Forget Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Forget Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage. Forget even the American Family Association's bilious Bryan Fischer. The most potent force pushing anti-gay bigotry in America is Frank Schubert, a man whose name is relatively unknown but who has empowered each of those individuals and many more in their anti-gay crusades, a man who stripped his own lesbian sister and her children of their rights in exchange for big money.
Schubert clearly knows he's peddling distortions and is demonizing gays in his own lucrative cottage industry of homophobia, and now he also seems to sense that he's on the losing side of a civil rights battle. This week that became more evident than ever in a lengthy interview with me in which he couldn't adequately answer basic questions about his mission, becoming frustrated and agitated.
Schubert is the strategist who ran the campaign that convinced voters to pass Proposition 8 in California in 2008, using ads that, among other things, framed gay marriage as dangerous to children. He moved on from there to other states and helped in the campaign that got three judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality removed from the Iowa Supreme Court in retention elections in 2010. He successfully beat back marriage equality in Maine at the ballot box in 2009, and he got the marriage amendment passed in the brutal battle in North Carolina last May, a battle that inspired anti-gay preachers to call for violence and even death for gays.
Now, according to a profile in The New York Times, Schubert is on retainer for $10,000 to $20,000 a month from each of the anti-gay campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, where gay marriage is on the ballot next month. And he gets a commission on all the ads he's airing in those states. On top of that, he's a paid consultant for the National Organization for Marriage. According to the Times article, Schubert hadn't previously cared much about the gay marriage battle, having made his career as a strategist helping back or block voter initiatives in California and representing Big Tobacco and other interests. But after he was brought into the battle to get Prop 8 passed and was successful, he became a convert. This year he founded a separate firm with a rich new revenue stream, devoted solely to putting social issues like gay marriage and abortion on the ballot.
But with things getting a little tougher for Schubert (gay marriage activists are emboldened by polls that show that, after losing at the ballot in over 30 states in the past, this year they may win in one or more of the four states where gay marriage is on the ballot), he is starting to lose his cool. When he appeared on my radio program this week, I cordially and calmly challenged him, but he could not even defend the most basic arguments he puts forth. He denied facts that have now become conventional wisdom even among some leaders on the Christian right, such as the fact that there has been a massive shift in public opinion in favor of marriage equality. As he became increasingly overwhelmed by the simple facts I was presenting, unable to offer logical answers, he went from being friendly and engaging to becoming agitated and angry. (And if you think I'm biased, listen to the interview for yourself in the audio posted below.)
That was particularly true when I pointed out that the claim that children do better in homes of heterosexual parents -- and the insinuation that they are harmed by gay parents -- couldn't even stand up in federal court during the Prop 8 trial, when expert witnesses dismissed such claims and helped in getting Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional. (That case now awaits action from the Supreme Court.) Schubert lashed out, saying, "Nobody put me on the stand. Your great heroes Olson and Boies had me on the witness list. I was in the courtroom every day. I was happy to testify at any time."
That begged the question of why his own side didn't bring him to the stand if he would have made such a great witness. He had no real answer for that one. Ted Olson and David Boies, representing the plaintiffs, apparently saw no reason to call him. He is, after all, just a PR flack, if a pretty good one. Olson and Boies had actual social scientists and experts testify to refute his lies, while the proponents of Prop 8 offered no such experts.
Schubert seemed to crumble when I played a clip of Marc Mutty, his campaign manager in Maine in 2009, admitting in the new documentary Question One that the campaign had used hyperbole and engaged in distortions and untruths (and saying that he was worried that he would be remembered for that ugly campaign). Schubert responded to me by oddly distancing himself from the campaign while also saying that Mutty was "misrecalling" events.
And Schubert had no answer to the question of why he isn't trying to stop gay adoption, not gay marriage, if he believes children are better off with heterosexual parents. Maine, for example, allows two-parent adoptions by gay and lesbian couples, so keeping same-sex marriages unrecognized there will not prevent children from being raised in homes with two gay parents. Schubert couldn't answer that because his modus operandi is to convince others (and himself), through his ads and campaigns, that they can be against same-sex marriage but still be supportive of gay people, including their right to adopt. And that is a complete contradiction.
Several times he said he is not trying to stop gay adoption because he just wants to "protect" traditional marriage and is not "on a crusade" to take away the rights of gays -- including those of his own sister. (I raised the fact that she, a Sacramento deputy district attorney, is a lesbian in a relationship and has children, as has been reported in the media.) But why isn't he on that crusade if he truly believes that children do better in heterosexual households, as his campaign rhetoric claims? The only answer is that his money is coming from the folks trying to ban gay marriage, not from those trying to ban gay adoption. And that's what it seems to be all about for Schubert: money.
I called his sister, Anne Marie Schubert, but she didn't return the call. She has said in the past that she can't comment on the issue in her capacity as a deputy district attorney, but her brother has said that he's "certain" that she disagrees with him on Prop 8. I can only imagine what it's like to have a brother who makes money by stigmatizing you and your children, his own nieces and nephews.
Schubert knows he's losing. He sees where the trend lines are going. My prediction is that he's going to get really desperate, and he's going to get really ugly before he gives up. Be ready for it. If you're gay, Frank Schubert is your enemy. And you should know him.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece stated that Frank Schubert called Michelangelo Signorile a "dummy" in response to a question about the difference between banning gay marriage and banning interracial marriage, saying, "Was President Obama racist prior to May of this year, dummy?" A closer listening raises the possibility that he might have said "tell me" rather than "dummy," so that claim has been removed. If Schubert did indeed say "tell me," not "dummy," we regret the error.
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