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Crafting NOM's civil unions policy (since they haven't)

by Jeremy Hooper

The National Organization For Marriage doesn't have an official civil unions policy. So here, let me write a brief sketch of what is, quite undeniably, NOM's organizational stance on this, a crucial matter that comes before both them and us:


- Are a direct threat to marriage and religious liberties

- A clear invitation to the courts to mandate that legislatures legalize homosexual marriage.

- Something that has been used to successfully sue business owners and professionals who run their practices by their deeply held religious beliefs.

- Will not protect marriage from redefinition nor protect the religious liberties and rights-of-conscience of faithful individuals.

- As much a threat to the religious liberties of business owners and professionals as is homosexual-marriage

- Civil union's passage = a dark day for the state that passes them

- Should be rejected

We must stop civil unions bills!

This is how they feel. Whenever it comes up in a TV debate or similar forum, Maggie or Brian or whomever is repping NOM will be much more mealy-mouthed about this separate system and their stance, purely as an exercise in pragmatic punditry. And as I mentioned, their official statement is noticeably absent. The truth, however, is that NOM's full advocacy range does run in stark opposition to any sort of compromise, even as a growing majority of the American public comes on board with some degree of support for same-sex couples.

But don't take my word for how they think and feel. To realize that this organization will always stand for any civil unions proposal, regardless of state or religious exemption included, one can pore over Chair Maggie Gallagher and President Brian Brown's years of comments on the matter, which all point to a rejection of any sort of compromise, coupled with condemnation of any lawmakers who do support any sort of C.U. system. Here's some Brian:


Here's just one, very pointed statement from Maggie:


The same basic trend exists across all of NOM's staff.

We saw the stance articulated in Illinois' recent civil unions debate, where NOM directed its supporters to send letters to their lawmakers warning of the "direct threat to marriage and the religious liberties of your constituents." We also see it when we look through the 506 instances the organization has used the term on the NOM website. The mentions are never favorable. Civil unions are always painted as a threat. The only cogent assumption is that civil unions are a complete non-starter.

Although really, the best insight comes from simply looking at the pre-written letter that NOM advised its Rhode Island supporters to send their lawmakers during that state's civil unions debate in the summer of 2011. Because let's get real -- NOM staff lays it all out there:

Dear Senator,

As the full Senate approaches its floor vote on House Bill 6103 (Civil Unions), I urge you to vote “No” on this bill. It is a direct threat to marriage and the religious liberties of your constituents. As has been demonstrated in hours of testimony, scores of documents, and thousands of emails and calls, HB 6103 will be a clear invitation to the Courts of Rhode Island to mandate that you and your colleagues in the Assembly legalize homosexual marriage.

It has also been clearly demonstrated in existing case law that civil union statutes across the country have been used to successfully sue business owners and professionals who run their practices by their deeply held religious beliefs.

House Bill 6103 in its present form will not protect marriage from redefinition nor will it protect the religious liberties and rights-of-conscience of faithful individuals. It should be rejected by the Senate during its floor vote.

Barring that, I urge you, in order to protect marriage and religious liberties from future litigation, to support amending HB 6103 in three ways:

1. Amend Page 5, lines 16 – 18, the “Severability” clause, to an “Inseverability” clause. Like the recently passed New York legislation, such a clause will insure that the present religious liberties protections in HB 6103 will remain in force and can be challenged only at the risk of overturning the entire statute.

2. Insert in either or both, the Legislative Intent section of HB 6103 or the Definitions section a clear defense and definition of marriage. The RI Supreme Court in Chambers v. Ormiston (2007) relied on the presumed definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and its interpretation of the intent of the RI Legislature in coming to its pro-marriage decision. As HB 6103 makes no real distinction in language or intent between marriage as it presently presumed to be and the civil union of a homosexual couple, it would very likely allow the RI Courts to reverse its opinion in Chambers or follow the path of Connecticut and California in mandating that the Assembly fully redefine marriage.

3. Finally, I urge you to extend the religious liberties exemptions presently found on page 4, lines 15 – 29, “Conscience and Religious Organizations Protected” to cover individuals as well as organizations. Extant case law makes it clear that the legalization of civil unions is as a much a threat to the religious liberties of business owners and professionals as is homosexual-marriage. Service providers and licensed professionals have been successfully sued or sanctioned for refusing to recognize or serve a civil union couple either in their ceremony or as a couple thereafter. Rhode Islanders are a deeply religious people and the ever growing voice of people of faith ask for your protection in this matter. Please allow the present protections to be extended to individuals.

On behalf of the hundreds of voters who have petitioned you directly and the thousands more concerned about marriage and religious liberties, I ask that you stop House Bill 6103 in tomorrow’s vote. Barring that, please allow the bill to be amended as described above in order to best insure the protection of marriage and the religious liberties of Rhode Islanders.

Respectfully yours,

[Civil unions Floor Vote -- NOM]

Look what they say, in their own words: Civil unions are a "threat" -- civil unions must be "rejected." And then, when this C.U bill ultimately did pass, NOM RI director Chris Plante (now working in New Hampshire and across the Northeast) portrayed the state's passage of a civil unions bill as a "disappointing and dangerous day for marriage." There's no gray area here.

And here's the thing: Rhode Island's civil unions proposal actually went much further in terms of religious protections than other state's measures, prompting a coalition of nine pro-equality groups (including HRC) to coalesce in opposition to the now-passed-and-signed bill. So don't believe any of the mumbo jumbo about strengthening or amending the text, as if this C.U. proposal was somehow lesser than others. If anything, NOM's opposition to the overreaching RI bill shows that nothing will ever be good enough for the ban-eager organization.

This is a hugely important point in this debate, especially in states like New Jersey where 81% want either marriage or civil unions and only 17% want nothing. When that conversation is renewed, NOM staffers will surely do any and everything to stop full marriage equality in the state where the organization was founded. But in doing so, whose view will America's most prominent "marriage definition" group (by their own appointment) really be representing? NOM's view is the one expressed by the dwindling portion of the aforementioned PPP poll that says "no marriage, no civil unions -- maybe you and your 'roommate' can commit to a nice communal house plant instead?" Which is precisely why they're less forthright about their true feelings.

Or in a more immediate sense: This point is also hugely important in the upcoming attempt to repeal marriage equality in New Hampshire and replace it with a civil unions system. When that debate revs up in the first weeks of 2012, NOM is surely going to pretend that they are fine with (or at least tolerant of) civil unions, since they know that this "compromise" is there only shot at movement in the Granite State. BUT THEY WILL BE LYING! There is more than enough evidence for us to say this, confidently.


**UPDATE: NOM NH lobbyist: 'I think most Republicans are now in favor of civil unions' [G-A-Y]

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