California Win Emboldens Coalition of Religious Groups

November 11, 2008

gay-marriage-7.jpgEnergized by a comeback win, conservative activists want to apply the
same formula they used to outlaw same-sex marriage in California to
prevent other states from recognizing gay unions and President-elect
Barack Obama from expanding the rights of gays and lesbians.

Leaders of the successful Proposition 8 campaign say an unusual
coalition of evangelical Christians, Mormons and Roman Catholics built
a majority at the polls Tuesday by harnessing the organizational muscle
of churches to a mainstream message about what school children might be
taught about gay relationships if the ban failed.

Same-sex marriage bans also won in Arizona and Florida. But in
putting together the California victory, the coalition overcame
opposition from the state’s political establishment and assumptions
about how voters in the famously tolerant state would respond to taking
away the rights the state’s highest court granted this spring.

“Everyone told me it could not be done, people do not care about
this enough, you will be overwhelmed and you will lose,” said Maggie
Gallagher, executive director of the National Organization for
Marriage, a New Jersey group that provided seed money early this year
to qualify the measure for the ballot.

“This is an issue people care about when they understand what is at
stake and we mount a vigorous and visible defense of marriage,”
Gallagher said.

Same-sex couples are expected to start marrying next week in
Connecticut, the third state after Massachusetts and California where
courts have held it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from

Unlike California, Connecticut does not have an initiative process
that would allow voters to override the judicial decision there. So
Gallagher said anti-gay marriage groups plan to focus next on New
Jersey and New York, where the state legislatures are being lobbied to
pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage.

The plan is to mobilize the same religious factions that joined
forces in California to deter lawmakers from “taking on this divisive
social issue while we are in the middle of a huge financial crisis,”
Gallagher said.

Campaign operatives attribute their success to the churches, which
served as voter registration centers, phone banks and volunteer
recruitment hubs.

Religious institutions also gave Proposition 8’s sponsors an avenue
to a range of ethnic voters, including many Democrats, said Mat Staver,
who heads the Florida-based Christian legal group Liberty Counsel.

Catholic and evangelical Hispanics and African-American Baptists
stood alongside conservative white evangelicals in arguing for
traditional marriage. Exit polls showed 70 percent of blacks supported
the ban, a far higher percentage than any other race.

“This is an issue that … transcends political ideology, religious
affiliations, races and time and history,” said Staver. “It brings
people together who ordinarily wouldn’t be sitting at the same table

Gay-right activists attribute their loss in California in large part
to overconfidence among Proposition 8 opponents. Although polls showed
the measure far behind in mid-September, the Yes-on-8 campaign was
raising far more money than its opponents.

“There was a lot of complacency. People didn’t believe it could have
been this close, so we had to scramble to raise money.” said Yvette
Martinez, political director for Equality for All, the coalition of
gay, civil rights and liberal religious groups formed to fight the

Martinez also blamed a Yes-on-8 TV ad featuring a little girl
telling her mother she had learned in school that she could grow up to
marry a princess. Spanish-language ads were released on the same theme.

Proposition 8 says nothing about education, but gay-marriage
opponents say allowing same-sex weddings would have affected what
California public-school students are taught. Gay-rights groups
disputed that, noting that the schools already are required to teach
tolerance of gays and lesbians.

“Those lies penetrated,” said Martinez. “People believed that we
were going to force gay marriage into the classroom, and there is no
getting around people wanting to protect their children and to make
decisions for their own family.”

Perhaps the most crucial faith-based ingredient of the California
campaign was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The
Mormon church was invited into the coalition by San Francisco’s Roman
Catholic Archbishop George Neiderauer, who previously spent 11 years as
bishop of the Catholic diocese of Utah.

Mormons make up less than 2 percent of the California population
with a religious preference, but it is widely believed that church
members around the country were responsible for a major share of the
more than $36 million raised to pass the gay marriage ban.

Gay-marriage opponents say the bipartisan, multiracial alliance that
helped Proposition 8 pass could be instrumental in fighting any steps
Obama takes as president to expand the rights of gays and lesbians.

“Those can be activated and pressure can be put on senators and
congressional leaders who are not as left-leaning as Barack Obama to
not follow his agenda,” Staver said.

During his campaign for the White House, Obama pledged to work for
repeal of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the
federal government from affording Social Security and other benefits to
same-sex couples. He also vowed to reverse the Defense Department
policy that prevents openly gay people from serving in the military.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian
Rights, said she isn’t worried the Proposition 8 campaign has produced
a new political juggernaut, noting that the religious denominations
that worked together in California have deep theological and spiritual

Kendell, who was raised Mormon, said she was astonished to see black
pastors working alongside members of a religion that did not allow
blacks to serve as priests until she was in high school.

“Any time a coalition is formed for the expediency of one issue, it is very hard to hold it together,” Kendell said.

Source: Seattle Times

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