The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

NOM’s own base becoming NOM’s biggest critics; good, I could use a nap

December 05, 2012, by Jeremy Hooper, Guest Contributor

MassResistance's Brian Camenker was first out of the gate, knocking the "moderate" approach that NOM and campaign mastermind Frank Schubert took against gay people in their losing four-state fights. Then Washington's Ken Hutcherson took it even further, claiming he was in the room when some of the big decisions were being made—a room where he not only found the "moderate" tone unattractive but also found NOM and company to be racist. Both men have made their thoughts known in a couple of different public forums.

Now we have a third public conservative coming out and saying that NOM lost because the organization just wasn't anti-gay enough. Writing for LifeSiteNews, an outlet that NOM routinely relies on for blog content and whose work NOM's Thomas Peters has personally hailed, site contributor Matthew Cullinan Hoffman makes the case that the NOM brand has given LGBT people way too much wiggle room. Here's the pertinent snip:

Two erroneous principles underlie the losing strategy of many marriage advocates. The first, and worst, is a concession to a vague indfferentism [sic] regarding human sexuality, implying that sexual activity is a morally neutral question of personal preference, and that sexual morality is at most a matter of opinion. The second, which carries into effect the moral subjectivism of the first, is the notion that everyone has a right to control their own bodies, as long as their relationships are consensual. This transforms sodomy from a vice into a “right,” which ironically is the whole essence of the attack on marriage.

The latter principle is captured in the NOM’s number one talking point, given in italics on their own website: “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose, they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” Another way of wording this is the following: “We accept that homosexual sodomy is a right. We’re just don’t want to call it ‘marriage.’”

However, if homosexual sodomy is a right, that is, if it is a legitimate expression of human sexuality, it is difficult to understand why it should not be subsumed under the category of marriage. Marriage is, after all, a perpetual union between two people who share a sexual life, which in most but not all cases has the potential of bringing forth offspring. NOM would (rightly) add that marriage is not just between two people who share a sexual life, but rather between a man and a woman who share a sexual life. However, they have no way to explain why the definition should be exclusive in this way, if homosexual sodomy is a legitimate form of sexual activity, and indeed a “right.”

Illustrating this point is a common argument made by defenders of marriage: that homosexuals can already receive all of the same rights and legal effects of marriage, but under the aegis of a “civil union” or other package of legal benefits. This attitude is also reflected on the NOM website, which concedes a wide range of benefits to homosexual couples that are customarily given to married couples. Homosexual adoption is never explicitly rejected, and NOM only occasionally opposes civil unions as stepping stones to homosexual “marriage.” In other words, the battle over marriage for NOM is almost entirely nominal; it is not about the essence of the institution, which protects a vital type of human relationship, but only the name we attach to it.

FULL: Pro-family movement: with this strategy, get used to losing [LifeSiteNews]

Okay, so we should say first and foremost: we of course don't want people to be more anti-gay. Obviously. So no, I'm not going to suggest that these public critics are right in terms of what they think would make for a better society. In a perfect world, we would have no anti-equality movement at all. But if we must have one and must continue to debate (non)issues that should have been settled long ago, then we should at least strive for some semblance of respect.  In fact, we LGBT people must demand it.

But see, that's the big pickle that NOM now finds itself in. The truth is that NOM cannot afford to alienate the hyper-motivated, highly anti-LGBT conservatives if the organization wants to move forward with any hope of "winning." Now, we of course know that NOM has always played footsie with the more extreme wing of its movement, courting outwardly anti-gay crew's sweat equity and votes in more subtle ways. But when campaign season rolls around, NOM either pushes these more extreme voices off the stage completely or works overtime to mask the true extent of that person's real views. Those of us who pay attention from our pro-equality perches have been calling out these attempts to have it both ways, connecting some needed dots for an increasingly clued-in public. However, we now have something completely different happening: we have social conservatives with their own platforms (some of their platforms even more sizable than NOM's own; Ken Hutcherson, for instance, is a regular Rush Limbaugh guest) calling out what they see as chicanery within America's most organized front for marriage discrimination. This public rebuking and infighting is going to have an impact on NOM's movement forward. It has to.

As LGBT people win more states and gain more headway in court, even more people in the middle-road, moderate camp are going to come around to equality. With every new marriage state come more images of benign same-gender unions. With every new legal victory comes crucial conversation around NOMthe subject of what is and is not right under the law of our land. As same-sex wedding cards fly off Hallmark's aisles, pro-equality polling flies up to new heights. The movable middle (and particularly the ones who were stuck at civil unions) find less and less reason to stay with the same ideas about "respecting" gay people but not our legal rights.

NOM's choice, as I see it: (1) Try to find a new "moderate" approach that somehow retains the fence sitters and stems the electoral bleeding that occurs in their ranks every single day that a new voter turns eighteen years old; (2) Become even more like the openly hostile Family Research Council or American Family Association, in hopes that they can energize the far-far-far-right with the ol' fashioned anti-gayness that folks like Hutcherson, Hoffman, and Camenker are publicly seeking (and other prominent conservatives are asking for in private). If NOM trends toward the first option, then the organization risks losing their most dedicated and sustainable crop of voters. But if they choose the second? Then those of us who have always seen obvious anti-gayness (and pro-"ex-gayness") within NOM than the org. has ever publicly admitted will have our suspicions confirmed, further sharpening our own messaging about the animus that we know to drive this fight.

As I said: it's a pickle for NOM. Fortunately, I happen to find those quite delicious.