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PubliCola Friday Q&A: Joseph Backholm, Head of the No on Gay Marriage Campaign
Preserve Marriage Washington, the group that's running the campaign to overturn gay marriage in Washington State ("No" on Referendum 74), is far behind in funding. The "pro" side has raised $5.7 million (including $2.5 million from Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie) to PMW's $400,000.
And the latest polling shows that Washington voters support the gay marriage measure 50-43 (Survey USA) and 49-39 (Elway). Polling on gay marriage in general also shows that state voters approve of it in general---51-42 in a Public Policy Polling poll and 54-33 in a Strategies 360 poll.
The National Organization for Marriage, the D.C.-based anti-gay marriage group, has pledged to contribute millions to Preserve Marriage Washington's fight against gay marriage, but there are also pro-gay marriage measures in Maryland and Maine to fend off, plus an anti-gay marriage measure in Minnesota to support. Given that NOM has already broken its promise to bankroll Republican insurgents against pro-gay marriage state legislators in Washington, it's not clear when NOM---which hasn't yet returned our call---will step up to help PMW.
For this week's Cola Q&A, we checked in with PMW's campaign leader, Joseph Backholm, whose full-time gig is director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, a Christian conservative advocacy nonprofit that's bringing Rick Santorum to town in October.—Eds.
PubliCola: PMW’s fundraising seems to be stalling. NOM had pledged to help you out, but the money hasn’t come in. I see that they haven’t made good on their promise to help take out some of the Republican candidates that voted for gay marriage. So are you comfortable that NOM is going to come through for you?
Backholm: Well, we have a budget of $4 million . And we expect to raise what we need and to run and ultimately win the campaign.
PubliCola: Are you nervous about NOM not coming through?
Backholm: No. We will do what is necessary to win the campaign, and I’m not concerned with NOM specifically. There are lots of people involved with this, and there are lots of people working hard on this, and we’ll do what it takes and we’ll get there.[pullquote]"We’re dealing with laws that are bigger than us. The laws of the universe are not subject to legislative preference."[/pullquote]
PubliCola: Six Washington Republican legislators voted for gay marriage. Polls show that young people increasingly support gay marriage. The macho Boeing machinist union supports the gay marriage referendum. The President of the United States is for it. Are you guys on the wrong side of history?
Backholm: We can’t lose this in the long run, because the arguments on the other side are wrong in the absolute sense. We’re dealing with laws that are bigger than us. The laws of the universe are not subject to legislative preference. And a hundred years from now, we won’t be having a discussion about whether kids need moms and dads and whether there’s a material difference between relationships involving people of the same gender or different genders. So I am not at all concerned that we are on the wrong side of history.
PubliCola: In the past, the traditional marriage movement has been on the offensive, proactively running initiatives to take away the rights of gay people. But now it seems like you’re on the defensive, retroactively trying to take away rights that have been granted to gay people. Is that campaign harder? And isn't it a meaner position to take---taking away rights that have already been granted?[pullquote]"This is about what is the institution of marriage, what purpose does it serve."[/pullquote]
Backholm: The question has never been about rights, it’s been about what marriage is. There’s never been the right to marry anyone you want. And everybody’s always had the same options in marriage, and some people choose not to get married and some people choose to get married, and that’s obviously a choice they have in a free society. But it’s always fundamentally been about what marriage is and what purpose that serves, and this is that same question. So I don’t think it is dramatically different, no.
And I don’t grant the premise, because it's not about rights that individuals have. Gay people do and should have all the same rights as people who aren’t gay. [But] this is about what is the institution of marriage, what purpose does it serve.
PubliCola: What do you think the purpose of marriage is? Why is allowing two people to start a family, that is, allowing a gay couple that has kids to become a married couple with kids, not a good thing to do?
Backholm: We don’t object to people forming relationships, and making choices in their own life, as they see fit. Unfortunately, in Washington, same-sex couples already have all the rights and benefits of marriage, so it couldn’t be a question of, are we treating people or even pairs of people or even relationships differently.[pullquote]"We’re not talking about two people. We’re talking about public policy."[/pullquote]
The question is, what is the institution of marriage? And the reason that matters is because if you say that if these relationships are in every way the same, what you’re saying is that there’s no difference between a relationship involving people of the same gender, and people of different gender.
And what that then requires you to believe is that there’s no difference between a relationship that can provide a child a mother and father, and one that cannot. And we don’t believe that our public policy wants to take that position. Because I think that we want to encourage, as often as possible, arrangements where children can have both their mother and father present in their lives, while of course recognizing that doesn’t always happen and allowing people the freedom to make other arrangements.
PubliCola: A lot of your arguments rely on the fact that gay couples already have all the rights and privileges of straight couples. So how did you vote on R-71 (the measure granting domestic partners all the rights of married couples)?
Backholm: I did not support Referendum 71. We all have many, many relationships in our lives, with our friends, and our neighbors, and our coworkers, and our family members that are meaningful to us in varying ways. But the meaningfulness of a relationship to the individuals involved is not what qualifies it as a marriage, and it would be a bizarre precedent that we would be establishing if we said that it was.
Therefore, marriage is about much more than whatever dynamics exist between two people from a public policy perspective. That the private reasons that people enter relationships has never had anything to do with why the state recognizes a relationship as a marriage.[pullquote]"What that represents is something that we all intrinsically understand isn’t true."[/pullquote]
PubliCola: Just to clarify, then, you don’t support granting gays and lesbians all the rights and responsibilities of married couples?
Backholm: Sure, the "everything but marriage" law, correct---I was not supportive of that law.
PubliCola: Can you point to any of the states where gay marriage is legal—say, in Massachusetts or New York or Vermont—and say that straight marriage has been eroded and hurt or affected by gay couples?
Backholm: That’s not the argument that we’re making. You know, my relationship with my wife or anybody’s relationship with their friends or their girlfriends or their spouses or whatever, is not, at the micro level, necessarily going to be affected by what happens.
But we’re making public policy, and we have to think about things from a broader perspective, not just two people's lives. And what I’m confident of, and I think what the majority of the public will understand, is that if your public policy says that it's not even desirable for a child to have a mother and a father, that an arrangement in which they don’t have their mother and father present in their lives is just as good as one in which they do, than our public policy shouldn’t say that. Because what that represents is something that we all intrinsically understand isn’t true, and therefore don’t really support regardless of the fact that we do think that people should have the freedom to make choices and live life as they see fit.
We’re not talking about two people. We’re talking about public policy. And when you make public policy you have to think in the aggregate. How does this affect our culture, how does this affect our state, how does it affect things a hundred years from now?
PubliCola: And so how does it affect our culture?
Backholm: If we were to take the position that there is no difference between a relationship in which a child had their mother and father present in their lives and one in which they don’t, that will have dramatic negative impact.
Think about it. We would be telling every father and potential father that their presence is not specifically necessary in the lives of their child. Everyone knows that that’s not true, and our public policy shouldn’t say that that is true. Gay people have the right to form whatever relationships they want. They don’t have the right to redefine marriage and make it a genderless institution for everyone.
PubliCola: Are you saying a gay couple, say two women or two men, that have a child, that they are not capable of raising that child?
Backholm: Our public policy would be recognizing that it is preferable for a child to have a mother and father.
To read our previous Friday Cola Q&As, including interviews with US Sen. Patty Murray and Rob McKenna campaign manager Randy Pepple, go here.
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