Former National Organization for Marriage President Maggie Gallagher, seen here in Wisconsin last year, has led several anti-gay marriage campaigns spearheaded by the group across the country. Photo Credit: WisPolitics.com.
Lobbyist and NC Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald promised a “positive” campaign when she announced the formation of a new anti-gay referendum committee last week.
“We are going to keep it on a positive note: keeping marriage as marriage and keeping it from being redefined,” Fitzgerald told Raleigh’s News & Observer.
The new committee, Vote for Marriage NC, will work to support the passage of an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment banning marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
But, the coalition behind the group includes several organizations known for the exact opposite of the kind of “positive” campaign Fitzgerald said she seeks.
Among the groups affiliated with the new Vote for Marriage NC is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). The group has been involved in several high-profile marriage initiatives, including California’s 2008 Proposition 8 and Maine’s 2009 Question 1. Additionally, NOM took a high-profile stance against New York’s legislative push to approve marriage equality there this year.
In past campaigns, NOM has been caught pushing obvious misinformation, lies and spin.
This year, the group came under fire for misrepresenting supposed “legal scholars” opposed to marriage equality. Each of the several scholars cited by the organization were extremely biased and one, Robert George, is a former NOM board chairman.
NOM has also regularly exploited children in their political quests.
Also this year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact knocked the group for their repeated claims that legalization of same-sex marriage in New York would lead to kindergarteners learning about same-sex relationships.
The group has also attempted to link homosexuality to pedophilia — not once, but twice. The NOM-affiliated Ruth Institute has also claimed that homosexuality is a “learned” and “addictive” behavior.
In August, NOM accused gay activists of engaging in “jihad” to take away anti-gay Christians’ rights.
One of NOM’s first campaigns featured a billboard comparing a marriage equality supporter to Judas and Benedict Arnold. The group reincarnated the theme this year for mailers targeting pro-gay legislators in New York.
Equality Matters has provided a more in-depth run-down of NOM’s efforts in New York.
Mum’s the word
NOM has been tight-lipped about their plans for North Carolina. According to one watchdog gay blogger, the national anti-family group’s silence thus far is questionable given the group’s traditionally outspoken nature. NOM has been especially active in Minnesota, which also faces an anti-LGBT amendment threat this year.
“I’ve noticed that everyone in North Carolina has been quiet,” Jeremy Hooper of GoodAsYou.org told qnotes. “In Minnesota, the opposition is very engaged with a strong web presence and all that we’re used to. But North Carolina has been suspiciously quiet.”
Hooper said NOM’s recent reticent nature is likely a sign they are still developing strategy.
“In Minnesota, they’re going heavily Catholic. In Maryland, it’s the African American church. And so on and so forth,” he said. “I’d guess they’ve been trying to find their specific North Carolina direction, other than just white evangelical, which seems to be forefront in North Carolina’s opposition movement.”
Hooper’s analysis isn’t too far off the mark. The most outspoken proponents of the anti-LGBT amendment have largely come from white, Protestant and evangelical circles.
Last month, the N.C. Baptist State Convention unanimously approved support for the amendment.
At the time, newly elected N.C. Baptist President and First Baptist Church-Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris confidently reasserted his denomination’s stance.
“I believe the bible makes it clear,” Harris told qnotes. “The bible introduces marriage as between one man and one woman.”
The N.C. Baptist Convention is among the groups forming the Vote for Marriage NC committee.
Searching for an angle
South Carolina blogger and anti-gay watchdog Alvin McEwen told qnotes that he expects a strong NOM presence in the lead-up to the May 8, 2012, vote on the amendment.
How NOM goes about instituting their campaign strategy is a question still left unanswered. McEwen said the group’s past rhetoric and actions provide some clues.
“Look for them to push that nonsense about how ‘the best research says that children belong in a home with a mother and father,'” McEwen said. “Also, I expect them to push the lie about the Catholic Charities ‘being forced’ to give up helping to place adoptive children. The thing about NOM and other religious right groups is that they are big on ambushing people with anecdotes and horror stories about situations that allegedly happen because of marriage equality and the like. The big thing is to remember that they never tell the entire story.”
