The Alliance Defense Fund’s David French is using the Iowa judicial retention vote to question whether same-sex marriage is actually inevitable:
I don’t have my head in the sand. I see the poll data indicating that young people increasingly support same-sex marriage, but I also believe that much of that support is soft — dependent on the unique peer pressures and ideological environment on college campuses. Once students emerge into the “real world” will they be so willing to further experiment with an institution already so damaged by no-fault divorce and cohabitation? We shall see.
But until then, can we please hold off on the “inevitable” talk until same-sex marriage can actually win elections?
But here’s the thing: The Iowa judge vote was a battle between one hyper-motivated, highly-funded, out-of-state-supported coalition solely focused on the single issue of same-sex marriage vs. everyone else in the state. That hyper-motivated coalition told supporters that they had to cast a non-retention vote to send a message and/or appease god. They told supporters that this was the most important vote in Iowa, if not the nation. Meanwhile, the ragtag “everyone else” coalition did not have one unifying message, since it included marriage equality supporters who supported the judges, marriage equality supporters who opposed retention for other reasons, indifferent voters, apathetic voters, gay marriage non-supporters who weren’t involved with the “Iowa For Freedom” campaign (and therefore either retained or not for a myriad of other reasons), people who forgot to turn their ballot over, people who didn’t give a damn enough to vote on retention, young voters who always turn out at disproportionately low rates (esp. in midterm elections), etc. etc. So of course the deck was stacked towards non-retention! This site, which covered the IFF campaign with the finest of fine tooth combs, felt that way from the very beginning.
The retention vote was only a same-sex marriage test for the anti-LGBT crowd that turned it into one! In a perfect Iowa, citizens of any political stripe or sexual orientation would have been free to follow their own minds and do their own research into the judges’ full records, then cast whatever vote was on their conscience for whatever reason. The judge vote, by its very design, should not have been politicized in any way. There certainly shouldn’t have been a national takeaway about whether or not gay Americans will ever be free to resume their lives from the pause they’ve had to place on it in order to fight this needless marriage battle. But the anti-gay crowd, ever in search of a vindictive “harumph!” against equality and the supposed “judicial activism” that decides in its favor, turned Streit/Baker/Ternus’ careers into a lopsided us vs. them game. We only had to play along because of their own choice to roll the discriminatory dice.
The truly remarkable thing to this writer’s eyes: That people like David French keep coming out and fully admitting that they wanted this to be a de facto referendum on same-sex marriage. At first these kids were more coy about it, seemingly realizing that the concept was anti-intellectual and anti-judicious. But now they seem to fully embrace it. Perhaps a majority of Americans will go along with this bizarrely revelatory ride, offering up a “right on!” to this undeniably shortsighted misuse of one state’s retention system — stranger things have happened. But I know if I were politically consulting their side, I’d advise toning down the out-of-state gloating that’s been de rigueur in the “protect marriage” movement since Wednesday morning.
Though the beauty part: Since I’m instead working to educate and embolden the team that values judicial fairness, equal protection, due process, intellectual assessment of careers rather than solitary decisions, church/state separation, and state votes that are less like games of Moral Monopoly and more like exercises in moving the jurisdiction along its civil course, I can I come out and say: Keep talking, judge-ousters! After all, an obfuscator’s overplayed hand often has a way of speeding up inevitability’s predestined arrival.
Today, the Human Rights Campaign and the Courage Campaign released a report card on the political activities of the so-called, anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) that shows a mixed outcome this election cycle despite pouring an estimated $5 million into federal and state campaigns in the 2009-2010 election cycles. NOM endorsed at least 29 candidates in the midterm election and as of today, it had lost 19 of those races.
2010 GENERAL: » 10 “wins” for NOM » 19 “losses” for NOM » 1 to close to call » 1 unclear winner
“NOM has emerged in the last two election cycles as the leading fringe, anti-gay political force in the country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “It’s clear they will stop at nothing, including repeatedly ignoring state campaign finance laws to elect anti-gay candidates and punish elected pro-equality officials. And nothing illustrates NOM’s cynicism more than the defeat of three Supreme Court justices in Iowa who were part of a unanimous decision that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. An independent judiciary is now threatened and no organization is more responsible for that than NOM.”
“The rejection of most of NOM’s candidates shows the growing support for LGBT equality across the political spectrum, and just how out of touch NOM’s extremism is with the bread and butter concerns of everyday Americans,” said Courage Campaign Founder and Chairman Rick Jacobs. “Considering the national political environment, NOM’s support was undeniably toxic for many candidates, and NOM’s focus on intimidating judges, attacking families and flouting tax and election laws tells us why.”
