Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exit stage right

There comes a time when political groups must admit the game is up, the war is lost. If they don’t, they risk becoming the Harold Stassen of movement politics—always there, always losing, and always ignored.

The National Organization for Man/Lady-Only Marriage (NOM) is in that position. They recently released their tax records for last year, and they told an embarrassing tale. Last year, just two secret donors accounted for 75% of the money they raised.

Yet despite all this secret cash flowing into their coffers, they ended the year $2.7 million in the red, thanks largely to the four electoral battles for marriage equality they lost in 2012, the first year NOM lost at the ballot box. Since then, they’ve lost a string of battles in state legislatures. They’re clearly poised to lose more election battles in state elections in the next couple cycles.

NOM’s trouble is simple: It’s on the wrong side. Clear majorities of Americans back marriage equality. When asked whether they support any form of official recognition of for same-gender couples (including marriage, civil unions, etc.), supermajorities are supportive. Despite that, NOM remains adamantly opposed to any legal recognition of same-gender couples.

Where to from here? The Washington Post’s conservative columnist, Jennifer Rubin, mused on this very question:
“What exactly does NOM do as voters in state after state decide to expand marriage to gay couples? There aren’t enough states for a constitutional amendment. It’s no longer a matter of judicial activism, but a sea change in public opinion that is propelling the legal shift. How many contests does NOM lose before it — or its donors — figures out the argument is not going to carry the day?”
NOM, she says, should change and become a…
“Campaign for marriage, not against gay marriage. Root out marriage penalties in the tax code. Enlist religious and secular groups to tout marriage and inform people about its physical, psychological and economic benefits. Promote private marriage counseling.”
That can never happen: Anti-gay animus is at the very core of NOM, and while their spokespeople claim to not be bigots, their actions speak far louder. Anti-gay rhetoric is frequently featured on their websites and among their other materials. Their subsidiary, the Ruth Institute, says stupid and/or vile and repulsive things about LGBT people, and it frequently flat-out lies. So, NOM can never morph into something positive because negativity—bigotry, to use the correct word—is at the very centre of everything they do, everything they are.

NOM and its comrades on the religious right were very important for a time. They were exploited by Karl Rove, aided and abetted by then-chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman, as a tool to increase votes for Republicans. Many of the electoral victories that NOM still points to were, in fact, part of the cynical plot by Rove and Mehlman to get Republicans elected.

Rove is now irrelevant, Mehlman is out of the closet (and kind of repenting for his sins), and Republican politicians have been doing a great job of making themselves very unpopular. Add that to the growing majorities supporting marriage equality, and NOM cannot win.

So, NOM will eventually die. It won’t evolve into an organisation focused on the positive because it can’t when negativity is its sole reason for existing. Until NOM does finally close up shop, we’ll see it continue to mount quixotic losing campaigns.

There comes a time when politicians and political movements must admit the game is up and the war is lost. NOM can’t, so becoming the Harold Stassen of movement politics is its destiny. And then they’ll just disappear—after embarrassing themselves even more.

Still, it’ll be kind of entertaining to watch.

Related: For ongoing monitoring of the dying NOM and its antics, check out HRC's NOM Exposed.

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