Washington United for Marriage Condemns Harassment, But Notes Pervasive Political Tactic

Washington United for Marriage’s campaign manager Zach Silk issued the following statement and set of facts after assertions by opponents that two of their supporters were victims of harassment.

“Let me be clear. We condemn any act of this sort and we have been explicit with our supporters — we respect everyone, no matter where they stand on Referendum 74.  In fact, we sent an email to our entire list in early September calling for respect and restraint, and another to our staff.

“Having said that, this sort of claim is, sadly, a well-worn, cynical political tactic by the National Organization of Marriage (NOM) that began in California in 2008 and has been regularly trotted out ever since.  They have neatly turned the basic argument — that they and their supporters are subject to harassment — into a near constant lament in the final weeks of these campaigns.”

[Both emails are copied below.]

WUM released the following marriagefactcheck.com on the repeated claims by opponents that they are subject to undue harassment and intimidation:

FACT: Allegations Of A “Systematic” And “Coordinated” Intimidation Campaign Against Opponents Of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Are Unsubstantiated – The Argument Itself Is A Political Tactic.   The opposition’s claims that an intimidation campaign has been waged against them – a common refrain in political campaigns – are unfounded.  As noted in an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by lawyers for the nation’s leading LGBT rights organizations: “When subjecting a minority group to political attack, a common tactic is to claim that the minority is itself the aggressor from whom protection is required.”

Opponents of the freedom to marry point to allegations of intimidation tactics during the Proposition 8 battle in California as well as the Referendum 71 battle in Washington State – allegations that are not supported by the facts.

Some signers of the petition to put Prop 8 on the ballot in California claimed they were subjected to retaliation.  But, as noted in an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by lawyers for the nation’s leading LGBT rights organizations: “[T]here is not a single alleged incident of retaliation based on signing a petition opposing legal protections for same-sex couples.  The best Petitioners have been able to come up with is that a lesbian couple ‘glared’ at a woman signing their petition and tried (unsuccessfully) to lobby her not to sign by telling her that ‘[w]e have feelings too.’”
Opponents of same-sex marriage alleged that their supporters “became death threat targets,” “feared physical harm to self or family,” and had their property vandalized.  But as the lawyers wrote in the amicus brief, “[T]here is no basis for claiming that such incidents, if true, were pervasive or even common – much less part of a ‘well-coordinated’ campaign. … Second, such alleged instances were in large part directed at persons engaged in visible advocacy (or advocacy items, such as yard signs). While this is no excuse, the targeting of leaders and symbols is endemic tomany heated campaigns.”

FACT:  A Republican-Appointed U.S. District Judge In California Ruled That Prop 8 Supporters Had “Limited Evidence” That Violence Against Opponents Of Same-Sex Marriage Was Pervasive Or Even Related To Prop 8. U.S. District Judge Morrison England wrote in November 2011: “Plaintiffs have produced insufficient evidence that the more incendiary events on which they rely were connected to Proposition 8 or to gay marriage at all.  Rather, a number of these incidents were directed at the Mormon church, which, though a backer of California’s proposition, may also have been a target for any of a number of other reasons. … [W]hile Plaintiffs can point to a relatively few unsavory acts committed by extremists or criminals, these acts are so small in number, and in some instances their connection to plaintiffs’ supporters so attenuated, that they do not show a reasonable probability plaintiffs’ contributors will suffer the same fate. Given the grand scale of plaintiffs’ campaign and the massive (and national) support they garnered for their cause, plaintiffs’ limited evidence is simply insufficient to support a finding that disclosure of contributors’ names will lead to threats, harassment or reprisals.”

FACT: The Facts Show The Opposite To Be True – Incidents Of Increased Violence and Harassment Against Lesbians and Gay Men Have Been Associated With Ballot Initiatives Aimed At Preventing Marriage for Same-Sex Couples. According to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations’ 2008 Hate Crime Report, numerous California counties reported increases in hate crimes during and immediately following the Proposition 8 campaign.  The report stated: “The public debate around Prop 8 triggered 9 anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) crimes. Five of these crimes were acts of vandalism in which opponents of Prop 8 had their property targeted by homophobic (and in 1 case, anti-black) graffiti. In addition, there were 4 violent crimes.”

