Thanks to cable television, Orange County is now infamous for freaky televangelists, spoiled high-school students, white supremacists, McMansions, drug-crazed athletes/Marines, picture-perfect beaches, witness-relocation transplants and cosmetic surgery-obsessed housewives. But Bravo, MSNBC and MTV network camera crews haven't yet captured all that's going on inside our borders. For example, few people know this is sort of ground zero in a fierce legal battle that—no joke—one side says could result in men being able to legally enjoy sexual intercourse with dogs.
Nobody has accused John Eastman or Fred Karger of harboring canine lust, though both locals have taken opposing national leadership roles in the debate over gay marriage. Defiantly conservative and heterosexual, Eastman, 52, is an acclaimed former Chapman University law professor who directs the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the country's premier gay-marriage-hating group. Far less uptight but equally defiant is Karger, 62, a persistently optimistic gay man who enjoyed a distinguished career as a senior adviser to several winning presidential campaigns and heads Rights Equal Rights, formerly known as Californians Against Hate.
Given that this is OC, both men are, of course, lifelong Republicans with direct ties to President Ronald Reagan's administrations. But Eastman versus Karger isn't playing out on our soil. The men are battling in places such as Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington—and, though they've never met, it has gotten ugly. In the war over marriage equality, each man has declared the other a lawbreaker worthy of public contempt.
Usually, it's the conservative side in cultural wars that uses well-established traditions and laws as a bat to pummel a minority's hope for social evolution. However, Karger—who ran as an openly gay 2012 Republican presidential candidate—has managed to flip conventional wisdom on its head. He is using the courts to demand that Eastman, a onetime clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, obey campaign-finance rules and observe the long-established notion the public has a right to know who is funding political activities.
NOM officials have taken the stance that their higher calling can't be expected to follow rules. In Eastman's mind, the stakes are dire: Human existence itself will be threatened if gay-marriage proponents succeed. Traditional marriage keeps the planet stocked with babies, and gay couples can't reproduce, so, he has reasoned at public forums, it essentially would be the end of life to extend marriage rights.
I saw the professor deliver a March 2010 speech to California Tea Party activists in Buena Park during his failed attempt to win the Republican Party nomination for attorney general. Calling himself a constitutional scholar, he declared that if the state allowed gay marriages, citizens had a duty to "rise up and abolish" the government. Eastman also proudly noted his philosophical attitude could be summed up by the declaration Justice Thomas has on an office plaque: "I ain't evolving."
Such sentiment is playing out in how NOM operates. In 2009, the group ran a $2 million campaign to overturn Maine's gay-marriage statute and narrowly won. By spending more than $5,000 in a political campaign, state law required the group to publicly reveal its major contributors. NOM refused to comply and hasn't budged from that stance in three years, prompting Karger to file a money-laundering complaint. Even a refusal last month by the U.S. Supreme Court to endorse the secrecy apparently hasn't impressed NOM officials.
"NOM continues to thumb its nose at Maine election laws," Karger said in an October letter to U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby. "Some sort of meaningful action needs to be taken immediately to avoid NOM skirting the law yet again in Maine."
In retaliation, NOM sent Karger a letter stating that his pursuit of records the group deems private (contributor identities) has somehow constituted criminal conduct and should be pursued by law-enforcement agencies. The upshot: Don't even try to get access to our contributor list.
Karger isn't the least bit panicked. "They want to break me," he told the Weekly. "That's not going to happen. They have to obey the law, and when they don't, I'm going to be there catching them in their lies and filing complaints."
The Laguna Beach resident claims NOM has also repeatedly ignored Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirements that nonprofit organizations make certain basic financial information readily available for public inspection. "Mr. Eastman is setting a terrible ethical example for his law students," said Karger, who says he wants the former law professor formally disciplined by the State Bar of California and wouldn't mind seeing him arrested on contempt-of-court charges.
For his part, Eastman told reporters that his group has merely taken advantage of IRS filing-extension procedures. Anti-gay marriage activists also attribute the refusal to publicly identify donors to fear that Karger will use the information to ridicule or embarrass contributors as bigots. That fear is justified.
In his fight against Proposition 8, California's 2008 ballot measure that defined marriage as between only a man and a woman, Karger organized boycotts against its large contributors, including Doug Manchester, the owner of a San Diego Grand Hyatt hotel and the U-T San Diego; A-1 Self Storage owner Terry Caster; carrot farmer William Bolthouse; and Katharine Garff of Garff Automotive. He also helped to expose the active participation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mitt Romney. I'm guessing Mormon-owned businesses didn't like seeing Karger, who got more votes in the New Hampshire GOP primary than Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, protesting outside their shops.
Karger's RightsEqualRights.com website publishes a "dishonor" list that includes Orange County residents Robert Hurtt, an ex-Republican state senator; banking heir Howard F. Ahmanson Jr.; Yorba Linda Mormon leader John Dalton; and businessman Don R. Flora; as well as insurance moguls Donald G. Laws and Steve Samuelian of Laguna Beach. His organization is now organizing a national boycott of Amway after the company gave NOM $500,000.
In the tit-for-tat game, Eastman wants NOM followers to stay away from Starbucks and General Mills after those companies financially supported marriage equality. But discrimination efforts against gay citizens haven't done well in the past decade, in part because groups such as NOM can't contain their hysteria. The Reverend William Owens, who has served as a spokesman for the group, enjoys trotting out the king of all slippery-slope arguments.
"Well," said Owens, "if it's a civil right for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman, what's the difference of a man deciding he wants to have sex with a dog?"
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The unflappable Karger, who was a senior campaign adviser to presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, chuckles at such reasoning. On the presidential campaign trail for himself during the Republican primaries earlier this year, he never once heard anyone equate gay marriage with legalized bestiality.
"Nope, not even [vociferously anti-gay primary opponents] Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum, who was really a nice guy to me, personally, said that," recalled Karger. "The people at the National Organization for Marriage are spewing hate and anger. I'm not. I'm calm and respectful and reasonable. That's why I've gotten a lot of support and sympathy, and that's why we are going to win this fight."
This article appeared in print as "Hiding the Homo-Haters: Former presidential candidate Fred Karger wants John Eastman to reveal who's donating money to the former Chapman University professor's fight against gay marriage."