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08/16/2012

NOM playing a risky, nervy game

by Jeremy Hooper

Yesterday, in the minutes following the thankfully thwarted incident at the Family Research Council, I was incredibly proud of how my "team" reacted. All of us, virtually to a person, expressed our quick and heartfelt support for FRC and its staff. Our national groups stepped up swiftly with a joint statement condemning the violence and standing with FRC despite deep and obvious differences. No person with any sort of a platform took low road with the situation.

But what happened within that same hour-after window? The National Organization For Marriage issued a press release blaming FRC's political critics for causing the situation. NOM, in words credited to Brian Brown, worked to position all criticism of FRC as mean-spirited and misdirected, with Brian describing FRC as nothing more than a "pro-marriage" group while reducing all critics to little more than name-callers.

Today the pattern continues. This morning, Brian went on CNN to paint obviously disturbed shooter Floyd Corkins as some sort of political operative carrying out an agenda. Then on the NOM blog, a staffer just wrote this:

The debate about whether delegitimizing dissent by calling it "hate" played a role in this will have to play out over the next few weeks. We hope sincerely these groups reconsider the rhetoric, frequently expressed, that all opposition to gay marriage is motivated by hatred and a desire to discriminate. [NOM BLOG]

Okay, first off—I am beyond sick of the far-right claim that we on the side of equality write off any and all opposition as "hatred." The vast majority of us who engage on this issue stick fully to the issues, not the motivations. I challenge FRC every single day, and I *never* use words like "bigot" or "hater." But that doesn't changes the facts pertaining to the FRC message. The reason why some groups, like Family Research Council, have risen above others is because the organization is run by people who say some of the most incendiary things imaginable about LGBT people. It is not simply because they oppose marriage equality, and it is beyond offensive to this debate to suggest that it is! Even more offensive when you use an isolated act of extremism to try to exonerate a group for its decades of chosen words/work!

Beyond just that, NOM is now fully connecting itself to FRC, which is just politically inept! Regardless of what one thinks of NOM, there is a reason why this group has yet to earn certain distinctions from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The fact is, while NOM has been tempting the fates more and more in the past year or so, people like Brian Brown or Maggie Gallagher have still not gone as far with their rhetoric as have people like Tony Perkins, Peter Sprigg, Kenyn Cureton, or FRC honoree Ron Baity. Again, there are levels of engagement. FRC earns certain distinction because FRC has said and done the things that FRC has said and done (even Focus on the Family staffers see the distinction, even if they won't publicly admit it)! If NOM wants to put FRC's typical patterns of engagement in the exact same "pro-marriage" camp as the rest of the movement, then NOM is only going to make that entire movement look more extreme!

Again, I was more than willing—eager, even—to keep all politics out of this situation and only focus on the healing that FRC staffers surely need and deserve to do in the aftermath of what they experienced. All of us who work in this field should understand this. These concerns should be shared. We all want our debate to be passionate but safe.

NOM made this cynical, politically-driven choice. NOM was one of the ONLY groups to try to politicize this—quickly, loudly, and in multiple forums. They are treading on very dangerous territory here.

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