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11/15/2010

'Newsweek' paints Brian Brown's portrait; we fill in a few holes

by Jeremy Hooper

There is lots to chew on in Newsweek's new, slightly fluffy piece on the National Organization For Marriage's Brian Brown. For the sake of time and length, we'll focus on just a few.


(1) This subtitle:

Brian Brown is leading the fight against gay marriage. And succeeding.

Okay, no. Because while yea, there have been setbacks at polls, the reality is that when Brian Brown came into the marriage fight in the early 2000s, there were zero states with legal marriage equality for same-sex couples. There are now five such states, as well as the District of Columbia -- all of which NOM tried to stop. One of which, Connecticut, was Brian's sole focus for a number of years. And even of the two states that NOM can count out as all-out wins, Maine and California: One of them, California, is now playing out in a landmark court battle that currently has the pro-equality side at a great, historic advantage (with even many in the anti-gay marriage movement admitting that their side has crummy defense arguments).

So the idea that Brian is "succeeding"? Well when I, a gay man, look down at the legally-recognized ring on my hand, I have an teensy bit of trouble seeing Brian's fight to eliminate marriage for same-sex couples in that same light.


(2) The Newsweek piece begins with this setup:

Brian Brown’s hate mail is divided into two categories: messages that go straight to the police and those he dumps into a growing computer file labeled OPPOSITION. One riled caller threatened to hang him from a tree “and burn you while your children watch”; someone else sent an e-mail offering to “donate” a pipe bomb to his office. The majority, however, simply vent frustration at Brown, who has emerged as the nation’s fiercest crusader against gay marriage.

Not sure if Brian purposely steered the reporter, Eve Conant, in this direction, or if Ms. Conant developed this framework on her own. But this initial paragraph feels misleading, at best. Because all of us -- ALL OF US! -- who engage in this so-called "culture war" experience harsh scrutiny, lumps, and sometimes even threats. I have. Often. Some of them I've made public, some I've deleted and moved on, and some I've turned over to authorities. Or when Brian's fellow "culture warriors" like Peter LaBarbera (who has used Brian as a source on multiple occasions) lift my wedding photo and publicly post it with the word "perversion" on it (something Peter's done twice in the past month), I've taken the high road and turned it into a silly blog post.

The bottom line: Neither "side" can fairly use this supposed "hate mail" to garner one-sided sympathy. And in fact, if there were to be "winner take all" matchup between the history of persecution that the two viewpoints have faced in modern America, with the loser agreeing to shut up for good, I'm pretty certain the anti-gay side would be advised to sit out that challenge!


(3) The article credits this line as a NOM "success":

His National Organization for Marriage played a key role in financing the Nov. 2 ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled to legalize same-sex marriage there in 2009.

It's quite unfortunate to see the mainstream media biting down on this line, full bait. Because yes, NOM put huge effort into ousting these judges. But the retention vote was not a marriage vote. It wasn't a single issue vote. It shouldn't ever be a single issue vote. By design! So a mainstream news publication like Newsweek should not buy into the idea that it was a marriage vote. And in fact, these same publications should be asking tough questions of those who turned one state's local vote into a de facto campaign against marriage nationwide! That's the real story from the Iowa vote: The dangerous idea that voters should vote out jurists on the basis of vindictive, largely faith-based whims, without ever being encouraged to look at the individual's career (or to even fully chew on the one opinion in question).

The Iowa For Freedom campaign was intellectually reductive from the beginning. By its blueprint, it was meant to enter the realm of anti-equality PR. The media does not have to buy what they are selling.


(4) This portrait of Brian's political engagement:

Brown would make a good politician. An Oxford graduate, he’s extremely polished, the kind of campaign leader who sticks faithfully to such benign-sounding talking points as “good-hearted people can have ideas that are profoundly wrong.” He mostly tries to avoid demonizing gays and lesbians: NOM ads invoke Martin Luther King Jr., the right to free speech, and the right to vote, not quotes from Leviticus. “Emotions run high on this issue, and people can be vitriolic. I never have to worry about that with Brian,” says Kevin Smith of Cornerstone Action, a nonprofit group working with Brown to overturn gay marriage in New Hampshire.

We saw this whole "Brian doesn't talk nasty about gays" meme back when the Washington Post ran their 8/09 fluff piece on the NOM head. And no, this writer has admittedly never heard Brian cite Leviticus. But who the hell cares about that one, convenient, biblical sidestep?! Because I have heard him refer to my marriage as "based on lies about human nature." As "madness." As "ripp[ing] a significant hole in the fabric of...society." As going against "God’s truth about marriage." As a "civil wrong." And perhaps the most offensive of all: I routinely hear Brian trying to flip the script so that the gay couples who are simply fighting for an equal slice of pie are made out to be the "bullies" whose arguments are limited to "character assassination." So Leviticus, Schemiticus -- Brian does, in fact, paint gays as threatening, and our unions as ungodly!

Oh, and NOM's very first public act as an organization? It was this:

Yup, that's right: Comparing a local lawmaker to Judas and Benedict Arnold, and posting it over a highway for everyone to see. You know: Good-hearted stuff like that.

Oh, and as for Kevin Smith and his worries about others: Perhaps he should worry more about the way his own blog posts cite a designated hate group as a credible source of marital information!


(5) This assessment from his wife:

“Suddenly it became everything we talked about—almost overnight, it seemed,” recalls his wife, Susan, who married him in 1999 and is home-schooling their six children, with a seventh on the way. Susan also opposes gay marriage, but—perhaps like many who share her views—doesn’t like to be public about it, often wishing she could tell people her husband is a lawyer or doctor and leave it at that. At an event in Providence, R.I., she says, “they walked up to my kids and asked them, ‘Is Mommy raising you to be a good little bigot?’?” Yet she says she understands the frustration behind those remarks. “They believe in this as deeply as we do,” she says. “I see why we’d get under their skin.”

First off: It's just weird. There's no way around it. There's no softer way to say it. There's really no need to expend greater intellectual capital on it. A heterosexual man's near-daily, decade-long obsession with same-sex marriage is Brina-Brownjust plain bizarre. Then's when you combine the obsession with an educated man's ability to discredit the plethora of common sense civil data that sides with *civil* marriage equality? It's weird with a capital Whaaaa?!

But as for his wife's take on our fight: What she doesn't see (or at least doesn't admit) is that there should not be a war between who "believes" in this more deeply. There shouldn't be a side that's getting under gay tax-payers' skin. Because in truth, there's one set of American citizens who say that under our shared constitution, same-sex couples have more than met the test to have their adult, two-partner marriages fully recognized under civil law. The seeking of benign civil peace is the organic concept at play here. The resistance movement, of which Brian and Susan are both a part, is a complete contrivance. There's is a discriminatory roadblock that, along with the help of all-too-prevalent heterosexism and too much media complacency, has been able to shape antagonism into a viable political movement.

It's of course understandable why Susan would take this stance of seeing her husband's work as mere political action, as if he's lobbying for tort reform or Medicaid. But that anecdotal justification is only going to go so far.


(6) The Newsweek piece ends exactly as it began: With a quip about Brian getting hate mail. So okay, fine, since they insist: Let's play this game:

(email sent to G-A-Y)
Picture 6-167-2

Yup -- gets under our skin, indeed, Ms. Brown.

*FULL ARTICLE: ‘I Do’? I Don’t! [Newsweek]

***

**UPDATE: One more thing: The 'good little bigot' question: An ex post facto Browning? [G-A-Y]

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