The religious right wing’s success, in California, against same-sex marriage

2009 June 8
by Diane

If/when New York’s marriage equality bill passes, the fight will not be over. Next, the religious right wing will almost certainly respond with a ballot referendum against same-sex marriage, possibly even a state constitutional amendment similar to California’s infamous Proposition 8, which got passed in 2008. In the meantime, the religious right wing is now focusing heavily on New York State to stop the bill from being passed in the first place.

Below, I’ll look at some information about how the religious right wing fought successfully for Proposition 8 in California, and about their plans for New York and New Jersey.

First, let’s look at the 2008 post-election news story Calif. win emboldens coalition of religious groups by Lisa Leff, Associated Press, via Fox News, Friday, November 07, 2008:

LOS ANGELES — Energized 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.

Many people were surprised that the Proposition 8 campaign could succeed in California, of all places:

“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.

“National Organization for Marriage” is a rather Orwellian name for an organization against certain marriages. Be that as it may, despite California’s reputation for tolerance, the success of Propostion 8 shows that there are still plenty of homophobic people there who could be stirred, by a sufficiently scary TV commercial, to vote for a state constitutional amendment outlawing marriage equality.

New York is next:

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.

Not only were there plenty of homophobes to whom the Proposition 8 campaign was able to appeal as voters, but the religious right wing also had access to a formidable organizational infrastructure: conservative religious groups of many different denominations.

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.

Later studies have shown that the most likely reason for the high percentage of blacks supporting the ban is simply that a high percentage of blacks are churchgoing evangelical Christians.

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 initiative.

Actually, according to an Associated Press article cited in Wikipedia, “The campaigns for and against Proposition 8 raised $39.9 million and $43.3 million, respectively.” So it would seem that Yvette Martinez’s statement about complacency in California is not accurate. Then again, the above figures don’t distinguish between in-state and out-of-state contributions. A lot of the money on both sides poured in from out of state.

Whether or not complacency was a real problem in California, it does seem, to me, that complacency is a problem here in New York, which has a very high gay population yet, historically, has always trailed behind other relatively liberal states on gay rights issues. And, as far as I can tell, a lot of people here assume that the success of same-sex marriage here is inevitable.

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.”

If we had a similar referendum in New York, there are a lot of conservative folks – in rural areas and even in NYC’s own outer boroughs – who could all too easily be swayed by a similar message, alas.

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.

No doubt the Mormons will pour lots of money into New York’s opponents of same-sex marriage too.

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 differences.

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.

I wouldn’t be so sure that the religious right wing coalition can’t hold together. In addition to the same-sex marriage issue, there are also plenty of other aspects of modernity that all or most conservative religious groups feel threatened by.

Let’s look now at the Wikipedia article on California Proposition 8 (2008).

In the section on Proponents, a sub-section on Religious organizations says:

The Roman Catholic Church,[42] as well as a Roman Catholic lay fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus,[43] staunchly supported the measure. The bishops of the California Catholic Conference released a statement supporting the proposition.[44] This position met with mixed reactions among church members: One priest in Fresno, Geoffrey Farrow, came out as a gay priest and told his parishioners to oppose Proposition 8. Farrow was promptly suspended from his duties by Bishop John Thomas Steinbock. Following the suspension, the bishops reiterated their position in a pastoral letter which was read aloud, prompting some parishioners to applaud, while others walked out of the church in protest.[45] When Farrow later applied for the executive director position at the interfaith organization Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in Los Angeles, the Archdiocese threatened to withdraw all funding, and Farrow’s interview process was terminated.[46]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,[47][48][49][50] whose members are commonly known as Mormons, also publicly supported the proposition. The First Presidency of the church announced its support for Proposition 8 in a letter intended to be read in every congregation in California. In this letter, church members were encouraged to “do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time.” Local LDS leaders set organizational and monetary goals for their membership—sometimes quite specific—to fulfill this call.[51][52] The response of the LDS membership to their leadership’s appeals to donate money and volunteer time was very supportive,[53] such that Latter-day Saints provided a significant source for financial donations in support of the proposition, both inside and outside the State of California.[54] About 45% of out-of-state contributions to ProtectMarriage.com came from Utah, over three times more than any other state.[55] ProtectMarriage, the official proponents of Proposition 8, estimate that about half the donations they received came from LDS sources, and that “eighty to ninety percent” of the early volunteers going door-to-door were LDS.[56] The LDS Church produced and broadcast to its congregations a program describing the opposition to the Proposition, and describing the timeline it proposes for what it describes as grassroots efforts to oppose the Proposition.[57][58]

Other religious organizations that supported Proposition 8 include the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America,[59] Eastern Orthodox Church,[60] a group of Evangelical Christians led by Jim Garlow and Miles McPherson,[61] American Family Association, Focus on the Family[62] and the National Organization for Marriage.[63]

Elsewhere on the page, not in the sub-section where it belongs, the Wikipedia article also says:

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, also endorsed the measure.[66]

The section on Opponents also has a sub-section on Religious organizations, which says:

All six Episcopal diocesan bishops in California jointly issued a statement opposing Proposition 8 on September 10, 2008.[90] Southern California’s largest collection of rabbis, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, voted to oppose Proposition 8.[91] Other Jewish groups who opposed Proposition 8 include Jewish Mosaic,[92] the American Jewish Committee, Progressive Jewish Alliance, National Council of Jewish Women, and the Anti-Defamation League.[59] Los Angeles Jews were more opposed to Prop 8 than any other religious group or ethnic group in the city. Jewish Angelinos voted 78% against the measure while only 8% supported the measure; the remainder declined to respond.[93] The legislative ministry of the Unitarian Universalists opposed Proposition 8, and organized phone banks toward defeating the measure.[94]

In addition, the California Council of Churches issued a statement urging the “immediate removal of Proposition 8″ – saying that it infringes on the freedom of religion for churches who wish to bless same-sex unions.[95]

Good to see some religious groups on our side too. Alas, these aren’t the fastest-growing religious groups, which are on the other side.

We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged. But the struggle will be long and hard, and we will win only if we continue to fight.

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