Saturday, November 15, 2008


When I entered grad school in the early 90s, I was surprised that no one in the gay community in South Carolina seemed aware of the Hit List. It's what we in Los Angeles informally called the group of corporations which had a history of contributing to anti-gay, anti-women, anti-human causes. Domino's Pizza neared the head of that list, as did Carl's Jr hamburgers, and especially Coors. That Colorado based beer company was at the time controlled by the Coors family, a group of right wing nut jobs who donated millions and millions of dollars to stamp out equality for everybody except white men. After a long (over a decade I think) boycott by the progressive community, the Coors company ousted its founders as CEOs, and reversed their positions, even offering domestic partnerships to their employees.

I've been thinking about that particular boycott, even as I now have Coors Light in my fridge. The Coors family still sits on the board of directors of that particular beer company, and receives profits from every can of beer I buy. And while the company which makes the brew is now progressive, the family is decidedly not. They helm a foundation which continues to do damage to equal rights around the country. So, technically, I am still funding hatred toward my own tribe and others.

This topic has reared its head in the past few weeks since the passage of Prop H8 in California. Due to the massive financial support the "Yes on 8" faction received from the Mormon church, the Marriott corporation has come under attack from those who want equal rights for all. Originally founded by a Mormon family, the company is currently being headed by Bill Marriott, himself a Mormon. Amid cries for a boycott, Marriott issued a sweeping statement which, while falling short of supporting equal rights, made clear his company's innocence of any wrongdoing:

As many of you may know I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some might conclude given my family's membership in the Mormon Church that our company supported the recent ballot initiative to ban same sex marriage in California. This is simply untrue. Marriott International is a public company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and is not controlled by any one individual or family. Neither I, nor the company, contributed to the campaign to pass Proposition 8.

Thanks for clearing that up, Bill. But as a Mormon, I'm sure you tithe, right? Every good Mormon does, in substantial amounts. So while your corporation steered clear of the Prop 8 mess, you still handed over 10% or more of your gross income to your church, which in turn poured millions into the "Yes on 8" campaign. Did you stand up at any of your church meetings and denounce your church's stand, or even decline to contribute monetarily to it?

I find myself unable to accept Marriott's claims of innocence. But his attitude is at least understandable. I lived in Utah for a summer, and am well aware of the stubborn prejudice of that state's citizens. All he did was be a Mormon.

Another betrayal hits much closer to home. Once the list of individual contributors to the "Yes on 8" campaign was made public, actors and others who scoured the list were astounded to discover that the artistic director of one of California's leading musical theatres had contributed $1,000 toward passage of the amendment. Scott Eckern of the California Musical Theatre, a Mormon if you couldn't guess, expressed disappointment and surprise that his donation angered the gay community, a community in which he has worked for many years. It's astonishing to me that this guy works day in and day out among dozens of gays, and still sent a thousand dollars to a campaign to rob them of marital rights. His participation ignited a firestorm, including a personal phone call to him from Tony-winner Marc Shaiman, the composer of Hairspray, who promised that no theatrical work under his control would ever be performed at the theatre. The producer of Broadway's Avenue Q, which had granted rights to CMT for a production this season, stopped short of yanking those rights ("we don't break contracts"), but members of the creative team were considering writing a new song about Eckern's contribution toward bigotry and placing it in the show.

Of course, this guy has every right to believe what he believes, and to contribute his own money anywhere he pleases. But Shaiman and other artists also have the right to refuse to allow their work to earn money for those who contribute to bigotry. As that Avenue Q producer said:

That a man who makes his living exclusively through the musical theater could do something so hurtful to the community that forms his livelihood is a punch in the stomach. He didn’t just vote for it. One thousand dollars is a lot of money for an artistic director of a nonprofit.”
As news of Eckern's stand against same-sex marriage spread, he backpedaled furiously by contributing another grand to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), but the damage of his innate bigotry was already done. California Musical Theatre accepted Eckern's resignation on Wednesday.


Jack Marshall said...

