SACRAMENTO — The stakes of the ballot drive to forbid same-sex marriage reach far beyond California's geographic and political borders in what has emerged as another chapter in America's culture wars.

Christian groups, wealthy benefactors and self-styled pro-family groups from all over the nation are watching closely — and weighing in with money. Gay rights groups and wealthy individuals are countering with their own cash from across the country.

In the past eight weeks, combatants in the Proposition 8 battle have poured in more than $20 million to gear up for an all-out confrontation about whether the nation will begin to move toward tolerance of same-sex marriages — or to preserve traditional views of marriage.

"It's a defining issue for this state and the country," said Brian Brown, executive director for the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey-based Mormon group with a branch in California, which has contributed nearly $1 million to the Yes on 8 campaign. The outcome of the battle, he said, "will affect what our children will be taught about marriage, and it will affect our religious liberties."

Opponents say the campaign to defeat the ballot measure is a fight for gay rights around the country.


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"I really think this is our Gettysburg," said Kathy Levinson, a Silicon Valley philanthropist and gay rights activist who pledged last week to match $100,000 in donations to the No on 8 campaign. "If Proposition 8 passes, we'd lose a generation of time. If we as a perceived liberal and tolerant state lose this battle, many smaller states will feel permission to say 'not yet.' If it fails, it's a statement that says the country has changed, that full acceptance of gay and lesbian citizens has come and it would be perceived as a watershed moment."

Thousands of Californians have contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign, including more than 250 from the East Bay who have given at least $1,000, according to campaign finance statements on the secretary of state's Web site. But, the big money has come from out-of-state groups such as Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus ($1.275 million), a Catholic men's organization; the National Organization for Marriage ($921,000); Mississippi-based American Family Association ($500,000); and Colorado-based Focus on the Family ($414,000), whose chairman is James Dobson, the evangelical Christian whose syndicated radio show is heard by millions.

Wealthy and well-connected individuals have pitched in. Elsa Prince, the matriarch of a powerful Michigan Republican family, donated $250,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. She's the mother of Eric Prince, the co-founder of Blackwater Worldwide — the controversial private military and security contractor — and of Betsy DeVos, the Republican activist whose family has contributed millions to conservative causes.

Opponents have their heavy hitters, too, including Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hasn't contributed to the campaign but has voiced his opposition to the initiative. The top contributor to the No on 8 campaign, Equality California ($3.6 million) is its sponsor. Others include Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign ($2.3 million); Robert Wilson, a New York philanthropist ($1.2 million); and Bruce Bastian, a gay Mormon from Utah and co-founder of WordPerfect ($1 million).

PG&E, the California Teachers Association, and the California State Council of Service Employees each donated $250,000 to the No on 8 cause. Steve Westly, the former state controller and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has donated $5,000.

Twenty-seven states have constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriages — 11 approved by voters in 2004, when the issue became a central part of President Bush's re-election, and seven more in 2006.

Three more states — California, Arizona and Florida — have the issue on November's ballot. Massachusetts and California are the only states that recognize same-sex marriages.

"If it passes, it will send the message that activist judges can't change the law," said Sherman Doll, a financial adviser from Concord.

He and his wife, Linda, have contributed $10,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. "If it fails, it says that California has chosen to change the definition of marriage to the point that it's meaningless.

"Marriage will be any type of relationship that any person or group of persons choose."

Conservative and evangelical groups were freshly mobilized by the California Supreme Court's decision in May to overrule voters' approval of a ban on same-sex marriages in 2000. But the movement has its roots in the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, said UC Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout.

"They got as far as they could on abortion and have embraced marriage laws as the next step in their agenda," said Hout, co-author of "The Truth About Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe." "Their main agenda remains the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but they're trying to gain new allies who look askance at gay marriage."

Not that it's a purely Machiavellian maneuver. Proponents of bans on same-sex marriage are "truly concerned that the state should not be licensing immoral behavior," Hout said.

