Two days after the election, Emmet Davis walked across Whistling Isle, a street of nearly identical wood and stucco homes, to shake the hand of his neighbor Christina Shea.
Along with her husband, Michael, a carwash developer, and architect Scott Peotter, Christina spearheaded the divisive Measure N--an initiative removing homosexuals’ protections against discrimination--whose victory has rocked the liberal-led city of Irvine.
Contrary to political foes who called the Sheas religious extremists, bigots and even neo-Nazis, Davis was full of praise for Christina. “I’m glad we had a champion,” he said, shaking the hand of the 39-year-old mother of three. The Sheas, he explained, “represent why people moved here and the way we live.”
While Peotter was president and Michael Shea was spokesman, Christina was campaign manager for the Irvine Values Coalition, the 350-member group that successfully removed protection for homosexuals from the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
Christina did most of the work and took most of the flak in the bitter 18-month campaign that produced smear charges from both sides and ended in a narrow 6% margin. She also is emerging as the most likely of the three to use the current momentum as a political springboard in what most observers predict will be a continuing debate.
Shea acknowledged that the divisive campaign “was a real bad thing for our community, in a way.” But she and Michael, evangelical Christians who have a homosexual relative, said it was worth it in the long run. “We have chaos in our society if you don’t judge people on their behavior,” Shea said. “It bothers me when people don’t take stands.”
As a divorced, single mother, Christina met Michael in 1977 at a singles’ retreat of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Michael, 40, said he had converted from Catholicism to the evangelical movement in 1973. They married three months after they met and moved to Irvine, where they later joined the nondenominational Village Church of Irvine. Michael adopted Christina’s son, and they had two daughters of their own.
Last year, Michael ran unsuccessfully for City Council, promising to fight the city’s Human Rights Ordinance on the basis that homosexuals should not be given legal protection “in a family community,” and that extra laws are not needed.
Two weeks after his defeat, he and Christina spoke at a public hearing against the ordinance and met like-minded fellow residents, who later organized to qualify an initiative for the ballot to repeal protection for homosexuals. Eventually, they contributed $5,000 to the battle.
Michael said he was moved to fight minority status for homosexuals partly because of his homosexual relative. “We love him very much. We don’t happen to agree with that life style,” he said.
“Most of your minorities are unchangeable and morally neutral. We felt homosexuals, in my opinion and Christina’s opinion, are neither unchangeable nor morally neutral. . . .
“If you give minority status to behavior-based life styles, you open up a Pandora’s box--to smokers, drinkers, neo-Nazis if you will.”
The Sheas like to play golf and board games with their children. Their yard is neatly planted with roses and vegetables, their Jeep Cherokee has a new-looking “Yes On N” sticker in the window.
At home, Christina said, “I’m very controlling and bossy. He tells me when he’s in charge and I agree with him. I think it’s neat when a man is the head of the home. If I disagree, I’m very strong.”
They attend church every Sunday and Wednesday for family night, said Pastor Bruce Sonnenberg. “They care for people,” he said. “They were real sure not to be name callers through the whole campaign.”
Consulting with anti-gay leaders such as Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) and Oregon activists who had opposed an executive order allowing homosexuals to become foster parents, the Irvine Values Coalition plotted a strategy that focused on homosexuality and included graphic depictions of extreme behavior.
“We tried to show we were normal people. I’m a mom with three kids and I don’t want gay pride festivals or public sex in bathrooms in my city,” Christina said.
The Rev. Fred Plumer, a United Church of Christ pastor who founded the opposition group, Irvine Citizens United, said he questioned the Sheas’ research and depth of their reasoning, but not their sincerity. “They’re basically good people,” he said. “I don’t think they really thought through how incredibly damaging and punishing to a small minority of people their words and actions really were.”
Plumer noted that Michael Shea consistently argued that the protective ordinance was unnecessary, saying homosexuals were not discriminated against. Yet, Plumer said, “he was expressing the greatest discrimination by what he called gays and the material he sent out. To say there’s no example of discrimination, then to be a predominant example of that, is an incredible irony to me.”
Like many of the Sheas’ opponents, Irvine Mayor Larry Agran summed up their tactics as “a campaign of deceit and lies.” He said there has been an outpouring of “great shock from decent people throughout the city” regarding the election outcome. “I keep reminding myself it was very close,” he said.
Another opponent, following the request of his religious leader to pray with one’s foes, said the Sheas agreed to pray with him in their home. “It was easy to generalize how horrible the Irvine Values Coalition was,” said the man, who asked not to be named. “Once I got to know them, it was more difficult to generalize about them. Before, they were religious nuts. We laughed about it,” he said.
They prayed on four occasions about family matters until the board of the Yes on N campaign asked them to stop for the sake of appearances.
Christina said Michael’s politics differ radically from those of the rest of his family, but that her interest in politics came from active Republican parents. Her mother, Gretchen Osborne, vice president of the Laguna Beach Republican Party, said she supported the Sheas in their campaign and was proud of their victory.
Michael, who recently left the family’s Beacon Bay carwash business in Irvine to strike out on his own, said he has little time to capitalize on the obvious momentum generated by the election. However, Christina, a returning student at Irvine Valley College, said she is interested in politics and has not ruled out the suggestion that she run for City Council next June.
Many opponents fear that the Irvine traditional values group now will target sex education in schools or homosexual teachers.
But Christina said the group has not yet decided its future and has many options, including disbanding. She said she sees no issues to target in the Irvine Unified School District, nor does she want to police the morality of others.
“I would never be associated with what they say, that we want a police state. I don’t want people to think our group is here to police people for their behavior,” Christina said.
Michael said he hoped the Irvine Values Coalition would move on to activities such as forming a men’s group to assist single mothers with yard and household tasks. But according to Christina, “The main thing is to look for the City Council in June, 1990.
“I’m not on a huge crusade to wipe out homosexuals,” Christina said. “But I’ll fight again if they want to bring homosexuality into the public arena. I believe (sexuality) belongs in the home, in the privacy of one’s own domain,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said, “If I’ve hurt anybody, I want them to call me and I’ll make amends.”