On opposite sides of the Capitol on Wednesday, gay rights supporters and religious activists fought to claim the moral high ground.
Standing on the steps below her powerful brother's office, Candace Gingrich marked "National Coming Out Day" by encouraging homosexuals to publicly disclose their sexual orientation as a means to end discrimination.
Meanwhile, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition countered with "National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day," featuring speakers who say they have ended what they referred to as their homosexual lifestyles.
Sheldon, who contends that homosexuality is based on behavior rather than genetics, said federal protections are not needed for gay men and lesbians.
"We are trying to help destroy the myth that homosexuality is normal or hereditary," he said. "It therefore should not be classified like a race or disability."
Gingrich, however, said Sheldon and her brother, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), are in the minority for not supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians.
"My brother does not feel that gays and lesbians need federal protection in the workplace," she said. "And he has repeated myths and stereotypes about gays and lesbians that I happen to know are untrue."
Gingrich has served as a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay and lesbian political group. Wednesday's rally was the culmination of a 51-city tour by Gingrich to promote equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Sheldon has targeted what he calls the "gay agenda" in public schools and said Speaker Gingrich has promised congressional hearings on the issue.
The hearings by a subcommittee of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee have been postponed several times and have generated controversy.
In a fund-raising letter, Sheldon took credit for organizing the hearings, to the dismay of the Human Rights Campaign Fund.
An official of the House committee said Sheldon was not entirely responsible for the hearings and that his topic is not the only one of interest.
"The committee does not work in concert with outside groups," said committee spokeswoman Cheri Jacaobus. "It's a hearing on parental involvement in social issues in schools."
Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, criticized Sheldon's involvement in the hearings, which she called a waste of tax money.