For anyone not familiar with the National Organization for Marriage, it’s a leading antigay organization that has been a thorn in the side of marriage equality activists for nearly a decade. A registered political advocacy group, NOM has had a hand in almost every marriage setback our community has faced since 2008. Its mission: to stop the spread of marriage equality in America.
Given this very specific raison d’être, it would be logical to assume that after the U.S. Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land, NOM would be winding down operations, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case; as it turns out, the organization has contorted its mission and expanded its reach into even more troubling areas of discrimination, stretching beyond the borders of the United States.
Many U.S.–based activists are “over” the National Organization for Marriage. NOM’s people are blowhards, we say. There will never be a serious movement for a constitutional amendment banning equal marriage. We’ve won. And having gotten what we wanted, it’s easy to turn the page. But to ignore NOM now is to imperil our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world. Because perhaps more troubling than anything the group is currently doing here at home is the international political work it’s increasingly become involved in.
As it began to suffer more and more domestic defeats, NOM increasingly turned to international activism. Faced with triple losses in the 2012 marriage votes in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, NOM decided to export its message to a new audience, and what better place than Russia. Testifying before a Russian parliamentary committee just days after the infamous “gay propaganda” legislation had passed, NOM president Brian Brown spoke vigorously against adoption rights for same-sex couples. He used the same talking points on Russian politicians that he had used successfully on Californians, North Carolinians, and Mainers in the heyday of U.S. marriage bans. The Russians listened; days after Brown’s testimony, they passed a ban on loving, committed foreign gay couples’ adoption of Russian children.
If that fails to surprise, consider NOM’s next move in Russia. Brown was a featured speaker at a gathering of international “family values” groups in Moscow, imploring the international audience to resist the spread of gay rights worldwide. The capstone event of the conference? A vote by delegates encouraging more countries to adopt “gay propaganda” bans similar to Russia’s so that everyone from LGBT activists to troubled teenagers coming out of the closet could be thrown in jail not just in Russia, but all over the world.
It gets worse. Just this year, faced with impending defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court, NOM doubled down on its international pivot. In a speech to the equally antigay Family Research Council, NOM chairman John Eastman actually had the audacity to speak in support of the heartbreaking Uganda law that carried a sentence of life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality.” He lamented the Uganda Constitutional Court’s decision to strike down the law on procedural grounds, saying he “hope[s] it comes back.”
The examples go on. So it’s time to face facts: The National Organization for Marriage isn’t just a domestic pro–“traditional” marriage group anymore. Its list of causes has expanded to include support for some of the most hateful and damaging antigay legislation in the world, and it’s time to put a stop to it.
The question then becomes what can be done to curb NOM’s growth and hasten the time until it is relegated to the dustbin of history. Awareness is key. An unfortunate by-product of our marriage victory is the frequent assumption that groups such as NOM will simply fade away. But while the folks at NOM may be ignorant, they are not stupid. And if their message is falling on deaf ears at home, they’ll simply take their show on the road, supporting the type of hateful laws that would sentence LGBT people to life in prison. People need to know, and it’s up to our political allies and opinion leaders to speak up.
We can take small steps first. A useful measure would be getting NOM designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC has a positive track record of monitoring and publicizing the activities of U.S.–based groups whose mission is to spread hatred. It has already designated the Family Research Council a hate group. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which NOM would not also qualify for the dishonor, given its increasing involvement in supporting some of the most heinous antigay legislation in the world. And with a surprisingly large $13 million in donations reported between its latest two tax filings, something needs to be done to undercut NOM’s financing and resources.
At the end of the day, we may be incredibly fortunate to finally have equal marriage, but that does not mean that antigay groups like the National Organization for Marriage are going away. They are as active as ever; we just don’t see as much of them anymore. That’s because they’re exporting their hate; it’s LGBT Ugandans and Russians, who are some of the most vulnerable sexual minorities in the world, that have to deal with them now. For their sake, isn’t it time we helped put a stop to it?