The HRC Story

The Great Myth: NOM’s False Accusations of Harassment of Anti-Gay Donors and Supporters

  • The facts plainly contradict NOM and its allies’ allegations of systematic harassment and intimidation of gay rights opponents.

  • NOM makes these false accusations as part of its radical multi-year effort to evade campaign finance disclosure laws and to malign LGBT people. NOM’s real interest is to be able to operate secretly, without any public transparency or accountability, in order to protect five large anonymous donors who comprise nearly 90% of its annual funding. NOM also wishes to distract attention away from the very real bullying and harassment of gay people that occurs every day by framing itself and its supporters as victims.

  • Every court and independent observer that has reviewed the evidence has determined that NOM’s claims of systemic harassment and intimidation are plainly false or grossly exaggerated. The vast majority of “incidents” that NOM alleges reflects its discomfort with constitutionally-protected disagreement, criticism and advocacy.

    • U.S. Supreme Court (2010): The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Doe v. Reed to reject NOM’s Washington affiliate’s argument that petition signatures should not be publicly disclosed because of the possibility of threats or harassment. Justice Scalia wrote in concurrence: “There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance … Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed. For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”[1]

    • U.S. District Court, Washington (2011): On remand from the Supreme Court, Judge Benjamin Settle threw out NOM’s case to hide petition signatures, citing no credible evidence of harassment: “The evidence supplied by Doe purporting to be the best set of experiences of threats, harassment, or reprisals suffered or reasonably likely to be suffered by R-71 signers cannot be characterized as ‘serious and widespread.’”[2]

    • U.S. District Court, California (2011): Judge Morris England rejected NOM’s California affiliate’s claim that Proposition 8 donors should be exempt from public disclosure because of threats and harassment. The court carefully reviewed each of NOM’s allegations, found them not to be credible and made these key findings:[3]

      • “[W]hile Plaintiffs characterize their evidence as voluminous and comprised of ‘virtually countless reports of threats, harassment, and reprisals,’ […] they                 have pointed to relatively few incidents allegedly suffered by persons located across the entire country who had somehow manifested their support for traditional marriage.”

      • “[T]he vast majority of the incidents cited by Plaintiffs are … typical of any controversial campaign. For example, picketing, protesting, boycotting, distributing flyers, destroying yard signs and voicing dissent do not necessarily rise to the level of ‘harassment’ or ‘reprisals,’ … A good portion of these actions are themselves forms of speech protected by the United States Constitution.”

      • “Plaintiffs have produced insufficient evidence that the more incendiary events on which they rely were connected to Proposition 8 or to gay marriage at all.”

      • “Plaintiffs’ limited evidence is simply insufficient to support a finding that disclosure of contributors’ names will lead to threats, harassment or reprisals.”

    • Rick Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science, UC Irvine (2012): “Forget the hype from NOM … about violence and harassment of campaign contributors being commonplace. We are fortunate to live in a country where such harassment is very rare.”[4]

    • Daniel A. Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Florida; Todd Donovan, Professor of Political Science, Western Washington University; Janine A. Parry, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Arkansas; Caroline J. Tolbert, Professor of Political Science, University of Iowa (2010):  “[Doe v. Reed] petitioners state that an organization called KnowThyNeighbor.org, an organization supporting equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, ‘posted the names of traditional marriage supporters signing petitions in Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.’ … Petitioners, however, have not identified a single individual who has actually faced any threat of intimidation, retaliation or harassment as a result of merely signing any of these petitions and having that signature publicly disclosed.” [5]

  • HRC and its allies condemn any true acts of violence, harassment or intimidation by advocates on either side of the marriage issue and believe that any criminal activity should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, HRC believes, as Justice Scalia does, that vigorous debate and criticism are healthy and that public accountability is essential to our system of democracy. Those who dedicate their time and money to taking away the civil rights of LGBT people must be willing to stand up and accept public criticism for their increasingly outdated and unpopular beliefs.  Constitutionally-protected speech does not equal harassment or intimidation.

  • In sum, serious and independent scrutiny of NOM’s claims of harassment and intimidation has revealed only isolated incidents, questionable reports, and more often than not, legitimate acts of public criticism.

[1] Doe v. Reed, 130 S. Ct. 2811, 2837 (2010) (Scalia, J., concurring)

[2] Doe v. Reed, No. C09 5456BHS, 2011 WL 4943952 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 17, 2011)

[3] ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen, No. 2:09-CV-00058-MCE-DA, 2011 WL 5507204 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 4, 2011)

[4] Richard Hasen, Chill Out: A Qualified Defense of Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws in the Internet Age, JOURNAL OF LAW AND POLITICS (Oct. 24, 2011)

[5] Brief of Direct Democracy Scholars as Amici Curiae, Doe v. Reed, 130 S. Ct. 2811 (2010) (No. 09-559), 2010 WL 1256467