The National Organization for Marriage spent at least $2.7 million pushing their nationwide anti-gay agenda during the 2010 election cycle. The outcome? It became clear that jobs and the economy, not marriage, topped voters’ concerns. In fact, LGBT issues had no or minimal influence on how or why people voted.
Although voters were resoundingly focused on the economy this midterm election – and ranked social issues, to include same-sex marriage dead last– the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a Washington D.C.-based anti-gay, fringe organization, put an estimated $5 million into the 2009-10 election cycle to influence the outcome in dozens of federal and state races, according to campaign finance filings, NOM and press reports.
The Report Card
While NOM made significant investments this cycle, its electoral win/loss record is decidedly mixed. In fact, NOM lost more races than it won. NOM endorsed at least 29 candidates. As of Wednesday afternoon, NOM had lost 19 of these races, won eight, and the remaining two (the Minnesota governor’s race and a New Hampshire statehouse candidate) were undecided. With the exception of a judicial election they hijacked in Iowa, NOM lost its most expensive and high-profile gambits in California and New Hampshire and all of its races in Maine and the District of Columbia. And it fought campaign finance laws all along the way.
NOM lost signature battles for governor in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, lost both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races in California, and its star candidate there, Andy Pugno, vying for State Assembly, lost. On the other side of the ledger, NOM was successful in ousting three Iowa Supreme Court justices by spending more than $600,000 and hijacking a retention election that generally attracts little notice or money.
As of October, an unofficial estimate of spending for the midterm election is $2.7 million. For the 2009-10 election cycle, NOM spent more than $5 million. (Again, an unofficial estimate pending state-by-state filing deadlines.)
In California, NOM joined with the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and together spent $1 million on a statewide bus tour supporting U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. Incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer was a special target for NOM (at least $220,000 in advertising) because she is one of the few senators still serving who voted against DOMA (the so-called Defense of Marriage Act) in 1996.
In New Hampshire, NOM claims it spent $1million on television ads targeting the re-election of Gov. John Lynch, who signed the equal marriage bill into law.
In Minnesota, NOM bought $200,000 worth of TV ads in the governor’s race, targeting DFL candidate Mark Dayton, and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, for supporting marriage equality. (That race is still undecided.)
In Iowa, NOM spent approximately $600,000 in the state’s generally sleepy judicial retention election because the three state Supreme Court justices were involved in the unanimous decision holding that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
What the Elections Say About NOM
By targeting federal and state races, NOM established itself as the leading anti-gay political force in the country. NOM started three years ago with a budget of $500,000. The group’s budget has swelled to at least $10 million, according to NOM’s president.
NOM’s president Brian Brown moved to increase the group’s political exposure and activity by announcing the establishment of ActRight.com, which “offers conservatives a central hub for online activism that will hopefully grow in strength to counter” progressive online fundraising.
NOM’s engagement in Iowa had little to do with Iowa. It had everything to do with instilling fear in judges across the country. As its president, Brian Brown, said last month:
“Many people…are looking at the Iowa judicial retention election [and] actually saying this is the most important election because it will send a clear signal to the Supreme Court and other judges that they don’t have the right to make up the law out of thin air. If the people of Iowa…remove these judges, there will be reverberations throughout the country all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”
In addition, NOM inserted itself in legislative or district races in New Hampshire, New York, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Maine, California, and Minnesota. In most of these states/jurisdictions, same-sex marriage is either legal or under consideration. NOM is looking to either contain further advances in places like New York, Rhode Island, Maine and Minnesota, or to defeat pro-equality legislators, elected officials or council members in New Hampshire and the District of Columbia.
In its local election effort, NOM was unsuccessful in defeating a single council member in the District of Columbia. In California, State Assembly candidate Andy Pugno, the architect of Prop 8 and its chief lawyer lost. In that race alone, NOM spent $112,000. In Maine, where NOM was the largest single contributor to Question 1, which reversed the marriage equality law in 2009, NOM lost every single legislative race.
Similar to other secretive political organizations this cycle, including American Crossroads GPS, NOM has kept donors to its campaign efforts under wraps and challenged campaign finance laws to maintain donor anonymity.
NOM filed lawsuits in Rhode Island and New York arguing it should be able to run ads on behalf of Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille and New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, respectively, without abiding by state laws governing campaign finance disclosure. NOM was unsuccessful in both lawsuits.
Last year, NOM received a warning from Iowa’s ethics agency. Engaged in a special election there, NOM promised supporters they could contribute anonymously—without disclosure. The problem is that this promise violated state election law.
NOM remains under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for refusing to disclose the donors to its $1.9-million campaign which overturned Maine’s marriage equality law in 2009.
In California, NOM contributed more than $1.8 million to the Prop. 8 campaign. The group sued the state in federal court to avoid disclosing its donors. California law requires campaign committees to report information for any contributors of $100 or more, which is then made publicly available.
