NOM’s Flip-Flop: “Let The People Vote” Until It’s Inconvenient
November 08, 2011 1:19 pm ET by Carlos Maza
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is always looking for ways to disguise its animus towards LGBT people and justify its multi-million dollar campaigns against marriage equality. Over the past few months, the organization has become enamored with the “let the people vote” mantra, waxing poetic about the importance of allowing citizens to “decide the definition of marriage” through constitutional amendments and ballot initiatives.
The “let the people vote” message makes sense for NOM: it isn’t overtly homophobic and it allows NOM to depict its opponents as anti-democratic.
NOM has used this message extensively in state campaigns throughout 2011, including in Rhode Island, Minnesota, and North Carolina. After the New York legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage earlier this, NOM held a “let the people vote” rally (with a website to match).
And for the past several weeks, it’s looked like NOM was preparing to use a similar strategy in New Hampshire, where the Republican-led legislature has been mulling over a potential constitutional amendment repealing the state’s marriage equality law. In an October 25 press release, NOM president Brian Brown invoked the importance of letting voters decide the marriage issue (emphasis added):
“The people of New Hampshire had their rights hijacked in 2009 when the Legislature and Governor John Lynch redefined marriage without giving the people a say,” said Brian Brown, NOM’s president. “Voters let the politicians know what they thought about that in 2010 when dozens of towns passed measures in favor of giving the people a say in defining marriage in New Hampshire, and they elected a strong pro-marriage majority in the Legislature. It’s time now to restore the people’s right to traditional marriage, and we are committed to working with allies to do just that.”
Last week, however, State Rep. David Bates – the Republican leading the charge against New Hampshire’s marriage equality law – abandoned the amendment, choosing instead to push for a legislative repeal of the law. According to Bates, pushing for both measures would “complicate the decision for legislators.”
But instead of being consistent on whether same-sex marriage issues should be decided by voters rather than legislators, NOM applauded Bates for his decisiveness:
Congrats to Rep. Bates for making a difficult decision to unify the fight in NH.
So why NOM’s change of heart? What caused the group to suddenly forget about its principled commitment to letting “the people” vote on marriage?
The answer is simple: NOM knows it would almost certainly lose if it tried to push for a constitutional amendment.
A recent poll found that only 27 percent of New Hampshire adults support overturning the state’s marriage equality law while 50 percent strongly oppose such a move. Public support for marriage equality is so strong that NOM has been reduced to asking people to vote in an “unscientific” web poll on same-sex marriage.
Mustering majority support for the amendment would have been a Herculean feat, and failing in New Hampshire would have ruined one of NOM’s favorite talking points; that every state which has had a chance to vote on marriage has rejected marriage equality.
Repeal legislation, on the other hand, has a much higher – though not guaranteed – chance of making it through the GOP-dominated legislature:
Political commentator and former New Hampshire lawmaker Arnie Arensen calls Bates’ abandonment of the amendment "simple and pathetically obvious." Although a supporter of "let the people vote" doctrine, Bates is no longer focusing on "the will of the people" and Arnesen suggests this may have something to do with the latest poll results – only 27 percent of Granite Staters support the repeal of the marriage equality; 50 percent strongly oppose revoking marriage rate. Arnesen believes Bates is readjusting his position based on the make up of the NH legislature which is "currently controlled by the Tea Party and they command veto override majorities in both the House and the Senate," according Arnesen.
By endorsing Bates’ decision, NOM demonstrated that – despite all of its populist rhetoric – it was never actually interested in whether voters are able to decide the issue of marriage. For NOM, letting the people vote has always been a means to an end, an excuse to advance anti-equality initiatives.
NOM better start getting used to the change in messaging. As public opinion continues to move in the direction of supporting marriage equality, “let the people vote” will cease to be a NOM rallying cry and will start to represent NOM’s biggest fear.