"In their interpretation of the Bible, they see a prohibition on homosexual activity. Gay marriage condones a lifestyle that's ruled out by their reading of the Scripture."

A key feature of the state Supreme Court decision, say Yes on 8 forces, is that there is no residency requirement.

"Same-sex couples are flying in, getting married, and flying out," said Bruce Hausknect, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family.

"What happens in states that don't recognize same-sex marriage when there are custody disputes? It's part of their agenda to wear down other states. If they can create enough problems, they're hoping they'll force courts to take their cases, which could lead to overturning the laws.

"It's a subtle way," he added, "of forcing the same-sex agenda on unwilling states by exporting the problems to states that don't have same-sex protections."

Proponents also claim that same-sex marriage laws will lead to an acceptance of polygamy and polyamory (group marriages), and teaching about same-sex marriage in public schools.

The dire warnings are "scare tactics" of right-wingers feeding off myths and fears of the people, said Geoffrey Kors, executive director for Equality California.

"That's fundraising language, language to get their base motivated," Kors said. "The only gay agenda is about not being treated differently than others."

Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101 or sharmon@bayareanewsgroup.com.

The money behind the same-sex marriage measure
Contributors have given more than $20 million to campaigns on both sides of Proposition 8. Here are the top three on each side as of Sept. 8. (For more, including Bay Area contributors, see Page 21):

Yes on 8 ballot committees
(1) Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Conn.: $1,275,000
(2) National Organization for Marriage, California: $921,000
(3) John Templeton, President John Templeton Foundation, Bryn Mawr: $900,000

No on 8
(1) Equality California, San Francisco: $3,619,450
(2) Human Rights Campaign, Washington, D.C.: $2,304,600
(3) Robert Wilson, retired, Brooklyn, N.Y.: $1,200,000


More money behind the same-sex marriage measure
Other large contributors as of Sept. 8 campaign-filing statements on the secretary of state's Web site:

Other Yes on 8 ballot contributors nationally:
Fieldstead & Co., Irvine: $600,000
American Family Association, Tupelo, Miss.: $500,000
Focus on Family, Colorado Springs, Colo.: $414,000
Elsa Prince, Michigan: $250,000
Robert Hurtt, Garden Grove: $250,000
Caster Family Enterprises, San Diego: $245,000
Doug Manchester, chairman, Manchester Financial Group, San Diego: $125,000
Pacific Shores Masonry, Corona: $125,000
Donald Laws, director, North America Health Care, Laguna Beach: $100,000
Steve Samuelian, Generations Health Care, Laguna Beach: $100,000

Top Yes on 8 contributors from the East Bay:
Sarah Harris, Danville: $25,000
Robert Parker, Lafayette: $25,000
William Wilcox, Danville: $25,000
Jonathan Clark, Dublin: $22,500
James Pergrossi, Pleasanton: $10,180
Brian Blatter, Concord: $10,000
Barbara Lee, Walnut Creek: $10,000
Gwenn Webb, Pleasanton: $10,000
Susan Lathrop, Fremont: $9,900
R. Brooke Landscaping, Antioch: $9,500
Heather Callister, Martinez: $9,000
There were 34 East Bay donors who contributed $5,000, and an additional 220 who contributed at least $1,000.

Other No on 8 campaign committees nationally:
Bruce Bastian, co-founder of WordPerfect, Orem, Utah: $1,005,000
David Maltz, philanthropist, Cleveland: $1,000,000
David Bohnet, Beverly Hills, executive producer, $600,000
Gill Action Fund, Denver, $600,000
Center Advocacy Project Issues PAC: $317,600
Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Services Center: $268,000
California Teachers Association: $250,000

Top No on 8 contributors from
the East Bay:
M. Quinn Delaney, grantmaker, Akonadi Foundation, Oakland: $50,000
Jennifer Rainin, director, Rainin Group, Piedmont: $50,000
Ruth Adar, rabbi, Oakland: $10,000

Source: MediaNews research
and secretary of state Web site