NOM in New York: All Hat and No Cattle
July 7, 2011
This piece was published online by The Advocate.
Almost 60% of New Yorkers wanted it. Governor Cuomo showed a steely resolve to get it. LGBT groups united to win it. Four Republican lawmakers voted for it. And beginning July 24, marriage equality will be a reality in the Empire State. But even before the first vows are exchanged, the nation’s leading antigay group, the National Organization for Marriage, is already trying to undo the newly minted law.
The folks at NOM, you see, are crankier than normal. They lost New York big — and they know it. What’s interesting is that they didn’t even go all in; they didn’t put any real skin in the game. Sure, Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher flew into Albany for cameo appearances days before the vote. Yes, NOM rolled out a racially tinged cable-only TV ad and hurled threats of electoral defeat at lawmakers who didn’t vote their way. But all of this was largely window dressing. For most of the eight-week campaign, NOM phoned it in, committing only $500,000.
Look at the organization’s full-court press in other states the past few years. In Iowa the group spent an unprecedented $600,000 in a usually sleepy, off-the-radar election to unseat three state Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of marriage equality in that state. (The justices lost their races, but same-sex marriage remains the law of the land; nothing changed.) In California and Maine, NOM spent almost $4 million to defeat marriage equality initiatives. In Rhode Island and Maryland, NOM led an aggressive and expensive lobbying effort to stop marriage equality legislation.
It’s likely NOM’s leaders backed down in New York because, like everyone else, they read the numbers. With a supermajority of voters supporting marriage equality and polls showing that support crossed demographic, political, and religious lines (including 56% of New York Catholics) NOM more likely decided to hold its powder and wait for more favorable conditions in another state. Let’s also not forget that the bill included religious exemptions — including language reinforcing that churches and all other places of worship have the freedom to decide to marry a gay couple or not. This language neutralized NOM's arguments about protecting religious freedoms.
The NOM crew is now promising to end New York’s marriage equality law four years from now through a constitutional amendment. But by then the supermajority of New Yorkers who support marriage equality today will only be stronger and more bipartisan. Time is not NOM’s friend. As thousands of committed gay and lesbian couples marry over the next four years, the country will see that we are no different and want the same thing: to make the lifelong commitment to the person we love and to protect our families. NOM’s new battle plan accentuates how far out of the mainstream it is.
NOM remains a formidable opponent. Its pockets are deep, and twisting the truth while threatening Republicans is the organization’s forte. The Gallagher-Brown duo has polished that combination to perfection. With a presidential election year on the horizon, with state and federal legislators up for reelection, and with the possibility of referendum contests, you can be sure NOM is figuring out that national map right now. And that’s exactly why the LGBT and larger progressive community must continue to expose the antigay animus that drives the organization. So too must the mainstream media. The New York Daily News did a smart piece on NOM’s national footprint as well as its connections to Opus Dei and the millions of dollars coming from undisclosed political donors. Politicians at all levels of government should think twice about receiving political donations from this shady organization.
Just because NOM suffered a severe blow under Brown’s leadership in New York doesn’t mean we should discount the group or presume it’s any less committed. To do so would be arrogant and dangerous.
Kevin Nix is a director in the communications department at the Human Rights Campaign.
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