The owner of a family-owned ice cream shop and restaurant in Sacramento who has been targeted by angry phone calls and e-mails and obscene Valentine’s Day cards because of his support for the Proposition 8 campaign says Catholics should “stand up” for marriage despite the consequences and the “lies” of extremist activists.
The passage of Proposition 8, which overturned a California Supreme Court decision instating same-sex “marriage,” prompted major protests from homosexual activists and their allies.
Allan Leatherby, 46, told CNA that he and other family members decided to contribute to the Yes on 8 campaign after Bishop of Sacramento Jaime Soto personally called him to ask for his support.
Members of the Leatherby family, which owns Leatherby’s Family Creamery, gave $20,000 to the campaign. “It was a response to his personal request. Otherwise we might not have supported it in that amount,” he explained to CNA.
“Obviously as Catholics we value marriage,” he said, saying they saw some “huge red flags” about the effects of same-sex marriage.
When the family’s support for Proposition 8 became public, protesters targeted their business. The ice cream shop was picketed, employees in company sweat shirts were harassed and angry callers phoned the business. The business reportedly received hundreds of angry e-mails and was targeted by bloggers.
Leatherby also received obscene Valentine’s Day cards in the mail.
“There is no way we could have prepared for the kind of reaction we got,” he said. “Business is actually down and that worries me. Can a business sustain that kind of negativity in the long-term? God only knows.”
After the election, business increased because Proposition 8 supporters deliberately frequented the business, but their numbers have decreased.
Leatherby’s Family Creamery and its owners enjoy a good reputation in the Sacramento area because of the business’ donations of ice cream to area charities. Leatherby himself is an active volunteer and built stairs and helped renovations at Hope House, a former AIDS hospice.
Speaking with CNA on Wednesday, Leatherby explained his support for Proposition 8, saying he disagreed with characterizations of same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.
“I have men’s and women’s restrooms in my establishment. Is that discrimination? No. Why? Because men and women are different!
“They’re equal in dignity but they’re different. A relationship between a man and a woman is different than a man and a man or a woman and a woman, hands down,” especially when children are considered.
Leatherby explained how Leatherby’s Family Creamery didn’t know what would transpire on the day after the election as angered opponents began to organize protests.
He said a friend overheard a protest group say they were going to start picketing and contacted him. Some opponents of Proposition 8 and some members of the gay and lesbian community also called to warn they would be boycotting.
There were rumors of a “sitdown” where protesters would not allow customers to enter the ice cream shop.
“We got a call from police department and the sherrif’s department saying ‘we are concerned for your safety’.”
Angry and violent e-mails and blogs increased concern about the protests, leading law enforcement to ask if they could position a patrol car at each location.
Leatherby then contacted members of his and his wife’s large families, asking for their support.
Others heard about the protests against the Leatherbys, resulting in an “outpouring of support” from those who wanted to make sure they didn’t go out of business.
When the shop opened, picketers were stationed out front carrying “vulgar, crazy signs.”
However, there was also a long line of people waiting to go into the store to show their support.
“That was just tremendous, to have that support,” Leatherby told CNA.
“Now I know how George Bailey felt at the ends of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” he added. “It’s nice to have friends.”
Asked to describe the kind of critical comments he had received, Leatherby said Proposition 8 opponents have been “all over the board.”
“Most of them associate me and my family with hateful, spiteful people that would drag homosexuals out into the street and beat them up.
“It’s amazing. Because of the lies that are told about this, about how supporters are hateful, so many people have bought into that!”
“A majority of Californians are not hateful people. It’s a lie to say that.
“They don’t hate gay people, they support marriage.
“You can’t hold those beliefs any longer unless you’re considered hateful?” Leatherby asked.
“Is Mother Teresa a hateful person? She has the same beliefs I do.
“One of the first houses she opened in San Francisco was an AIDS house for gay men. Some of the first people she reached out to were gay men,” Leatherby noted.
“If it wasn’t so horrible, it would be silly,” he said of the criticisms.
He said the phone calls accusing his family of hate are “vulgar, swearing, for the most part just angry,” explaining his mother took one such call on Tuesday.
“You accuse me of hate, could you please listen to what you are saying?” she said to the caller, according to Leatherby.
“They’re so emotional and so angry that they don’t’ take time to sit back and think about it,” he said.
He noted that he and his business had even been threatened.
“Our employees, little 16-year-old girls, have been threatened physically because of my family’s stand,” he said.
Not all the interactions with critics have been negative.
Leatherby recounted his meeting with a 70-year-old man who was critical of his support for Proposition 8.
“After talking with him, I said I used to work at a certain house for gay men dying of AIDS.
“He broke down in tears and said, ‘one of my partners died there’.”
Leatherby offered to buy him lunch, where he learned that the man had grown up in a Catholic orphanage.
“The man said ‘the Catholic church had done more for me than anyone else in my life.’
“He said he had been abused before he entered the orphanage, and said he wouldn’t have been gay if he had had a strong man in his life.”
Relatives of gays tell Leatherby they support him, but it’s “very difficult” for them.
“Some gays come in and say ‘I wasn’t for Proposition 8, but we don’t agree with the boycott, and how they’re treating you, so we’d like you to know we’re not in favor of that.’”
He recounted how one man had told a television station he had voted for Proposition 8 after noticing the difference between the two sides and the different examples of their advocates.
CNA asked Leatherby what he would say to those Catholics who are wary to support marriage publicly for fear of economic and social consequences.
“I think we have to stand up,” he replied. “The biggest fear is: if you don’t, you’re going to be in violation of hate crimes very soon,” warning that people “could be dragged to jail.”
He predicted others will “stand up” following his lead.
“To stand alone is always difficult,” he said, adding that many people have come in and spoken with his family in support.
“We’ve been very public when the news media has asked us to step up and I hope that would encourage other people to step up” and not “cower,” Leatherby told CNA.