By Annie Linskey, The Baltimore Sun
9:20 PM EDT, October 12, 2012
By most measures, Frank Schubert, the strategist running campaigns in four states against same-sex marriage, ought to be nervous about Maryland.
Multiple polls, including one recently conducted by The Baltimore Sun, show that Maryland voters in increasing numbers approve of gay marriage. Gay-rights advocates have more money, a larger and more sophisticated campaign organization and the backing of most of the state's political elite.
The answer from Schubert, a longtime crusader in the country's marriage wars, is this: We haven't even started.
"If we lose this thing, shame on us," Schubert told a group of pastors and community leaders at a strategy session in Prince George's County this week. "If we lose, it is because we didn't do what we had the opportunity to do."
Schubert, 56, a California-based political consultant, has orchestrated victories on a broad array of conservative ballot questions, mostly on the West Coast. But recently, the devout Roman Catholic has chosen to focus exclusively on fighting same-sex marriage laws. His ideas are credited with defeating measures in California, Maine and North Carolina. He also was involved in efforts to unseat three Iowa judges responsible for legalizing same-sex marriage there.
In addition to playing a key role in Maryland, where a same-sex marriage law is Question 6 on the November ballot, Schubert is managing similar campaigns in Maine, Minnesota and Washington state. Opponents of Maryland's law have paid his firm $473,000 for work on the campaign, according to a disclosure report filed Friday. The figure might include the cost of television ads.
In Maryland, Schubert says, he will unroll a sales pitch in coming weeks designed to sow doubt among some who thought they'd made up their minds. The message will suggest that there are unintended, negative results from legalizing same-sex marriage. It has worked every time he's used it, earning devotion from those who agree and disdain and grudging respect from those who don't.
"Frank is a brilliant advertising guy and a brilliant strategist," said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the main group opposing same-sex marriage in Maryland. "He is keeping our objective very clear — preserve marriage."
Schubert "is the master of fear and distortion," said state Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who is gay. "He's the Karl Rove of the anti-gay movement."
Schubert calls his pitch "the consequences message." He makes commercials telling viewers a same-sex marriage law will usher in a wave of intolerance for anyone who opposes it. Gay marriage will be taught in elementary schools, he says. Those who dare to speak out against it will be pummeled in the public square.
He scours the country — and indeed the Northern Hemisphere — for material to back up his claim. This week, a local example surfaced. Gallaudet University's diversity officer was suspended from her job for signing a petition to put the marriage law on the Maryland ballot.
Schubert's organization pounced, condemning the university's action and firing off a fundraising solicitation.
"It is a classic example of what happens to people of faith who speak up for traditional marriage — they are punished routinely," Schubert said. "It will only get worse if Marylanders were to pass Question 6."
Supporters of same-sex marriage in Maryland, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Marylanders for Marriage Equality, called on the university to reinstate her. Schubert dismissed their statements as cover during a heated battle.
"I don't imagine they will be issuing any statements if this occurs to someone after the campaign ends," Schubert said.
The "consequences" pitch frustrates gay-rights advocates, who find themselves scrambling to add details they say Schubert leaves out. In Maryland last week, he told of a lesbian couple who successfully sued a Vermont hotel after the owners merely mentioned their views on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit told a different version of the story: A staff member at the hotel agreed to host the gay wedding, then refused when the owners learned of the plans. The lawsuit contended the hotel violated Vermont's fair housing and public accommodations law.
"He is a genius at taking things out of proportion," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, who has faced off against Schubert in two states.
On Thursday, as others spoke during the strategy session in the sanctuary at Riverdale Baptist Church, Schubert studied his laptop — toggling between various spreadsheets and graphs.
He was born at a U.S. Air Force base to a military doctor in West Germany, but grew up in Sacramento, Calif. He's the oldest of eight children. One sibling, a sister, is openly gay.
Schubert declined to talk about her, or how she and her children might view his work.
"It is obviously a tough issue with our family, as it is with many families," he said. "I love my sister very much."
Schubert has two children from his first marriage, which was annulled after seven years. He remarried and has been with his wife for 16 years. He has a stepson.
A pivotal moment came in 2008 when he was tapped to run a California campaign against same-sex marriage.
"I hadn't really thought about marriage as a public policy matter," Schubert said. "The more I got into it, my feelings and my faith deepened."
Over the summer, he split from his old political consulting firm, Schubert-Flint Public Relations, and launched Mission Public Affairs, a group that he says will focus on faith-based activism.
Schubert's detractors are critical of the money he makes from his work. He says his firm collects at least $10,000 a month per campaign. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of media buys are arranged by the company, work that typically generates a commission.
Madaleno said Schubert is part of an "anti-gay industrial complex" that is trying to "create fear about what our families do to society."
"It is so disheartening to think there are people who are out there willing to make a living out of depriving my family of equal status under the law," Madaleno said.
Schubert dismisses the criticism, saying he made more money before he decided to work on religious causes.
"I'm going to be fine one way or another," Schubert said. "The people who work on the other side make money, too. Do they have the same moral outrage to their political consultants making money?"
A casual look around the country reveals Schubert's imprint. Versions of his television ads that went up Monday in Maryland are also airing in Minnesota and Maine. A narrator says marriage as an institution has been around for thousands of years and that children "do best" when reared by their married mom and dad.
The commercials are said to be based on two studies showing that children thrive when brought up in a household headed by married men and women, but neither study speaks directly to the ad's claims. One did not consider data about children raised in homes headed by same-sex couples. The other looked at the impact on adult children of parents who had homosexual relationships at some point in their lives, but not necessarily for an extended period while rearing children.
Schubert says he's merely trying to help people see that marriage as traditionally defined serves a public good and is worthy of preservation.
In a strategy session, he urged black religious leaders in Maryland who oppose Question 6 to speak firmly for their beliefs despite recent support for same-sex marriage by President Barack Obama and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Our opponents have targeted black voters for a misinformation campaign to somehow convince people that voting for gay marriage is OK as an African-American Christian," Schubert said. "For African-American pastors, I would ask you to be bold and challenge this wrongheaded idea."
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