By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Last November, the Bachmanns attended a "Minnesota Pastors' Summit" at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. Some 300 religious leaders participated in the event, which was organized by the conservative, antigay Minnesota Family Council. Michele Bachmann was there to lead a session on the gay marriage amendment, while Marcus offered a presentation titled "The Truth About the Homosexual Agenda."
Curt Prins, a 35-year-old marketing executive from Minneapolis, attended. Prins, who is gay, says he went because he was "curious" and wanted to "understand the language" of the antigay movement. "There was so much bile, I nearly had to leave," Prins recalls. For Marcus Bachmann's session, Prins says there were more than 100 people crammed in a room at Grace, and most of the presentation involved stereotypes of gays. "He was saying how homosexuality was a choice, that it was not genetics," Prins says. "He was claiming there was a high predominance of sexual abuse in the GLBT community. There was no research to back any of this up." (Marcus Bachmann refused to answer questions about the seminar.)
The climax of the presentation was when, according to Prins, Bachmann brought up "three ex-gays, like part of a PowerPoint presentation." The trio, two white men and a black woman, all testified that they had renounced their homosexuality. "One of them said, 'If I was born gay, then I'll have to be born again,'" Prins recalls. "The crowd went crazy."
"Listening to him," Prins surmises, "it becomes clear that he's had a huge impact on her. He might be the spearhead of this whole religious/gay issue." Shortly after Bachmann announced her candidacy for U.S. Congress, there was an announcement on a website called the Minnesota Christian Chronicle. "Michele is a compassionate, intelligent woman of integrity who has a calling in her life. I am confident in Michele's ability to serve the constituents superbly well in the Sixth District," Marcus Bachmann was quoted as saying. "As her husband, I fully endorse Michele running for U.S. Congress. I am so thankful for her Christian testimony. She is a servant who honors Christ."
But Michele Bachmann's Christian testimony has not endeared her to everyone in her family. When Bachmann held a hearing on the gay marriage ban at the Capitol last April, she got a rude surprise: Sitting just a few feet away was her stepsister, Helen LaFave, who chose the occasion to come out publicly for the first time, with her partner of 20 years in attendance. "This issue has been very hurtful to me personally, and divisive for our family," LaFave told the Star Tribune at the time. Bachmann said at the time that she had taken a family vote on the gay marriage ban, and that family members favored it by a 6-3 margin. But both Michael and Helen LaFave insist she never spoke to them about it. Helen LaFave added that Bachmann ignored letters LaFave had sent her about the matter.
(Helen LaFave, 46, declined to be interviewed for this story, saying, "My dad is in his 80s now, and it's too much to have all of this out there for him.")
"I've got to be clear that I've always been kind of proud of Michele," Michael LaFave says cautiously. That all went sour, though, as Bachmann increasingly became the face of the efforts to ban gay marriage at the Capitol. LaFave had no choice but to take things personally: "I wrote her an e-mail, and asked very nicely why she had to carry the water on this, knowing that my father has a gay daughter. How could she discriminate against Helen?
"She's out there courting a family values agenda, but she's saying things about her own family that's not true," he claims. "She could have been talking to the voters the whole time about having a gay sister," he says. "That at least would have been honest. Dick Cheney had the good sense to do that with his daughter. He had the good sense to know not to engage the base, to not get involved in the debate, because he knew how much it would hurt his daughter. If anyone spent the most time together between the LaFaves and the Ambles," LaFave concludes, "it was Michele and Helen.
"What I'd say to Michele is that you've got a situation here that you didn't have to create. You didn't have to go about it this way," he says, and pauses before announcing he'll likely vote for Patty Wetterling. "I'd say, 'Michele, for all of this, you've lost your family. You've lost my vote.'"
WHEN Bachmann won the GOP endorsement for the Sixth CD, she used a familiar strategy: Overturn the old-school delegates with new ones from the church. With that, she defeated two longtime and well-known Republicans—State Rep. Jim Knoblauch and State Sen. Phil Krinkie—to run as the Republican candidate for the U.S. House. But this time no one was particularly surprised. The political landscape has shifted in Bachmann's favor.
The Sixth, which runs northwest from Stillwater past St. Cloud, is odd political terrain. Little more than a decade ago, much of it was rural, but now it's full of bedroom communities, new highway interchanges, and McMansions. The Sixth is the whitest district in the state (95 percent) and the median household income is $60,893, some $16,000 above the national average, according to 2004 census numbers. In the last presidential election, George W. Bush received 57 percent of the Sixth District vote, even though he lost the state of Minnesota. All of this would seem to favor Bachmann.