The messages were poll-tested, brutally effective — and made no mention of gay nuptials. “Why would Sen. Bill Stachowski vote against mammograms for women?” one mailer asked.
Another targeted an already vulnerable Queens Democrat, Hiram Monserrate, who had been accused of domestic violence. The visual: a New York Post headline, “Trial Video Shows Senator Pulling Bloody, Screaming Gal,” splashed across a series of still images from the video.
The wins haven’t turned the tide altogether: the New York State Senate, which rejected a same-sex marriage bill by a surprisingly wide margin in December 2009, still doesn’t have the votes to approve gay nuptials.
But the message to lawmakers — in New York and across the country — was hardly subtle. On the web site for Gill’s Empire State effort, Fight Back New York, the word “defeated” is stamped in red on head shots of Monserrate and Stachowski alongside this warning: “Hey Albany: Are You Listening? There are consequences for standing in the way of equality.”
Could this sort of effort come to Rhode Island? In a way, it already has.
Last year, Gill donated $12,700 to gubernatorial hopeful Patrick Lynch, Congressional candidate David Cicilline, and nearly a dozen candidates for General Assembly.
Jon Stryker, a New York-based architect and philanthropist active in gay rights causes, gave $10,750. And Esmond Harmsworth, a Boston-based literary agent who has supported gay rights initiatives and gay-friendly politicians for years, invested $10,200 in Rhode Island races.
This year, Gill is paying $9,000 per month for two of the state’s top lobbyists, Rick McAuliffe and Jeffrey Taylor of the Mayforth Group.
And Solomon, of Freedom to Marry, says he fully expects gay money — local and national — to play a role in Rhode Island’s 2012 races. “Lawmakers who vote for us and face tight races will get support,” he says, “and politicians who vote against us will see opposition.”
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, says his group will be active in Rhode Island, too.
This fall, NOM targeted three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize gay marriage in that state, running television ads labeling them “liberal, out-of-control judges ignoring our traditional values.”
All three of the judges lost their re-election bids — giving the lie, Brown argues, to the notion that backers of same-sex marriage don’t suffer consequences at the polls.
But if NOM has triumphed elsewhere in the country, it is not clear that the group can win in the Northeast. Last fall, NOM claimed victory in dozens of races in the New Hampshire legislature. But observers like Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, say the organization’s efforts played little to no role in the GOP tide that swept the state.
And the group fell flat with a high-profile, $1.5 million effort to oust New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, who signed that state’s same-sex marriage law in 2009.
Amid the increasingly tense politics in Rhode Island, there is plenty of chatter in the legislature about a compromise bill.
But civil unions, the solution du jour, are unacceptable for advocates who maintain that separate is not equal. And the Catholic Church, which views civil unions as a stepping stone to same-sex marriage, won’t go along either.