PMW’s Repeat of Misinformation does not Make It Right or True

Washington United for Marriage, the broad coalition working to approve Referendum 74, today launched another on an op-ed penned by PMW’s Joseph Backholm which simply repeats the false and misleading claims around the freedom to marry designed to confuse and scare voters.

“Our opponents clearly operate under the belief that repetition somehow turns misinformation and distortion into the truth,” said WUM campaign manager Zach Silk. “They’ve got nothing new to say, so their objective is simply to repeat their claims and try to fool voters.  We believe they’ve underestimated Washington voters and we’re going to hold them to a high standard of truth-telling.”

FACT CHECK: Backholm Op-ed in the Seattle Times – 10/16/12

The following is a fact check of claims made by Preserve Marriage Washington’s Joseph Backholm in an op-ed published in the Seattle Times:

ASSERTION: “Referendum 74 is about the definition of marriage. It’s not an issue of legal rights. In 2009, voters approved the ‘Everything but Marriage’ law which grants same-sex couples every right and benefit of marriage.”

FACTS: While domestic partnerships are legal in Washington, states that have passed such laws have found them to be fundamentally unequal and harmful. [See herehere, and here.] As the Supreme Court of Connecticut wrote in 2008 when it struck down a statute that prohibited same-sex marriage, civil unions and marriage “are by no means ‘equal.’”  The court explained in its opinion: “Despite the truly laudable effort of the legislature in equalizing the legal rights afforded same sex and opposite sex couples, there is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage.”

ASSERTION: “Kids do best when raised by their married mother and father.”

FACTS:  Backholm cites no actual research to substantiate this claim.  In fact, a wealth of research exists that finds the gender of parents has no impact on children’s wellbeing. In 2010, sociologists Judith Stacey (New York University) and Tim Biblarz (University of Southern California) conducted a review of nearly every study on gay parenting. They found that “Current claims that children need both a mother and father are spurious… At this point no research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being.” Studies contending children of same-sex parents fare worse than children of heterosexual couples have been widely criticized for employing faulty methodology.

ASSERTION: “In Massachusetts, kids as young as second grade have been taught about same-sex marriage in class. When parents objected, courts ruled that they had no right to prior notice of the upcoming lesson, or to opt their children out it.”

FACTS: The courts have ruled that parents’ rights to exercise their religious beliefs are not violated because of contrary ideas in school.  There are only two examples of Massachusetts parents issuing complaints about the materials taught in their children’s classrooms.

One of the children was given a “diversity book bag” that included the book, “Who’s in a Family”, which depicts a variety of non-traditional families, but the book was not required reading.  Another involved a child being read “King & King” in a second-grade class.

After two rulings that were favorable to the schools, the Supreme Court refused to hear the couples’ joint case.  Kris Mineau, executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, couldn’t cite incidents other than the two in Lexington when he was pressed to do so.  He said, “I don’t have documentation of everything going on.”

ASSERTION: “In Boston and Washington, D.C., jurisdictions where marriage has been redefined, religious groups like Catholic Charities had to choose between fulfilling their social mission based on their religious beliefs, or accepting this new definition of marriage. As a result, they had to close their adoption programs.”

FACTS: Instead of complying with non-discrimination laws currently on the books that apply to any organization receiving taxpayer dollars, Catholic charities in Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington, D.C. CHOSE to abandon adoption services. These conflicts arose over long-standing non-discrimination laws, which had nothing to do with same-sex marriage.  The former chair of Catholic Charities in Boston disputes this claim, adding that eight board members resigned as a result of that decision:

ASSERTION: “Wedding professionals have been fined for refusing to participate in same-sex ceremonies. A few weeks ago, innkeepers in Vermont had to pay $30,000 because they declined to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings. … Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other licensed professionals risk their state licensures for acting in concert with their beliefs about marriage.”

FACTS: The issue here is not same-sex marriage but rather existing state laws that prohibit discrimination. For example, the manager of the Vermont inn cited the owners’ “personal feelings” as the reason why it refused to host the lesbian couple’s wedding. But the Vermont Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act prohibits public accommodations – such as inns, restaurants and schools that serve the public – “from denying goods and services based on customers’ sexual orientation.” A summary of Washington State’s anti-discrimination law can be found here.

Finally, this was no “mom and pop” operation. The owners has a business with annual revenues between $2.5-5 million and, like any business, were subject to public accommodations laws.  It’s also important to note that the couple sought $1 and punitive damages, but ultimately agreed to move — $20,000 for a charitable trust, with payments extended into 2015, and a $10,000 penalty paid to the state of Vermont.