Marriage-equality supporters win an important court victory, but the battle continues
More than three months after Proposition 8 passed, eliminating the right to marry for gay and lesbian Californians, the battle between opponents and proponents of the measure shows no signs of abating. In the latest skirmish, marriage-equality supporters gained an important victory last month when a federal judge ruled that the names of donors to the Prop. 8 campaign cannot be shielded from the public.
Some of the donors’ names have been available since the election, and their identities reveal a conflict that’s as old as America itself: the efforts of religious groups to subject a free and democratic society to their moral views.
“This is very similar to the abortion debate,” said Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at Sacramento State and director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media. “This is a visceral issue for people. It tends to have people very firmly on one side or the other, based on their core values.”
In January, “Yes on Prop. 8” forces sued to have the names of donors to their cause withheld from public scrutiny. Protect Marriage, the major group supporting Prop. 8, claimed that donors were being subject to retaliation, boycotts and harassment.
However, on January 30, U.S. District Judge Morrison England ruled that there was no compelling reason to shield donor’s names from the public. Updated records through the end of the campaign were published on the secretary of state’s Web site last week.
There weren’t any big surprises in the latest campaign-finance reports, other than a much larger contribution from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than was originally reported. All contributions from the LDS were nonmonetary, and a list of expenditures on behalf of Prop. 8 indicated that almost $190,000 was spent on items such as airfare, hotels and meals. Apparently, political activists opposed to marriage equality fly Southwest, stay at the Marriott and eat barbecue, just like everybody else.
And, as an LDS press release pointed out, the contributions from the Church were dwarfed by the $689,000 spent on Prop. 8’s behalf by Focus on the Family, a nonprofit evangelical group based in Colorado that has a long history of political activism.
Still, the move to keep the donors’ names from public scrutiny, as well as the attention paid to contributions from churches and other groups with religious affiliations, is a noteworthy departure from other campaigns. In particular, attention has focused on participation by members of the LDS church, with protests at a number of temples and churches. There’s also a pro marriage-equality Web site (deceivingly called “Mormons for Proposition 8”) that contains a database of Yes on 8 donors and asks visitors to identify members of the LDS.
“Our inclination is to make a big deal of it because of the separation of church and state,” O’Connor said. People don’t expect to see a lot of church involvement in politics, and so when churches push a ballot measure, it attracts attention. Combined with the already emotional topic of marriage equality, the involvement of the Catholic Church, evangelical churches and the LDS was bound to attract attention.
Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Protect Marriage, thinks that the “separation of church and state” is misunderstood by many of the people who are upset. “Somehow the media bought into the lie by gay activists that there’s separation of church and state, and that’s just fundamentally inaccurate,” he said. “People of faith have just as much right to be politically active as anyone else.”
O’Connor believes the involvement of the LDS Church has heightened interest in the issue. “Mormons are perceived as very mysterious,” she said. “We have all this mythology around them, and to many people, it’s alien.” The mystery and difference associated with Mormons, added to an already polarized, emotional issue, “just rings emotional bells for people.”
The emotional bells will continue to toll, at least for the foreseeable future. On March 5, the California Supreme Court will revisit the issue when it hears arguments about whether or not Prop. 8 is a valid amendment to the state constitution or instead is a revision of the constitution, which would require a different process than a simple ballot measure. The court will also determine whether the marriages performed between June 17 and November 5 of last year, after the court’s decision on marriage equality but before the passage of Prop. 8, remain valid.
For the 18,000 Californians who are waiting to see if they will be forcibly divorced by voters, the discussion couldn’t possibly get more emotional. Tina Reynolds, one of the founders of Equality Action Now, a group that has organized a number of events in opposition to Prop. 8, was married in June to her wife, Kate Moore.
“I feel like I’m one of the lucky 18,000 couples, and it doesn’t feel fair to me, that we’re the chosen ones and everyone else is on the chopping block,” she said. “To revoke our rights and then try to take away our marriages, it just hurts my heart. I don’t believe that most of the people who voted for Prop. 8 meant to hurt other people like this, but they did. It just hurts.”