Michigan billionaire Elsa Prince singled out in fight against Prop. 8

by Jessica Carreras

The fight to eliminate marriage equality in California rages on, and one of the largest donors? Michigan's own Elsa Prince.

Prince donated $200,000 on Aug. 8 and $250,000 on Aug. 14 for a grand total of $450,000, making her the fourth largest personal donor and seventh largest overall in support of Proposition 8. The measure, if passed, would define marriage in California as between one man and one woman only. The state's Supreme Court ruled in May of this year in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. Since the ruling went into effect in June, over 10,000 same-sex couples have been married in California. The legitimacy of those marriages if Proposition 8 is passed is unclear, and could possibly cause vast legal issues.

But supporters of Proposition 8 like Prince, are putting the definition of marriage first.

Prince is the widow of Edgar Prince, who founded Prince Automotive and invented the lighted sun visor mirror. The invention made them billionaires.

Prince is mother to daughter Betsy DeVos, wife of 2006 Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopeful Richard (Dick) DeVos. Her son, Erik Prince, is the notorious head of Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial company that made headlines in 2007 when the U.S. Congress investigated his company for illegal weapon smuggling in Iraq.

The Princes have a long history of involvement in the anti-LGBT movement. They helped to create Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based religious organization behind many local and national anti-gay endeavors.

While the organization itself donated over $439,000 to Yes on Proposition 8, it came just short of Prince, whose personal donation is bested only by Robert Hurtt, president of California company Container Supply ($550,000), Howard Ahmanson, owner of California company Fieldstead & Co. ($995,000) and John and Josephine Templeton of Pennsylvania, where John is president of the John Templeton Foundation ($1,000,000).

Prince is the only Michigan donor to give over $5,000.

San Diego-based organization Californians Against Hate aims to bring donors like Prince to the attention of voters, effectively vilifying them. "We decided to kick off this effort to show to the world who is donating all this money to take away our newly found freedom to marry," explained founder and Campaign Manager Fred Karger. "And it caught on."

Their Web site features a "Dishonor Roll," which highlights all the largest donors above $5,000. The group has since urged for boycotts of companies, including the hotels of Californian Doug Manchester, which caused a stir in July.

As for Prince, the organization has released a television ad featuring an actress playing Prince whose grandson asks her "Grandma, why did you donate so much money?" The ad, which comes shortly after another featuring Californian donor Terry Caster, is modeled after the 1964 "Daisy Girl" ad of President Lyndon Johnson.

Karger said they singled out Prince because of her well-known status, coupled with the fact that she is one of highest out-of-state donors to Proposition 8. "Here's a woman who obviously has pretty strong feelings against same-sex marriage. She lives in Holland, Mich., yet she was compelled to give $450,000 to take away people's freedoms and rights and write discrimination into the California constitution," he elaborated. "We thought she would be a good subject for this commercial because she's a celebrity."

The idea of featuring young children, Karger said, focused on the idea that teaching intolerance to younger generations is wrong. "I think that when grandparents give an exorbitant amount of money for something like this, when there's so many problems in the world and country and state, that we need to put money into," he said. "That they have that much interest in this issue, I think, sends a terrible message to young people, particularly in their own families."

Donations against Proposition 8 have also come in large numbers from out of state, including a contribution by Michigan billionaire and LGBT activist Jon Stryker. Many out-o "What has been most gratifying is the support from out of state from the gay community and then the straight allies. The Brad Pitt and the labor unions that have given, for the very first time, huge contributions," Karger said. "... . I've been in this battle for 30 years, since we had our first opposition in 1978. No one was coming to help us. It was the gay community."

"I know we're going to win this battle," Karger said, "and I'm just very excited to be a part of it."

Between The Lines stands in full support of marriage equality in California and urges readers to donate to stop Prop. 8. Go to http://www.californiansagainsthate.com or http://www.noonprop8.com.

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