Preacher, Teacher, Nag: Dr. Laura Speaks Her Mind

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With 18 million listeners a week on 452 stations, Laura Schlessinger is the most successful female talk-radio host in the country today. This fall the sharp-tongued psychotherapist is scheduled to bring her views to television with the syndicated talk show Dr. Laura. But as its Sept. 11 premier date nears, she has been the target of a campaign by gay activists who are pressuring Paramount Domestic Television to pull the plug because of what they contend are her slurs against homosexuals. Procter & Gamble has backed out as a sponsor. In an exclusive interview with TIME, Schlessinger, 53, an Orthodox Jew, discusses the controversy as well as her new book, Parenthood by Proxy (HarperCollins, $24), and what she sees as a moral decline.

TIME: What do you think you're tapping into out there that's fueling your show's growth and your success?

A: A basic moral intuition about what's right and wrong. What I provide for people is argument and support. I cannot tell you how many women have said my pounding on about how the first priority in their lives ought to be the child has helped them. That pounding was met by some negativity at first, but now people say their lives are just elevated by doing what seems so simple but is counter to what's going on in society.

TIME: So we're going to hell in a handbasket, and people want to turn things around?

A: They're struggling, and I help with the struggle because I preach, I teach--and boy, do I nag. I'm relentless about it. Everybody at home can make a decision to do or not do anything, but I nag. I have no power other than nagging.

TIME: But what qualifies you to be a moral authority?

A: I am just conveying my understanding of the deeply felt religious perspectives that are timeless. I struggle to put those in a context that makes sense for callers. What the brilliant rabbis have done is take certain laws from the Bible and values of responsibility and honor and apply them to modern ideas. I struggle to do the same--understand the religious Scriptures and apply them to the dilemmas we have today.

TIME: Can you set the record straight and explain your comments about homosexuals as "deviants"?

A: I never called homosexual human beings deviants. I have pointed out that homosexual behavior deviates from the norm of heterosexuality and is forbidden by Scriptures. That is basically the context... Even now I get hundreds of letters a week from gays and lesbians who realize the way I'm being presented is nowhere near the truth. I stand behind basic civil rights--where someone is able to live, and work at his job--and always have. The only place where there is a divergence is the issue that I consider sacred: marriage and family structure around children.

TIME: A homosexual couple can't be as good parents as a heterosexual couple can?

A: My point has never been that any individual, gay or straight, could or could not be a good parent. My concern is always the well-being of children. And since your average child human being is heterosexual, it seems to me self-evident that the best environment is with the polarity of a mother and a father joined in love, who raise that child with the image of what his future life will be. I say the same thing of straight, single women who have babies. It doesn't matter to me that you're a loving woman. You're not providing a dad, and it's in the best interest of a child to have a dad.

TIME: You've said, "If you're gay or a lesbian, it's a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex." Do you really believe homosexuals are biological errors?

A: We have vaginas and penises. We were biologically meant to give birth to more people. Not being able to relate normally to a member of the opposite sex is some kind of error. I do not see that as insulting at all. It is a statement of biological fact. When you read the whole thing in context, I'm anything but insulting to human beings. Some people just don't want to hear the truth.

TIME: As a deeply religious person, does it trouble you that your words hurt so many people?

A: What concerns me is the hurt and frightened feelings of gays and lesbians and their families who have heard this rhetoric, which is untrue, and that has caused pain. To me, the folks who have an objection don't really listen to the show and are being disingenuous about their objections. It's about dialogue, which is pretty much squelched with respect to certain things.

TIME: Should people be able to say whatever they want on the radio?

A: In the United States of America, we have freedom of speech. It doesn't matter what I think. The Constitution guarantees it.

TIME: Any regrets about some of your comments, given the outcry that has resulted and the attempts to abort the show?

A: I regret that my words were taken out of context, distorted and lied about so people were hurt from the lies. But that's not my action. Any time I was on the air, I had context, clarity and compassion. What is distilled out does not.

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