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Looking Back At NOM’s (Failed) Campaign Of Misinformation, Race-Baiting, Hate, And Bullying In New York

June 29, 2011 9:41 am ET by Carlos Maza

Last Friday, New York became the sixth state in the country to adopt full marriage equality. The move represents a major milestone in the fight for full LGBT equality in America. It also represents an embarrassing defeat for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which invested over a million dollars in its efforts in the Empire State. Equality Matters is taking a look back at just how sleazy a campaign America’s preeminent anti-gay group was willing to run in its failed attempt to stand in the way of marriage equality.

Promoting Anti-Gay Propaganda

Spreading propaganda and misinformation has always been a centerpiece of NOM’s anti-equality strategy, and things were no different in New York. In early May, NOM announced that it would be spending $500,000 on an “ad and lobbying campaign to oppose same-sex marriage in New York.”

Public Schools

Unsurprisingly, NOM relied heavily on the myth that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry would result in children being forced to learn about homosexuality and same-sex relationships in school. In one thirty-second television spot, NOM warns “legalizing gay marriage has consequences for kids”:

NOM also flooded New York homes with mailer ads claiming that supporters of marriage equality were looking to “poison young minds” and “forever change the innocence of our kids”:

    

[Image via NOM Exposed, 5/15/11]

Religious Exemptions

As the final days of New York’s legislative session came to a close, NOM realized that a number of on-the-fence Republicans were worried about marriage equality’s potential impact on religious groups and organizations.

Seeing an opportunity to exploit their concerns, NOM launched an aggressive misinformation campaign, highlighting claims that legalizing same-sex marriage would expose religious individuals to a “new era of lawsuits” and force Catholic adoption agencies to shut down. NOM President Brian Brown said:

Andrew Cuomo’s last minute language, added without time for review in order to pick off GOP votes, clearly failed to protect many religious organizations and individuals. Groups including Catholic adoption agencies will be at risk and it will do nothing to protect the rights of parents concerning their children’s education. Last minute fake religious liberty protection is not good enough. GOP senators have been warned. Their conscience is now at stake.

NOM’s fear-mongering relied heavily on commentary from a number of “legal experts,” including law professor Robin Fretwell Wilson. These “experts” turned out to be less than impartial, with many of them having ties to anti-gay groups and the majority of them having histories of vocal personal opposition to marriage equality.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many of their concerns about the bill’s religious protections were totally unfounded

Public Opinion

Just days before the New York Senate was expected to take up the marriage equality bill, NOM released a poll that found 57 percent of New Yorkers oppose marriage equality. NOM’s Brown used the poll to push the claim that Senate Republicans who support marriage equality would suffer political consequences as a result:

For the Republicans to use their newfound control to pass a measure with such weak public support in order to help Andrew Cuomo run for president of the United States is not only wrong but a colossal blunder. To sell your principles to get elected is always wrong. To sell your principles to get the other guy elected is just plain dumb.

NOM’s results were wildly out of line with three independent polls conducted in New York earlier this year, which all found clear majority support for marriage equality. It suffered from a number of obvious methodological problems, but that wasn’t enough to stop NOM from insisting it that it was on the right side of public opinion.

Playing The “Race Card”

NOM is no stranger to using race as a wedge issue to gin up opposition to marriage equality. In fact, depicting marriage equality as a whites vs. non-whites issues has become a key part of the organization’s “public relations strategy.”

In Maryland, the group frequently played the “race card” in order to motivate members of the black religious community to oppose a marriage equality bill earlier this year. This tactic ended up playing a crucial role in eventually killing the bill, with a number of delegates clearly bristling at attempts to compare the struggle for marriage equality to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

In New York, NOM’s strategy was no different. Racial minorities were quickly pushed to the forefront of NOM’s anti-equality efforts. The organization even produced a video asking “Will the Black Church Rise Up in New York for Marriage?”:

REV. WILLIAM OWENS: It is our job as black people let’s don’t let them take that from us and make it a sham and make a mockery of it.

[…]

OWENS: Don’t let them steal it. And they will steal it if we do nothing. They will steal it if we do nothing. 

NOM also relied heavily on State Senator Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), the only Democrat who ended up voting against marriage equality, to act as an anti-gay spokesperson for the Hispanic and black communities. The organization worked tirelessly to paint Diaz as the victim of a hate campaign launched by proponents of marriage equality, perpetuating the myth that the push for same-sex marriage is actually an attack on racial minorities.

In reality, Diaz was the only member of the New York Senate’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus to vote against the bill (he eventually pulled out of the caucus due to “different philosophies”).

Working With Anti-Gay Hate Groups

NOM wasn’t working alone in New York; the organization partnered with New Yorker’s for Constitutional Freedom (NYCF) and its affiliated ministry, New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF), both of which have histories of relying on vile and hateful misinformation to smear the LGBT community.

NOM proudly worked with these groups to co-sponsor the “Summer for Marriage RV Tour,” which culminated in the “Mayday for Marriage” rally in Albany on May 24th (which both NOM and NYCF also co-sponsored). NYFRF provided its supporters with a number of different resources for use during the “Mayday for Marriage” Sunday, including “sermon starters” which claimed that homosexuality is “perverted and twisted” and will cause “the destruction of your immortal soul.”

The group has also likened marriage equality to child abuse, claimed to be attempting to save people like State Sen. Tom Duane, who is gay, from “an eternity in Hell,” and has asserted that the real “enemy” in the fight over marriage equality is Satan.

During the final days of the Senate’s session, NYCF began pushing widely discredited “ex-gay” therapy, even inviting “ex-gay activist” Anthony Falzarano to speak in Albany about how he was able to leave “the gay lifestyle.”

The “Mayday for Marriage” rally itself served as a platform from which religious and community leaders could spread their anti-gay messages. Speakers at the rally argued that those who practice homosexuality are worthy of “death” and claimed that gay people are “enchained and enslaved by homosexuality,” all while NOM’s Brown was in attendance.

The group American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP) also played a large role in the rally, heading the professional march to the rally location and leading the crowd in song throughout the event. TFP has also actively promoted the idea that gays can “change” their sexual orientation and called marriage equality “morally wrong, sinful, and offensive to God.”

Intimidating And Bullying Politicians

NOM’s campaign in New York wouldn’t be complete without a healthy dose of political intimidation targeted at on-the-fence senators. In early May, the organization pledged $1 million to “oppose any Republican legislators who vote to redefine marriage.” Brown warned Republicans that supporting marriage equality would mean the end of their political careers:

NOM has defeated every pro-gay marriage Republican we’ve ever targeted, and we’re quite confident we will do so in New York, should that become necessary.

The following weeks were filled with similar (hollow) threats. Brown warned that Republicans who had decided to support marriage equality had made atragic mistake.” NOM’s Chairwoman Maggie Gallagher used the ghost of former Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava to try to inflate Republican fears about facing conservative primary challengers. NOM even promoted this doozie of an ad from the New York Conservative Party, adding that “there is a price to be paid for supporting the redefinition of marriage”:

This kind of political pressure is to be expected from both sides of any hotly contested political issue, but NOM has made a habit of playing the victim whenever pro-equality groups exert any kind of pressure on politicians. For a group that recently accused Gov. Cuomo of “bullying” the state legislature, NOM sure seems to know its way around the schoolyard. 

Previously:

CNN's Jeffrey Toobin: NY Marriage Equality Is A "Done Deal"

HRC's Joe Solmonese: NOM Underperformed In New York

How The Battle For NY Marriage Equality Was Won