A leading religious legal defense group said it is standing with George A. Rekers, the conservative expert on gay behavior who has seen his career implode amid media reports that he took a young gay travel companion to Europe with him.
Officials at the Liberty Counsel said Wednesday they would back Mr. Rekers if he followed through on his threat this week to sue media outlets and others for trying to discredit him.
“I think [Mr. Rekers] would have a great case to file a defamation action,” said Mathew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel said.
“I think it was a completely arranged setup,” he said, referring to the presence of writers of the free weekly Miami New Times at Miami International Airport when Mr. Rekers and his hired travel companion arrived in the United States April 13.
Mr. Rekers, professor emeritus of neuropsychiatry and behavioral science at the University of South Carolina, is known for his research on homosexuality and support for controversial therapies to help subjects escape unwanted same-sex attractions.
A member along with noted Christian conservative James Dobson of the first board of the Family Research Council, a nonprofit Christian lobbying organization, in the early 1980s, Mr. Rekers until recently was on the board of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which studies those therapies.
On May 4, however, the Miami New Times, an alternative weekly, ran a story headlined, “Christian right leader George Rekers takes vacation with ‘rent boy,’ ” with a photograph of Mr. Rekers waiting at an airport elevator with luggage and a young man whose face was fogged out.
The story has generated a huge number of stories on gay-related Web sites critical of Mr. Rekers and accusing him of hypocrisy.
In subsequent stories, the Florida weekly and other news outlets quoted the young man, later identified as Jo-vanni Roman, 20, saying that although Mr. Rekers found him on a gay adult and escort website, they did not have sex. Instead, as part of his $75-a-day travel contract with Mr. Rekers, Mr. Roman had to give the 61-year-old professor daily nude massages.
This was enough for the Family Research Council to distance itself from Mr. Rekers. In a statement, FRC President Tony Perkins said that his organization “has had no contact with Dr. Rekers or knowledge of his activities in over a decade.”
This week, Mr. Rekers resigned from the board of NARTH, saying he needed time “to fight the false media reports” about him.
“With the assistance of a defamation attorney,” Mr. Rekers said in a statement, “I will fight these false reports because I have not engaged in any homosexual behavior whatsoever. I am not gay and never have been.”
NARTH issued a statement saying it accepted his resignation and that “personal controversies do not change the scientific data” about homosexuality.
In a message to The Washington Times, Mr. Rekers noted that since November 2009, gay activist groups have targeted NARTH members to discredit them.
The Liberty Counsel’s Mr. Staver said he believes Mr. Rekers’ recent court appearances, in which the professor testified in favor of state bans on gay adoption, became “a major focus of people trying to discredit him as an individual.”
“I think that it’s the classic [tactic], ‘If you can’t destroy the message, you destroy the messenger,’ … and I think this is a personal attack designed to cast aspersions on his character and reputation,” Mr. Staver said.
Gay rights groups, however, are angry about the damage Mr. Rekers has done to gay and lesbian families. “The truth has come out about George Rekers,” said Harry Knox, director of religion and faith at the Human Rights Campaign. “Let us pray that it sets him, and the rest of us, free.”