Anti Gay-Marriage Group Hails Election of NY GOP Congressman

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday September 14, 2011

Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) poured a reported $75,000 into a special election for New York's 9th Congressional District, a heavily Democratic district with a largely Jewish population.

The victory of NOM's candidate, Catholic Republican Bob Turner, 70, was immediately spun by the anti-gay group as a referendum on New York's new marriage equality law.

Reputable news sources noted that while his support for marriage equality likely cost him some Orthodox Jewish votes, Democratic contender David Weprin mostly suffered from a backlash against President Obama's handling of the ongoing economic crisis, as well as Obama's policies regarding Israel.

Republican Congressioanl leaders also called the result a "referendum," but not on gays. Rather, Speaker of the House John Boehner said that the election "delivered a strong warning to the Democrats who control the levers of power in our federal government," a Sept. 14 CBS News article said.

"It's time to scrap the failed 'stimulus' agenda and the misguided policies on Israel and focus on getting America back to creating jobs again," Boehner specified.

Pete Sessions, a Republican Congressman from Texas, offered similar sentiments.

"New Yorkers put Washington Democrats on notice that voters are losing confidence in a President whose policies assault job-creators and affront Israel," Sessions remarked, ABC News reported on Sept. 14.

"An unpopular President Obama is now a liability for Democrats nationwide in a 2012 election that is a referendum on his economic policies," Sessions added.

Gay Republican group the Log Cabin Republicans also identified the Administration's economic policies s the driving factor in Turner's victory, as well as that of Republican candidate Mark Amodei in a special election in Nevada.

"Republicans won in Nevada and New York because of their focus on jobs, the deficit and the failed leadership of President Barrack Obama," Log Cabin Republicans head R. Clarke Cooper said in a Sept. 14 media release.

"The President and his allies threw millions of dollars in to these races in an effort to distract voters from staggering unemployment and an overwhelming debt. Just as the American people are not moved by gimmicks proposed by the White House, they stood against the hand-picked, machine-backed nominees who at best would be rubber stamps for failed Democratic policies," Cooper added.

"Voters in 2010 wanted a change, but Democrats responded by doubling down, reelecting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The 2012 elections will be another referendum with Obama ultimately ousted from the White House. We look forward to working with Congressmen-elect Mark Amodei and Bob Turner on efforts to create jobs, reduce the deficit and put America back on track."

The Log Cabin Republicans scored a major victory for gay conservatives when a court challenge the group brought against the anti-gay law "Don't Ask Don't Tell," which banned openly gay and lesbian servicemembers from the Armed Forces, resulted in a verdict that the law was unconstitutional.

Congress subsequently voted to repeal DADT. The final repeal of the anti-gay law is expected to take place on Sept. 20.

Politico noted that the election marked a reversal of fortunes for New York's Republican party following losses in three special elections, one after the next, and chalked up the win as a score for the Republican Jewish Coalition.

"No, a Jewish Republican didn't get elected, but the RJC rallied around Turner's bid and boosted his efforts to frame the race as a referendum on President Barack Obama's policies on Israel in a district where Jews comprise nearly one-third of the population," Politico noted in a Sept. 14 article. "The RJC sent mailers to 30,000 Jewish households, all designed to highlight the notion of Obama's frosty relationship with Israel."

Politico also attributed the result to an poorly organized and ineptly run campaign on the part of the Weprin camp. The article said, "Weprin ran a lousy campaign" and noted, "it was the Parkside Group, a New York City consulting firm, that was at the helm."

Politico noted almost as an aside that NOM had "dispatched Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein to record an anti-Weprin robocall," and added, "the Family Research Council also hammered Weprin in a New York City district that is more socially conservative than its neighboring seats."

But text posted at NOM's website on Sept. 14 laid credit for the victory solely at the door of the marriage equality issue and congratulated NOM itself for the victory, with the group's head Brian Brown declaring, "NY-9 is another victory for marriage in our country.

"This district, which Obama won, Clinton won, and which has had a Democrat in Congress since 1923, showed Tuesday that marriage is important," Brown continued. "David Weprin was not able to defend himself against his vote to support same-sex marriage in New York, and his constituents made that clear," Brown added. " And on Tuesday, well over a majority of them showed Weprin that they have had enough."

