Anti-Gay Group Loses Secret Donor List Case

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 23, 2011

Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage spends millions of dollars on campaigns around the nation to prevent--and, sometimes, rescind--marriage equality. The source of those funds is at the heart of a federal case in which GLBT equality advocates pressed for the release of NOM's donor list, while the anti-gay group fought to keep that information away from the public.

NOM lost the case on Feb. 18, when U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby issued a summary judgment against the group. Hornby's verdict found that a Maine law requiring groups contributing large sums to election and referendum campaigns to make their donors a matter of public record did not violate Constitutional rights, the Christian Post reported on Feb. 21.

NOM, which is based in Virginia, has targeted states where marriage might become legal, as well as focusing on states where marriage equality is the law. The group has been linked to the Mormon Church, which funneled millions into California in 2008 to rescind then-existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families. The deeply divisive campaign resulted in the narrow approval of Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution in a way that abrogated the rights of same-sex couples. Even so, a subsequent court decision found that the 18,000 gay and lesbian families that had wed during the six months that marriage equality was legal in California were still legally wed within the state's borders.

A challenge to Proposition 8's constitutionality in federal court led to a ruling against the amendment. That ruling is under appeal.

NOM had played a significant part in the passage of Proposition 8. The following year, NOM involved itself in a referendum to repeal marriage equality in Maine, where state lawmakers had granted family parity rights to same-sex couples earlier in the year. Voters stripped gay and lesbian families of the right to wed by repealing the law at the ballot box before it could take effect.

But NOM's involvement brought scrutiny from GLBT advocacy groups. Maine's Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices reportedly received a request from Californians Against Hate to look into NOM's funding and to require the anti-gay group to abide by Maine law, the Christian Post article said. The law requires that groups contributing more than $5,000 must register and also must disclose their donor lists, identifying individuals who give more than $100, the Christian Post reported.

NOM refused to make the donor list public, saying that to do so would endanger donors. NOM then sued in order to keep its donor list out of the public record, arguing that the state law applied to political action committees, but should not also apply to committees funding ballot initiatives, reported LGBTQ Nation on Feb. 20.

A Feb. 19 Associated Press article noted that NOM's contribution to a Maine anti-gay group far exceeded the $5,000 mark. "NOM donated $1.9 million to Stand for Marriage Maine, a political action committee that helped repeal Maine's same sex marriage law," the AP reported.

"This is an important law because it allows Maine voters to know who is trying to influence them with respect to ballot questions," said the head of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, Jonathan Wayne, according to a Feb. 23 article in local newspaper the Kennebec Journal. "It is a good decision for transparency in politics."

A separate suit to prevent Maine from obtaining the information is still in the courts.

An Aug. 17, 2010, EDGE article reported that NOM was also involved in a legal fight with California, where state election laws require that donors giving $100 or more be identified.

"The super-mysterious National Organization for Marriage is relentless in its desire to intimidate and harm people through its mean, untruthful and potentially illegal activities," the head of Californians Against hate (re-named Rights Equal Rights), Fred Karger, told EDGE last year. "The ones hurt the most by NOM are the very ones they claim they want to protect, our LGBTQ youth. A Congressional Investigation is needed of the National Organization for Marriage."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.