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Marriage fight to be costly

Backers and foes of an initiative banning gay unions raise millions.

June 29, 2008|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Since June 16, Californians have been bombarded with images of gay marriage: men kissing men, women embracing women, with friends and family celebrating alongside.

Now both backers and foes of Proposition 8, a November ballot initiative that would amend California's Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, are employing those images and others in their fundraising strategies.

As of Friday, the initiative's supporters had raised nearly $2.3 million, its foes about $1.3 million. Consultants predict that by the time voters go to the polls 4 1/2 months from now, each side will have raised $15 million or more.

"In many people's minds, it is the civil rights issue of the day, if not the decade," said Steve Smith, the leading political consultant working to keep same-sex marriage legal in California. "People are very focused on it across the country."

Fundraising for the campaigns is only now beginning in a serious way. But groups on each side will rely on images to help them persuade constituents to dip into their pockets.

Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights from its base in Washington, D.C., featured on its website a photo of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin of San Francisco, who have lived together since the Eisenhower administration. They made news around the country when they exchanged vows the evening of June 16.

"Help preserve this momentous victory -- donate to HRC," the caption reads.

Human Rights Campaign has contributed $242,600 so far to defeat the initiative.

On the home page of the National Organization for Marriage, based in New Jersey, a photo prominently shows a different type of family: a man and a woman cuddling a small girl.

"If my Dad married a man, who would be my Mom?" the caption reads. A "donate" button is directly above.

The California arm of the National Organization for Marriage has collected $1.1 million from 80 donors to promote the November initiative.

The California initiative would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Voters approved similar wording in a 2000 ballot initiative, but the measure did not amend the state's Constitution. In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that denying gays the right to marry violated the Constitution.

Although the measure affects only Californians, the battle will extend far beyond the state. Both sides intend to use the Internet to raise money and are receiving donations from across the country.

Opponents have raised 44% of their money from groups and individuals outside California. Backers have raised 34% from outside the state.

The measure is attracting outside interest in part because of its national implications. Out-of-state couples are coming here to marry, and could then sue their home states for not recognizing California marriages.

"It's hard to look at a crystal ball and know what will happen," said Michael Bauer, a major Democratic activist and fundraiser in Chicago who is gay. "That being said, this has massive ramifications, many of which we cannot predict. It is incredibly important from a national perspective to defeat this ballot initiative."

Backers of the measure agree. "This is indeed a national fight for marriage," said Bruce Hausknecht, attorney and policy analyst for Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Focus on the Family, a nonprofit corporation headed by Christian author and radio personality James Dobson, is among the top contributors so far in support of the measure, having donated $386,000.

Focus on the Family also was a top donor in 2004, when voters passed measures banning same-sex marriage in 13 states (but not in California).

Spending for and against this year's initiative almost certainly will dwarf what was spent in all of the 2004 contests. Then, opponents of same-sex marriage spent a combined $6.8 million on the measures and supporters spent $6.6 million, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonprofit group based in Helena, Mont.

"The recent court ruling has elevated the issue," said Edwin Bender, the institute's executive director. "As California goes, the rest of the country goes eventually. There will be more money."

At its early stage, funding for the measure has been something of a replay of California's first marriage initiative. Christian conservative Howard Ahmanson Jr., the Orange County scion of a savings-and-loan fortune, has donated $400,000. Ahmanson was a six-figure donor to California's previous initiative.

Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic organization based in Connecticut, has given $250,000. Its California affiliate has chipped in $25,000. Catholic organizations were significant backers of the measure eight years ago.

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