It was our great privilege to serve the people of Iowa for many years. Throughout our judicial service we endeavored to serve the people of Iowa by always adhering to the rule of law, making decisions fairly and impartially according to the law, and faithfully upholding the constitution.
We wish to thank all of the Iowans who voted to retain us for another term. Your support shows that many Iowans value fair and impartial courts. We also want to acknowledge and thank all the Iowans, from across the political spectrum and from different walks of life, who worked tirelessly over the past few months to defend Iowa’s high-caliber court system against an unprecedented attack by out-of-state special interest groups.
Finally, we hope Iowans will continue to support Iowa’s merit selection system for appointing judges. This system helps ensure that judges base their decisions on the law and the Constitution and nothing else. Ultimately, however, the preservation of our state’s fair and impartial courts will require more than the integrity and fortitude of individual judges, it will require the steadfast support of the people.
Chief Justice Marsha Ternus Associate Justice Michael Streit Associate Justice David Baker
The Courage Campaign and the Human Rights Campaign just sent the following press release:
Iowa Courts Hijacked By National Organization for Marriage Intimidation Campaign
Marriage equality remains law in Iowa
WASHINGTON — After tonight’s defeat of the three Iowa state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality last year, the Human Rights Campaign and Courage Campaign condemned the National Organization for Marriage’s efforts to intimidate judges across the country.
NOM’s president Brian Brown has admitted (here) that his group’s effort in Iowa’s judicial election was actually about intimidating judges around the country into ruling against equality for millions of loving American families. In Iowa, NOM spent an unprecedented $600,000 on TV ads and a 45-county bus tour. Despite NOM’s mean-spirited and fear-driven campaign, same-sex marriage remains legal in Iowa.
“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “NOM and its secret donors will target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”
“Having seen its extremist agenda increasingly rejected by the courts and the American people, it is telling that NOM has now settled on a strategy of evading tax and election laws and trying to intimidate judges,” said Courage Campaign Founder and Chairman Rick Jacobs. “These are the tactics one might expect from Al Capone, not a credible political organization.”
Prior to its involvement in this election, NOM received a strong warning from Iowa’s ethics agency for evading campaign laws. During a 2009 special election in the state, NOM told supporters they could contribute to its Iowa campaign efforts secretly–without disclosing their names. Iowa law requires disclosure of contributors to political campaigns.
NOM is also fighting campaign finance laws in New York, Washington, Rhode Island, California and Maine, where it remains under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission for failing to register with the state as a ballot question committee and refusing to disclose the donors to its campaign to overturn Maine’s marriage equality law in 2009.
The Washington Independent has reported that NOM is funneling charitable donations into political campaigns. NOM’s charitable arm, The Ruth Institute, was also the subject of a recent IRS complaint filed by HRC and the Courage Campaign for repeated violations of federal law prohibiting charitable organizations from advocating on behalf of political campaigns.
UPDATE: Statement from One Iowa’s Carolyn Jenison on Iowa’s election results:
On April 3, 2009, Iowans celebrated a historic Iowa Supreme Court decision that granted the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples. This ruling continued a long tradition of recognizing equal rights for all Iowans. It was a hard fought victory and we knew we would have to work very hard to protect it in the years ahead. Over the past year and a half Iowans have fought off and beaten back every attempt to diminish this ruling.
In this election, three of the courageous justices who recognized the freedom to marry in Iowa fell victim to a perfect storm of electoral discontent and out-of-state special interest money. In addition, many of our pro-equality allies from Governor Culver to statehouse candidates lost their seats due to an anti-incumbent mood that swept the nation. We thank them for their distinguished service and we look forward to working with our newly elected legislature and Governor in the weeks and months ahead.
While the full implications of these election results remain to be seen, one thing remains the same:
The freedom to marry in Iowa remains intact.
In the months and weeks ahead we can expect renewed attempts to overturn the freedom to marry and write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution. It will take a concerted and collective effort on the part of pro-equality Iowans to respond to these attacks and defend on our liberties. We hope you’ll join us.
This is no time to be discouraged. While our fight may be tireless, our mission is clear. Together, we will protect marriage equality and preserve Iowa’s long tradition of equal rights for all.
The ardently non-partisan web site Factcheck.org reviews the Iowa TV ad by the National Organization for Marriage and has this to say:
In Iowa, the only issue anyone talks about in connection with the three justices facing retention votes is the court’s 2009 ruling in the case Varnum v. Brien making Iowa the third state in the U.S. to allow same-sex marriage. (Currently five states and Washington, D.C., issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples.) Opposition has been heated, and anti-gay marriage groups are out for the justices’ scalps.
