July 18, 2008: Fred Karger launches boycott of anti-gay-marriage backer
ON THIS DAY IN 2008…
Fred Karger launched a boycott of San Diego properties owned by Prop 8 funder Doug Manchester, the first of several efforts to shame financial backers of anti-gay-marriage activity.
In the fall of 2007, a cluster of evangelical pastors in the San Diego area began discussing the importance of writing a ban on same-sex marriage into California’s constitution, a matter that gained urgency after the California Supreme Court ruled the next May that the state’s existing statutory ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. The coalition that came together over that summer to back a constitutional amendment, which would appear on the November 2008 ballot as Proposition 8, was notably ecumenical. The evangelical pastors were the most vocal cheerleaders, Mormon stakes supplied the activist manpower, as Catholic donors delivered crucial early financial investments.
It was the last group that first won the scrutiny of Fred Karger, a retired Republican campaign operative who launched Californians Against Hate to stigmatize Proposition 8’s top backers. He zeroed in on a $125,000 donation from Doug Manchester, a San Diego real-estate magnate and generous funder of Catholic causes in the area. Unlike some other significant donors to anti-gay-marriage causes, his portfolio included a very visible street-level target, in the form of a large downtown convention hotel. Karger rallied some political and labor leaders and announced plans to boycott the Manchester Grand Hyatt starting on July 18.
The “March on Manchester,” as Karger called it, was the most prominent attempt anywhere in the country to stigmatize gay-marriage opponents. He then mined disclose reports and listed everyone who gave more than $5,000 to pro-Prop 8 committees on a “Californians Against Hate Dishonor Roll” website, with phone numbers and business addresses. Other activists made the data searchable via Google Maps. He picketed gourmet supermarkets in New York and Washington to discourage shoppers from buying carrot-based smoothies and dressings from Bolthouse Farms, whose namesake founder had given $100,000 pass Prop 8. “Individuals and businesses gave a vast amount of money to take away our equality, and we want you to know who they are,” Karger wrote on his site. One target of his, a group called Protect Marriage, went on to challenge the California campaign-finance system in federal court, arguing that the existing disclosure rules had chilled First Amendment rights by enabling a “systematic attempt to intimidate, threaten and harass donors to the Proposition 8 campaign.”
After Election Day, when voters approved Proposition 8, Karger began to focus on the role that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members played in its passage. He launched a site called Mormongate, devoted to his investigations, and began filing complaints with state election authorities to shake free more information on the church connections to anti-gay-marriage campaigns. In 2010, Karger became the first openly gay candidate to seek a major party’s presidential nomination when he entered the Republican primaries, in part as a vehicle to confront frontrunner Mitt Romney over gay rights. (His quixotic campaign was memorialized in a documentary film, Fred.)
Karger did not make the November 2012 ballot, but his impact could be seen in the four states where marriage was up for a vote. Across them gay-marriage activists established a durable financial edge over their opponents — something never before seen in fifteen years of ballot initiatives over same-sex unions. Some of this advantage came from the emergence of major non-gay business figures, like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and hedge-fund investor Paul Singer, as donors to marriage campaigns. But perhaps even more important was what happened on the other side. Between 2008 and 2012, many of the individuals and institutions who had been funding the opposition quietly slinked away from the issue.