NOM finally responds with predictable, disingenuous gay-blaming

In the days following the release of confidential strategy documents from the National Organization for Marriage, the silence from NOM has been deafening. Thus far, their only response to the revelation of their explicit ‘gays against blacks’ proposals and Latino identity engineering tactics has been a few paragraphs buried in their weekly newsletter, and a softball interview with Maggie Gallagher on MSNBC. Most tellingly, everything they’ve said in their defense is completely in accordance with the talking points outlined in their documents.

NOM president Brian Brown says:

Let me be the first to say that the tone of the language in that document as quoted by the press is inapt. Here’s something I know from the bottom of my soul: It would be enormously arrogant for anyone at NOM to believe that we can make or provoke African-American or Latino leaders do anything. The Black and Hispanic Democrats who stand up for marriage do so on principle – and get hit with a wave of vituperative attacks like nothing I have ever seen.

He continues, saying:

To Joe Solmonese and the Human Rights Campaign and Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry I would say: This is your movement. You are its leaders. Only you can hope to change the vicious attacks being made on Black and Hispanic Democrats (or white Republicans for that matter!) who don’t agree with you on gay marriage.

This is a textbook example of NOM’s plan to “find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right”, and “provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots.” So while he may claim it was “inapt” to say that “the strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks”, that’s exactly what he’s doing right now by accusing marriage equality advocates of attacking black and Latino people!

On MSNBC, Maggie Gallagher added: “I don’t like the language because I think it makes us sound way too big for our britches”, and “it makes me seem much more – or NOM seem much more powerful than it is. It’s insulting to suggest that these African American or Latino leaders are standing up because NOM is manipulating them.” But Maggie Gallagher was chairman of the board at NOM when all of these documents were circulated to the board of directors. If she doesn’t like the language, why did she allow this to be published as an official document “prepared by the National Organization for Marriage”?

And if she and Brian Brown think it’s so impossible that NOM could influence black and Latino people to oppose gay marriage, why did NOM budget $1.1 million for targeted radio and TV ads to black neighborhoods, $50,000 for African-American “next generation leaders conferences”, $70,000 for their “black bloggers project”, $180,000 for an African-American outreach coordinator and spokesman, another $180,000 for a Hispanic outreach coordinator, $100,000 for radio and TV ad production under their “Latino project”, $1 million for Spanish radio and TV ads, $100,000 for YouTube productions and viral marketing outreach, $70,000 for PR outreach to Hispanic publications, $100,000 for Hispanic “next generation leaders conferences”, $200,000 for direct mail and email, and another $200,000 on robocalling to Latino zip codes? That’s over $3 million NOM spent on selling their anti-gay message specifically to black and Latino people, and now they tell us they couldn’t possibly make blacks and Latinos do anything. As Joe Biden Sr. said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Brian Brown had the gall to say: “Rich white guys like Mayor Bloomberg, Tim Gill and Howard Schultz are determined to push gay marriage on us ‘whether we like or not!’” This, coming from a white guy whose multi-million dollar organization privately admits to using black and Latino people as human shields to deflect criticism of the anti-gay movement. A man who intentionally exploits a history of violent racial strife to make people too uncomfortable to call out homophobia is really trying to claim that “rich white guys” are “determined to push gay marriage on us”. This is just one more shameless, disgusting step in their continued attempts to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks”.

And to top it all off, Maggie Gallagher made this asinine offering on MSNBC:

…if we could get together with the gay community and take the idea that it’s bigoted or discriminatory to stand up for marriage off the table, for black people or for white people, we’d be happy to do it.

Yes, Maggie, I’m sure you would be very happy if we believed there was nothing bigoted or discriminatory about calling gay relationships unworthy of marriage. That would just make your job so much easier! It’s no surprise when political figures are out of touch with the public, but it’s really impressive when they manage to be so out of touch with human decency itself.

And throughout their mendacious orgy of denials, excuses and victim-blaming, the most notable thing is what they haven’t said. Not once has anyone from NOM renounced their strategy of turning blacks and gays against each other and making “Latino identity” inherently homophobic. No, their only defense is that they weren’t able to make it happen. It’s not that they didn’t want to, it’s not that they weren’t trying – they just couldn’t get it done. If they honestly wanted to repudiate this, all they would have to say is: “We do not want to drive a wedge between gays and blacks.” But they haven’t. We’re still waiting – and I suspect we’ll be waiting a long time.

