Opposition to Question 6 in Overdrive

Marriage-equality opponents, down in polls, employ shock tactics, misinformation campaign

With less than two weeks until Election Day, forces fighting against marriage equality haven’t just thrown the kitchen sink at their political rivals – they’ve thrown all the indoor plumbing.

Opponents of Question 6, the ballot measure to uphold the Civil Marriage Protection Act that would give same-sex couples access to Maryland marriage licenses, are ramping up efforts to convince undecided or wavering voters to reject the law, relying on a number of tactics that supporters of marriage equality say are deceitful and extreme.

Another anti-gay Jump the Broom flier that features same-sex couples

Another anti-gay Jump the Broom flier that features same-sex couples

The most recent strategy employed by opponents of Question 6 is an ad titled ”Parents Have No Rights,” which warns that Maryland marriage equality will lead to school indoctrination. The ad features David and Tonia Parker, a married couple from Lexington, Mass., who claim that their son was taught about gay marriage in school as a direct result of the legalization of marriage equality in that state.

In the commercial, the Parkers warn Marylanders that ”gay marriage could be taught in schools” if Question 6 is approved, with Tonia Parker saying, ”Don’t make the same mistake and think that gay marriage won’t affect you.”

The claims made in the ad were previously debunked by the fact-checking site Politifact in response to brochures mailed out to Rhode Island residents by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

According to Politifact, the Parkers and another couple, Robert and Robin Wirthlin, filed a federal lawsuit against Lexington school officials after the Parkers’ son was allegedly given a book depicting various forms of families, including one with parents of the same gender, and that the Wirthlins’ son was read the book King & King in school. Both families alleged school officials were attempting to indoctrinate their children into believing same-sex marriages are moral.

The courts later dismissed the suit, finding that parents don’t have the right to restrict what a public school may teach students. The parents appealed, but lost when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that there was no ”formalized curriculum” requiring students to read books about gay marriage and that reading one book did not constitute ”indoctrination.”

The Parkers have appeared in other ads run by NOM and its affiliates in various states where same-sex marriage has been on the ballot.

In fact, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the coalition of labor, religious and community groups seeking to approve Question 6 and uphold the Civil Marriage Protection Act, warned the media in a September memo of misinformation used in other states, specifically referencing attempts by opponents of marriage equality to exploit fears about children and homosexuality.

According to recent campaign finance reports, NOM provided more than half of all the money raised for Maryland Marriage Alliance, the group leading the charge against Question 6. Supporters of marriage equality say this financial link helps explain why many of the arguments being used in Maryland and other states facing marriage-related ballot measures are so similar to tactics used in the past by NOM.

To help Marylanders dispel myths and counter misinformation about Question 6, the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has set up a site, marriageinmaryland.com, that fact-checks claims made about Maryland’s marriage-equality law, such as its religious protections, whether businesses would be affected and the impact of the law on public schools.

”The Civil Marriage Protection Act is a law that would provide fairness and equal protection of the law to same-sex couples in Maryland, while protecting religious liberty,” David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement announcing the website. ”The goal of the ‘Marriage in Maryland’ website is to separate fact from fiction so that Marylanders can make a well-informed decision about how they vote on Question 6 this November.”

Example flyer from ''The Committee for Jump the Broom'' left on vehicles in Baltimore, MD

Example of fliers from Jump the Broom for Marriages, which were left on vehicles in Baltimore

But the Question 6 fight isn’t limited to airwaves and the Internet. For the past two weeks, a group calling itself Jump the Broom for Marriages has been plastering two versions of fliers over various neighborhoods in the Baltimore area that seem to make racial appeals to African-American voters, arguing that same-sex marriage is not a civil right.

More recently, a third version has been released and is being distributed in Baltimore City. The newest flier contains two same-sex couples, one male and one female, all appearing to be white, scantily clad in mock-tuxedos or bridal gowns, at what looks to be a gay pride parade. One couple is holding hands, and the other is kissing.

The flier reads: ”Do not allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a marriage license! STOP Gay Marriages in Maryland. Vote NO to Question 6.” The previous versions of the flier also contained biblical passages.

Supporters of marriage equality say that efforts to stoke racial division were expected in the Question 6 fight, pointing to a leaked memo from NOM that detailed a tactic to ”drive a wedge” between gays and blacks.

”They’re pushing factual boundaries and trying to scare people as they always do,” Kevin Nix, spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, told Metro Weekly when asked about opponents’ recent ads.

Another ”scare tactic” that marriage-equality supporters say their opponents use is the argument that marriage equality threatens the religious and personal liberties of individuals.

