Putting out the negative election propaganda is one thing. Committing a crime while doing it is another. In my opinion, the Yes on 8 people have broken the law big-time with their recent attempt at extorting money from businesses that went on the public record as opposing Prop 8.
ProtectMarriage.com sent out certified letters to businesses that had made donations to Equality California, a leading nonprofit that is campaigning against Proposition 8. The letter baldly threatened: "Make a donation of a like amount to ProtectMarriage.com... Were you to elect not to donate comparably, it would be a clear indication that you are in opposition to traditional marriage....The names of any companies and organizations that choose not to donate in like manner to ProtectMarriage.com but have given to Equality California will be published." The letter was signed by four of the organization's executive committee members, including one Catholic and one Mormon, as well as an attorney.
Some people on our side have been pussyfooting around the nature of this crime. Some called it "a bit Mafioso." A bit? No kidding. An AP story went even softer, calling the letter "an offer." Indeed. This sure sounds like textbook blackmail and extortion to me...one of those "offers that you can't refuse."
It's the kind of thing that organized crime does in a neighborhood. "Pay for our protection or terrible things will happen to you." In California, blackmail and extortion are usually charged as a felony. The issue must come up a lot, because a California law firm has a whole info & advice page on these two crimes. Check it out.
I hope these businesses are taking their case to the California state attorney's office and asking them to prosecute ProtectMarriage.com.
As if that contempt for the law wasn't enough, the Yes on 8 Campaign outraged the parents of several minor children by featuring the kids in a TV ad without their permission. The children, and several parents, had gone on a non-mandatory school field trip with other children who wanted attend the lesbian wedding of a favorite teacher. News footage captured the children there at the event. The Yes on 8 people featured the footage in a TV ad aiming to show that allowing same-sex marriage would subvert the minds of children.
The angry parents (who oppose Prop 8, by the way) have demanded that the ad be taken off the air, and they contacted the San Francisco Chronicle to speak on their behalf. They used the words "exploitative" and "shameless" for the Yes on 8 actions.
Contacting the Chronicle? How about contacting a good lawyer? Last I heard, it was against the law in California to publish a minor's picture without the parents' consent.
I'm not a lawyer, but I am remembering my own attorney asserting this opinion some years ago, regarding a situation I knew about. An LGBT organization had mindlessly outed several minor gay teens by publishing their pictures in a safer-sex ad. The kids had no idea they'd been used in this way till they saw their faces on fliers and posters all over the city.
In this case, the legal issue was that the organization had failed to obtain the kids' parents' consent. If the organization had had its brain in gear, it wouldn't have considered using the pictures, because the kids -- who were in a youth program run by the organization -- were attending on a closeted basis, and weren't out to their families. But the organization was stupid, and ran the pictures without even telling the kids that they were doing it. Long story short, the organization would have been a sitting duck for a huge lawsuit. When the parents found out about it (copies of fliers reached them), the only reason they didn't sue was lack of money.
In some states, if you appear in a "public situation" and are captured in news footage, you are fair game and your image can be used without your consent. But in California, a big media state where so many celebrity families have issues about their minor children and photographers, the law is a bit more restrictive, my attorney said.
So in the case of the Yes on 8 ad, these parents may have a legitimate issue about failure to obtain consent. Especially since they oppose Prop 8. Contrary to their own beliefs, the ads were callously used to attack them and their views.
The point is -- the religious fanatics who oppose same-sex marriage believe that they are above the law. They are confident that they don't have to answer to any human authority because "God wants them to speak out." So I hope they get some jail time for the extortion. And I hope they get socked with big punitive damages to boot.
A friend of mine who is an old hand in the political PR scene feels that the righters know exactly what they're doing by breaking the law this way. If they're prosecuted by our side, they will use that fact to build their image as "martyrs" and hope to get more sympathy and more votes from the "undecideds" -- especially since it looks like the Prop 8 vote is going to be close.
If that's the case, then better we prosecute them after the election. But to me, the idea of letting them get away with these offenses is unthinkable.
Many Americans complain that there is too much litigation, and I agree. But when the law is broken by somebody in the course of their political efforts to trample all over you, that is the time to use the law in your own defense. These incidents show how the religious right will stop at nothing to win all the elections this fall.