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The Black and White of Gay Marriage

Correction Appended

The ads seem benign at first glance.

Placed in Capitol Hill newspapers over the past several days, they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws, and invite readers to a reception Tuesday evening in the Capitol.

They also feature photographs of several prominent interracial couples, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and his wife, Hong Le Webb; and Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and his wife, Kitty. Without that landmark case, Loving v. Virginia, the ads say, these couples may not have been able to get married.

But that’s just part of the message: The ads are also an in-your-face — and yours, and yours and yours — pitch for gay marriage. And the man who paid for them doesn’t hesitate to call the officials pictured in the ads “bigots and hypocrites.”

“These are incredible hypocrites,” said Mitchell Gold, president of Faith in America, one of the 10 groups that bought the ads and are hosting Tuesday’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision. “What’s good for them is not good for another.”

It is an unconventionally frank lobbying campaign, to say the least. But Gold is unapologetic.

“We think we’ve created a way to talk about this that will give people pause,” he said.

That may be an understatement.

Instead of pausing to consider the merits of extending marriage rights to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals, the lawmakers are instead discussing the groups’ tactics.

Jessica Smith, a spokesman for Webb — who supports civil unions for gay couples but not full marital rights — said the Senator’s office was never notified that his picture would be in the ads (Gold insists his group gave heads-up calls to everyone whose image appears in the ads).

Martinez, a gay-marriage opponent, took a somewhat lighter approach.

“It’s a very lovely picture of Kitty and me,” he told “Naked Politics,” the Miami Herald’s political blog, on Thursday. “I’ll take it home to her this weekend.”

Martinez called the other couples whose photos appear in the ads — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and his wife, golfing megastar Tiger Woods and his wife, and former Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) and his wife — “nice people.”

It is an interesting time for Gold to be boosting his profile on Capitol Hill. Gold and his life and business partner, Bob Williams, are the co-owners of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, a wildly successful furniture chain that opened its first retail store in Washington, D.C., near Logan Circle, in April.

The company held a grand opening reception at the new store just two weeks ago, and because its factory is in Taylorville, N.C. — where Gold and Williams live — two of the most conservative Members of Congress, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), made an appearance.

Gold said he usually confines his conversations with Burr and Foxx to business, not politics. But his push to legalize gay marriage is a hyperpolitical — and multipronged — effort. One of the goals of Faith in America, Gold said, is to expose religious leaders who use their faith — and cite scripture — to preach against gay marriage.

Throughout history, proponents of segregation have used the Bible to justify their support for segregation, like the Virginia trial judge in the Loving case, Leon Bazille. The ad quotes a line from his decision: “Almighty God created the races white, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.”

Gold said it has taken courageous religious leaders to spark the abolitionist, women’s suffrage and civil rights movements.

The executive director of Faith in America, Jimmy Creech, is a former Methodist minister in rural North Carolina who was put on trial by the church for celebrating gay unions and was later stripped of his clergy credentials after 29 years as a minister.

In addition to the ad campaign and its presence on Capitol Hill, Faith in America is setting up political operations in Ames, Iowa, Reno, Nev., Manchester, N.H., and Greenville, S.C. — sites of the four earliest presidential nominating contests. The group is paying for ads in local newspapers, billboards and canvassers who will go door to door soliciting support for gay marriage. Activists plan to question the White House contenders at their public events in these cities.

Gold said the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision is rife with symbolism for gay-marriage advocates, and not just because of the couple’s name.

Richard and Mildred Loving were an interracial couple who married in Washington, D.C., in 1958 because interracial marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. When they returned home they were arrested and briefly jailed. Eventually, they pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful cohabitation, and accepted a judge’s sentence that they leave the state.

Years later, the Lovings went to court to appeal the Virginia law. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down all laws banning interracial marriage — 19 states still had them on the books at that point.

“The 40th anniversary of the decision gives us a good opportunity to educate people,” Gold said, “and to celebrate a decision to allow loving couples to marry.”

Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) have introduced a resolution hailing the 40th anniversary of the case. It is scheduled to be debated this evening, and some gay-rights advocates expect Baldwin — the only open lesbian in Congress — to make the connection between the Lovings and gay marriage.

Jerilyn Goodman, a spokeswoman for Baldwin, said she was not certain that the Congresswoman would go that far.

“This resolution is intended to recognize one of the most significant court decisions in the country’s history — one that the sponsors felt deserved attention on this 40th anniversary,” Goodman said. “The resolution and the Congresswoman’s remarks on Monday are meant to highlight this landmark in civil rights.”

Baldwin also is scheduled to speak at the Capitol Hill reception. Organizers are hoping to entice Mildred Loving — her husband died in a car crash in the 1970s — to attend the celebration as well.

And Gold says the opponents of gay marriage who are pictured in his group’s ads are also more than welcome tomorrow night.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they show up,” he said.

Correction: June 12, 2007

The June 11 article “The Black and White of Gay Marriage” incorrectly reported that Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) was upset because his image appeared in a series of ads promoting gay marriage without his knowledge. A spokeswoman for Webb merely said that the Senator’s office had not been given a heads-up about the ads.

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