After Angela McCaskill, chief diversity officer for D.C.-based Gallaudet University, was placed on paid administrative leave following the revelation that she had signed a petition to subject the marriage-equality law to popular vote, the Maryland Marriage Alliance seized upon the controversy and ran an ad featuring Gallaudet video of McCaskill and claiming that people had been threatened, fired and sued after same-sex marriage was legalized in other states, saying, ”Who will be next? We’re all at risk under Question 6.”

McCaskill, who is regarded on campus as a strong supporter of the LGBT community, said she signed the petition to allow Marylander voters to have the final say on the law, not out of opposition to marriage equality. She also objected to the ad, asking that it not be aired.

But supporters of marriage equality were equally outspoken in defending McCaskill, repeatedly issuing calls for Gallaudet President Alan Hurwitz to reinstate McCaskill. Two pastors who have been vocal supporters of Question 6, Rev. Donte Hickman and Rev. Delman Coates, held a protest outside of Gallaudet Thursday, Oct. 25, promising to hold weekly rallies until McCaskill is reinstated.

Maryland state Sen. Anthony C. Muse (D-Prince George’s Co.) echoed the Maryland Marriage Alliance arguments in an Oct. 19 op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post in which he claimed that allowing same-sex couples to marry would infringe upon the rights of businesses owners who want to refuse services to those couples based on their personal religious beliefs. In his op-ed, Muse cited an innkeeper in Vermont and a wedding photographer in New Mexico who were sued for refusing to provide services to same-sex couples as evidence of what could happen if Question 6 passes.

But Muse failed to note that both of those cases were decided not on the basis of a marriage-equality law – New Mexico residents do not have marriage equality – but on the states’ nondiscrimination laws, which include LGBT people. Those laws mirror Maryland’s own 2001 nondiscrimination law, something that Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery Co.) pointed out to opponents when the Maryland Senate was debating the marriage-equality bill in February.

Perhaps the most controversial statement in recent days came from marriage-equality opponent Pastor Robert Anderson, of Randallstown, Md., who, when speaking at a panel discussion on Question 6 hosted by the Maryland Marriage Alliance, told those in attendance that, ”If we don’t vote against it, then we are approving these things (homosexuality) that are worthy of death.”

The comments, which were caught on video and posted on the blog Maryland Juice, prompted outrage and swift reaction from Question 6 proponents.

”Supporters of Question 6 are working towards a Maryland where all citizens are treated equally under the law,” Sultan Shakir of Marylanders for Marriage Equality said in a statement responding to Anderson’s comments. ”The kind of intolerance displayed by opponents paints a clear contrast of what’s at stake in this campaign.”

Marylanders for Marriage Equality also called on Derek McCoy, the president of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, to disavow Anderson’s words. But McCoy later defended Anderson, saying he was citing the Bible and that his words were being taken out of context.

”Any attempt to imply that Dr. Anderson’s reading of scripture was a call to harm gays and lesbians is false and serves as a distraction from the real issues of the campaign,” McCoy said in a statement released Thursday.

Anderson also defended his remarks, telling Washington television station NBC 4: ”That’s not my words. That’s from Romans Chapter 1 written by the Apostle Paul himself.”

Whatever the tone of the debate, a Washington Post poll conducted between Oct. 11 and 15 found a majority of likely voters in Maryland were planning to vote in favor of Question 6, with 52 percent saying they’d support the marriage-equality law, compared to 43 percent who would oppose it.

To highlight the fact that the law provides religious protections for clergy and religious institutions, Marylanders for Marriage Equality held an Oct. 25 press conference featuring several Jewish leaders in Baltimore who expressed support for Question 6. That press conference mirrored two others in recent weeks, one featuring African-American Christian clergy and the other with various interfaith leaders, all backing Question 6.

Friday, Oct. 26, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-N.Y.), a multimillionaire who recently donated $250,000 to the Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign, joined at a Baltimore event in favor of Question 6.

Campaign finance reports show that Marylanders for Marriage Equality had raised $3.2 million as of Oct. 13, with the bulk coming from small donors, compared to the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which raised $830,000, most of which came from out-of-state organizations such as NOM and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization.

An Oct. 26 release from Marylanders for Marriage Equality announced that the group has raised $1.2 million from 2,753 donors, including 2,050 from Maryland, since the last filing deadline and has spent more than $2.4 million on television and radio ad buys, as well as direct mail.

”We’ve had an impressive two weeks, but this isn’t over,” Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said in a statement. ”From history, we know the final 10 days is when the National Organization for Marriage dumps real money into these campaigns and inundates the airwaves with more false ads. We can’t let up on the gas.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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