NOM's victory dance continued with Brown declaring, "David Weprin is not going to Congress for one reason: He listened to Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and a few billionaires on Wall Street and went along with them to redefine marriage.

"Weprin foolishly believed them when they promised to protect him from any fallout over his vote to redefine marriage," Brown added. "The HRC even has gone so far as to absurdly claim that no politician has ever been defeated over his or her vote to redefine marriage, even though NOM is responsible for defeating countless same-sex marriage advocates and electing hundreds of candidates who have pledged their support for traditional marriage."

Brown did not mention the circumstances that led to the special election on Sept. 13. The race was for the seat vacated by married heterosexual politician Anthony Weiner, who resigned after lewd photos he had texted to women became public.

Weiner attempted for two weeks to deny that he had sent the photos, going so far as to suggest that a conservative blogger might have sent them in an attempt to discredit him. Finally, however, the Democratic Congressman admitted that the photos were of himself and that he had sent them. Weiner apologized and stepped down from office on June 17.

But at no point did Weiner suggest that the lifelong commitments between same-sex couples that the state of New York celebrated by extending marriage equality to them were in any way responsible for his conduct.

GOP politicians in general have been quiet on the issue. Though NOM's Brown attributed Turner's victory to voter dissatisfaction over the issue of marriage equality, Turner himself campaigned on a promise to stand against the policies of the Obama Administration, including Obama's stance on Israel. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch "endorsed Turner in July as a way to 'send a message' to Obama on his policies toward Israel" even though Koch is a Democrat, the Associated Press noted in a Sept. 14 article.

"And Weprin was challenged on his support of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, in lower Manhattan," the article added.

NOM has vowed to unseat GOP politicians who supported marriage equality in New York. The group has begun a billboard campaign targeting all four GOP lawmakers who joined state Democrats in voting for the measure, which made New York the eighth state to approve marriage equality for gay and lesbian families.

Such pushback and rhetoric is standard NOM practice. The group was instrumental in the successful campaign to pass the deeply divisive ballot initiative, Proposition 8 that rescinded the then-existing marriage rights of same-sex families in California in 2008.

The following year, voters in Maine repealed a marriage equality in that state before it could take effect -- again, with marriage foes receiving substantial support from NOM.

But the anti-gay group has found that the road to denying committed same-sex couples legal standing has been bumpy. Both California and Maine have investigated the group for breaking campaign finance laws, and courts have ordered NOM to turn over its donor lists for anti-gay campaigns in both states.

Moreover, Proposition 8 itself -- a keystone accomplishment for the Mormon-affiliated anti-gay group -- was found unconstitutional in federal court last year. That case is under appeal and observers expect that the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say.

The country's economic woes have made political races more volatile than ever. In the 2010 midterms, Democrats were handed heavy losses at the state and federal levels, as the ongoing economic crisis, which began during the last year of George W. Bush's presidency, persisted. The Obama Administration's controversial health care reforms and economic stimulus plans provided handy political ammo to conservatives.

But Republicans, too, have felt the sting of voter discontent. "In a special election in May, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a heavily Republican upstate district after pledging to protect Medicare, the popular government health care plan for seniors," the AP article noted.

Moreover, the brinksmanship exhibited by GOP leaders as the nation approached default due to the government's inability to come up with a budget plan has led to plummeting Congressional approval levels.

On the national stage, contenders in the crowded GOP field of hopefuls for the party's nomination in the 2012 presidential election have largely avoided talk about social questions, including GLBT equality and marriage parity, although all of the current frontrunners -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann -- have said that they would support an amendment to the United States Constitution that would restrict marriage as a special right to be enjoyed exclusively by heterosexual families.

Moreover, all three have also signed onto an NOM campaign pledge that calls for a president who supports banning marriage equality on a national level and would appoint a commission to "investigate" GLBT Americans.

Such an amendment would supersede the laws in the sex states that currently provide marriage equality, taking the issue away from states and most likely dissolving the marriages of America's gay and lesbian families.

Recent polls indicate that Americans are evenly divided on the question of marriage parity for gay and lesbian families, with a bare majority favoring marriage rights for same-sex couples. A new Associated Press poll found that although support for marriage equality is growing, opponents are more emotionally charged over the issue than heterosexual supporters.

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.