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Conservatives Push Hard for Gay Marriage Ban

An influx of cash from the Religious Right has boosted the campaign for Prop. 8, pushing the anti-gay measure dangerously ahead in the polls.
 
 
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Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told MSNBC recently that the economic crisis would trump cultural issues in his battleground state Nov. 4. Blue-collar working-class families are trending for Democrat Barack Obama for president, he said, worried more about their budgets than Obama's African-American race.

Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, on the other hand, is having difficulty with some of his angrier supporters who perceive Obama in various permutations of "the Other" -- making him "dangerous," as the National Republican Trust put it in an e-mail distributed by the conservative publication Newsmax.

But while the world watches the critical presidential match, there is another high-stakes culture clash being waged, pitting the gay community against the Religious Right. It is the battle over Proposition 8, an initiative on the California ballot that would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.

For gay people and their allies, the battle is not only about retaining the "fundamental" right to marry, as the California Supreme Court ruled May 15; it is also about not letting the majority vote to take away an existing right of the minority and thus adding to other disgraceful moments in American history, such as when the country tolerated Jim Crow laws and the Japanese internment, to name a few examples.

For the proponents of Prop. 8, however, the battle is "spiritual warfare," with religious freedom and the nation itself at stake if same-sex marriage is allowed to survive and spread beyond California's borders.

"If sexual freedom is the ultimate liberty, then you have to rewrite the Bill of Rights," Chuck Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries, says on a Yes on Proposition 8 video produced by the American Family Association for distribution to pastors and Christian activists. "This vote on whether we stop the gay marriage juggernaut in California is the Armageddon. We lose this -- we're going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion."

The Church of Latter-day Saints, the Catholic Church and Christian evangelical churches and organizations, including the Family Research Council (FRC), are telling church members to give all they can to ProtectMarriage.com, the group spearheading the Yes on 8 movement.

By the end of September, Yes on 8 raised $25.4 million, compared to $15.7 million for the No on Prop. 8 campaign, according to the California secretary of state Web site. The Mormon Church alone contributed $9,072,329.58 as of Oct. 14, according to Mormonsfor8.com.

"This Supreme Court (ruling in favor of marriage equality) decision was a huge wake-up call for Catholics. It was shocking," Catholics for Protect Marriage leader Bill May told the Associated Press. "The sense is that this is the last chance to restore the definition of marriage, and if unsuccessful, it is going to have serious ramifications for California and across the country."

"This is not political to us. We see it as very spiritual," Jim Garlow, pastor of the evangelical Skyline Church in San Diego County, told AP. Garlow is part of a nationwide 40 days of prayer, fasting and intensive mobilization of "God's Army," leading up to a Nov. 1 rally in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium of 10,000 "young pioneers" supporting passage of Prop. 8. A video on TheCall's Web site promoting the Qualcomm rally calls the Prop. 8 battle a war between Darkness versus Light.

"Thirty-five years of an American abortion holocaust, the civil imposition of homosexual 'marriage' upon America and the indoctrination of America's public school children in pro-homosexual ideology are practices that a Holy God will not tolerate," FRC's National Prayer Director Rev. Pierre Bynum said in an e-mail.

"The future of our nation hangs in the balance!" FRC President Tony Perkins wrote in an e-mail to supporters.

None of the fervor of the Religious Right, however, filtered through to the gay community. In a conference call with reporters Oct. 7, members of the No on Prop. 8 campaign said they were hurt by complacency after early polls showed Prop. 8 going down to defeat.

No on Prop. 8 supporters also said they were caught short by the massive influx of money from the Religious Right. That funding enabled the Yes on 8 campaign to widely distribute an effective commercial featuring a menacing-looking San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, followed by a Pepperdine law professor making a series of claims that individuals will be "sued over personal beliefs, churches could lose their tax exemptions, gay marriage taught in public schools" if Prop. 8 fails.

In an unprecedented political move, No on Prop. 8 consultant Steve Smith released its internal polling by respected pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, which paralleled an Oct. 7 poll by SurveyUSA.

Lake's poll of 1,051 likely voters from Sept. 29-Oct. 2 showed that 47 percent now support Prop. 8, compared to 43 percent who oppose it. A SurveyUSA poll of 670 likely voters on Oct. 4-5 showed Prop. 8 winning by 47 percent to 42 percent.

"We're currently being very badly outspent," Smith said. "Their ad is really breaking through -- it's reaching across the spectrum and having major penetration. ... Their ad is effective because it shows people being pissed off at government. We need to deliver our own messages."

The new poll numbers served as a wake-up call for the LGBT community and its allies, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who contributed $25,000 and helped raise more than $200,000 at a recent No on Prop. 8 fundraiser.

"I vow to vote No on Proposition 8 because I believe our civil society demands that we uphold -- not eliminate -- these fundamental rights. I believe all Californians deserve to be treated equally. And I believe that government exists to protect individual rights, not to undermine them," Villaraigosa said in a statement released by the Courage Campaign.

At a recent fundraiser, West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, president of the LGBT lobbying group Equality California, explained why domestic partnerships are not the same as marriage equality.

"In recent history here in California, we had one set of drinking fountains for blacks and one set of drinking fountains for whites. And what difference did it make if everyone got a drink of water?" Duran said. "In Los Angeles, we even had a third set of drinking fountains for Mexicans. And in San Francisco, there was yet another set of fountains for the Chinese. And did it really matter? After all, everyone got a drink of water from the same river or stream. If everyone's thirst was quenched, did it matter that there were separate fountains?

"Yes. It mattered," Duran said, "because in those moments, we treated our fellow Californians as if they were different or inferior to us. And it did not afford them the dignity to which they were entitled as fellow citizens. And even worse -- we denied dignity to ourselves by trying to uphold practices that violated our own basic decency and notions of equality."

On Oct. 14, the culture clash appeared again on the presidential stage when WorldNetDaily published a story in which supposed "domestic terrorist" William Ayers, whom the McCain campaign has tried link to Obama, endorsed a book called Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue About Sexualities and Schooling . Ayers called the book an "important contribution to nourishing the ethical heart of teaching."

 
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