Secret NOM documents reveal disgraceful, racist, anti-family strategy

In 2009, the National Organization for Marriage contributed $1.8 million to the campaign to overturn gay marriage in the state of Maine. Maine’s campaign finance laws require groups soliciting over $5,000 for a ballot question to file disclosure reports, but NOM did not file any reports. The Maine Ethics Commission voted to investigate, and NOM responded with a lawsuit alleging that the state’s reporting requirements are unconstitutional. NOM lost their case in the District Court of Maine and the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court declined to hear it.

This week, the Human Rights Campaign released previously confidential NOM documents that were entered into the trial record. These internal memos articulate NOM’s strategies for fighting the legalization of gay marriage, as well as their plans for fomenting opposition to gay rights on a cultural level. These are some of the most revealing materials from NOM that have ever been uncovered, and they explicitly detail the organization’s intent to evade campaign disclosure laws, coordinate with the Catholic Church for fundraising, associate gay marriage with pornography, solicit celebrities to speak out against gay equality, promote racial division to serve their own ends, and even turn gay families against themselves. This is their playbook of underhanded tactics to roll back our equal rights, and it’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read.

In their “National Strategy for Winning the Marriage Battle” from 2009, they say:

“We are working closely with the Catholic Church and Bishop Malone of Portland. NOM Executive Director Brian Brown serves on the Executive Committee of the Maine Campaign alongside Mark Mutty, the Catholic Church’s Director of Public Affairs. The seed money that NOM initially provided has encouraged Bishop Malone to lead the fundraising effort – to date he has raised $150,000 and more than matched our initial funding.”

Under the heading of “Catholic Clergy Project”, they say:

“All clergy are key influencers on gay marriage, but Catholics are a key swing vote and Catholic clergy are notoriously difficult to personally reach. The Catholic Clergy Project aims to use NOM’s close relationships with Catholic bishops to equip, energize and moralize Catholic priests on the marriage issue. NOM has provided this service to bishops in New York, New Jersey, Rhose Island, Iowa and Kansas to date.”

Explaining how their “State Emergency Reserve Fund” can be used to keep their donors secret and get around disclosure requirements, they say:

“…we face a serious hurdle in getting state ballot initiatives and candidate campaigns funded because donors must be disclosed. However, if NOM makes a contribution from its own resources that are not specifically designated for one of these efforts donor identities are NOT disclosed.”

Under the heading of “The American Principles Project”, they say:

“Expose Obama as a social radical. Develop side issues to weaken pro-gay marriage political leaders and parties and develop an activist base of socially conservative voters. Raise such issues as pornography, protection of children, and the need to oppose all efforts to weaken religious liberty at the federal level. This is the mission of the American Principles Project.”

They further add that “APP has launched a project to contact Congress on keeping the Guantanamo prison open”. They explain that the APP’s Preserve Innocence Project

“…will monitor all administration initiatives from the White House, Department of Justice, Education Department, and the Health and Human Services Department that affect the welfare of children. We will put a special focus on exposing those administration programs that have the effect of sexualizing young children. We will provide a weekly update to Congress, to conservative leaders and to the national media on personnel or policy threats to childhood innocence.”

Attempting to find any famous people who are willing to promote their anti-gay message, they say:

“Hollywood with its cultural biases is far bigger than we can hope to be. We recognize this. But we also recognize the opportunity – the disproportionate potential impact of proactively seeking to gather and connect a community of artists, athletes, writers, beauty queens and other glamorous non-cognitive elites across national boundaries.”

The document budgets $120,000 for the apparent purpose of finding children who are willing to speak out against their own gay parents, allocating it toward “Children of same-sex couples and their concerns – outreach coordinator to identify children of gay parents willing to speak on camera”.

Under “The Latino Project: A Pan-American Strategy”, they say:

“Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.”

They continue:

“With the help of Schubert Flint Public Affairs, we will develop Spanish language radio and TV ads, as well as pamphlets, YouTube videos, and church handouts 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.”

In a board update, they explain their “Not a Civil Right Project” as follows:

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks – two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue. Consider pushing a marriage amendment in Washington D.C.; find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally.”

