The Scottsdale-based Christian organization spearheading a legal challenge to stop gays from marrying in San Francisco is recognized as a national heavyweight when it comes to promoting traditional family values.
The Alliance Defense Fund is one of two groups opposing the California city’s decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex partners.
The organization has gained the reputation by supporters and critics as a powerhouse when it comes to using the law to promote its mission, which the group says is "to keep the door open for the spread of Gospel through the legal defense and advocacy of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and traditional family values."
"They stick their fingers in everything. They are pretty powerful. They have some big names behind them, and they have a lot of money," said Kathie Gummere, a spokeswoman for Arizona Human Rights Fund, a gay rights political advocacy group.
"Whenever you put money and lawyers together, things happen," she said. "Not always for the good."
Gummere is an attorney who supports gay marriage.
The Alliance Defense Fund hasn’t always received as much attention. Its founders once termed the organization "fledgling," until, they claim, God led them to their president and CEO Alan Sears, who is credited with expanding the organization.
Sears, a former federal prosecutor, has a history of social conservatism going back nearly 20 years when he was director of former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese’s Commission on Pornography, which looked at limiting the sale of sexually explicit materials.
The group was formed in 1993 by the leaders of more than 30 ministries, including the late Bill Bright, founder of the Campus Crusade for Christ.
Perhaps most remarkable is that its national headquarters is run out of an ordinary, albeit upscale, office suite near the Scottsdale Airpark at Loop 101 and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.
The group has about 70 employees and more than 700 volunteer attorneys who argue cases for their cause throughout the country, said Richard Jefferson, a spokesman for the group.
The attorneys donate 450 hours to "defending our first liberty, which is freedom of religion," he said.
"We sort of just grew and were established to be an alliance," Jefferson said of the group’s national prominence.
The Tribune has requested unsuccessfully since Tuesday for an interview with the group’s principal executives. Jefferson said the group could not grant an in-depth interview because it was busy fielding dozens of media inquiries about the San Francisco gay marriage case. Its chief counsel, Benjamin Bull, would not be available until next week, Jefferson said.
The group claims on its Web site that its goal is to raise $25 million annually in the legal battle for "religious freedom, sanctity of life and the preservation of marriage and the family." It says it hasn’t reached that goal yet, but Jefferson said the group’s operating budget is $17 million.
The group has been involved in 23 U.S. Supreme Court victories, including a record eight cases in the high court’s 1999-2000 term, according to the group’s Web site.
"That seems like a pretty good record from our point of view," considering the U.S. Supreme Court hears only about 80 cases a term, said Tim Keller, an attorney for the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm that specializes in property rights, school choice and free speech issues.
The Valley is no stranger to its legal challenges, either.
The Alliance Defense Fund has challenged local government on issues that include opposing a state executive order barring employment discrimination against homosexuals, and for the support of the distribution of religious fliers in public schools.
"They have been very helpful to (the Institute of Justice) in the area of school choice litigation," Keller said. "We certainly have a good view of them in light of our relationship on school choice."
Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while her group is often perceived as a rival of Christianbased organizations, it sides with the Alliance Defense Fund on some issues.
Privacy and free-speech issues are among the more common agreements.
"If it is something that offends our Constitution, that infringes on our rights, then that’s the issue," she said. "The issue for us is not one of ideology, even though I know the perception of the ACLU is that we are a bunch of left-wing radicals, but it simply is not true.
"I think it is true that the Alliance Defense (Fund) is a group of right-wing radicals," Eisenberg said.
Socially conservative Rep. Colette Rosati, R-Scottsdale, said the group’s national influence is a positive thing for Arizona.
"It’s kind of impressive to know that it’s a big, national thing," Rosati said. "Sometimes you don’t realize we have big things in our back yard."