You may disagree with your political and ideological opponents, but would you ever compare their kids to the kids of parents torn apart by divorce? How about the kids of parents who had died? Read on.
While chats about the National Organization For Marriage may be exceedingly rare for most people, in LGBT political circles, this kind of conversation pops up with some degree of freqency. This being so, it wasn't out of the ordinary when I found myself, on a recent afternoon, sharing noms and NOM chatter with a good friend who is also in this game in a major way (and who knows some key players quite well). In a chat that was far healthier than the fried cheese sticks I had ordered and far more informative than the outdated "Go see Cats!' mural that was painted on this NYC diner's wall, my friend helped me piece together my ongoing puzzle regarding this organization's current state. This friend, who is both plugged in and trusted, was specualting in particular about why Maggie Gallagher might be so clearly distancing herself from NOM.
For those who don't geek out on this stuff like I do, let me stop and give you a quick rundown on this separation. Since leaving NOM operations last year, Maggie, the co-founder and most visible face of the discriminatory org, has had almost nothing to do with the group she once cherished. Maggie never writes for NOM nor does she make public appearances on the organization's behalf. Tellingly, Maggie was actually in the nation's capital on the day last month that the Supreme Court heard the Prop 8 case and NOM protested outside the building, but she did not show up at NOM's "march for marriage" to speak. That absence seemed too pointed to be free of a bigger story.
My pal's basic but compelling theory is that Maggie is uncomfortable with the way the organization has gone. Maggie, while perpetuating (and creating out of whole cloth) a whole host of discriminatory harms for which she must be held accountable, truly did enter into this debate because she wanted to "save" or "fix" marriage and, by extension, families. For Maggie, marriage is the cause. It's not about this win or that state—it's about what she sees as the greater good and the (wrong-headed, in my view) way to achieve it. Maggie is a true believer .
And then there's her successor as NOM president, Brian Brown. Brian, the theory continues, sees this debate as some sort of a game and NOM as is his big ticket in. Brian, who Maggie headhunted while he was playing a decidely losing game on behalf of Connecticut's local "family" group, truly wants to "win" against his opposition. For Brian, the argument goes, it is about this win and that state. He likes the victory party and seriously sees each one of these prizes as trophies for his political tchotchke case. The ability to achieve a bare majority is his ultimate end, and he will engage in whatever means necessary to arrive at it.
The theory continues with a suggestion that this differentiation in purpose is what has led to distance, both in physical space and viewpoint, between the two figures most closely associated with NOM. Maggie, I am told by multiple sources, truly does care about whether or not she is hurting gay people (and recoils at the suggestion that she is), but Brian, it is believed, just doesn't really give that much of a damn. Now, let me stress that no one who has told me that latter point has suggested that Brian truly wants to hurt people; the theorists who hold this view on Brian just seem to believe that, to him, the "culture war" fallout is justified so long as it ends in a way for NOM to celebrate and fundraise around. Victory parties are fun. His salary is large. Brian enjoys both.
Like all theories, total truth is probably out of reach. Maggie has surely been know to clink a champagne glass at an election night victory party, and Brian is surely guided at least in part by some broader sense that makes him believe that he is serving God, country, and the families that exist within this planet of ours. Even with much corroboration, I would still be reticent about giving full buy-in to what brings an individual to his or her political cause. This stuff is highly imperfect, as are we all.
But that being said, I, based on multiple conversations and firsthand education regarding the National Organization For Marriage and its rhetoric, do believe much of the secondhand information I just passed on to you. This pontification is largely in line with what my microscope has personally picked up. There has been a noticeable tone change since Maggie has relinquished control (or was made to relinquish, if some are to be believed), and this newer version of NOM certainly seems to have no other standard than winning the individual battle. Once politically pragmatic, if nothing else (and let's be clear: NOM's cause has always been a lot of nothing else), the National Organization For Marriage has begun glomming on to whatever shifting message its stewards think will benefit it on this day. Increasingly, the message bends towards the very far-right and very hostile.
Yesterday, this shifting NOM tone came into full light. Late in the afternoon, after it was clear that Rhode Island is to become our tenth (!) state with marriage equality, NOM sent out a press release featuring its president's thoughts. Here is what Brian had to say about the countless many loving families that are headed by same-sex couples:
"Lawmakers have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking they have protected people of faith when in fact they have put those who believe in true marriage in the crosshairs of the law and gay 'marriage' activists. It won't be long before the repercussions begin to be felt."…"It's bad enough when families break down through divorce or death, but it's unconscionable when a state encourages this through policies that deprive children of the love of both a mother and a father. This is a very sad day for Rhode Island." [SOURCE: NOM]
Yes, you read that correctly: Brian Brown compared loving families with two parents of the same gender to those families that have been touched (/torn apart) by divorce or even death. Those are not the words of someone who is in this fight to serve some sort of greater good or who is truly concerned with what impact his words might have on others. This is callous rhetoric that is meant to make certain kinds of families seem broken. Make no mistake: Brian says it because he wants his supporters to believe it and take it back to their communities for their own marriage debates, in hopes that the next one might break his way. He says it because he wants to "win" the next marriage fight.
