Backers Of Calif. Gay Marriage Ban Face Backlash

Since California voters passed a ban on gay marriage, some supporters of the measure have found themselves squarely in the bull's-eye of angry gay rights activists.

It's no secret who gave money for and against the controversial amendment to the state's constitution, known as Proposition 8. California's secretary of state publicized the lists of contributors, which were picked up by local media and Web sites.

And in the aftermath of a contentious campaign, protests followed. In Los Angeles, would-be patrons of a popular Tex-Mex restaurant were greeted by furious protestors like John Dennison.

"El Coyote — millions in gay margarita money funding hatred," Dennison yelled during the protest. "Boycott El Coyote!"

The restaurant owner's daughter, Margie Christofferson, a faithful Mormon, had made a modest $100 contribution to the "Yes on 8" campaign — and the restaurant's gay patrons, like Edward Stanley, felt betrayed.

"I won't be eating here," Stanley said.

Business dipped about 30 percent at the height of the protest, and it still hasn't returned to pre-protest levels. Several members of the restaurant's staff — including many of its gay employees — have seen their hours cut back in response. And Christofferson, who managed the restaurant, has resigned.

Others Feel The Heat

In Sacramento, the owners of Leatherby's Family Creamery found themselves part of the backlash when The Sacramento Bee printed the list of contributors. Dave Leatherby, a devout Roman Catholic father of 10, says he was responding to a direct request from his bishop to give generously.

"We gave $20,000 for Yes on Proposition 8," he says.

And once that was known, retaliation was swift. "We soon started getting very nasty e-mails and letters and phone calls by the hundreds," he says.

Leatherby says he was mystified, because the Creamery had always enjoyed good relations with the gay and lesbian community.

And he says something interesting happened when demonstrators arrived outside his shop: Business went up, instead of down. "The day they picketed us, there were about 15 picketers, and that day we had people waiting two hours to get into our restaurant for four or five hours," he says.

Not every backlash story ends that way.

Richard Raddon, director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, and Scott Eckern, director of the California Musical Theater in Sacramento, are devout Mormons. Both made contributions to Yes on 8, and both got demands for their resignations from gay rights protestors. They quit so their organizations wouldn't face further controversy. Ironically, the film festival has been instrumental in introducing works by gay and lesbian filmmakers to a broader audience — and the musical theater included works by gay playwrights and composers.

Attempt To Intimidate?

"This seems to be an effort to indiscriminately go after anyone who contributed money, regardless of their position on gay issues," says Frank Schubert, spokesman for the Yes on 8 campaign. He says the backlash has endangered individuals who exercised their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

"I think that overall the attempt here is to intimidate and punish people so that they are less inclined to speak out in the future," he says.

And it's given rise to charges that as gay rights advocates tried to change public opinion, some stepped over the line and turned their protest into a witch hunt.

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