Hickey, a Republican state House representative in South Dakota who serves as a pastor, reacted to a likely challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban with a graphic letter that he posted on his Facebook page and submitted to the Argus Leader.
"Certainly there are board-certified doctors in our state who will attest to what seems self-evident to so many: gay sex is not good for the body or mind," Hickey wrote. "Pardon a crude comparison but regarding men with men, we are talking about a one-way alley meant only for the garbage truck to go down. Frankly, I’d question the judgment of doctor who says it’s all fine."
The Argus Leader rejected the letter, citing its length and language, but Hickey still made an impression. TPM interviewed him about the letter, several other outlets picked up the story, and soon Hickey said he was inundated with angry calls to his office at Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"People are asking my secretaries to talk to them about anal sex. I’m getting hundreds of replies from all the way around the world, talking about how they want to rape me," he told TPM in a phone interview on Friday.
“I’ve received hundreds of emails, lots of tweets. My wife is getting calls, my kids are getting calls. I’m getting calls at all my phone numbers, home and work, which are public. So this is not a crowd that will tolerate any conversation about what they want to legitimize, what they want us to legitimize."
Hickey also said he's dealt with backlash like this in the past.
"I’ve been doing some screenshots and stuff," he said. "I’ve got death threats before when I’ve spoken out on abortion and if it goes to that level I’ll deal with it."
With Nancy Robrahn and Jennie Rosenkranz, a lesbian couple from Rapid City, S.D., poised to challenge the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Hickey has been forgoing the usual religious-based arguments against gay nuptials.
In the letter, Hickey spelled out his opposition to same-sex marriage mostly in medical terms. He believes that doctors have been cowed by LGBT advocates and that the medical dangers of the "gay lifestyle" are ignored as a result.
Hickey said he's "comfortable agreeing" that homosexuality is something a person is born with. If anything, he believes that lends more credence to his medical arguments.
"Just because something is predisposed, I have a lung disease, I need a transplant. If I don’t get one in three to five years, I die," he said. "And my mother had it and her family died of this thing. My wife's had breast cancer. There’s genetic breakdowns and brokenness.”
He said he's "a little sore" about the negative feedback he's received for the letter, but that he didn't enter the debate "with any naiveté." The reaction, he said, is par for the course for supporters of marriage equality.
"I call it the faux outrage of the shock value gay pride people who feed vulgarity and obscenity to seven and eight year olds, and seventh graders and eighth graders in health class, and all of a sudden they're shocked by my garbage truck thing. Whatever," Hickey said.
Hickey wouldn't say whether he regretted writing the letter, but he said he does believe people have gotten the wrong idea about him.
"I grieve because in this debate what gets lost is my heart. I want what's best for people. If you hung around me, you wouldn't see a bit of hate. I care. We have people in our church who are struggling with all kinds of things. I treat this no different than anything else," he said.
"I have had my own struggles with a variety of things in the past. I mentioned my health problems I've had. I've spent my life helping people and sometimes it's tough love, but I'm not an enabler. And with any kind of addictive and unhealthy behavior, if you only have people around you who tell you it's OK, that's what we have going on with this issue. We have a society that has now enabled what would be a biological perversion. I think society breaks down. It affects families. It's not better. I'm not alone in that. In the midst of all this, I got a lot of people who are saying, 'Hang in there, man.'"