National Organization for Marriage crusading against gay nuptials in NY

Author: Douglas Feidan
Publication: New York Daily News
Publication Date: June 12th, 2011

Read the article at New York Daily News.
 
A shadowy group run by religious fundamentalists is bankrolling a pitched crusade against same-sex marriage in New York.

Secretive and flush with cash, the National Organization for Marriage is igniting a culture war as it battles Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg in their campaign to legalize gay wedlock.

"If marriage is redefined, then New York schools will soon be teaching that it's just as good for Jimmy to grow up and marry Johnny as it is to marry Mary," says the group's $172,100-a-year president, Brian Brown.

He warned of dire consequences if Albany, which nixed same-sex nuptials in 2009, reverses course.

Based in Princeton, N.J., and Washington D.C., the tax-exempt group was founded in 2007 to defend traditional heterosexual marriage.

Since then, its treasury has grown from $637,000 to $8.5 million in 2009 as it attacked same-sex unions across the country. In the last 18 months, donations have swollen to more than $13 million, sources say.

Where the cash comes from isn't clear. One backer is the Knights of Columbus, whose lobbying in the 1950s put the phrase "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. The Knights raised $1.9 million for the group in 2008-09.

The group repeatedly resists efforts to reveal its sources of cash. In Maine, it's being probed for refusing to reveal donor names and has sued to try and keep them secret.

It's battling disclosure in at least four other states, and lost a round in New York in 2010, when it wanted to help Carl Paladino's run for governor.

A federal judge rejected the group's request to quash a state election law that forces groups to disclose donors and register as a political committee.

The group has since set up a political action committee that's expected to play a major role in the 2012 legislative races.

"They came into the state with a big splash," said civil rights lawyer Evan Wolfson, president of Chelsea-based Freedom to Marry. "They're basically just a shell group that exists to funnel money into anti-gay causes from a small set of secret donors."

In New York, the group has tapped a $500,000 war chest to blitz the airwaves with a last-minute TV ad buy. It's also making hundreds of thousands of robo-calls as pols mull a possible vote before the Legislature goes home June 20.

With Cuomo and the state Assembly supporting gay marriage, the group has targeted the Senate, pledging $1 million to oust Republicans who break with their party to "defend traditional marriage."

The group spent $1.8 million in 2008 to back Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage, and $1.9 million in 2009 to repeal Maine's gay marriage law.

If the New York bill passes, one of the group's TV ads says, New York could become like California, where a "teachable moment" means taking first-graders to a same-sex wedding.

The group's rhetoric has so alarmed gay rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign that they closely monitor its activities and finances.

"They publicly project rationality and tolerance - but keep company with hard-core anti-gay extremists," says Kevin Nix, of the Human Rights Campaign.

The National Organization for Marriage board includes prominent members of Opus Dei, a cult-like Catholic group portrayed in Dan Brown's, "The Da Vinci Code."

The group's champions say it's been unfairly demonized.

State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx), a Pentecostal minister who co-hosted an anti-gay marriage rally with the group last month, said: "I'm proud and honored to stand in America with people who know the Constitution doesn't let gays marry."