A pair of rivals in the Proposition 8 fight have taken their battle national.
Each has a conspiracy theory about the other that they're trying to sell. In one corner is Fred Karger, a long-time successful Los Angeles-based political consultant who is also gay. He founded the group Californians Against Hate last June to fight Prop. 8, the successful initiative to ban gay marriage in California. During and after the election, his group has publicized the names of people who gave to the Prop. 8 campaign.
In his view, both the Prop. 8 campaign and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are "Mormon front groups" that have been trying to hide their connections to the LDS Church. He has filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission alleging the LDS Church did not properly report all their donations to Prop. 8, and has launched a website seeking to tie NOM to the Church.
In the other corner is Maggie Gallagher, the founder and president of both NOM and Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. She claims Karger is engaged in a "campaign of intimidation" that is designed to force the LDS Church "out of the public square by making the cost of participation too high."
As the marriage fight moves into states like Vermont and Iowa, she said, the ultimate goal of Karger and other gay marriage activists should become clear to people: giving "Obama a reason to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA).
"Getting rid of DOMA is key to the ultimate goal, which is to create a national constitutional right to gay marriage," Gallagher said. "I don't think that's any secret. We're gearing up for that battle."
The war of words between these familiar rivals — Karger refers to Gallager as "Maggie," while Gallagher often jokingly calls Karger "my friend" — is taking place against a backdrop of a marriage fight that is heating up in other states. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned a state ban on gay marriage on April 3. On April 7, the Vermont Legislature legalized gay marriage, narrowly overriding a veto threat by Republican Governor Jim Douglas. Leading up to the vote, NOM paid for a campaign of robo-calls to Vermont voters urging them to contact their legislators to oppose the bill.
The Northeast region has become a focal point in the marriage fight. Connecticut and Massachusetts already allow gay marriage. Lawmakers in Maine and New Hampshire are considering legalizing it. Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine said in 2007 that he would sign a gay marriage bill if it landed on his desk. A state government-commissioned report added fuel to that fire in December when it found that New Jersey's current civil union law does not provide equal protection.
On Tuesday in Trenton, N.J., NOM held a press conference to announce "Two Million for Marriage" initiative. The goal over the next two years is to create a network of two million anti-gay marriage activists across the country. NOM also announced a $1.5 million media buy targeting states including Iowa, New Hampshire and New Jersey. An ad from the new campaign, "The Gathering Storm," can be seen on YouTube.
With so many potential big-money fights brewing, Karger is unapologetic in his effort to shut off some of the flow of money to the other side.
"I really have two goals there-one is to slow them down," Karger said. The other, he added, is to "make it unacceptable to contribute against equality."
He's also unapologetic in his efforts to use the discomfort many people have with the Mormon Church to further this cause. He cited polls showing them having the lowest "acceptability" rating of any major religious group-especially in "libertarian" leaning Vermont, which he said is among the "most secular" states in the nation.
In November, Karger filed a FPPC complaint charging that the Mormon Church hid millions in direct and indirect contributions to the Prop. 8 campaign. He's also filed federal form 990 request to get at the funding of NOM. He said the group has until April 23 to reply.
He's also put up a website, Mormongate, detailing the links he sees. Much of the evidence comes from a series of memos that were "dumped in my lap" last year showing leaders in the Mormon Church setting up an anti-gay rights front group in Hawaii in the 1990s.
"My jaw dropped when I started reading them and never came back into line," Karger said.
It shows a series of communications between Elder Neal Maxwell, lobbyist and other church leaders to create a group called Hawaii's Future Today. It was designed to have a Catholic public face, according to the memos, and focus on other issues such as gambling in order to seem like it was not just an anti-gay rights group. Karger said that no one has claimed that the memos are not real.
But Gallagher said "There is no evidence at all he offers about NOM."
As to the idea that NOM is a Mormon front group, she said: "I wish it were true. There is nothing wrong with the Mormon Church or the Catholic Church working to join with other to civic organizations." She added NOM's board consists of several Protestants and Catholics, as well as a single Mormon, whom she declined to name.
"If I can find an atheist who wants to get out in front on the marriage issue, I'll stick them on my board," Gallagher added.
She tells a very different story about her group's founding. After spending 15 years as the director of the marriage program at the Institute for American Values, she said, in 2003 she became aware that gay marriage was about to become a major political issue. She founded the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy as a think tank that would focus on the issue, using a $10,000 check from a Protestant group as seed money.
"I felt very strongly that the people who cared about marriage were not sufficiently involved in this debate," she said.
After an anti-gay marriage initiative went down in 2006 in Arizona, she said, she wanted to create a group that could be more directly involved politically. In the summer of 2007, she worked with Robbie George, a Princeton professor and current board member of NOM, to create the group. This time they started out with $100,000 from a Catholic group and $125,000 from a Protestant one.
In October of that year, she said, she got a call from a woman in San Diego representing a group of about 30 people who were upset that Mayor Jerry Sanders had come out in favor of an effort to overturn Prop. 22, a 2000 non-constitutional anti-gay marriage initiative passed by voters.
Gallagher said that she soon flew out to San Diego to meet with them, and the first state chapter of the Princeton, N.J., based group was formed. They soon collaborated with the California-based group ProtectMarriage, each raising $1 million to get Prop. 8 on last November's ballot. Not only did they win that fight, she said, but also a 2008 rematch in Arizona.