This is a tough issue, Scott. I understand the sentiment, the outrage, and the anger, but I also believe that democracy can't co-exist with punitive measures and economic bullying against those who vote for candidates, causes or policies we object to or find offensive. Traditional Christians and Mormons who oppose marriage for gay Americans don't see this as bigotry at all: they see it as defending a very old moral code, one that is core to their life and beliefs. It takes a long time to change moral codes, even when they are dead wrong about something. The idea of gay marriage has moved very quickly into the culture, proving, I'd say, that it is right, but the fact is still that a very short time ago the cultural definition of marriage was between a man and a woman. Punishing people who are behind the enlightenment curve is, I suggest to you, anti-democratic, and unfair.

All signs point to the fact that Anti-Proposition 8 forces were badly organized and under-funded. The correct response isn't to get even; it's to get organized.

Michael Moore and others wanted to organize boycotts of every state in 2004 that didn't go blue, as in didn't vote for a truly awful candidate who couldn't hold one position for 15 minutes. Conservatives say they can't get jobs in Hollywood; conservative professors, say credible sources in academia, can't get tenure in Ivy league colleges. This is a very, very slippery slope you're on, and it leads to some ugly places. My advice: stay off of it. Allies are not made with threats and retribution, but biases are. Working with people, even being close friends with people, do not obligate individuals to see the world the same way.

I find the "refuse to let their work earn money" argument especially unattractive. Imagine what some of the money earned by any Hollywood movie or TV show pays for. Bigotry is the least of it. This logic wouldn't let you shop at a supermarket or participate in any aspect of commerce. Ultimately, the argument is just a rationalization for vengeance.

Jack Marshall

Bot said...

The Mormon Church did NOT "pour millions" into the Yes on 8 campaign. And, if all Mormons had voted "No", the Constitutional Amendment still would have passed. Why single out religious people? The major reasons for folks voting yes are the following non-religious reasons:

Marriage is the legal, social, economic and spiritual union of a man and a woman. One man and one woman are necessary for a valid marriage. If that definition is radically altered then anything is possible. There is no logical reason for not letting several people marry, or for eliminating other requirements, such as minimum age, blood relative status or even the limitation of the relationship to human beings. Those who are trying to radically redefine California's marriage laws for their own purposes are the ones who are trying to impose their values on the rest of the population. Those citizens opposed to any change in California's marriage statutes are merely defending the basic morality that has sustained the culture for everyone against a radical attack.

When same-sex couples seek California's approval and all the benefits that the state reserves for married couples, they impose the law on everyone. According non-marital relationships the same status as marriage would mean that millions of people would be disenfranchised by their own governments. The state would be telling them that their beliefs are no longer valid, and would turn the civil rights laws into a battering ram against them.

Law is not a suggestion, as George Washington observed, "it is force". An official state sanction of same-sex relationships as "marriage" would bring the full apparatus of the state against those who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. This has already happened in Massachusetts (CatholicCharities and Lexington Public Schools), New Jersey (Methodist Church lost its tax exemption), etc. The Protect Marriage Coalition views this as outlawing traditional morality.

Eliminating one entire sex from an institution defined as the union of the two sexes is a quantum leap from eliminating racial discrimination, which did not alter the fundamental character of marriage. Marriage reflects the natural moral and social law evidenced the world over. As the late British social anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin noted in his study of world civilizations, any society that devalued the nuclear family soon lost what he called "expansive energy," which might best be summarized as society's will to make things better for the next generation. In fact, no society that has loosened sexual morality outside of man-woman marriage has survived.

Analyzing studies of cultures spanning several thousands of years on several continents, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin found that virtually all political revolutions that brought about societal collapse were preceded by a sexual revolution in which marriage and family were devalued by the culture’s acceptance of homosexuality.

When marriage loses its unique status, women and children most frequently are the direct victims. Giving same-sex relationships or out-of-wedlock heterosexual couples the same special status and benefits as the marital bond would not be the expansion of a right but the destruction of a principle. . If the one-man/one-woman definition of marriage is broken, there is no logical stopping point for continuing the assault on marriage.

If feelings are the key requirement, then why not let three people marry, or two adults and a child, or consenting blood relatives of any age? . Marriage-based kinship is essential to stability and continuity in our state. Child abuse is much more prevalent when a living arrangement is not based on kinship. Kinship imparts family names, heritage, and property, secures the identity and commitment of fathers for the sake of the children, and entails mutual obligations to the community.