A similar increase in hate crimes occurred in Massachusetts in 2007, around the time of a Constitutional convention to discuss outlawing same-sex marriage.  According to Fenway Community Health’s Violence Recovery Program, “There were 105 total [hate crimes] reported for 2004 and nearly 1/3 of them occurred during February and March, months when same-sex marriage was the focus of intense debate and demonstrations on Beacon Hill. Several victims reported that their attackers specifically referenced the marriage fight or marriage rights.”
Ballot Measures Aside, Gays And Lesbians Continue To Face Discrimination And Violence.  According to a 2011 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, violent crimes committed against people based on sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation) or those who are HIV-positive increased by 13 percent from 2009 to 2010.  The homicide count increased from 22 to 27 – the second-highest total since 1996, when NCAV began following hate crimes.

1,706 of 9,601 reported hate crimes in 2008 were motivated by sexual orientation, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year, according to data collected by the FBI.  Nearly all of those hate crimes – 98 percent – were against gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.
According to the 2007 National School Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, “Nearly nine-tenths of students (86.2%) reported being verbally harassed…at school because of their sexual orientation. And two-thirds (66.5%) of students were verbally harassed because of their gender expression. Almost half (44.1%) of students had been physically harassed…at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation and three in ten students (30.4%) because of their gender expression.”


 September 5 email sent by Zach Silk to the entire Washington United for Marriage email list (87,000 recipients at the time)

Dear Andy,

I hope your summer — and the long holiday weekend — energized you for the work we have in front of us to approve Referendum 74 and defend our bipartisan marriage law in Washington this November.

We have built an incredible, grassroots operation, thanks to you. Our field staff and volunteer outreach is now one of the largest ever assembled for any ballot measure in Washington. With nearly 14,000 individual donors to this campaign — and more than 84% hailing from Washington State — you — and we — have made that all-important early investment in defending the freedom to marry.

And now, as we head into the heart of the election season, it seems an appropriate time to reflect not just on the muscle, but also on the values of this campaign.

We have all worked hard to prepare for this moment. The campaign will certainly heat up and passions will run high. That enthusiasm and perseverance will serve us well in these final, all-important weeks.

But let’s remember that passions will run high on both sides, and that there are good people who simply do not view marriage equality as we do. We might not be able to change everyone’s mind, but we always want to treat everyone fairly and with respect.

To me, it always comes down to the Golden Rule. We must work tirelessly until November 6th, and the next day we not only want to savor the very first win for marriage at the ballot box, we want to know that we treated everyone fair and square, no matter where they were on this issue.

So, let’s keep those conversations about the freedom to marry going strong.

You’ve already pledged to approve R74. Will you click here to start a conversation with your friends about the freedom to marry on Facebook?

We’re in the final stretch and we’ve got an incredible foundation thanks to you. I look forward to working side-by-side with you in these last, critical weeks. Thanks for everything you do.

Zach Silk

Campaign Manager
Washington United for Marriage

Email from Zach Silk to Staff – September 6, 2012

TO: WUM Staff
FR: Zach Silk, campaign manager
RE: The Golden Rule

You have all done amazing work.  We now have the largest grassroots campaign ever assembled for any ballot measure in Washington State.  From our field operation hitting every corner of the state, to the thousands of engaged volunteers, to nearly 14,000 individual donors, we are running on all cylinders as we head into these final, critical weeks.

Our fight to defend our marriage law brings out a high level of passion and enthusiasm.  While we’ll need all of it to get to victory on Nov. 6th, this also seems to be the right time to reflect not just on the muscle of this campaign, but on our values.

To me, it always comes down to the Golden Rule: treat everyone as you’d like to be treated yourself. We are not the only ones with passion.  There are many good people on the other side who feel just as strongly as we do, and whether we’re on the phone, or doorbelling, or asking for pledge cards at a community event, we need to treat everyone with respect, no matter where they are on this issue.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to become the first state to defend marriage and we’re well on our way to winning November 6th.  Let’s also be sure that on November 7th, we’ll not only savor a hard-fought victory, but we’ll know we treated our neighbors and colleagues fair and square.

Thanks for all your hard work.