National Organization for Marriage Memos Reveal Racial Wedge Strategy

Confidential memos from the country’s leading antigay marriage group reveal a plan to exploit racial divisions. Michelle Goldberg on the National Organization for Marriage’s true colors.

Takaaki Iwabu, The News & Observer / AP Photo

In a confidential internal memo about strategy for the 2010 elections and beyond, the National Organization for Marriage, the country’s most important anti-gay-marriage outfit, laid out its plan to fracture President Obama’s coalition. “The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies,” it said. “We aim to find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage, to develop a media campaign around their objections to marriage as a civil right; and to provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.”

Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization, obtained that memo and three others Monday; they came to light as a result of a Maine government investigation into NOM’s campaign-finance activities. ( published them last night.) What the secret memos reveal is a well-funded group eager to exploit racial divisions and even use children against their parents in an effort to roll back legal gains for gays and lesbians—not just in the United States but around the world. “Our goal is to use a victory in the U.S. to launch a global movement to reverse the tide on cultural and legal respect for core family values like marriage,” it says.

Hispanics are key to that movement. Discussing its “Pan-American Strategy,” one NOM memo reports that the group has been in talks with the Mexican actor Eduardo Verástegui and a former Miss Mexico about serving as spokespeople. NOM has budgeted $180,000 for a “Hispanic outreach coordinator” to work for two years, and hired a PR firm, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, to develop Spanish-language radio and TV ads, YouTube videos, and “popular songs.” “Our ultimate goal is to make opposition to gay marriage an identity marker, a badge of youth rebellion to conformist assimilation to the bad side of ‘Anglo’ culture,” it says.

That last bit seems particularly rich given the right’s usual attitude toward Latino immigrants who refuse to assimilate. But while it’s striking to see this strategy laid out so frankly, it’s not surprising that NOM would try to play on ethnic identity politics. After all, Christian conservatives have long tried to co-opt the legacy of the civil rights movement, no matter how opposed to it they were during its heyday, portraying gay rights as a perversion of the noble work of Martin Luther King Jr. Jeremiah Films, for example, the outfit behind the infamous Clinton Chronicles video, also made the 1993 movie Gay Rights, Special Rights: Inside the Homosexual Agenda. In it then-Mississippi senator Trent Lott, that well-known champion of King’s movement, claims that gay liberation “makes a mockery of other legitimate civil rights that people have worked at for years.” (NOM President Brian Brown released a statement in response to the memos’ publication, saying “The National Organization for Marriage … has worked extensively with supporters of traditional marriage from every color, creed and background.” He went on to argue that gay marriage “is not a civil right.”)

The NOM memos do elaborate one new tactic, however. In a section in one of them about “documenting the victims” of same-sex marriage, $120,000 is budgeted for an outreach coordinator “to identify the children of gay parents willing to speak on camera.” Thus an organization ostensibly devoted to family values is going to start encouraging people to publicly denounce their closest relatives.

There’s one more fascinating detail in these pages. Ever since contraception and other social issues exploded into the forefront of our politics, there’s been a sort of meta-debate about the reason for their renewed prominence. The right has sometimes suggested that there’s a Democratic scheme to reignite the culture wars in order to distract from the economy. “They desperately want people’s attention off of the economy and Obamacare,” Rush Limbaugh said last month. “And the culture war, they think they can go back to their archive pages and bring that issue back.”

Well, the NOM memos make it clear that influential conservatives were determined to gin up arguments about sexual morality and religious freedom long before Obama’s contraceptive mandate came down. Under the heading “Sideswiping Obama,” one of the memos speaks of the need to “expose Obama as a social radical.” To that end, it says, activists plan to “[r]aise issues such as pornography, protection of children, and the need to oppose all efforts to weaken religious liberty at the federal level.” No matter what Obama or anyone else did, social conservatives were going to make this election about sex and God. Now opponents get to see their game plan.