Wednesday, July 9, 2008

California Hyatt owner donates over $100,000 to ban gay marriage

Gay rights supporters and their union allies plan to launch a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt because its owner, Doug Manchester, contributed $125,000 to Proposition 8, an amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the November ballot.

Organizers of the campaign, which is expected to be announced at a news conference Thursday, say they believe it is the first time that gay rights supporters have boycotted a business whose owner seeks to ban same-sex marriage.

Leaders will urge the public to avoid the downtown hotel because they say that support for Proposition 8 amounts to unfair treatment of gays and lesbians.

“Manchester's contribution to this anti-marriage initiative is discrimination plain and simple,” said Brigette Browning, president of Unite Here Local 30, which represents 4,500 hotel and restaurant workers.

The Manchester Grand Hyatt is not unionized.

Manchester and campaign officials from Proposition 8 did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In an interview earlier this year, Manchester said that he decided to donate to Proposition 8 because he had heard that schools that teach that marriage is between a man and a woman could be sued for discriminating against gays.

In addition, he said, he was motivated by his strong Catholic faith to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But, he said that he welcomes gays and lesbians to his hotels and restaurants.

Gay rights leaders say they are not targeting the Hyatt Corp. – which operates the Manchester Grand Hyatt – because the company has a good record in hiring and supporting gays and lesbians. But they are singling out the Manchester property.

In May, California became the second state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage after the state Supreme Court ruled that laws banning it violate the right to marry in the state constitution. A court ruling in Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in that state four years ago.

In November, voters get a chance to overturn the California ruling, if they vote for a constitutional ban under Proposition 8.

Manchester is one of several San Diegans whose large contributions helped put the initiative on the ballot. Others include Mission Valley developer Terry Caster, who gave $162,500, and Robert Hoehn, owner of Hoehn Motors in Carlsbad, who has given $25,000.

Fred Karger, who is helping to organize the boycott and is running an organization opposed to Proposition 8, said he is also urging the public to boycott Manchester's other hotel, the Grand Del Mar.

“This is someone who is giving an exorbitant amount of money to write discrimination into the constitution for the very first time,” he said.

Karger said he hopes the boycott will send a message to other potential contributors to the Proposition 8 campaign.

“Our goal is to create a business loss for people who contribute,” he said. “We want to make it a little uncomfortable.”

The results of the boycott could be watched closely.

In the battle over Proposition 8, both sides will be trying to raise huge amounts of money, nearly $15 million each, to make their case to voters. In 2000, 61 percent of California voters approved Proposition 22, enacting a statutory ban on same-sex marriages. But in late May of this year after the court ruling, the non-partisan Field Poll found a majority of California voters opposed a constitutional ban and by a slimmer majority for the first time supported same-sex marriage.

Backers of Proposition 8 have predicted that any boycott efforts would fail.

“Support for traditional marriage is a mainstream view,” said Andrew Pugno, an attorney for, which supports Proposition 8. “I can't imagine that efforts to boycott businesses with mainstream views are going to be successful.”

In April, once Manchester's contribution became widely known, two gay rights organizations, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and PlanetOut Inc., moved events they had scheduled at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

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