Right-Wing Donor Ponders What to Do If Gays Move into His New Development

The New Yorker recently profiled Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan and his plans for an ultra-orthodox community and university in southwest Florida. Monaghan has been a consistent donor to right-wing causes, such as groups like Operation Rescue and the Committee to End State-Funded Abortions in Michigan as well as anti-gay activism. He founded the Ann Arbor PAC, the Ave Maria List PAC, and the Thomas More Law Center; he sits on the board of advisors of the Catholic League; and he’s lent financial clout to presidential candidate Sam Brownback.

The New Yorker article is not available online, but it describes Monaghan’s path from pizza magnate to a philanthropist dedicated to “rescu[ing] the Catholic Church from what he saw as its slide toward apostasy,” whether by fighting Sandinistas, recruiting (via Antonin Scalia) Robert Bork to teach at a start-up law school, or building a city from scratch where, as Monaghan envisioned, “We’re going to control the cable television that comes in the area. There is not going to be any pornographic television in Ave Maria Town. If you go to the drugstore and you want to buy the pill or the condoms or contraception, you won’t be able to get that.”

Monaghan was surprised, last year, when his comments about keeping pornography and contraceptives out of his “Catholic town” caused such a fuss. [developer and Ave Maria Town partner] Barron Collier was surprised, too. The company quickly offered assurances that all faiths would be welcome in the town. “It was never intended to be a restricted or Catholic-only community,” Paul Marinelli, Barron Collier’s president, said. “And we are not restricting the contraceptives. In deference to Tom’s request, and to the Catholic university, we’re requesting that contraceptives not be sold, but we’re not restricting. There’s a big difference.”

“I’m not going to break the law,” Monaghan told me. “We want to be a family town. But if there’s an openly gay couple living next door to some family, and those kids would have to be subjected to that, I don’t know. In the first place, I don’t know how many gay couples are going to want to come live in the town. And if we can’t prevent it, well, we’ll tolerate it.”

But that controversy was a passing annoyance compared with the strife that the Florida project caused between Monaghan and his school communities in Michigan. At Ave Maria College, in Ypsilanti, students and faculty were outraged by the news that they would all be moving to Florida. From Monaghan’s perspective, the move posed an inconvenient, but certainly bearable, disruption; after all, Domino’s franchisees had often been obliged to relocate. That was not the view in Ypsilanti; lawsuits were filed, fraud was alleged, and Monaghan found himself being assailed in the journals and Web logs of the conservative Catholic wing-his own base. …

The law school’s resistance has been more vexing. Its board of governors, chaired by Monaghan and filled with his appointees, has not yet voted to relocate the school. Among the dissidents are members of the founding faculty. Partly, this reflects a reluctance to uproot their successful, but fragile, institution, so carefully planted in cosmopolitan Ann Arbor. But the greater cause of disaffection is a sudden awakening to the level of control that Monaghan expects to have over the school (which has included setting a faculty dress code). “The board and Tom would like to make us irrelevant,” one law-school professor told me. “They would like to treat us as pieces of pizza, or pieces of equipment.”