NOM’s campaigns often take a three-pronged approach, McEwen said.
“My guess is that NOM is going to target three angles — ‘gay marriage will harm children,’ ‘gay marriage will destroy religious liberty’ and ‘gays are trying to piggyback off of the Civil Rights Movement.'”
Fitzgerald has already hinted at a strategy exploiting children. She told The News & Observer on Thursday that marriage “generates the next generation of workers and the next generation of healthy children.”
McEwen added, “Watch the black pastors who team up with NOM.”
Among the groups supporting Vote for Marriage NC is an unnamed coalition of African-American pastors.
In September, North Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, invited a group of black pastors to speak at the General Assembly’s press room. Each of the pastors spoke forcefully against marriage for gay couples, language later decried as “bigoted” by then-Equality North Carolina Interim Executive Director Alex Miller. Appearing with Miller on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” with Mike Collins, Folwell feigned victimization as Miller criticized Folwell for his association with the pastors.
Like Folwell, NOM often plays the victim card, said McEwen.
“I expect them to deflect attention on how they are supposedly being labeled ‘unfairly’ of course as ‘bigots’ simply because they supposedly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “[I] expect them to shift the argument to make it seem that gays are the aggressors.”
The anti-gay Vote for Marriage NC isn’t the only referendum committee formed to work on the amendment. Last week, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, formed their Human Rights Campaign NC Families PAC. Last month, a coalition of progressive organizations including statewide LGBT advocacy and education group Equality North Carolina formed the Coalition to Protect NC Families.
qnotes reached out to Protect NC Families for comment on Vote for Marriage NC’s formation. The group’s campaign manager, Jeremy Kennedy, said his organization will fight for the rights of all North Carolinians.
“The Coalition to Protect NC Families was formed to do just what the name says — protect all families in NC,” Kennedy said in a statement.
Throughout this year’s legislative session, anti-gay groups stressed that the proposed amendment wouldn’t harm anyone. In fact, the anti-gay opposition’s lead spokesperson, Tami Fitzgerald, and NOM President Brian Brown have said their amendment aims to protect families.
Kennedy and Protect NC Families disagree.
“The anti-family constitutional amendment on the ballot in May protects no one,” Kennedy said. “Existing North Carolina statutes already define marriage for the state, but this extreme measure goes on to strip employees of domestic partner insurance benefits, invalidates domestic violence protections for all unmarried people, undercuts existing child custody and visitation rights designed to protect the best interest of children, and prevents the state from allowing committed couples from making decisions such as hospital visitation and end of life decisions.”
He added, “North Carolina is made up of all kinds of families. It is important for the government to recognize and protect these families, not go to great lengths to harm them. The Coalition to Protect NC Families, together with the people of North Carolina, will run a campaign to make sure that on election day the values that make this state great are upheld by the voters when this harmful amendment is defeated.”
North Carolina’s election laws leave plenty of room for creative political maneuvering and fundraising. Each side of the amendment debate has set up referendum committees able to receive unlimited contributions from individuals, businesses and other organizations.
Onlookers are anticipating campaign budgets reaching into the millions of dollars, a distinct possibility given past spending on similar campaigns around the country.
NOM itself budgeted as much as $11 million for its several campaigns between 2007 and 2010. In North Carolina specifically, the N.C. Baptist State Convention will present LGBT advocates with one of its most daunting challenges yet. With more 4,300 churches and some 1.3 million members, the convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the state.
Bloggers, activists and strategists have plenty of past evidence to predict NOM and Vote for Marriage NC campaign strategies in North Carolina. But, until those groups actually begin to institute their strategies and official advertising campaigns, watchdogs like McEwen and Hooper can only guess at the form in which the fight will come.
That guessing game can be tricky, Hooper said while urging caution. The scrutiny faced by anti-gay organizations like NOM has made them more strategic. What’s worked for NOM in past campaigns might not necessarily foreshadow similar efforts in the Tar Heel State, he said.
“We are so on to them now that they have to be extra careful,” Hooper said. “If they try to run the same campaign in every state, they’re going to get killed.”