In the past year, several anti-marriage equality groups have tried to paint themselves as "grassroots" movements, but evidence suggests they are getting significant assistance from and have ties to the Australian Christian Lobby.
When it launched last year, Marriage Alliance described itself as "a grassroots movement" to "educate Australians" about same-sex marriage. When it was pointed out that the organisation's spokesperson and several key members had ties to the Liberal Party, its grassroots claim quickly fell apart. A new player in June this year, "You're Teaching Our Children What?" also describes itself as a "grassroots movement" of concerned mothers opposed to Safe Schools. But evidence suggests that the groups are collaborating, if not directly linked.
It starts with a simple website company: Cornerstone Web Solutions. This company, based in North Sydney, hosts content for the dozens of websites owned by the Australian Christian Lobby. Cornerstone's founder, Scott Matthew, is Facebook friends with more than a dozen ACL staff, including managing director Lyle Shelton, Wendy Francis, Jim Wallace and former staffer Martyn Iles. The group has been busy buying up more than 100 domains over the past few years. Most notably the ACL owns "whatisthemarriageact.com" and a number of variations on that, along with "aclwatch", as a defensive purchase against people who might fact-check the organisation.
Matthew has been doing work for the ACL for more than a decade. He was listed as technical support for the ACL webcast of the Howard/Rudd talks in front of Christians in 2007, and his previous business, Show The World, provided website design to the ACL as early as 2004.
Curiously, the company also hosts or has hosted services for other anti-same sex marriage groups including Australian Marriage Forum, Marriage Alliance, a Greek Orthodox website against same-sex marriage, and the "You're Teaching Our Children What?" website. All of the websites were hosted in the same IP address range owned by Cornerstone in Macquarie Telecom's data centre in Sydney.
Some of the groups, however, such as Marriage Alliance and Australian Marriage Forum began shifting their services away from Cornerstone when people began investigating the links between the groups. When Fairfax reported that Marriage Forum's website was registered in Shelton's name, the organisation moved its .org website to Amazon and changed the registrant to David van Gend, but the .org.au site remains on Cornerstone's servers.
Marriage Alliance recently shifted the responsibility for its services to a company linked to the United States anti-gay group National Organization for Marriage.
The links go further than just a single Christian-affiliated hosting company, however.
The arrival of the "You're Teaching Our Children What?" group was splashed in the The Daily Telegraph, and right wing columnist Miranda Devine quotes "Sophie" as "one of 10 mothers" involved and says "Sophie" wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. The group, titled "You're Teaching Our Children What?" uses a name similar to the headline of an article by Shelton just weeks before and is hosted by the same website host used by the ACL. Shelton tweeted a link to the website just over a week before Devine's article appeared.
Is "Sophie" Sophie York, the spokesperson for Marriage Alliance and Liberal Party campaigner? Sophie York has been featured on the Greek Orthodox website, and the same content can be found cross-posted on the You're Teaching Our Children What? website. She denies that she is Devine's inspiration.
Devine also gave a personal reference to York, a former Liberal candidate, describing York as having "a strong moral compass, and her beliefs are rooted in family and community".
We asked Marriage Alliance and "You're Teaching Our Children What?", as well as Devine about the link, but we did not hear back. We also asked Cornerstone Web Solutions about their involvement with the ACL and the other groups but also did not hear back.
Marriage Alliance describes itself as "an independent alliance bringing together individuals and organisations", suggesting it might become the umbrella group for the various anti-marriage equality groups, and take the leading role in the No case during the upcoming plebiscite debate, should the plebiscite legislation pass.
This week The Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Marriage Forum, Marriage Alliance and the Australian Family Association have all lent their support to the launch of anti-gay doctor David van Gend's book, Stealing from a Child. Van Gend -- who recently alleged that equalising age of consent laws in Queensland between gay people and straight people would lead to old gay men preying on school boys -- makes his case against marriage equality in the book.