No initiatives, but marriage still an issue

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer

There are no anti-gay initiatives or referenda on any statewide ballots November 2, but that doesn’t mean that same-sex marriages is no longer a political hot potato. Quite the contrary. In several states this fall, key races are being contested in part by what position each candidate has on same-sex marriage.

And one of the nation’s most vocal anti-marriage equality organizations is funding advertising campaigns—and mobilizing socially conservative voters—in key battleground arenas, dropping millions of dollars in statewide races, to defeat same-sex marriage supporters on election day.

In California, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Minnesota, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is spending more than $1 million on its own and even more in partnership with other anti-gay groups.

Pro-equality gubernatorial candidates are under attack in New Hampshire and Minnesota, while three state supreme court justices have caught the ire of NOM and its allies in Iowa, and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is being targeted for her support of same-sex marriage rights in California.

“For the first time, NOM is, in a serious way, engaging in substantial political campaign activity—and without disclosing its donors,” said Kevin Nix, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s NOM project, a new initiative of the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. NOM, noted Nix, is “challenging campaign finance laws in multiple states—suing to keep their donors secret.

“Its budget went from $500,000 in 2007 to $10 million this year—a significant increase,” said Nix. “The story here is how aggressive NOM is this year and beyond.  It is the number one anti-gay group in the country right now.”

So, even though the economy, jobs, taxes, and health care reform loom as over-riding concern for Americans going into the mid-term elections, social and religious conservatives are still trying to gain traction with the same-sex marriage as wedge issue.

In Iowa, NOM has already allocated $435,000 for television ads, according to state campaign disclosure reports, urging voters to oust three state Supreme Court justices, who ruled in favor of marriage equality, a 2009 decision that was unanimous.

NOM leader Brian Brown said his organization is “throwing every penny we have” into Iowa. In an October 21 fundraising appeal, he also pledged to build “the largest single get-out-the-vote effort by a social-conservative organization in history.” And nationwide, he added, “We will call 7.4 million households identified as conservative and make sure they get to the polls.”

The focus for NOM in Iowa is a routine vote—taken on a rotational basis—on whether members of the state Supreme Court can serve another eight-year term. But the outcome in Iowa’s “justice retention” vote this year has become a tossup, according to a Des Moines Register. The Register polled 550 likely voters from September 19 through 22 and found that only 45 percent of voters were prepared to vote “Yes” to all three justices, while 40 percent were planning to vote to remove all three, and 16 percent say they want to retain only some.  In addition, more than one-fourth likely voters are either undecided or say they will not vote on retention.

But the closeness of the retention battle is already a cause for alarm among legal observers and LGBT civil rights groups.

“Those poll numbers are stunning,” said Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a Vanderbilt University associate law professor, who has who has followed the battle. “It is virtually unheard-of for a judge to lose a retention race,” he also told the Register.

Justices on the ballot include Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit. While all three have vowed not to campaign formally, Ternus has said in speeches that judges under political pressure are less likely to be fair and impartial, according to the Register.

And NOM has help in Iowa. The Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council and the Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association, among other right-wing groups, are set to hold twenty events across the state to rally voters against retaining the justices. The Iowa Independent reports the AFA has promised $200,000 to retention battle, which falls under the group Iowa for Freedom campaign.

In New Hampshire, NOM is spending $425,000, according to local media reports to “hold [incumbent] Gov. John Lynch  [a Democrat] accountable for his abysmal record as governor,” namely his signing a same-sex civil marriage bill into law. The most recent public opinion polling shows Lynch leading his Republican opponent by ten points.

In California, a NOM press release announced a $1 million bus tour to promote the election of the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina. Fiorina is in a tight race with the incumbent Democrat, Barbara Boxer. NOM also spent $220,000 in California for television ads and expenditures, according the Federal Election Commission. And NOM has invested about $172,000 on television ads critical of Boxer to be broadcast on Spanish-language television stations, according to Southern California Public Radio.  Boxer supports marriage equality while her opponent “believes in the sanctity of a marriage between a man and a woman,” but supports equal benefits for gays through civil unions.

NOM is also very active in Minnesota. Last May, the organization said it would spend $200,000 in Minnesota media buys and coordinate them with the Minnesota Family Council. Since then, NOM has run four sets of television ads to let “the voters of Minnesota to know the facts about their rights and where the candidates stand on marriage.”  But so far NOM has refused to say how much it has spent.

“NOM sees Minnesota as the next key battleground state in the fight to preserve marriage in America,” said Brown in a press statement this spring, adding, “Many Minnesotans are unaware that special interest groups are working to convince activist judges and DFL lawmakers to redefine marriage in the state.”

Earlier this year, same-sex marriage became a hot button issue in Minnesota when lawmakers held the first-ever hearings on a marriage equality bill. And the real possibility of same-sex marriage being adopted through the legislative process with the election of a pro-equality governor irritated social conservatives.

Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party candidate Mark Dayton and the Independent Party’s Tom Horner have said they would sign a same-sex marriage into law if the legislature approved such a bill. But Republican Tom Emmer says he would veto it.  Polling shows Dayton leading but the race is close.

Religious conservatives jumped into the fray, too.  Catholic Archbishop John C. Neinstedt distributed a DVD to more than 400,000 of Minnesota Catholics in defense of traditional marriage.

Without mentioning any gubernatorial candidates by name, Neinstedt urged Catholics to political action to block same-sex marriage.  Many Minnesota Catholics, particularly Democrats, resent being told how to vote for governor and are unhappy that NOM and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, support what they perceive to be a blatantly political play by their church.

“We are just astounded,” said lifelong Catholic Darlene White of Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, “at how low members of the hierarchy can step to retain power.”

Leave a Reply