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Proposition 8 is still making waves

Protests, boycotts, and confusion fill the state in the weeks after the election

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On Nov. 4, Proposition 8 passed with a four-percent margin, amending the California Constitution to define marriage as a union "between a man and a woman." 

WEARING THE MESSAGE:  Hundreds of Central Coast residents joined a mid-November protest in San Luis Obispo to make known their displeasure over Proposition 8’s passing. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAIG SHAFER
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAIG SHAFER
  • WEARING THE MESSAGE: Hundreds of Central Coast residents joined a mid-November protest in San Luis Obispo to make known their displeasure over Proposition 8’s passing.

The longevity of that controversial clause, however, remains in question. On Nov. 19, the California Supreme Court announced it would review three petitions challenging the legality of Proposition 8. The petitions were filed by Proposition 8 opponents who believe it denies civil rights to a minority group. But opponents aren't just restricting their efforts to the legal arena.

Since the proposition's passing, thousands of its opponents have taken to the streets—from the steps of the State Capitol to corners and parks on the Central Coast—to protest the measure's legality. 

Proposition 8 opponents are also protesting with their pocketbooks, boycotting businesses connected to contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign. At a recent rally in SLO, Proposition 8 opponents told stories of local businesses whose owners gave to the opposition, and across the state opponents have singled out businesses that supported the effort, with pickets and protests. 

David Kilburn, chapter leader of Marriage Equality USA in San Luis Obispo, said there are some people who are angry.

"It's pretty upsetting to have people vote to make you a second-class citizen," he said.

In an effort to bridge the gap between the two opposing sides, Kilburn said, many anti-Proposition 8 organizations are "focusing [their] actions right now on bringing people together and having an open dialogue."

Locally, Marriage Equality USA and Pacific Pride Foundation in Santa Maria are in the process of setting up town hall meetings with individuals on both sides of the issue.

"I think the churches are looking at the issue from a religious and biblical perspective, and we're looking at it from a civil and legal perspective," Kilburn said. "We really need to put human faces on the issue."

Overall, Kilburn remains optimistic about the future of gay marriage.

"I think people are going to come around. They'll see that this isn't really a threat and that it's actually going to strengthen marriage," he said.

In terms of businesses, according to information released by the California Secretary of State, tens of thousands of dollars were donated to the Yes on 8 campaign in the name of food store chain Lassen's Natural Foods. 

As a result, the chain's founding store in Ventura has been picketed, and all six of the chain's stores have been boycotted in some way.

The public outcry, however, has left some Lassen's employees confused.

"The donations were not made by the Ventura store or any of the other locations," said Scott Parvel, a manager at the Lassen's in Ventura, who explained that people have every right to make personal donations because of their beliefs.

Still, many activists remain skeptical about where the donation originated since the published records list the business name as the contributor.

"I know what it looks like on the records, but I know for a fact that none of the stores contributed to the campaign," Parvel said.

Mike Johnson, manager of the Lassen's store in Santa Maria, agreed with Parvel, stating that any donation "was completely personal."

"As a business manager, you try to keep home at home and work at work," Johnson said, noting that it's unfortunate people haven't respected donors' rights.

"We have a lot of gay employees," he said, adding that none of the company's gay employees has quit over the news of the donations.

Johnson explained that Lassen's doesn't discriminate when it comes to hiring and managing its employees, noting that people are paid and promoted based on merit alone.

But businesses aren't the only organizations facing criticism for their involvement with the Yes on 8 campaign. Proposition 8 opponents are also targeting churches and other religious organizations.

The most prominent of these is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. While the church didn't make any contributions to the campaign, its members are being credited as major campaign contributors.

According to the No on 8 campaign, LDS members donated approximately $22 million to the Yes on 8 campaign. Many Proposition 8 opponents believe the donations infringe on the separation of church and state doctrine. But LDS members maintain that the donations fall well within their civil rights.

Denton Hyder, director of the LDS Religion Institute of Santa Maria, said that he donated to the Yes on 8 campaign because it represented his personal beliefs.

"I put up the money, and so did everyone I know," Hyder said, adding that he is in no way a representative for the LDS Church.

"It's not that we're against the gay population; we just think that marriage is a religious thing that should be between a man and a woman," he said.

When asked what kind of reaction the institute has received since Proposition 8's passing, Hyder said: "We've received some phone calls, all of which have been positive. They're from non-members thanking us for our involvement in getting the proposition passed."

The Mormon church might not have made a straightforward donation to Yes on 8, but many Proposition 8 opponents, along with political and legal experts, still question the church's involvement in the campaign. And then there are the churches that actually made donations to the cause, blurring the line between church and state even more in some citizens' eyes.

Since Proposition 8's passing, many of its opponents have questioned whether or not churches with nonprofit tax exemptions are legally allowed to make donations to political campaigns.

According to an e-mail from Internal Revenue Service representative Jesse Weller, under the IRS code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations—charities, churches, and the like—may lobby to influence legislation, including initiatives and propositions, as long as they don't devote a "substantial part" of their activities to doing so.

Nonprofits are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign for a candidate for public office.

"[Churches politicizing] has become such a gray area at this point that a lot of churches think they can overcome the problem," said Dan Payne, a political science professor at Allan Hancock College. "Between you and me, it's a bag of worms.

"The question isn't, 'Does the church have the right to uphold family values?' We all know the answer to that," Payne said. "The question is: 'How far can they go?'"

Payne said it's important to ask why parishioners donate to a certain cause.

"Was it because the command came down from the pulpit?" he questioned. "Would they have donated the money otherwise?"

In San Luis Obispo, Mercy Church was the only church listed as making donations to the Yes on 8 campaign. A donor database showed the church gave $1,523 to the cause.

Foursquare Church in Santa Maria also gave to the Yes on 8 effort.

Head Pastor Roger Wheeler said the donations coincided with the church's ideological beliefs.

"We can say 'Yes on 8,' but we can also say that God loves homosexuals," Wheeler said. "But we believe that being homosexual is a social choice.

"I know that that has been debated by psychologists, but we've had numerous homosexual people who have been members of the homosexual community but no longer are," he said. "They've changed their orientation."

When it comes to supporting any cause, Wheeler said it's important that churches be "loving and gracious," which he believes has been the case with the Yes on 8 campaign.

"We have not seen any of the hatred or animosity that has come back as a recourse from the people who are against Prop. 8," he said. ∆


Amy Asman is a staff writer for New Times' sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun. Patrick Howe of New Times also contributed to this report. Contact Amy at aasman@santamariasun.com.

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