The US Supreme Court declared in 1885 that states' marriage laws must be based on "the idea of the family, as consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony; the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization, the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement.''

Armchair Actorvist said...
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Armchair Actorvist said...

Thanks for your well considered note. Even as I tend to disagree with your arguments, it is a pleasure to read your responses. Marc Shaiman seems to agree with you, at least in part, as his threat to withhold rights to his musicals was made reluctantly. But this is not a question of punishment, as you suggest. Just as this poor schnook from California Musical Theatre has the right to fund whatever action he chooses (a point I made in my blog entry), so Shaiman and other artists have the right to determine what (or whom) the profits of their work fund. Here in my little corner of the world, I do the same thing. I have so little control of the world out there, and as you rightly point out, I have no way of knowing where all my funds go, or to whom. But in the few instances when I CAN determine where the money I spend goes, I have every right in the world to choose whether or not it goes into the pocket of someone with whom I agree on social and political issues. This is not economic bullying, nor is it anti-democratic.

You seem to be defending Christians and Mormons on the grounds that they do not consider themselves bigots, but instead are defending an old moral code. I couldn’t agree more; they don’t consider themselves bigots. (It’s a nasty epithet that I used more than once in my entry, a term from which you rightly recoiled. . But just because the traditional Christians and Mormons you mentioned don’t think they are bigots, does not mean they are not bigots. I stand behind the epithet. If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.) And I and my tribe (by the way, I’m a Christian) are not attacking anybody’s Old Moral Code. Mormons, Catholics (who actually contributed even more money to the Yes on 8 campaign than did the Mormons), atheists, surfers, swingers, conservatives, you name it: anybody can live by any moral code they like, and I cheer. But when a group attempts to impose their moral code on me, THAT’S anti-democratic. And in my view, immoral as well.

Your point that boycotts lead to biases and are a slippery slope to very ugly places, well, I certainly didn’t give any credence to Michael Moore’s suggestions; the guy’s a clown. But we are now in a world where Americans' rights are being, not just prevented, but actively removed (you don’t need reminding that same-sex marital rights were legal for months in California). For the first time in American history, an American’s individual rights which were legally in place were struck down. That ugly place you feared? It’s already here.

Frankly, I have never really been convinced of the efficacy of boycotts. In my limited experience, the threat of a boycott carries about as much weight as a realized one. As I wrote, the Coors boycott by the gay community was in place for at least a decade, and I doubt the corporation’s decision to remove Coors family members from active involvement in the company had much to do with the boycott. But, personally, whenever I can determine, even in a very small way, where my money is going, and to whom, and for what purpose, I will make those decisions. I hope everybody else does the same. I imagine it makes little or no difference in the larger scheme of things, but I’ll continue to feel good about ordering from Pizza Hut rather than Domino’s.

Peter said...


Since your sort of protesting some business because of actions you don't like, then it also makes sense to promote those businesses that support causes you support. Do you have any to recommend there?

I looked through some of the previous comments. Here's my take:

My personal view is that marriage is a symbolic statement of love between consenting (and preferably rational) adults.

I don't buy this "defending basic morality" rationale for opposing gay marriage, unless you oppose homosexuality itself on moral grounds. It seems to me that some want to say that's apples and oranges, but it's not. What exactly is this basic morality that's being defended?

The nuclear family defense is lame, too -- unless you would argue that heterosexual couples who don't want kids should not be permitted to marry. Obviously their marriage does not help create a stable family. Meanwhile, some gay couples would like to adopt and to raise families. Some already are, and are quite stable.

While I'm harping on stability, why are these groups opposing same-sex marriage (which would support stability), while making no efforts to create amendments regarding divorce or adultery?

I don't recall any of those "sexual revolutions" preceding "societal collapse" accepting homosexual marriage, per se, which promotes stable relationships. These revolutions created a lack of moral stability, a to-hell-with-consequences attitude, which led to societal instability. Long term monogamous relationships (between consenting, rational adults) are generally stable.

Oh, and I supported No on Prop 8. I figure if we're "outing" those who supported the Yes side, it's only fair. So the other readers may boycott or support as they please.