana in Washington, it’s time to ask why the conservative social agenda is more important than basic, administrative functions of the job.
And it’s fair to ask Mr. Schowengerdt if he can do the job of working for all Montanans. I hope someone in the press does that soon.