Publisher’s Note: Here is another post from our fabulous correspondent on Gender Issues, the Gender Junkie! She is an LGBTQ activist and wage slave living in Seattle, and is tracking many of these issues closely. For her previous post, see here.
Frank Schubert has a plan to deny Washington’s gay couples their rights this November, and he wants you to know about it.
The PR director shot to fame in 2008, when his public relations firm propelled Proposition 8 to victory in California, stripping LGB citizens of their right to marry. Since then, he’s had a hand in the victory of every anti-gay marriage measure that’s appeared on a state ballot.
Although he has been toasted as a wizard in the PR world and excoriated in the LGBT world, his name hasn’t widely been known outside those circles. Recently appointed, the president of National Organzation for Marriage, an anti-gay tentacle monster currently funding and organizing all four of the anti-gay campaigns on the ballot in November, Schubert hopes to add a few more notches to his belt. He launched a media blitz in July, promoting himself as the new face of the anti-gay movement: a hateful whiz-kid who’s just so good at his game you can’t help but respect him.
Schubert admits, like so many other faces of NOM, that he has lived a life at odds with the church’s teachings on marriage. He is divorced and remarried. (Former president Maggie Gallagher is a single mom.)
His candor contrasts sharply with the extreme secrecy of his organization. No one knows exactly who funds NOM. Political watchdogs argue that the Catholic Church and the Latter Day Saints are the primary sources, but the truth has never been revealed. The organization is significantly more forthcoming about its game plan.
In his puff piece with the Star Tribune, Schubert describes the heart of this plan.
“Nearly 20 years ago, during a campaign to change Michigan auto insurance laws, Schubert was under pressure to air an emotional ad — one designed to close out the campaign — much earlier than he had planned. Schubert acceded. Opponents had time to air an equally powerful counterpunch and his side lost.”
Now he knows better. Schubert and NOM have worked out a game plan in which they stay quiet in the early cycles of the election, building support among church groups who will put feet on the ground, but staying largely quiet in the media. Then, a matter of weeks before the election, they carpet bomb the state with ads stirring up gay panic, usually centered around the fictitious specter of children corrupted by same-sex marriage.
This move often leaves the marriage equality campaigns, coasting along with a modest lead at this point, reeling and sputtering, with too little time to get out their own ad campaigns responding to whatever the crazy accusations are this time: gay sex being in taught in public schools, religious agencies forced to adopt out babies to gay couples, a million other things that either will never happen or already happen, but either way have no direct relation to the legality of gay marriage. (Adoption agencies really aren’t allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples in many states, but that’s down to anti-discrimination laws, not gay marriage.)
Luckily, even before Frank Schubert’s media moment, marriage equality activists had wised up. I’ve talked to many members of the Washington United for Marriage team, and they all agree they’re aware of this ploy, and are making plans for it. A big problem in previous campaigns has been money.
It costs a lot of money to counter that much negative campaigning. In California, the netroots, sensing trouble in the final weeks of the campaign, launched an effective nationwide fundraising campaign, (I myself made my first ever donation to a political campaign during that big push,) but the money simply came too late for the marriage equality campaign in California to put it to good use. Now the focus is on building a coffer, and building it early. Jeff Bezos’s $2.5 million donation in July certainly helped get the ball rolling.
Another crucial part of NOM and Schubert’s plan, which they’re less forthcoming about, is their tight control over the rhetoric of the anti-gay side. NOM is notorious for coming in and pushing aside local anti-gay activists, controlling the message as they see fit. Local loose cannons, like Kirkland megachurch pastor Ken Hutcherson, the kind of wild-eyed homophobe who rails against the danger of men holding doors open for each other, and failed state attorney general candidate Steven Pidgeon (who I wrote about on the Political Junkie here) have been nowhere to be seen since NOM and its proxy Protect Marriage Washington took control of the race. Yet NOM has also been willing to push harder and aim lower than their local counterparts, as in Maine in 2009, when they insisted on running an ad depicting sex toys, which local anti-gay activists protested for going too far
We will see if this creates any friction here in Washington state this year, where the notoriously prickly Washington GOP is desperate to keep social issues out of the news while Rob McKenna, who is anti-marriage equality, is running for governor.
Right now, marriage equality seems to be polling well in Washington. The most recent poll shows 50% planning to approve, and only 43% planning to reject. Unfortunately, as I’ve noted before, these are numbers similar to what California was polling this far out from its election.
In fact, if you look at nationwide polling, showing 52-54% support, Washington is lagging slightly behind the curve on marriage equality, which is weird for a bunch of latte-sipping secular elitists like us. What gives? Repeatedly, voters in states with marriage equality ballots have shown themselves to be mildly positive toward gay marriage until the anti-gay noise machine starts humming. The dismally low support among Washington Republicans (just 10%) may be explained by the anti-gay language and pressure to sign the petition that’s been thundering down from the pulpits for weeks now.
So, as always, I want to remind voters there is a consistent pattern of anti-gay activists successfully whittling away support from gay marriage over the course of an election. Washington United for Marriage is smart, and ready for this, but all too soon, they’re going to have their hands full playing defense against a playbook of despicable, bigoted, and outdated charges.
Mudslinging works. Sowing doubt about the other guy works. By making itself so powerful, and yet so invisible, NOM has perfected the art of winning ballot measures. Gay people have a long history of being targeted for hatred and violence, and as long as the courts are okay with forcing us to fight for our basic rights in the field of public opinion, anti-gays have a rich tradition of homophobic scare tactics to draw from. Years of prejudice makes it easy for gay panic to be stirred up, while the very people doing the stirring, who are neither Washingtonians, nor concerned with Washington’s best interests, sit in the shadows, above the fray. Certainly, no one is scrutinizing them to see if they have earned their civil rights!
Frank Schubert has a playbook, and I, for one, would love to make him throw that playbook out at the end of this year, and prove that bigotry and lies about gay people don’t win in Washington state.
One piece of positive news: Polls around the nation show that both Latino and African Americans voters, groups the anti-gays used to believe were reliably on their sides, have made a massive shift toward support for gay marriage in recent months. Hispanics make up 11.2% of the voters in Washington. This is an important thing to remember as nationwide support for marriage equality continues to surge among racial minorities.