Biblical gay slur puts Duck Dynasty star in crosshairs

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It's open season on the star of the most popular reality show on cable television in the United States.

Fans are rallying to Phil Robertson, 67, patriarch of the extended family of Louisiana hunters at the heart of "Duck Dynasty" after he triggered a national furor by suggesting homosexuality is sinful.

"Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong," the colorful and shaggy-bearded duck-call tycoon and born-again Christian told GQ magazine.

"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," he said. "Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

Gay rights activists, emboldened after a year of big gains in their long struggle for same-sex marriage, swiftly put Robertson and A&E Networks, which airs the lightly-scripted sitcom, in their crosshairs.

"Being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful," said Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading gay rights organization.

Media watchdog GLAAD, which fights homophobia in pop culture, condemned Robertson's "vile and extreme stereotypes" and challenged A&E and its sponsors to reconsider their ties with him.

Responding to the outcry, or perhaps milking it for publicity value, A&E Networks -- co-owned by media giants Disney and Hearst -- said it was placing Robertson "under hiatus ... indefinitely."

"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series 'Duck Dynasty'," said the cable channel, which reaches nearly 100 million American homes.

Robertson's fans flocked to social media to defend him, even as he issued his own apologetic statement saying: "I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me."

In less than 24 hours, an online petition on Change.org -- usually a platform for liberal causes -- had picked up 86,401 signatures.

"Phil Robertson simply stated what his convictions are," said the petition, which framed the flap as a freedom-of-speech issue. "We will boycott A&E if he is not brought back."

On Facebook, a "Stand with Phil Robertson" page had more than 1.3 million likes.

The star's own Facebook account -- which Friday invited fans to drop by his Duck Commander Warehouse for a Christmas blood drive -- has 1.9 million likes.

Republicans wooing the social conservative vote added their voices, including Louisiana governor and potential White House contender Bobby Jindal.

"The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with," said Jindal on his website.

Former Republican vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, whose public persona is cut from the same backwoods cloth as the Robertsons, lashed out at "those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the 'Duck Dynasty' patriarch for voicing his personal opinion."

First broadcast in 2012, "Duck Dynasty" centers on Robertson and a family who struck it rich making and selling a cedar wood duck call for hunters called the Duck Commander, yet never abandoned their raw bayou ways.

Many fans say they love the weekly show for its downhome family values: no matter how dysfunctional the Robertsons are, they always come together in the end with love and affection.

Season four premiered in August with 11.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched nonfiction cable show in US television history.

Season five is scheduled to begin on January 15 and the show is also seen on cable and satellite in Europe and Asia.

Besides "Duck Dynasty," which GQ said earns the Robertson clan a reported $200,000 an episode, the family has published four non-fiction best-sellers this year.

Lucrative merchandising also includes smartphone apps, greeting cards, bobblehead dolls, camouflage outfits and car fresheners.

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