Protesters Target Supporters of Gay Marriage Ban

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By Ashley Surdin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 -- The backlash against those who supported a ban on same-sex marriage continues to roil California and nearby states.

Protests and vandalism of churches, boycotts of businesses and possibly related mailings of envelopes filled with white powder have followed the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

In Sacramento, a high-profile theater director resigned from his job of 25 years after a boycott threat over his $1,000 donation in support of the measure. In Los Angeles, a Mexican restaurant owner, a Mormon who donated $100, was reduced to tears and left town after hundreds of protesters confronted her at work, by phone and on the Internet.

"You express your beliefs and you have to be punished for it?" said Arnoldo Archila, an employee at the El Coyote restaurant. "This is not right, not in this country. This is not Iraq."

The brunt of the backlash has been aimed at the Mormon Church, which called on members to support the ban. According to Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for the initiative, those church members provided $15 million to $20 million of the estimated $40 million raised to support the effort.

The FBI reported Friday that white powder found in envelopes that had been sent to the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially known, and to a Mormon temple in Los Angeles turned out to be nontoxic. It has not been determined whether the substance, which forced church officials to close the facilities, was related to Proposition 8, but church leaders said they would not be surprised.

"It's very clear that we've been singled out," said Michael Otterson, a church spokesman.

Otterson said church members have been hurt by assertions that their support of the ban translates into hatred for gays, who are welcomed to worship in the church. The notion that the church dominated the election from out of state is equally wrong, he said.

"[W]e're talking about 750,000 Californians who are Latter-day Saints," he said. "These are California families. They are registered voters. They have the right and the obligation to express themselves on a major social issue. To imply that there was an attempt to manipulate the election from outside the state is bizarre and absolutely ridiculous."

Church members "have a right to speak, they have a right to vote and to do so without this kind of reaction and without this kind of intimidation," Otterson said.

But others say the Mormon Church exercised unfair influence. Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday, asserting that the church did not report numerous non-monetary contributions to ProtectMarriage.com, the coalition behind Proposition 8.

Karger contends, among other things, that the church organized phone banks from Utah and Idaho, transported people to California for several weeks, and produced 9 commercials, 4 videos and 2 satellite simulcasts seen in 5 Western states.

In Utah, gay rights advocates hope to turn the outcome of California's election into expanded rights for gays in their state. Equality Utah, an advocacy group, has seized on a post-election statement from the church that noted that "the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."

Equality Utah supports the introduction of five bills that would expand those rights for gays in the state.

Otterson said the church's statement was based on civil unions in California and that no decision has been made regarding similar rights in Utah.

"I don't want to give the impression that the church is saying civil unions in all cases are okay," Otterson said.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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