Narrator: Activist judges on Iowa’s Supreme Court have become political, ignoring the will of voters, and imposing same-sex marriage on Iowa. Liberal, out-of-control judges ignoring our traditional values and legislating from the bench, imposing their own values on Iowa. If they can usurp the will of voters and redefine marriage, what will they do to other long-established Iowa traditions and rights? Three of these judges are now on the November ballot. Send them a message. Vote no on retention of Supreme Court Justices.
This ad is rooted mostly in opinion, and everyone is entitled to that. If Iowa for Freedom and the National Organization for Marriage believe that the state’s justices have “become political” and are “liberal” and “out-of-control,” we’re not going to argue. We can, however, point out a few facts and provide some context.
For one thing, the court decision was unanimous. That means that it included the two justices who were appointed by a Republican governor, Terry Branstad – who, by the way, signed the law that was overturned by this decision and has criticized the court’s action. One of those two justices, Mark Cady, was the author of the opinion. The other, Marsha Ternus, is one of the three justices — the others are David Baker and Michael Streit — who are up for a retention vote.
Second, like it or not, “ignoring the will of voters” is exactly what justices are called on to do. They are meant to base their decisions on the facts and the law, most important, the state constitution. Furthermore, the “will of the voters” is not entirely clear; most polls, such as one conducted for Des Moines television station KCCI last February, have found Iowans closely divided (this one asked respondents whether they’d favor a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage). Several months before that, a poll for the Des Moines Register found similar results. It also found that well under half of those polled said they disapproved of the court’s decision:
Des Moines Register, Sept. 21, 2009: The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April’s unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don’t care much or are not sure.
Finally, the ad says that the justices were “legislating from the bench” and “imposing their own values” when they issued the decision. Those are clearly opinions. But we would point out that the court ruled that the legislature had violated the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Here’s part of what Cady wrote about that:
Varnum v. Brien, April 3, 2009: We are firmly convinced that the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification. …
This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage as a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all.
The fear and loathing on the NOM “Judge Bus” Tour has finally come to an end. Well, the tour ended, but not the fear and loathing, of course.
In Davenport, the Judge Bus pulled into Lafayette Park. Steve King and Tony Perkins addressed the audience of 24, several of whom waved checkered flags to signify the last leg of the tour. Twenty-seven equality supporters waved handmade signs, chanted and sang throughout the program before attending their own rally.
“There wasn’t many of us here, but God was here…and [we were] also in the innumerable company of angels who we cannot see physically,” said one NOM supporter from Illinois.
Next, the Judge Bus pulled into a parking lot just outside of the Port of Burlington Visitor Center and was greeted by it’s largest crowd of the tour, a group of 72 attendees listened to King and Perkins make their usual comments.
At the end of the rally, a local unidentified man was given the microphone and felt compelled to point out the NOM Tour Trackers to the crowd and warned attendees from speaking to us. He kept referring to us as “Wonk Room,” our friends at Think Progress, but we appreciated the gesture nonetheless.
Their largest rally was followed by their smallest.
Chuck Hurley, Steve King, Bob Vander Plaats and Tony Perkins met 4 people (and a rather large dog) in a park in Ottumwa.
In Pella, at the next whistlestop, we spoke to a teenager who was one of 23 attendees agreed to go on camera to give us the youth perspective. She too was deeply concerned about activist judges, but was unable to name a single decision other than the same-sex marriage decision that she disagreed with.
For the final stop of the tour, the Judge Bus returned to the city it started in Des Moines, hosting a rally in front of the Iowa Supreme Court.
Sixty-five NOM supporters joined Vander Plaats, Perkins and Tamara Scott from Concerned Women for America.
Perkins again focused on unimagined rights language from the decision. “It’s fine to have Goofy and Dumbo at Disneyland, but not on the bench,” he said to applause.
Scott then offered one of my favorite moments from the tour. She was leading the crowd through a call and response exercise in which she’d ask a question to which the audience was supposed to respond “No.”
“Are you anti like the media makes you out to be?”
“No,” the audience screamed with zero sense of irony.
It was the only time I laughed out loud during the speeches. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there.
As a final cherry on top of this tour, check out this Judge Bus compilation of interviews, featuring the always entertaining Bob Vander Plaats at the beginning — and a shout-out to all of us at “Wonk Room,” er, Courage’s NOM Tour Tracker:
In Council Bluffs, we had the privilege of speaking with Reva and Ingrid Evans Olson–whom you might remember were plaintiffs in Iowa’s marriage lawsuit that paved the way for marriage equality in Iowa.
During our chat, Ingrid didn’t mince words when asked her views of the National Organization for Marriage. They should just “go home.”
A second couple Mike Howell and Hersh Rodasky–together for 29 years and married in Iowa–agreed. “These people from out of state need to leave us alone.”
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