A year after the passage of California's Proposition 8, the ensuing violence, vandalism and protests have died down — although they have been revisited and chronicled in a new report.
But as similar marriage-related voting takes place today in other states, a high-tech tactic is taking center stage.
On Nov. 4 last year, 52 percent of California voters approved Prop. 8, the state's constitutional amendment that limited marriage to between a man and a woman. It overturned a May 2008 California Supreme Court ruling that had legalized gay marriage.
The Heritage Foundation — a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank — recently published "The Price of Prop. 8," a study of the retaliation against Prop. 8 supporters, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and individual LDS Church members. Thomas M. Messner, a visiting fellow in religious and civil society issues, authored the publication.
An overriding theme is individuals and institutions who publicly defend traditional marriage risk intimidation, harassment and reprisal — at least some of it targeted and coordinated.
"They really risk pain and grief for that and are paying a heavy price," Messner said in a recent phone interview.
In 16 pages peppered with detailed incidents and 112 footnotes of supporting documentation, Messner wrote Prop. 8 supporters "have been subjected to harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry."
Also mentioning a handful of acts committed against Prop. 8 opponents, the paper acknowledges many gay-marriage activists have condemned certain types of hostilities.
But, Messner added, there has been "absolutely zero contrition" for the ideologies underlying the outrage and acts.
In response to the report, Fred Karger, executive director of Californians Against Hate, an independent organization tracking donor information on Prop. 8 supporters, said, "Any acts of retribution — toward either side — are deplorable and should not be tolerated."
California's marriage debate is ongoing. Gay-rights activists want to pursue an attempt to repeal Prop. 8, but they haven't reached a consensus whether to try it on the 2010 or 2012 ballot.
This year, attention on the marriage issue runs coast to coast.
In Maine, voters today will weigh in on Question 1. If approved, it would repeal the same-sex marriage statute passed earlier this year by that state's Legislature.
In Washington, voters face a state referendum expanding domestic-partnership rights for gay and senior couples.
And in both states, gay-marriage activists are calling for donor lists of those supporting traditional marriage to be made public. In California, a donation of $100 or more earns public disclosure.
Such Web sites call for economic repercussions and boycotts against individuals and institutions who supported traditional-marriage efforts, said Messner, adding "and whether it's stated or not, general harassment or intimidation."
Individuals then become targets, he said, not because they placed a yard sign or bumper sticker or attended a public rally, but because they made a contribution in support of traditional-marriage referendums or propositions.
Nationally syndicated columnist George F. Will labeled the tactic "thuggish liberalism," but Karger — citing campaign finance fiascoes dating back to the Watergate era of the 1970s — says it's simply "the public's right to know" and a matter of all sides abiding by election laws.
His Web site — californiansagainsthate.com — features what it calls its "Dishonor Roll," some 1,100 individuals and institutions who donated $5,000 or more to support Prop. 8.
Karger doesn't see his tactic as intimidation; rather, it's offering a choice of where to spend one's money and whom to support.
It's no more intimidation, he added, than the 30 state constitutional amendments taking away what he sees as his civil right regarding marriage. And it's no more intimidation than what he experienced in donating $100 three decades ago in support of a California gay-teacher initiative, when his donor information was sent to his then-employer.
"This is what the gay community has been going through for decades," he said.
In "The Price of Prop. 8," Messner's collection of detailed incidents is extensive. Vandals hit personal property — homes and vehicles — and desecrated sites and symbols of different faiths. Harassment, hostility and slugs were delivered in person, in drive-by shouts and via fliers, phone calls and e-mails.
In one of the paper's sections called "Mormons in the crosshairs," Messner lists examples where members of the LDS Church were "particularly and systematically targeted." Incidents include protests staged outside LDS temples from California to New York, packages containing suspicious substances mailed to temples in California and Utah, and the burning of a Book of Mormon on the steps of a Colorado meetinghouse.
He also cited the response of gay-rights activist Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign when Solomonese was asked on the TV show "Dr. Phil" by a Mormon audience member why the LDS Church was being targeted.
Said Solmonese: "We are going to go after your church every day for the next two years unless and until Prop. 8 is overturned."
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