Thursday, August 20, 2009

Anti-gay group to fight marriage efforts in D.C.

There on the move

Anti-gay group to fight marriage efforts in D.C.

National Organization for Marriage relocates to city, seeks to block DOMA repeal
By LOU CHIBBARO JR, Washington Blade | Aug 19 2009, 5:09 PM [Bookmark and Share]

In a little noticed development, a national organization credited with playing a lead role in persuading California voters to ban same-sex marriage through Proposition 8 moved its headquarters last month to Washington, D.C.

The National Organization for Marriage plans to use its projected 2009 budget of $6 million to, among other things, help ban same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and prevent President Barack Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress from repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, according to Brian Brown, the group’s executive director.

“The fight over Proposition 8, as far as the ballot initiative, is over. We won,” Brown told the Blade in a telephone interview. “So right now I think both sides agree that the real focus is on what’s happening in the Northeast.”

Brown said that in addition to focusing on D.C. and Congress, his group is working to overturn through a ballot measure a same-sex marriage law in Maine and head off pending same-sex marriage bills in New York and New Jersey.

He said NOM also is closely monitoring developments in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, where same-sex marriage has been legalized, to “document” the harm his organization is certain will occur to families, the institution of marriage and society in general as a result of the legal recognition same-sex marriage.

A recurring theme in the group’s literature and public statements is that legalizing same-sex marriage will forever change the definition of marriage, causing profound societal consequences, many of which the group says won’t become apparent until it’s too late to reverse them.

“Once you put same-sex marriage into the law, what you’re putting into the law is that there is no difference between two men and two women and a man and a woman, in terms of marriage, and anyone who says otherwise is a functional equivalent to a bigot or a racist,” he said.

Same-sex marriage advocates take strong exception to Brown’s assertions and those of NOM founder, conservative activist Maggie Gallagher.

Groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry argue that no valid research data or scientific studies can be found to back up NOM’s claims that same-sex marriage has or will in the future harm families or the institution of marriage.

But Brown said that a solid majority of voters in every state or jurisdiction in which same-sex marriage has been placed on the ballot has voted down same-sex marriage — or similar legal rights for same-sex couples granted through domestic partnership benefits.

“Whenever we’ve been able to have a direct vote on the issue, we’ve won — in 30 out of 30 states,” Brown said.

He said his organization is poised to help local ministers fight plans by the D.C. City Council to pass legislation this fall that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the District.

He said NOM also will join local opponents of same-sex marriage to seek to overturn the law passed by the Council in May, and later cleared by Congress, that allows the city to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Brown said NOM would “definitely” contribute funds to pay for a court challenge of D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics and D.C. Superior Court rulings that stopped a ballot measure on the issue from taking place.

Both the election board and a Superior Court judge ruled in June that a referendum calling for overturning the same-sex marriage recognition law could not be held because, if approved, it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The people of D.C. deserve the right to vote on this issue,” he said. “It really sort of boggles the mind that one of the key issues in the District is the idea of voting rights. There’s a lot of support for voting rights, especially coming from some of those who support same-sex marriage.

“And while there’s a push for voting rights and the idea that D.C. would have a right to vote in Congress, it’s a little incongruous that there’s this attempt to block the right of D.C. voters to have their say on an issue of this much import — the very definition of marriage.”

Michael Crawford, president of the marriage equality group D.C. for Marriage, said Brown and other opponents of same-sex marriage misrepresent the city’s efforts to win voting rights for the city in Congress by linking it to a marriage referendum.

He said the marriage recognition law approved by the City Council occurred through the democratic process of a local representative government, the Council, which was elected by the people.

“So really, what this is, is an attempt to go around our elected officials to attack gay and lesbian families,” Crawford said.

NOM created a stir this spring when it launched a series of TV ads aimed at states where same-sex marriage laws were pending before state legislatures or where the issue was expected to come before voters in a ballot measure.

One of the ads, which became known as the group’s “Gathering Storm” TV spot, was denounced by gay rights and civil liberties groups as a blatant attempt to use scare tactics and factual distortions to build opposition to same-sex marriage. The ad used actors to portray citizens who expressed alarm that same-sex marriage laws would force elementary schools to promote same-sex marriage among their children and would force religious organizations to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in buildings they own.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement pointing out what it said were inaccuracies in each of the ads’ assertions about alleged harmful effects of same-sex marriage. And New York Times columnist Frank Rich joined other critics of the ad in pointing out that its dramatic backdrop of storm clouds and sinister lighting resembled the 1960s-era horror film “The Village of the Damned.”

Brown called criticism of the ad unfounded, saying all of its “factual assertions” can be substantiated. He said polling data shows that a majority of voters agree with the basic contention of that and other NOM media ads — that same-sex marriage is a serious threat to the traditional family and the institution of marriage.

He said NOM would assess whether ads like the “Gathering Storm” spot would be used for a possible voter initiative in D.C. next year on same-sex marriage, an initiative that NOM is working to place on the ballot along with Bishop Harry Jackson, the Maryland pastor who has surfaced as the lead opponent of same-sex marriage in the District.

NOM’s critics, meanwhile, have complained that the group has yet to release information about its finances. Fred Karger, founder of the West Coast group, Californians Against Hate, sent a letter to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices, which monitors election campaigns, alleging that NOM might be “laundering” money from anonymous Mormon donors to the referendum campaign seeking to overturn Maine’s same-sex marriage law.

Brown called the accusation “ridiculous.”

“We welcome contributions from all religious donors, including Mormons,” he said.

He said NOM won’t release the names of individual donors because doing so would subject them to “intimidation” from same-sex marriage advocates, whom he said attempted to badger and intimidate people who contributed money for Proposition 8.

Brown promised to release to the Blade NOM’s 2007 IRS 990 finance reporting form and said the group would also release its 2008 990 form as soon as it completes its processing. He said the group submitted the 2008 report to the IRS last Friday.

The 2007 report was not available from the national non-profit monitoring group Guidestar, which publishes all 990 forms it obtains from the IRS.

A Guidestar spokesperson said the IRS did not provide it with the 2007 report from NOM.

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