Yes on 8 ad deceptive, opponents say
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Churches losing their tax-exempt status. Mandatory acceptance of gay marriage. Gay marriage being taught in public schools. People sued over their personal beliefs.
Those statements appear in the first statewide television ad urging voters to support Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. The ad, from protectmarriage.com, was widely expected to hit the airwaves this week, as supporters of the constitutional amendment trail in public opinion polls but lead in fundraising with five weeks left until Election Day.
The ad also "stars" an unwitting Mayor Gavin Newsom, arms extended, bellowing that same-sex marriages are going to happen "whether you like it or not!"
No on 8 campaign officials on Monday immediately decried the commercial as being deceptive and misleading.
"The lies and scare tactics used by the proponents of Prop 8 are nothing more than an attempt to mislead voters," said Steve Smith, senior strategist for the No on Prop 8 campaign. "As other folks have said about other political advertising, this spot is full of lies, lies, and more lies."
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a key member of the coalition working to defeat the proposition, said that as long as the No on 8 campaign has the resources to respond to Yes on 8's lies, "I think they will be ineffective." However, he said, "If their lies go unchallenged, it'll be another story."
The Yes on 8 ad began airing Monday, September 29, one week after the No on 8 campaign unveiled its first statewide commercial.
Frank Schubert, Yes on 8 co-campaign manager, said on the protectmarriage.com Web site that it was time for same-sex marriage opponents to get their message out.
"For weeks, the No on 8 campaign has had the field to themselves, with thinly veiled 'issue advocacy' ads and an outrageously biased rewriting of the ballot title and summary by the attorney general," he said. "Despite this, internal polling for both campaigns shows the race is very much up for grabs. Now, with the launch of our first television ad, voters finally get to hear the rest of the story. The debate will begin to shift to the very real consequences to California because of the Supreme Court's action."
Earlier this summer, Attorney General Jerry Brown changed the title of the measure to "Eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry."
Kors said the Prop 8 proponents' ad is just the "tip of the iceberg" and people should be "prepared for the ads to get uglier."
Kors, who declined to say when No on 8's next ad would appear, said the current ad - featuring San Francisco couple Sam and Julia Thoron - received "excellent" feedback and the campaign would "continue to buy as much media time as we can raise the money to buy."
The Yes on 8 commercial shows Newsom speaking in front of a crowd in City Hall on May 15, shortly after the state's Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that same-sex couples have the right to marry in California.
Newsom was critical of the ad.
"The claims in this ad are absurd, and I'm confident Californians will see it for exactly what it is - an attempt to distract attention from how Proposition 8 will hurt our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members," Newsom said in a statement. "To the extent the ad seems to be attacking my own advocacy for equality, I am not concerned."
The ad also features Richard Peterson, a law professor at Pepperdine University, saying that if Prop 8 fails, people could be sued for their personal beliefs, churches opposed to same-sex marriage could be threatened with losing their tax-exempt status, and suggests children in public schools would be taught about same-sex marriage.
Smith disputed Peterson's claims. Among other things, Smith pointed out that in its opinion on same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court noted that "no religion will be required to change its religious policies or practices with regard to same-sex couples, and no religious officiant will be required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs."
As for children being taught about same-sex marriages, Smith noted that, "Not one word in Prop 8 mentions education."
The ad also says that the court's May ruling overturned the decision by 61 percent of people who voted in favor of Proposition 22 in 2000, the measure banning same-sex marriage that is part of the state's family code.
In response, Smith wrote, "This campaign is not about what happened nearly nine years ago. This campaign is about whether Californians, right now, in 2008, are willing to eliminate a fundamental right for one group of citizens."
On Wednesday, September 24, the Public Policy Institute of California released its latest survey that showed 55 percent of the state's likely voters would vote against Prop 8, while 41 percent would vote for it. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The institute's current poll is the fifth survey to be released since May showing that a majority of voters oppose Prop 8. However, No on 8 campaign officials have warned against complacency, saying that as many as 20 percent of voters could be undecided.
As of Friday, September 26 - just over a month before the November 4 election - the Yes on 8 campaign had raised about $16.8 million, while about $13 million has been raised by No on 8.
Support for the measure has recently come from groups such as Concerned Women for America, which contributed $409,000.
On the other side, Newsom joined New York Governor David Paterson last week for a No on 8 fundraiser in New York City. Kors said he didn't know how much money was raised, but data filed with California's secretary of state indicate the event sparked at least a few East Coast contributions, including $15,000 from Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner, whose contribution was dated September 25, the day of the fundraiser.
Recently, Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, donated $100,000 to the campaign, matching a contribution from actor Brad Pitt, but gay celebrities such as talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres haven't made any financial contributions yet, according to the secretary of state's data.
In an e-mail blast sent Sunday, September 28, Schubert said that the Yes on 8 campaign has secured nearly $10 million in air time to show the current commercial, and others, but, "We must raise an additional $3.6 million to increase our advertising schedule in the final weeks of the campaign."
"The institution of marriage is on the line," Schubert wrote. "If we don't prevail in passing Proposition 8, it's only a matter of time before activist judges in other states and liberals in Washington legalize gay marriage across the country."
In response to Yes on 8's ad campaign, the group Republicans Against 8 has launched a 60-second video that is available online at http://www.RepublicansAgainst8.com.
"Republicans Against 8 are giving a voice to the more than 1 million Republicans who believe our party should stand for freedom and limited government," Republicans Against 8 campaign manager Scott Schmidt said in a statement. "Our party shouldn't be trying to take away people's rights."
Church officials on both sides of the issue have been encouraging members to make donations and vote in November, raising questions about whether the churches could risk losing their tax-exempt status.
But information from the IRS indicates the churches' activities are permissible.
The agency's Web site states that the federal ban on churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations engaging in any political campaign activity "is on political campaign activity regarding a candidate; churches ... can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena."
The agency's Web site also says, "The IRS considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial."
Jesse Weller, an IRS spokesman, indicated in an e-mail that he couldn't comment on the tax matters of any exempt organizations.
Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he understood why churches' involvement in the issue bothers some people, but "as long as they don't venture into intervening in elections between individuals," there usually isn't a legal problem.
For more information on the No on 8 campaign, visit www.noonprop8.com.