Dirty Money

Though roundly defeated in the last election, the National Organization for Marriage is still committed to blocking marriage equality. Some evidence suggests that it’s turning to harsher speech, hiding donations, and rolling back campaign disclosure laws to accomplish its goals.



At left: Antigay author Robert A.J. Gagnon


But is NOM as respectful as it says it is? It certainly touts itself as neutral about gayness (which is in itself a win). On its website, it enjoins supporters to remember that its best-polling talking point is this:

“Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” This allows people to express support for tolerance while opposing gay marriage. Some modify it to “People have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”

The head of NOM’s nonprofit educational arm, the Ruth Institute, Jennifer Roback Morse, promotes her stance with a prominent article headlined “Why Opposing the Gay Lobby Is Not Antigay.”

However, since Maggie Gallagher ceased being NOM’s board chair, the Ruth Institute has skated over the edge of being actively antigay. Last year Carlos Maza of Equality Matters attended the Ruth Institute’s annual training program for “emerging leaders” in how to talk about marriage and LGBT issues. He writes, “What I saw at the conference — selling a book that labels gay people as pedophiles worthy of death, distributing Bible quotes to college students similarly calling for gays to be killed, hosting entire speeches devoted to condemning gays and lesbians as deviant sinners — represented a brand of antigay extremism that I assumed even NOM would have shied away from.” He listened to a lecture from antigay author Robert A.J. Gagnon announcing that homosexuality was “self-degrading,” inflicts “measurable harm,” is unhealthy, emotionally dangerous, unacceptable to God, and leads to depression, substance abuse, and disease. The weekend, Maza writes, taught “that gays and lesbians — including me — are unstable, dangerous, and unworthy of raising their own families.” The reading list included materials saying that lesbians and gay men are in a “rebellion against God,” that our relationships are inherently “unstable, unhealthy, and promiscuous,” and relying on such discredited authors as George Gilder and Paul Cameron.

Is that what NOM’s donors endorse? Campaign donations may be protected as First Amendment speech, according to the Supreme Court — so long as people will stand by their “words.”

Brian Brown believes that he and NOM are David to HRC’s Goliath, and that they are bravely battling an overwhelming enemy in standing up “for what is true and right about marriage.” He believes as well that when people on his side “attack gay people, we condemn it, immediately,” while LGBT forces irresponsibly ignore our own extremists. LGBT forces, of course, believe precisely the opposite.

In much the same way, it’s possible to look at the campaign finance evidence above and conclude that NOM is a sinister cabal, funded by fewer than a handful of wealthy people who refuse to stand by their beliefs publicly. This view argues that NOM centrally controls all the anti–marriage equality efforts in the country; its donors know exactly what they’re getting for their investment, since Mission Public Affairs runs precisely the same campaign in every state. From this point of view, by allowing its donors to fail to register in particular state fights, NOM is knowingly evading the law, structuring its fund-raising to avoid campaign finance requirements.

But you could look at the same information and conclude, rather, that NOM has few donors because equality is winning. Public opinion has shifted so strongly to our side that those on NOM’s side are embarrassed. For many of us who grew up with our lives and sense of self in danger, this is hard to grasp. Between the lines, Brian Brown is saying that very few Americans are left who care enough about stopping our freedom to marry to give their money, time, or reputation to the fight. It’s possible that standing up against us is now harder than standing up for us.

Just 30 years ago, much of the nation was content to let gay men die, stigmatized, of a disease the president couldn’t be bothered to name. Just 20 years ago, LGBT lives were in danger during fights over ballot measures that tried to prevent us from teaching in public schools, passing nondiscrimination ordinances, and the like. That time has passed. There may be 30-plus states yet to go, but we are gaining supporters and momentum at a rate very few of us could ever have imagined.

We are winning. And like the temperance movement allies to whom it is attached, NOM will fade into history. At the end of February, NOM pledged “to spend $500,000 against any Republican legislator who votes in favor of redefining marriage in Minnesota.” Doesn’t NOM deserve as much luck as it had in the 2012 election?