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Minnesota for Marriage ad borrows dubious claims from other states’ campaigns

The ads warn of dire outcomes if marriage rights are extended but, for the most part, the claims have failed to pass muster with independent fact-checkers.

Minnesota for Marriage’s “Not Live and Let Live” ad.

Last week, Minnesota for Marriage, the group campaigning to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, began airing a 30-second TV spot titled “Not Live and Let Live.” The third ad to hit the airwaves in recent weeks, it was the first to use a communications strategy that has proven powerful indeed in other states.

The voice narrating the ad belongs to former KSTP-TV anchor Kalley Yanta, who serves as the group’s on-screen presence. But the B-roll — the images that swoop in and out of the frame while she talks — are straight out of a national playbook. Some of the same footage is currently airing in Maine, Maryland and Washington, the other three states facing gay-marriage referenda this year.

Never mind that for the most part, the ads have failed to pass muster with independent fact-checkers in state after state, they continue to promise the same dire outcome if marriage rights are extended. All are the creation of Frank Schubert, the manager of all four campaigns and the messaging mastermind behind Prop 8’s victory in California in 2008.

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For its part, Minnesota for Marriage on Monday put its own fact-checking statement on its website, asserting that “Minnesota gay-marriage advocates mislead, distort facts.” The statement alleges that Minnesotans United for All Families has mischaracterized research showing that children fare equally well in same-sex-headed families.

The research Minnesota for Marriage uses to buttress its argument is a widely discredited study by a University of Texas professor that was funded by religious right organizations with ties to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. It is being used to bolster claims in ads here and in other states and in lawsuits seeking to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Because people who don’t hold strong views about same-sex marriage frequently feel legalizing someone else’s marriage won’t have an impact on their own, the spots rely on a formula known as “argument from consequence” — the suggestion that there are, in fact, unforeseen consequences.

Unless gay marriage is outlawed, this year’s crop threatens that children will be indoctrinated into homosexuality as early as kindergarten, parents who object will risk arrest, people who voice their opposition will lose their jobs, religious freedoms will be lost and small businesses will be subject to a flurry of lawsuits.

The first victims showcased in the new Minnesota ad are the owners of Vermont’s Wildflower Inn, who were defendants in a lawsuit filed by a lesbian couple who were told they could not hold their wedding at the inn. This much is true.

What is not, however, is that the case was caused by Vermont’s 2009 decision to legalize same-sex marriage. The couple sued under that state’s 20-year-old public accommodations anti-discrimination statute. In August, the innkeepers settled the case and announced they would no longer host weddings.

“A lesbian couple sued us for not supporting their gay wedding because of our Christian beliefs,” the innkeepers assert in an ad now airing in Maine. “We had to pay $30,000 and can no longer host any weddings at our inn.” 

Next in the Minnesota for Marriage ad is the image of Damian Goddard, a former Canadian sportscaster who now works for the campaign’s national sister group, the National Organization for Marriage. Last year, Goddard was let go by Sportsnet after sending a tweet voicing his agreement with a hockey agent who had used the social medium to oppose a New York player who had come out in favor of same-sex marriage there.

The TV network declined to discuss the dismissal of Goddard, except to say his departure had been in the works for some time for unrelated reasons. “Mr. Goddard was a freelance contractor and in recent weeks it had become clear that he is not the right fit for our organization,” a spokesman said.

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Strictly speaking, Goddard describes the incident accurately in an ad now airing in Maine but doesn’t explain how the upcoming vote there would cost others their jobs. “Don’t let this happen in Maine,” is all he says.

The Maine ad featuring former Canadian sportscaster Damian Goddard

Seconds after Goddard’s image fades, the Minnesota ad shows a sheaf of legal documents while Yanta articulates another consequence: “same-sex marriage taught to young children in elementary school and parents have no legal right to be notified or to take their children out of class that day.”

Possibly the most notorious of the assertions frequently made in the ads, this one is based on Parker v. Hurley, a case in which two Massachusetts families objected when their children were shown social studies books that included references to same-sex parents as part of lesson units designed to meet state educational standards requiring children to be able to describe different kinds of families.

The Massachusetts laws in question are completely unrelated to gay marriage and have consistently been upheld by higher courts. Parents in that state are allowed to review classroom materials and can ask to keep their children out of lessons involving human sexuality but are not entitled to notice of each item of curriculum or to pick and choose which they approve of.

Ad campaigns televised in other states and broadcast online here go further than “Not Live and Let Live” and assert that parents who object will be arrested for trying to assert their parental rights. One of the plaintiffs in the Massachusetts case was in fact arrested in 2005, but for refusing to leave the school in question until his demands were met.

Other miscast consequences: “Charities closed down” and “churches sued.” The charities in question are Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia that stopped facilitating same-sex adoptions, long mandated by anti-discrimination laws, when gay marriage was legalized in those two places.

Catholic Charities in Boston was ordered to stop the adoptions by church leaders after Massachusetts legalized same-sex weddings; agency administrators in the capital chose to stop placing foster kids rather than comply with anti-discrimination laws.

The church being sued is the Diocese of Worcester in Massachusetts, which terminated a real estate transaction with a gay couple who hoped to turn a former church property into an inn. After an e-mail from the chancellor of the diocese surfaced citing worries about the “potentiality of gay marriages” at the inn, the couple sued last month under the state’s fair housing laws, not its same-sex marriage statute.

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An ad just released in Maryland but not yet under discussion here has drawn fire not just from gay-rights advocates but from the putative victim depicted herself. On Oct. 10, Angela McCaskill was placed on paid administrative leave from her job as the associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Gallaudet University. Also the first African-American deaf woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Washington, D.C., institution, McCaskill had signed a petition to place a referendum on same-sex marriage on the Maryland ballot next month.

“I want to inform the community that I have placed Dr. Angela McCaskill on paid administrative leave effective immediately,” Gallaudet President Alan Hurwitz said in a statement to students, faculty and staff. “It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer; however, other individuals feel differently.

“I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university. In the meantime an interim chief diversity officer will be announced in the near future.”

Within hours, the group campaigning to overturn a Maryland law legalizing same-sex marriage began broadcasting a TV ad spotlighting her case. “They promised us Question 6 protects people who oppose gay marriage. It doesn’t,” the narrator intones as images of first lawmakers and then McCaskill flash across the screen.

“When marriage has been redefined elsewhere, as Question 6 does, people who believe in traditional marriage have been punished,” the spot continues as many of the images being broadcast here are shown. “They were threatened. He was fired. They were sued. Who will be next? We’re all at risk under Question 6.”

McCaskill who has said she is not anti-gay, signed the petition at her church because she thought the issue should be put to a vote and wishes they would stop broadcasting the ad. Groups on both sides of the Maryland debate have demanded the university reinstate her.