Where do we even begin with all this? While many of their plans come as no surprise given their past statements and campaign activities, these documents reveal an organization that’s so outrageous and so openly ruthless, there’s simply no tactic that’s beneath them in their fight against our rights. The extremes to which they’re willing to go make them look like a cartoon supervillain. How singleminded and amoral do you have to be when you’re willing to encourage racial hostility just so you can take away the rights of American citizens? How revoltingly self-obsessed must you be to think a bunch of white people should be the ones to define Latino culture and identity? And after all of this has come to light, the only response from NOM and Maggie Gallagher has been to restate that they work with black and Latino churches. All they have to say is a big “So what?”

Well, here’s what: You’ve been working across the country using millions of dollars from secret donors to influence elections with racial tension and fear. You’ve been trying to make entire races hate gays, because you decided they just weren’t homophobic enough for your purposes. You’ve been using black and Latino people solely because they’re minorities, only taking an interest in them so that you can force your manufactured racial conflict into our rights, our marriages and our lives.

I don’t suppose you gave any thought to the fact that there are black and Latino people who are gay, and that your gays-versus-blacks narrative also means pitting gay people against gay people, and black people against black people. And as if that wasn’t enough, you even went looking for people who were willing to criticize their own parents for being gay. This has gone so far beyond just marriage, the truth behind your group is undeniable: Your entire movement relies on making people hate each other, because that’s what it takes for them to oppose gay rights. They have to be trained to hate, and that is what the National Organization for Marriage is doing to our country. That’s the only reason you exist. And that’s what you will always be known for.

Perspectives on pansexuality and bisexuality

During the last live show, people brought up a number of questions about pansexuality and what it means as an orientation. I quickly realized that I didn’t know very much about pansexuality, and neither did many other people. The most common understanding is that pansexuals have the potential to be attracted to anyone, without gender identity or physical sex characteristics posing an obstacle. Yet in practice, bisexuality is often used to denote that same openness to any gender or anatomical configuration. It occurred to me that I could possibly be considered bi or pan, so I decided to look into this further.

Is there any difference between bisexuality and pansexuality? I asked around, and many bisexuals and pansexuals were willing to explain their view of what these orientations mean. It soon became clear that there are a variety of opinions about what bisexuality and pansexuality are, and there is no one definition that can determine who is or isn’t bi or pan. Beyond designating that a person can be attracted to more than one gender, these words appear to mean whatever people use them to mean. The easiest and most respectful position would be to recognize that bisexuals are people who identify as bisexual, and pansexuals are people who identify as pansexual. As such, I won’t attempt to make any definitive statements about what bisexuality or pansexuality actually are. Instead, I’ll simply go over some of the major themes in the responses I received.

One of the most common explanations was that pansexuality encompasses attraction to non-binary genders beyond men and women, including people of other genders, fluctuating gender, more than one gender, or no gender at all. They’re willing to consider bigender, third-gender or agender people as potential partners, in addition to binary-identified men and women. In contrast, bisexuality was perceived as implying attraction to men and women only, as suggested by the “bi-” prefix. While some bisexuals said they identify as bi because they’re only interested in binary-identified men and women, others said that their attractions are actually a great deal broader than that, overlapping with this definition of pansexuality. Some claimed that they identify as bi for the sake of convenience, since fewer people understand what it means to be pansexual.

Another widespread view was that pansexuality is a kind of “body-blindness”, focusing on attraction based on emotion and personality, while disregarding physical sex characteristics. This was commonly phrased as loving someone for who they are, rather than what they are. Some people characterized bisexuality as being based on physical attraction, whereas pansexuality is not. However, other pansexuals made it clear that someone’s physical sex, gender, and gender expression are indeed a significant part of what makes them attractive.

Finally, many people claimed that pansexuality is meant as an explicit statement of inclusion beyond the gender binary, serving to highlight the binary implications of bisexuality, in etymology if not in practice. One person suggested that while bisexuality focuses on sexual identity, pansexuality is focused on the acceptance of gender identities.

These are just some of the most prominent aspects of pansexuality that people have described, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that every person experiences their sexuality in their own unique way. Even the same label won’t have the exact same meaning for everyone. However, certain definitions of bisexuality and pansexuality can come with troubling implications. For instance, some pansexuals, or people talking about pansexuals, have described pansexuality as the attraction to men, women, and transgender people. This phrasing depicts all trans people as a gender other than male or female, when in fact many of them identify as men or women. Trans men are already men, and trans women are already women.

