CALIFORNIA-BASED, PRO-MARRIAGE GROUP GOES NATIONAL
by Seth Hemmelgarn
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If marriage equality activist and potential presidential candidate Fred Karger has his way, Lieutenant Dan Choi will be the country’s first out gay chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Karger, who’s set to explore a 2012 presidential bid, quipped that’s what he told Choi he’d like to see when he ran into him at New York City’s recent Pride parade.
Choi has become the public face of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces. Karger didn’t say what Choi’s response was.
Before he makes any move toward the White House, though, Karger has plenty to do.
The man behind the anti-Prop 8 group Californians Against Hate, announced recently that the group’s name is changing to Rights Equal Rights.
Some, including Geoff Kors, the executive director of Equality California, have suggested using the word “hate” to fight for same-sex marriage could be counterproductive.
Karger, 60, said including the word in the original name of his group had “served its purpose very well.”
“When I started this effort, I wanted to let people know I was going to be aggressive, and unfortunately there’s still many people who don’t like the LGBT community,” he said. “But I wanted to take a more positive tone. That’s kind of the direction I’m heading, personally, and I think Californians Against Hate has been hugely successful in slowing down our opponents.”
Karger spoke with the Bay Area Reporter on Friday, July 16, which was the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the boycott he helped launch against hotelier Doug Manchester in San Diego.
The Californians Against Hate site featured a “dishonor roll” of Prop 8 contributors, and was launched around the same time that Karger called for the Manchester boycott.
Manchester, whose properties include the Grand Hyatt in San Diego, gave $125,000 to support what eventually became Prop 8, which California voters passed in November 2008 to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. The boycott reportedly resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
The mission of Rights Equal Rights will include “keeping an eye on the major opponents of equality,” with the National Organization for Marriage and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being at the top of the list, said Karger. Members of both groups were among Prop 8’s biggest backers.
Karger prompted the state of Maine to investigate NOM when he filed a complaint on its reporting practices. The anti-gay organization worked to support the same-sex marriage ban in that state, which ultimately passed in November 2009.
Most recently, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined the Mormon Church $5,339 after Karger complained about the church’s late reporting of contributions that were supportive of Prop 8.
“We’ll continue to speak out when I see questionable activities on their behalf,” said Karger of anti-marriage equality organizations.
He said, “I realized the name of my organization had grown beyond Californians Against Hate and it was time to adjust that” when he filed the complaint in Maine.
Karger said when the Manchester boycott started two years ago, he had originally thought it would last just four and a half months.
“I had no idea this would go on, so I have to make a few adjustments to change,” said Karger.
He said the Manchester and similar boycotts have sent “a clear message to the big donors that if they want to contribute six-figure sums in these elections when it’s public, we might not want to patronize their businesses.”
When a ballot measure to repeal Prop 8 comes, said Karger, “It will be a very different situation” than what occurred in 2008, when Prop 8’s backers raised more than $40 million to push their measure. Prop 8 opponents raised similar amounts.
“The other side will have to do major money laundering if they’re going to try to keep marriage away from us,” he said.
Karger, a Republican, is in the process of establishing an exploratory committee for a 2012 presidential bid. He said couldn’t yet affirmatively announce a bid because that would mean he’d have to start filing campaign finance reports.
However, Karger said he is developing a commercial called “Good Morning, New Hampshire.”
“It’s going to be a fun biographical piece to introduce New Hampshire to Fred Karger,” he said. Karger, who said he hasn’t yet raised any money for a presidential bid, plans to rent a house and get a car in the state. New Hampshire is the first state where presidential primaries are held.
Karger said he’d pattern himself after another GOP member – the late former President Ronald Reagan.
Karger said that like himself, Reagan was “always upbeat.” He expressed confidence.
“I’m not going to be raising hundreds of millions of dollars, unlike some of my potential opponents,” he said, but added that he’d be participating in many of the presidential debates that will come.
He said if he does make an announcement to run for president, it would probably be sometime next year.
For more information on Karger’s work to support marriage equality, visit www.rightsequalrights.com.