The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) had a good run. The group, led by anti-gay activists Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown, has been able to demagogue and exploit existing anti-LGBT prejudice and foment new fears by lying about the allegedly negative impact marriage equality would have on civilization.
Unfortunately for NOM, the vote to legalize marriage equality in New York means the jig is almost up. The dead-end desperation was evident in Brown’s response to a question posed by a reporter that asked whether the success in New York could be exported to other states. He called this notion “a joke” and said, “They’ve never been able to win a popular vote.”
True, but until Friday’s New York state senate vote, the gay rights movement had also never won a marriage fight in a Republican-led legislative chamber. Brown doesn’t understand that the landscape has radically shifted.
Indeed, for the first time in history a Gallup poll showed that the number of Americans that support marriage equality crossed the 50 percent threshold (53%). These results were not an anomaly and have been confirmed by several credible, independent polls.
Most worrisome for Brown should be the next generation, which isn’t buying his bigotry. The Gallup poll found that support for marriage equality was most robust between the ages of 18-34, and significantly weaker among those 55 and older. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to see a precipitous fall in Brown’s crystal ball.
NOM’s primary argument has been that it represents the will of the people. Now that they are increasingly on the wrong side of the public opinion divide, will NOM replace their tyranny of the majority creed with an elitist argument proclaiming that the “moral minority” knows better than the American people?
Another tactic used by the anti-gay crowd is to bleat about the allegedly dire societal consequences of same-sex marriage. Following New York’s vote, Rev. Pat Robertson predicted that America would become the next Sodom: “There isn’t one single civilization that has survived that openly embraced homosexuality. So you say, ‘what’s going to happen to America?’ Well if history is any guide, the same thing’s going to happen to us.”
The politics of fear worked well in the past. Marriage equality was first laughed off as a strange invention created by weird hash-smoking Dutch people and socialist Scandinavians. Next, the fundamentalists sneered at the liberal New England states. Then Iowa happened, placing marriage equality in the heartland. Next, the District of Columbia plopped scary old “gay marriage” right in the center of the nation’s capital. And now we have New York, which overnight doubled the number of people in states with marriage equality. (The Williams Institute reports that 11 percent of the US population now lives in states that allow gay couples to marry)
The American people are wising up to the gloom and doom rhetoric of activists like Rev. Pat Roberson and Brian Brown. They can see the corn is still growing in Iowa. The cows are still mooing in Vermont. The partisans are still causing gridlock in DC. And, of course, Broadway plays will still thrill audiences and Wall Street trading will continue after the first same-sex couple marries in New York.
The clear lack of genuine “consequences” has led some conservatives to reexamine their opposition. For example, commentator David Frum revealed to CNN this week that he now supports marriage equality: “Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact. If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half. Instead – while American family stability has continued to deteriorate – it has deteriorated much more slowly than it did in the 1970’s and 1980’s before same-sex marriage was even thought of.”
New York’s new law will introduce more Americans to same-sex married couples, which will increasingly shed stereotypes and misconceptions. The momentum from the bipartisan vote will further embolden conservatives to back marriage equality with their voices and wallets. New York has also placed the issue squarely within the mainstream, giving greater cover to court justices to rule in favor of marriage equality without fear of getting too far ahead of public opinion.
Finally, the decisive victory has led to increased media pressure on Barack Obama to stop “evolving” and start backing fairness and freedom.
The only downside to our success is that defeated crazies are crawling out of the woodwork. Commenting on one blog, an Arizona man named Bryan Wilcutt said, “Time to lock and load Christians. God has mandated we clean up this mess.” In Lancaster, California, five anti-gay messages were spray painted near a strip mall with warnings such as, “Gays Go 2 Hell” and “Kill All Gays Now.”
There is still an enormous amount of work left to do. However, success in the Empire State means more people will witness the quality of our marriages, which inevitably will lead to greater marriage equality.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”