It also suggests that bisexuality, or other sexualities, do not include binary-identified trans people. This is incorrect, because bisexuality, homosexuality and heterosexuality do not specify the exclusion of trans people as potential partners. They say nothing about any possible preference for cis people or trans people. It’s not as though straight people cease to be straight if they’re open to having a partner who’s trans – except in the minds of homophobes and transphobes. If anything, this seems to be either an artifact of ignorance, or a poor choice of words, and given their awareness of diverse gender identities, most pansexuals probably don’t mean to imply that trans people are a completely separate gender.

All in all, the meanings of bisexuality and pansexuality are still in flux, and they may never be corralled into a single definition. There will most likely always be details and exceptions and individual understandings. Ultimately, bisexuality and pansexuality are as diverse as bisexuals and pansexuals themselves.

Religion isn’t special (but people think it is)

Suppose for the sake of argument that the general category of “religion” did not exist, and the beliefs and activities which comprise religion were considered in isolation rather than within the framework of religion. Imagine that these aspects of religion had to be described in terms other than “religious”. Without making use of the distinction between religion and that which is not religion, how might we instead distinguish beliefs currently classified as religious?

Most obviously, almost all such beliefs pertain to the existence and nature of proposed supernatural entities, such as deities, spirits, souls, blessings, curses, and afterlives. These beliefs also tend to make various statements about the origins of humanity, our purpose in the world, and the general meaning of life. They frequently feature the claim that certain texts are of a divine origin and possibly free of any errors. They often allege that there are laws and moral imperatives which have been put in place by a higher power.

Crucially, these beliefs are usually based in faith – a justification based on the simple fact that the person holding the belief believes it, without consideration for any evidence that may have a bearing on its actual truth. Another common feature of these beliefs is that they can be very important to the people who hold them, sometimes so important that people are afraid they’ll be tortured forever if they do something wrong or endorse an improper belief. While this is only a rough and incomplete overview of the features of beliefs considered religious, it does encompass the major aspects of religion: its claims about the supernatural, its statements of ultimate purpose, its devotion to certain writings, its rules and moral guidance, its basis in faith, and its attribution of cosmic significance to one’s beliefs and actions.

Suppose now that the overarching category of religion is introduced anew, encompassing these beliefs, and manifesting as derivative concepts such as “religious bigotry”, “anti-religious prejudice”, and “respect for religion”. Because these beliefs often pertain to one’s moral responsibilities, purpose in life, and the fate one will supposedly face for all eternity, beliefs classified as religious are frequently considered to possess great significance beyond that of other beliefs. But is this special treatment unique to religion actually warranted?

If someone fears that they may actually face eternal torture for not believing in God, getting a divorce, or masturbating, this is a personal issue for them to work through. It doesn’t obligate the rest of us to treat them any differently for holding this belief – aside from, perhaps, offering sympathy and counseling services. Likewise, one’s endorsement of a certain moral framework is not fundamentally different from other moral proposals merely because this particular morality is allegedly divine in origin. It doesn’t need to be seen as something above or apart from moralities that aren’t based on supernatural claims, and it merits no unique deference simply because of its incorporation of the divine.

And those claims about the nature and existence of supernatural things are still only claims like any other – no extra leeway is necessary just because claims about the supernatural happen to be about the supernatural. Similarly, if someone cites faith itself as a basis for a belief, this justification should hardly be exempted from the appropriate scrutiny just because it falls under the category of religion. A belief that’s supported by nothing more than someone’s choice to hold that belief is certainly not deserving of any additional respect, and calling it religious doesn’t change that.

All too often, the reference to one’s “deeply held religious beliefs” is meant to serve as a conversation stopper – they’ve played the religion card, and the rest of us have to shut up and leave them alone. It’s as though the mere fact that they believe something that’s considered religious is the only excuse they need. But it shouldn’t matter how strongly a belief is held, and it shouldn’t matter that this belief falls under religion. There are many things both religious and non-religious that people believe very strongly, but the strength with which they believe is not a defense or a justification of the belief itself.

