The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

A new website?  Yeah, that’ll do the trick, NOM.  Mmm hmm.  Sure.

September 09, 2013, by Jeremy Hooper

In NOM's latest email blast to supporters, the pro-discrimination organization begins its umpteenth fundraising pitch with this "exciting" announcement: 

Dear Marriage Supporter,

In the next couple of weeks, NOM will be unveiling a new website, an updated blog, and better news feeds for you to keep informed and equipped in the battle to protect God's ordained definition of marriage. Similarly, we will be reworking the weekly Newsletter as we go through this process.


And while it's just a simple refresh on one hand, this front-and-center excitement about a cosmetic change is actually a pretty telling statement on NOM's current state of affairs.  It shows a total failure to pinpoint, or at least articulate, the problems that have truly hindered this special interest group—problems that go far beyond sprucing up its HTML homeland.

The truth is that NOM's messaging is deeply broken.  

  • In terms of wins: The anti-LGBT organization framed the 2012 elections as "can't lose" events and then proceeded to lost all of the major contests.  NOM then followed up by positioning the Supreme Court cases as a chance to regain footing, only to suffer perhaps its most crushing blow yet.  The past year has been so disastrous that the organization has had to work overtime to give its supporters anything resembling good news, like when they quite literally tossed digital confetti to celebrate what all consider to be a mere setback for same-sex marriage in Illinois.
  • In terms of response: NOM has pinned all hopes on an even louder "victim" strategy.  Any time any person or group tries and fails to flout nondiscrimination law, NOM jumps on the case, turning it into a supposed example of the harms marriage equality brings to society.  This attempt to portray themselves and their cause as the maligned and marginalized one is pretty much all NOM uses at this point.  People aren't buying it.
  • In terms of leadership: With the exception of Maggie Gallagher resigning from her position as chair, NOM has stuck with its same core team, even as this team has watched us go from one state with marriage equality to a full thirteen states (plus DC). Even if he'd been racking up wins during this time, one could make a rational case for changing up the Brian Brown era of leadership.  Considering he's been shepherding deep and largely insurmountable losses, it's hard to understand the rational case for keeping Brown's view as NOM's guiding GPS.
  • In terms of moving forward: NOM hasn't shown itself to be an effective organizer.  NOM hasn't demonstrated any great ability to recruit young people or celebrated voices to the anti-equality cause.  Perhaps even worse than that, NOM has actually turned off some of the staunchest voices of inequality, who find the NOM game plan to be weak and ineffective.  In terms of coalition building, NOM has proven semi-effective with deeply conservative Catholics and highly effective with the small band of New York area residents who enjoy the anti-gay musings of state senator Rubén Díaz.  That's hardly a formidable cadre.

With all of these hard truths plaguing the waning organization, what does NOM put at the front of its latest cash-ask?  News of a new site design, natch!  As if that'll do the trick.  As if a spiffier blog and few new bells and whistles are going to make people go, "Wow, that's pretty! Heck yeah I'll start opposing my gay friends' civil rights!  That blog is just so properly coded; how could I ever resist?!"

It doesn't work that way.  NOM has no chance of winning this fight, obviously, because NOM chose a losing position.  But if this, the organization to which the entire conservative movement has entrusted this single issue fight, can't take an honest look at itself and make some really hard turns, then they might as well just turn the site into one that hosts cat videos or something.