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  • STEVE YEATER / Associated Press file, 2008

    The traditional marriage campaign in California won at the polls in 2008, backed by the group National Organization for Marriage. A Maine suit has made public 2009 strategy memos from the group that cite the California campaign as a model, stressing ways to gain support of blacks and Latinos.

  • Peter Schrag

Viewpoints: Strategy memo displays venality of Prop. 8 group

Published: Sunday, Apr. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013 - 10:08 pm

Ever since it helped pass California's Proposition 8, the National Organization for Marriage – Orwellian for the national organization to ban gay marriage – has done contortions to hide as much about itself as it can.

Its affiliated group, Protectmarriage.com, is fighting furiously to suppress videos of the testimony of its key witnesses in the federal case in San Francisco challenging the constitutionality of the initiative. In Maine more recently, NOM sued in federal court to stop state officials from requiring disclosure of the major funders of a similar ballot measure overturning that state's gay marriage law.

But in a stroke of marvelous irony, the federal judges hearing those suits in Maine have ordered the release of a 3-year-old NOM strategy memo that for venality and cynicism must top almost anything that even its most paranoid adversaries could have imagined. The Proposition 8 campaign in 2008, it says, is the model.

The essence of the strategy, in the words of the memo, "is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks" by, among other things, finding blacks who'll declare that same-sex marriage is not a civil right, then "provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots."

"No politician wants to … push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement's allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue." The ultimate success here, presumably, would be an ongoing battle on the left between blacks and gays.

Similarly, under the heading of "A Pan-American Strategy," the memo speaks about persuading young Latinos to ask whether "assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture (will) lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt the process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation."

And, just for good measure, the memo calls for "sideswiping (President Barack) Obama … Expose Obama as a social radical. Develop side issues to weaken pro-gay marriage political leaders and develop an activist base of socially conservative and Christian voters. Raise such issues as pornography, protection of children, and the need to oppose all efforts to weaken religious liberty at the federal level."

It's hard to believe that a professional wrote the memo. It sounds more like the amateurish work of an earnest intern from a second-rate college. But as a document to energize the gay rights movement, it can't be beat.

Meanwhile, the fights in the courts continue. The constitutionality of Proposition 8 remains in question in the appellate courts, as does the status of the videos of the testimony in the lower court trial two years ago, which led to Judge Vaughn Walker's broadly dispositive decision that Proposition 8 violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. In Maine the NOM federal court challenge to that state's laws requiring disclosure of the identity of major contributors to ballot campaigns remains to be decided.

What remains beyond question is that even as groups like NOM tout their success in securing state laws prohibiting gay marriage, NOM works feverishly to conceal the record. Its argument in opposing release of the videotapes of its own expert witnesses is that it wants to protect them from harassment by gay rights advocates. But their identity is no secret. What's much less known is the clumsiness of their arguments and the frail expertise they brought to support them.

In the same vein, NOM says it wants to protect its major contributors from boycotts and other hostile measures. Its opponents say it's trying hide its link to the Mormon Church. Meanwhile NOM's own strategy is to fan racial animosities, undermine immigrant assimilation and intimidate politicians. And what has "sideswiping" Obama got to do with it?

The tide here is running strongly against the traditionalists, which may be the main reason for the political nastiness. In poll after poll, Americans show more willingness to accept single-sex marriage, as they do mixed-race relationships and marriage, as well as pregnancy outside marriage, which for major demographic groups is now close to becoming the norm.

Proposition 8 passed by a 52 to 48 percent majority in November 2008. A similar measure, Proposition 22, passed by 61 to 39 percent in 2000. Polls now show a majority of Californians supporting single-sex marriage. For a major social issue rooted in "tradition," that's a radical change.

In the interim, however, damage is done, not so much to the cause of gay marriage, as to broader social comity – to tolerance between group and group, to the nation's ability to formulate effective public policy, to political understanding.

There's no way to know how much of this is part of the strategy of other political groups – how many similar hate-based strategy documents are out there and to what extent they're being implemented. But even one is too many.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Peter Schrag



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