When objections to the Mormon Church’s involvement in passing Proposition 8 are characterized as “bigotry”, and Catholics in Illinois claim that they’re “not being tolerated” because their state-funded adoption services are required to treat gay couples equally, the dissolution of the concept of religion helps us to see these statements for what they really are. These religions, while shielding themselves behind claims of religious discrimination, actually just want to be free from following the law and even free from criticism itself. Why? Because they believe they should be, and that’s that. They think that’s all they need to say – and sometimes, it is.

The label of religion and the inordinate respect afforded to it has given them the opportunity to claim that they’re being discriminated against because of their religion, when in fact they’re being criticized for their bad ideas and required to follow the same laws as everyone else. In this way, accusations of prejudice against religion can function as a way of trying to silence those who have simply treated religious beliefs like any other beliefs, and found them lacking.

The unwarranted belief in the supernatural or the moral authority of certain questionable books is worthy of critique whether we call this religion or not, and depicting this as some kind of discrimination against religion means demanding that such claims be granted a privileged status, protecting them from the open debate to which non-religious beliefs are subject. In reality, religion isn’t being criticized because it’s religious. It’s being criticized because it’s wrong.

The false dichotomy of the afterlife

It’s fairly straightforward to point out that belief in an afterlife can have the effect of devaluing this life, causing various misconceptions about its purpose, and influencing people to act for the sake of an imagined eternity that will never take place. This much is obvious. But not so much thought has been given to the impact that beliefs in an afterlife have had on the views of atheists. All too often, the repudiation of an afterlife is accompanied by various proclamations about how important it is that we live a limited life and experience genuine death. We see it in the shallow aphorisms claiming that “death gives meaning to life”, as though finding a meaning for our lives is only possible if everyone eventually dies. Such a stunning lack of imagination about how to find personal meaning barely deserves the time of day, but it’s interesting to consider where this notion might come from.

In many ways, it seems that the recognition that there is no afterlife can lead people to endorse the negation of numerous aspects of that belief. When religious people claim that the prospect of permanent death is nihilistic and renders life hopeless, many atheists reply that this mortality is precisely what gives their lives value. When religious people proclaim the glory of eternal life, atheists instead fear that this would eventually become boring. When religious people are frightened by the reality of actual death, some atheists reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’ll just be like taking a very long rest – as if they’ll even be able to experience a state of restfulness ever again.

But just because an idea is wrong or bad doesn’t mean the reverse of that idea must be right or good. If it were that simple, the most ignorant among us could become a source of unparalleled genius, simply by inverting everything they believe. This is clearly no guarantee of rightness or truth, and common atheistic views on death actually end up sharing certain similarities with their religious counterparts. Both religious followers and many atheists ultimately agree that death, whatever its nature, is a good thing that’s very important to our lives, and nothing should be done about it. And in both cases, their beliefs serve as a way to cope with something frightening, incomprehensible, and unavoidable, and instead spin it as somehow beneficial to us. It’s just another comforting tale to soften the impact of the utter obliteration of human minds.

This is some of the most overlooked damage of belief in an afterlife: simply for the sake of contradicting religion, so many atheists are willing to abandon any desire, let alone effort, toward actual immortality – an immortality born not of supernatural magic, but natural technology. Even after understanding that we exist completely within the natural world, many people still resist any attempt to use that knowledge to do something about the myriad vulnerabilities of our current existence. Sure, science is great for curing diseases and extending lifespans – at a slow enough pace that no one’s too uncomfortable about it – but dethroning death itself and eliminating the universal inevitability of our demise is apparently a step too far.

Here we can see how the rightly despised fantasies of religion have thrown the very idea of life without end into disrepute. These hollow, meaningless, imaginary fates have repulsed so many people that when the real thing is finally within our grasp, it’s treated as no better than the religious delusions that came before. It takes some effort to work past the well-worn tendency to dismiss the possibility of eternal life, and make it clear that this really is something different. The nonexistence of an afterlife is obvious and trivially easy to recognize, but objections to true immortality end up being much more tenuous.

Our present mortality may influence how we live our lives, but that doesn’t mean it must be our only source of purpose. People might say death is what gives meaning to life, but no one is especially eager to optimize for this alleged source of value by seeking to bring about more and earlier death for everyone. After all, if this life is really so important, then why should we have less of it when we could have so much more? Why not seek out the most joy, the most love, and the most discovery we can possibly achieve? Why not enjoy life as much as we can, for as long as we can? And why should this ever have to end? It doesn’t – if you’re ready to do something about it.