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At 80, Schlafly is still a conservative force

NEW YORK -- Longtime crusader Phyllis Schlafly knows what she wants.

She wants an end to all abortion. She wants to stop gay marriage. And she wants to hear some John Philip Sousa at the Republican National Convention.

Schlafly, who has attended every GOP convention since 1952, was sitting with her Missouri delegation on Tuesday night, wincing as a band played one of the evening's many soulful, deafening tunes.

''They do this for diversity, but there isn't diversity," she yelled. ''They should play some state songs. They have got to be respectful of people who prefer different kinds of music."

Schlafly, matriarch of the Christian right, just turned 80. She is a small, fragile-looking woman, but she still moves around a crammed convention hall as if she owns it. On Tuesday night, decked out in a dress of Republican red, her wispy blond hair drawn into a bunch of neat pin curls at her neck, Schlafly went for a walk around the floor. She ducked fast-moving cameras, squeezed herself through crowded aisles, greeted well-wishers, and posed for pictures.

''She's so pretty!" said Rachel Knust, a starstruck 18-year-old from South Dakota, as Schlafly passed her. ''Can I get my picture taken with you? I just think you are so wonderful!"

Schlafly also fielded questions from reporters -- on John F. Kerry's Vietnam record, on abortion, but mostly, on homosexuality. Which brings Schlafly to another thing she wishes: that people would stop asking her about her gay son.

John Schlafly, 53, the eldest of her six children, acknowledged he is gay in 1992. Since then, Phyllis Schlafly -- who believes homosexuality is wrong, because all sex outside marriage is wrong -- has had to publicly square her vehement opposition to gay rights with her son's sexuality.

''It's not a problem for anybody but the press," she said, a little impatiently, on Tuesday night. ''He is very supportive of everything I do. He's a good lawyer and very helpful. He is not a proponent of same-sex marriage."

Indeed, John Schlafly works for the activist group Schlafly founded in 1972, the Eagle Forum, and traveled to New York to help his mother at the convention.

But lately, Vice President Dick Cheney has made sure that the question Schlafly doesn't want to hear always gets asked. Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian, recently broke with President Bush's support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Now everybody wants to know why Schlafly doesn't feel the same way.

''I thought [Cheney] was out of line," Schlafly told a radio reporter. ''But what he said is not the view of the Republican Party. So I just think that's a blip that's going to pass in the night."

Not this particular night. The questions kept coming, and Schlafly explained it again and again.

Another interviewer asked Schlafly what she thought of the news that a US representative had decided not to seek reelection after an activist for same-sex rights posted rumors online that he is gay.

''That just shows how vicious the gays are. They're very mean," said Schlafly. Her son was outed by a gay magazine.

Schlafly was once the most famous conservative in America, rising to prominence in the early 1970s as she successfully fought the Equal Rights Amendment. Feminist Betty Friedan once told Schlafly she would like to burn her at the stake. Her latest targets are ''activist" judges who would extend marriage to same-sex couples, order the removal of the Ten Commandments from public places, and threaten prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. She has just written a book called ''The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges and How to Stop It."

For decades she has held the party's feet to the fire on abortion and gay marriage, influencing the platform in every election cycle.

The 2004 platform, she said, has been her most successful in years: It contains strong planks opposing abortion and gay marriage, calling for constitutional amendments to ban both. Though her profile might be lower these days, Schlafly feels her influence stronger than ever within the party.

''We had big battles in San Diego, Houston, and Philadelphia," she said, referring to fights over the platform at three previous Republican National Conventions. ''But there was not a big battle this time because the other side gave up."

Schlafly doesn't mind that the party has decided to showcase moderates this year. The important thing is the platform. And she certainly didn't disapprove of Tuesday night's featured speaker, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who she called ''a remarkable man.'

Even though he is a supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, and admits to quite a bit of sex before marriage?

''California's different," she said dismissively.

After Schwarzenegger's speech, Schlafly made her slow, determined way to the elevators. She was headed out to meet her eldest son.

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