But this change in tone doesn't just represent a shift from the Gallagher to Brown eras of NOM; this shift signifies the increasing coarsening of rhetoric that is popping up within our increasingly desperate opposition movement. With moderates peeling away from them, the "protect marriage" crowd needs to rile up the most ardent supporters like never before. If you are someone who concerned about some larger and more humanistic cause, as Maggie is said to be, then you might resist the temptation to hyper-motivate those who respond to animus. However, if you are concerned about the "game" and the "wins," like Brian seems to be, then you might compare the kid of a loving lesbian couple to Little Orphan Annie on Miss Hannigan's worst day.
Couple this latest bout of animus with others that we've seen from NOM in the days since the fates have turned toward equality. The organization is increasingly partisan, reaching out to groups that are further and further on the fringe right. NOM has been taking on causes unrelated to marriage, like the matter of Boy Scout inclusivity. NOM staffers like Jennifer Roback Morse engage in ever-harsher rhetoric that admits its cause is against LGBT people and not just marriage. We see constant signs of the "drive of wedge" strategy that came to light his year. Brian Brown has even used his email letter to draw a connection between marriage equality and pedophilia. Again, this is all happening because moderates and independents who were once more likely to support the NOM view have increasingly joined the majority of us on the right side of history. Brian is taking the organization in this direction because, quite frankly, what other choice has he?
Maggie, it seems, chose to move herself away. Brian, it seems, will stick it out until the bitter end. And boy oh boy, I predict it's going to get quite bitter.
So what does this mean for us, in terms of pushback? Well, first and foremost, we need to make note of it. People who have only a cursory understanding of this modern day civil rights converation have only a vague knowledge of what is said and why. The nuance gets lots. We need people to understand that the organized forces against us are getting really aggressive and noticably personal. While tangentially (and hubristically) claiming that they are the ones being victimized by the marriage equality movement, NOM circa 2013 is leading the charge—sometimes subtle, other times overt, always agenda-driven—to mine its next victory (or at least fundraising pitch) out of the idea that people like us and families like ours are social drains and societal detriments. We need the public to understand what our increasing acceptance is doing to those that fight us and why these patterns of behavior are so dangerous.
When Brian Brown is featured in mainstream media programs like Meet The Press, we need to ensure that he is held accountable for the stuff he says he about us in less prominent forums. This, the overall mission of GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project, is especially important in terms of NOM. Regardless of how the the Supreme Court decisions comes down this June, it's nearly certain that NOM and its staff members will score quite a few bookings from the outcomes. The other side has essentially entrusted its entire "protect marriage" cause to NOM, so NOM has become the go-to voice of opposition. We must insist that reporters who choose to include NOM are aware and make note of what NOM staffers are really saying and doing in this fight. Are gay parents really equivalent to the tragedy of parental death? NOM's president said we were; every reporter who covers or quotes Brian Brown should ask him to expound.
And finally, we must demand better. While I have profound disagreements with Maggie Gallagher and have noted the instances where she herself has demonistrated animus against LGBT people, if she truly is concerned with how this advocacy work can negatively impact people's general welfare and overall peace of mind, then she needs to sit down and have a conversation with the leader of this, the organization that will always be idenitfied with her name. I do trust that Maggie, the author of several books and a regular on the college debate circuit, does truly value the public conversation. If I am right about this, then she should join me in public frustration regarding the way NOM is trending. She, more than even me, should see a need to stand up, take a hard look, and help fix what is increasingly broken and beyond the pale. All of us who engage in this public debate deserve a focused back-and-forth. We do not need sweeping denigrations of the families who are fighting for their rights and protections.
As someone who knows many families headed by same-sex couples and is himself part of a couple in the middle of the adoption process, I am not going to let Brian Brown get away with this outrageous portrait of LGBT family life. Maybe the theories are right and this is primarily a game to him, or maybe something else entirely is motivating his increasingly harsh work. Whatever the case, I am not going to sit silently while Brian fans these hostilities, tempting the fates about whether his careless words could lead to something truly horrible happening. My life, marriage, and family are not pawns for his political chess board; my physical and mental security are not test tubes into which he can dump toxic rhetoric.