Tuesday, January 20, 2009

California "Marriage Defenders": Scared or Ashamed?

The National Organization for Marriage-California (NOM) and ProtectMarriage.com have filed a lawsuit arguing that campaign finance disclosure rules should not apply to them in this scary post-Prop 8 world.

Generally, California's Government Code requires contributions to ballot measures such as Proposition 8 to be made available for public inspection. Organizations such as NOM and ProtectMarriage.com, as well as those on the pro-gay side, are required by law to file public campaign reports listing contributions to their cause. The basic idea behind these laws is to limit the influence of well-funded lobbyists on government actions by providing greater transparency to the campaigns.

The complaint, which can be found here (PDF), alleges that "supporters of Proposition 8 have been subjected to threats, harassment, and reprisals as a result of their support for Proposition 8." And further that these alleged misdeeds "have been enabled" by the campaign finance law's disclosure requirement. After reciting a brief history of the marriage battle in California, the complaint goes on to allege specific incidents of "threats, harassment, and reprisals."

Hearing NOM's accusations, one might come to believe that an epidemic of death threats is currently raging through California. Upon taking a closer look at the complaint, however, we see a very different portrait.

Reading through the specific allegations, one will mostly find that the "threats, harassment, and reprisals" were, while juvenile, not as scary as NOM and ProtectMarriage.com have made them out to be. For instance, one "John Doe" reported receiving a "threatening email" saying "congratulations. for your support of prop 8 you have won our tampon of the year award" while another person received an email that said "I AM BOYCOTTING YOUR ORGANIZATION AS A RESULT OF PROP 8." Moving on to allegations of physical threats and harassment, one "John Doe" claimed that a window was broken using a "Yes on 8' sign" and the complaint also cited the notorious WhitePowderGate, a notorious incident in which no one has been proven guilty. Further, the complaint also ominously claimed that businesses have been "blacklisted," a reference to legitimate, legal boycotting of businesses.

In total, the complaint listed two vague death threats. When a complaint makes huge, exaggerated claims yet produces mostly relatively minor instances of name-calling and harassment, I have to wonder why NOM and ProtectMarriage.com are really seeking special protections. Persecution complex? More vilification of gays? Who knows. What a sense of entitlement these folks must have to keep people from marrying and then turn around and seek special protections while doing so.

Very generally, when deciding whether campaign finance disclosure law is unconstitutional, a court will balance the state's interest in disclosure against the harm that may result from the disclosure. I am sure it hurts the delicate butterfly feelings of "marriage defenders" to be called names, but immature name-calling just does not outweigh the state's interest in disclosing who is contributing to campaigns. Furthermore, it is a most ironic plea for special rights to argue that only marriage defense organizations should be exempt from campaign finance disclosure laws. And, it's even more ironical that these people are attempting to overturn a law, as enacted by the will of the people, by utilizing the very activist judges that they've been condemning for years.

I don't think calling people names is acceptable, and it really is unfortunate that some people on our side are stooping to that. Yet, this lawsuit seems to be the equivalent of a playground bully bringing a multi-million dollar defamation suit because someone called him an asshole. While it's unkind and immature to call someone a name, it's a bit of an overreaction to try to bankrupt someone for doing so.

The sole purpose of this complaint, as with any such document, was to paint the most persuasive picture in the plaintiff's favor. It's almost laughable that the most persuasive document that NOM and ProtectMarriage.com could come up with consisted mostly of a bunch of name-calling and instances of legitimate boycotting. The two referenced death threats were unfortunate, but the criminal justice system already contains mechanisms for responding to such threats. Campaigns require transparency. After reading this complaint and seeing how absurd most of the instances of "threats" really were, I wonder if this complaint speaks more to a growing, desperate awareness among "marriage defenders" that it is their position that is embarrassing to hold.

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