National Organization for Marriage Has a Rough Start to 2013

Thousands of conservative culture warriors are gathering in Washington this morning for the “March for Marriage,” timed to coincide with today’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments over the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 voter referendum that banned same-sex marriage.

The march and rally on the National Mall is sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the most visible and well-funded group working to deny marriage to same-sex couples. It’ll probably be a feel-good moment for the anti-LGBT activists, but given the rapidly changing political landscape and a powerful tide of public opinion turning against them, it wouldn’t be surprising if the NOM organizers felt they were marching straight into oblivion.

In fact, in recent months, the news has been only bad for NOM.

Since November, when virtually every anti-equality measure against LGBT people failed at the ballot box, the group has suffered through a series of missteps as it grapples with a U.S. population growing more favorable toward LGBT people and the idea of same-sex marriage. NOM’s tactics appear to have become more strident, veering into the kind of demonizing rhetoric that the group has typically tried to avoid in the past. It doesn’t seem that this approach, perhaps born of desperation, is working out too well.

In January, NOM-Rhode Island posted two videos that contained numerous anti-LGBT claims, including that gays are “lethal” and are not going to heaven. In the videos, a lawyer from the notoriously anti-LGBT Liberty Counsel says there’s a radical gay agenda out to destroy America, while Matt Barber, also of the Liberty Counsel, calls homosexuality “unnatural.” One of the videos includes clips of Brian Camenker of MassResistance making false claims about what Massachusetts schools are teaching. Kara Young, the creator of the videos, calls homosexuality a “disorder,” while her husband, Chris Young, claims that the push for LGBT rights is actually an attempt to force “atheistic Communism” onto the nation. The video includes quotes from Joseph Stalin. After bloggers noticed the nature of the videos and started circulating them, the videos were removed from the NOM-RI website that same day. But one blogger captured them and you can see them at the link above.

In February, Jennifer Morse, head of NOM’s Ruth Institute and one of the group’s more acerbic and vocal anti-LGBT officials, caused a furor when her remarks at a lecture she gave at Iowa State University became public. Morse brought up Tyler Clementi as an example of why it is not the best thing for LGBT people to be friends with each other (they may be persuaded to have sex, apparently). Clementi was the Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010 when he found out his roommate had secretly videotaped him kissing another man. Morse claimed that there was “more to the story,” and that “a much older man was involved.” Her remarks brought immediate condemnation and a demand from the Clementi family for an apology. Morse issued a statement (but no apology) and offered to meet with the family, but claimed her remarks “were taken out of context.”

Earlier this month, NOM Chairman John Eastman was quoted in an AP article that noted that both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas have adopted children. Eastman contended that adoption by heterosexual couples is “by far the second-best option” (a family with married biological parents is, in NOM’s view, the best option). Amid an outcry over his statement, Eastman claimed that the AP article “grossly misrepresented” his thoughts on adoption.

Today’s March for Marriage has also run into a few problems. The Lee Boys, one of the musical groups NOM had lined up, canceled its appearance after learning more about NOM. Then, the pro-equality musician Katie Herzig was alerted to the fact that one of her songs was being used in a NOM ad promoting the March for Marriage. She had the ad pulled from YouTube, citing copyright violation. In yet another musical snafu, two members of the Celtic rock group Scythian refused to support NOM’s event, so the remaining three members are performing as Ultramontane. The decision has created a rift within the band. Fiddler and Scythian co-founder Josef Crosby said that he has “spent many hours researching this group and I’m saddened that now Scythian will be associated with an ideology I so strongly oppose.”

In recent signs that public opinion is turning against NOM:

  • U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a staunch GOP conservative from Ohio, announced his support for marriage equality in an op-ed piece published by the Columbus Dispatch, noting that his opposition melted away when he discovered his son is gay. He and his son were excoriated in the conservative blogosphere (see here, here and here).
  • A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week showed that public support for marriage equality has grown to an all-time high of 58 percent.
  • In an indicator of what appears to be a sea change in how even conservatives view LGBT people, the NOM panel at CPAC, the premier conference for conservative activists, was sparsely attended, while the panel about being more inclusive of LGBT people was packed. Ironically, the organizer of the latter panel included Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder and executive director of GOProud, the conservative gay group that was banned from CPAC. The anti-gay panel included NOM President Brian Brown and attorney Cleta Mitchell, who pushed for the GOProud ban. Brown complained to the largely empty room at CPAC: “We are treated as if we are bigots.”

Nevertheless, don’t count NOM out. The group will have its march on the Supreme Court on Tuesday and no doubt will drum up lots of publicity for its cause. Perhaps NOM is also hoping to burnish its image with the march, although co-sponsors like the Family Research Council, the virulently anti-LGBT group American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (known as TFP), and World Congress of Families (whose communications director recently compared homosexuality to pedophiles, fetishists, and sadomasochists) might not be doing it any favors.