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No on 8: Why Chicagoans Gave to the Campaign [4 March, 2009]

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Last week, Windy City Times looked at Chicago Proposition 8 donors who supported the Yes on 8 campaign.  This week, we look at those who donated to the No on 8 campaign.

These donors vastly outnumber those who donated to support Prop 8.  The San Francisco Gate Web site lists only 10 contributions to support the measure in Chicago, but 820 to defeat it.  (The numbers reflect the number of contributions; some people may have given more than once, but all donations are listed separately.)  What compelled people who are residents of Illinois to donate to a campaign in California?

Windy City Times spoke to a number of donors to the No on 8 campaign, and found that their reasons for donating were as varied as the amounts they gave, which ranged from $35 to $400,000.  In addition, their thoughts about the reasons for the passage of Prop 8 also reveals that many LGBT Chicagoans have issues with the ways that both sides of the campaign were run.

Robert Castillo and John Pennycuff are longtime LGBTQ activists, and among the couples to get married in San Francisco, which they did June 27, 2008.  The couple had already married once before, in 2004, but their marriage were later nullified by the California Supreme Court.  Today, the couple’s second marriage is again at risk of being invalidated, as are those of other couples who married in California last year.  So, the two had a personal interest in the outcome of Prop 8, and that continues as the fate of the measures hangs in the balance.

“It infuriates me that they could use the passage of Proposition 8 to go after the 18,000 couples who were legally married during that time,” said Castillo.  Regarding the ways in which the proposition came about, Castillo said he was especially bothered by the ways in which the Yes on 8 campaign played on the public’s fears regarding children by asserting that they would be somehow forced to learn about gays and lesbians in schools.  Does he have any concerns about the possibility of such a measure in Illinois?  Castillo thinks that ‘there’ll always be attempts to put an issue like that on the ballot.”  He feels that the best pre-emptive measures would be to “create more outreach to communities of color; we need to educate a lot of people within the state.”

Like Castillo and Pennycuff, Gary Cozette married his partner Joseph Lada in San Francisco, on August  28.  (Cozette is the program director for the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America.) The couple donated for reasons that were as pragmatic as personal: “Gay marriage in California gives us standing to challenge the law in Illinois.  If we are legally married in California, then Illinois has the authority to recognize marriages from other states.  It does so for heterosexual couples, but not for same-sex couples.  What that means is that if we are married in California, we have a legal basis to challenge the law in Illinois.  It also means that if the law changes in Illinois, then our rights are immediately recognized; we wouldn’t have to marry again.”

Like many other couples and individuals who gave to the No on 8 campaign, Cozette felt that the recognition of same-sex marriage in California would be an important milestone and set an example for other states.  By that same token, invalidating the already existing gay marriages and allowing that invalidation to stand could mean that other states might feel emboldened in passing similar legislation.  That’s a concern for Castillo, who worries that Prop 8’s passage “may give people pause.  People might think: if California can take away the right to marry, then why put my neck out and support it somewhere else like Illinois?”

That does not, of course, prevent donors like Kevin Downer from feeling strongly about giving to support No on 8.  Downer is the founder of AChurch4Me and said that his decision to give was motivated partly by his faith: “First, as a person of faith, as an ordained minister, I saw an awful lot of other religious communities mobilizing to support the passage of Prop 8.  As a person of faith, I needed to stand for justice.”  Downer was also disturbed by the fact that the proposition deliberately set out to dissolve the legal marriages of so many LGBT couples; that felt like an injustice to him.  He also felt that supporting No on 8 was a way to send a different message about same-sex relationships because, according to him, there are too many negative perceptions of the same in society.

Downer had another and more personal reason for his decision to donate.  Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church, was one of the first to be married: “I wanted to honor all the work he’s done over the last four years on behalf of the LGBT community, and donate so that his marriage would not be dissolved.”

As for the future of Prop 8, the donors to No on 8 are eagerly waiting to see what happens in California during the week of March 5, when the California Supreme Court will hear arguments over the constitutionality of Prop 8.  Castillo and Pennycuff plan on being there that week.  Could anything have been done to prevent Prop 8? Cozette said, “I feel that the contributions that people gave—and many gave sacrificially—could have been better utilized with a better strategy.  And I’m disappointed at the lack of professionalism in the No on 8 campaign.  That said, we must speak out and use our dollars to prevent people taking away the civil rights of any people.”

For Jonathan Lewis, who works at the University of Chicago, giving to the No on 8 campaign was also a way of supporting those who had been married.  (He and his partner were married in Massachusetts last year.) But he does not see campaign donations as the only way to speak out against such measures: “I think that part of the reason that people felt compelled to give to a cause in California is the mythical idea of California as a bellwether state in so many ways.  Usually the way I try to give the most is by having conversations about this issue, just one on one with friends and colleagues about what’s going.  I share opinions and encourage people to learn more and to support equal marriage rights.”

For a full list of donors, see www.sfgate.com/webdb/prop8/.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 4 March, 2009


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