Rumors fan flames in hot battle over amendment
Foes dispute prospect of busing in voters from other states.
By W. Gardner Selby
Monday, September 19, 2005
Advocates for a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage say they fear that foes plan to illegally bus in residents of other states to vote against the proposal.
"That (prospect) is the most ridiculous thing on the planet," said Glen Maxey, who directs No Nonsense in Texas, an Austin-based coalition working against Texas becoming the 17th state to put a same-sex marriage ban into its constitution.
Those who talk of busing in voters are "smoking crack," Maxey said, calling such recruitment immoral and illegal.
Amendment supporters have come up with no proof. Yet simply floating such a specter suggests that campaigns on Proposition 2 â already pitting social conservatives against Texans who back gay rights â could be subject to spells of high anxiety before the Nov. 8 election. In tussling otherwise fueled by Internet pleas, church sermons and voter-by-voter outreach, such vitriol could set a hard-edged tone for the next seven weeks.
Kelly Shackelford, president of the conservative Plano-based Free Market Foundation, said he's aired his concern to Secretary of State Roger Williams, the state's chief elections officer.
"If the election is small turnout, this could have a big impact," Shackelford said.
Williams said through a spokesman that the possibility of out-of-state residents registering "has been brought to our office's attention," and officials plan to watch for spikes in registration. The registration deadline is Oct. 11.
It "is a situation we can monitor and handle," spokesman Scott Haywood said.
Shackelford and state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who wrote the proposal last spring, each said they have heard talk that anti-amendment forces intend to bus in voters.
The allegation also surfaced last week in a one-page handout that Maxey said was passed out in downtown Austin and near the University of Texas. There is no indication of who printed or distributed it.
Chisum, who mentioned his concern to the 35-member Austin Area Pastor Council last month, said last week: "Maxey's going to do that; he's going to reach out to them and explain to them what they can do. All they have to do is get down here and register to vote. And I suspect they're going to furnish addresses for them. That wouldn't be hard to do. . . . (You could) stuff ballot boxes with people who are not legitimate Texans."
John Colyandro, an Austin consultant to the Texas Marriage Alliance, which urges approval of Proposition 2, called the concern "preposterous."
"I can't imagine that taking place at all," he said.
Maxey, a former Democratic House member from Austin, suggested the charge reflects vitriol headed his way.
"I know they're going to come after us with a fine-tooth comb and try to find whatever. They're going to find nothing on this campaign," he said.
The busing allegation sparked combustion in a campaign otherwise premised, in all camps, on identifying like-minded voters and getting them to vote without costly radio and TV advertising or much leafleting by mail.
"This is not a money issue," said conservative consultant Allen Blakemore of Houston. "You don't have big business weighing in on this. So there's not a lot of money in either side. Therefore, there are very grass-roots-oriented campaigns."
Amendment supporters say sealing the ban in the constitution, in addition to a 2003 law forbidding same-sex marriage, will prevent judges from imitating others in Massachusetts and California who have recognized same-sex marriage. Opponents say the ban would unnecessarily reinforce the 2003 law and possibly restrict practices including common-law marriage â a claim proponents dispute.
Proponents expect resounding approval of the measure, many wondering only what their margin of victory will be. Opponents are angling for a landmark upset.
Amendment supporters have launched a Web-based effort to shore up conservative groups and churches.
The marriage alliance, headed by three Republican legislators, touts video endorsements from GOP elected officials including Gov. Rick Perry. Shackelford launched the Texans FOR Marriage Political Action Committee last month. They also are counting on the Texas Restoration Project, a group supported by the governor seeking up to 300,000 voter registrations through churches focused on conservative values.
Opponents also act
Anti-amendment forces have gathered under the umbrella of No Nonsense in November, which is rooted in gay, social liberal and civil rights communities. Its Web site offers scripts for walking neighborhoods, giving speeches and advocating rejection of the amendment by telephone or in visits to bars, coffeehouses and outdoor events, where younger people congregate.
Maxey suggested both sides must weigh historically light turnout in constitutional elections; the state hopes for a turnout of more than 12 percent this year.
Both sides could lean on e-mail communication. Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, said she encourages pro-amendment activism in frequent messages sent to about 2,000 correspondents; she hopes each of them contacts another 100 people.
Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, said she encouraged her board to join the pro-amendment campaign partly because she's mother to four sons, ages 10 to 15. Wright said she fears any encouragement of gay marriage could lead to other changes such as legalized polygamy.
Outside a debate on the amendment at Austin Community College's Rio Grande campus last week, No Nonsense activists reported collecting voter registration applications from 25 individuals.
"It's about my life and who I get to marry," said Jessie Beal, president of the 20-member ACC Gay Straight Alliance. "It's about me believing in my government and my constitution. I should be protected by that."