AdWatch: New ad against gay marriage raises fear of lawsuits

TITLE: “Examples”

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: The ad started airing statewide Tuesday on broadcast and cable channels.

SCRIPT: Announcer: “Experience shows how Referendum 74 can harm people who oppose gay marriage.”

Jim O’Reilly, owner of the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville, Vt., with wife Mary seated beside him: “A lesbian couple sued us for not supporting their gay wedding because of our Christian beliefs. We had to pay $30,000 and can no longer host any weddings at our inn.”

Damian Goddard, former host on Rogers Sportsnet: “I was a national sportscaster in Canada. When a sports agent spoke out in favor of traditional marriage, I sent a personal tweet that I agreed with him. The next day I was fired.”

Announcer: “Don’t redefine marriage. Reject R-74.”

KEY IMAGES: The ad begins with an image of Goddard with the word “fired” superimposed over him, and a picture of the O’Reillys, with the word “sued” superimposed over their photo.

ANALYSIS: The TV ad, the second from Preserve Marriage Washington, which opposes the state’s gay marriage law, implies that the threat of being sued or fired will increase in Washington state if gay marriage is approved by voters next month.

Referendum 74 asks voters to either approve or reject the state’s gay marriage law. The case of the O’Reillys has been highlighted in other TV ads in places where gay marriage is on the ballot, including Maine.

Supporters of Referendum 74 argue that the O’Reillys were sued because they violated Vermont’s anti-discrimination laws, and that it had nothing to do with marriage.

“There’s already strong anti-discrimination laws in Washington state, as there are in Vermont,” said Zach Silk, spokesman for Washington United for Marriage. “Regardless of what happens with Referendum 74, these anti-discrimination laws remain on the books. It has nothing to do with marriage.”

Washington state’s anti-discrimination laws were expanded in 2006 to include sexual orientation, and also cover the use of accommodations or facilities.

Two New York women sued the Wildflower Inn last year, saying it violated the state’s anti-discrimination in public accommodations statutes by refusing to host their wedding reception because they’re gay.

The O’Reillys settled the lawsuit in August by agreeing to pay a $10,000 civil penalty to the Vermont Human Rights Commission, to place $20,000 in a charitable trust and to no longer host any weddings or receptions. A lawyer for the innkeepers said at the time of the settlement that a former employee falsely claimed that the inn wouldn’t allow a same-sex reception, and that the inn’s business practice was to “to honestly disclose its owners’ religious convictions to potential customers while agreeing to serve everyone in accordance with the law.”

Washington state has had a domestic partnership law in place since 2007, and officials at the state ACLU and Equal Rights Washington said they were not aware of any lawsuits filed against facilities that may have refused domestic partnership commitment ceremonies.

When asked how the approval of R-74 would increase lawsuits considering the state’s current antidiscrimination law, Chip White, deputy campaign director for Preserve Marriage, said “this doesn’t have to do with sexual orientation.”

“It has to do with your beliefs about marriage,” he said.

White noted a second lawsuit that has since been filed in New York this month, where two women who were turned away from a potential wedding site because they are gay have filed a discrimination complaint there.

The complaint filed with the state Division of Human Rights appears to be a first involving a wedding venue since same-sex marriage became legal in New York in July 2011.

In the case of the sportscaster cited in the TV ad, last year, Damian Goddard tweeted his support for hockey agent Todd Reynolds, who used Twitter to voice his opposition to New York Rangers forward Sean Avery’s support of same-sex marriage.

Goddard wrote: “I completely and whole-heartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.”

The TV network then issued its own tweet, saying: “Today’s tweet from Damian Goddard does not reflect the views of Rogers Sportsnet.” The next day, it severed ties with Goddard.

Silk called the inclusion of that case a “red herring.”

“It’s hard for me to understand why an isolated incident in Canada is relevant to Washington state,” he said.

White said that the ad just shows cases of people who have face retribution for opposing gay marriage.

“We want people to know that R-74 can hurt those who oppose same-sex marriage,” he said.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

Maryland legalized gay marriage this year as well, but that state will also have a public vote next month as well. In Maine, voters will decide on an initiative to approve same-sex marriage three years after a referendum overturned a law passed by the Maine Legislature. And in Minnesota, voters will decide whether or not to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage there.




Referendum 74 language:

Preserve Marriage Washington:

Washington United for Marriage:

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