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On Iowa's SD 18 (or how we're just plain better than NOM)

by Jeremy Hooper

It wasn't about marriage, largely. Liz Mathis' victory over Republican Cindy Golding in Iowa's 18th Senate District was about jobs, education, local business, property taxes, and a whole host of other true concerns. But by and large, the state's marriage equality law doesn't seem to have motivated voters in the area in a major way.

But that's not what you would've heard from NOM, had the candidate that they backed to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars ultimately prevailed. This morning, you'd be reading NOM press release after NOM press release about Cindy Golding, her commitment to putting marriage up for a public vote, and how last night's results send a message both in Iowa and nationwide. Regardless of what anyone on the ground is actually saying, NOM would still reduce and spin the results so that they spoke to one issue and one issue only.

That's exactly what we saw two months ago in NY's 9th, where voters indicated they chose the Republican over the Democrat for issues pertaining to jobs, the economy, and Israel, yet NOM claimed the Bob Turner win had everything to do with the Democratic challenger's prior vote for marriage equality. This is the NOM game: Concocting a script that supposedly speaks to their power and pushing that script with the ferocity of a spurned bride, in hopes that media outlets will run with it. They make it all about them, at the expense of truth, local sentiment, or even the general welfare of our nation (or at the very least, our politics).

But I'm not going to do that here, in what is an unquestionable triumph against the NOM agenda. I'm not going to convince you that the 23,618 District 18 voters who turned out for this race did so based, primarily, on marriage. Because it wouldn't be true. And unlike NOM, I see a need to operate within the confines of reality rather than that which is most convenient to my cause. I truly believe that we, as an electorate, deserve better than contrived "culture war" fires, which is a big reason why I fight so hard to extinguish NOM's rhetorical arson. So no: I'm not going to say Liz Mathis won because of her support for marriage equality.

That all being said: Last night was, undeniably, a major triumph over the NOM playbook. Because regardless of what motivated Mathis supporters to come out, what we do know for sure is that NOM's attempt to tell locals what they think about marriage….


…simply did not resonate. Despite NOM's incredibly heavy expenditure campaign -- conducted in tandem with the local Family Leader group -- NOM wasn't able to dupe 18th district residents into believing that "the future of Iowa families" was dependent on their vote for Cindy Golding. NOM thought they could buy a small district with out-of-state cash and they were wrong.

In fact, NOM's overplayed hand seemed to turn off a lot of voters. I noticed on a couple of occasions how "just not into" NOM Cindy Golding seemed to be. Plus there was credible polling showing only a tiny fraction of voters who considered same-sex marriage a top priority, noticeable attempts from both campaigns to not talk about the (non-)issue, and much anecdotal evidence suggesting NOM had trouble finding a real local support system. That had to feel like a great slight to NOM, considering the considerable capital the organization invested in this race.

A pointed slight, I would say. Even though it wasn't about marriage, largely, I would argue that this race was VERY MUCH about the National Organization for Marriage. Considering the enormous attention that NOM brought to the district via their quest to nationalize this hyperlocal race, local voters had no choice but to consider what NOM was selling. Ultimately, those voters -- whether or not they support marriage equality or even support letting the current law stand as is --decided that NOM's hyperbolic "protect the families" rhetoric was out-of-touch with the local flavor. Voters repudiated NOM.

The big takeaway for me: That when we consider NOM's engagement in future areas, we continue to separate marriage from NOM. By that I mean: When opposing NOM's self-appointed role in a certain area, we remember that we are not only talking to those who are 100% with us on marriage equality itself. There are scores of voters who may still have a ways to go in their own "evolutions" on marriage, but who do (a) genuinely want to do the fair thing; and (b) realize that NOM's ongoing, reliably over-the-top efforts are anything but just. Sometimes this contingent might even include a NOM-backed candidate like Golding, who herself seemed hesitant with what the org. was throwing at her race.

We need to keep this "marriage separate from NOM" notion in mind. Our ultimate goal, obviously, is winning and preserving marriage equality in all fifty states, federally, and eventually worldwide. But a crucial step in that journey involves putting the National Organization For Marriage out of business. To do so, we must broaden our coalition by even more fully highlighting the crude, unproductive way that this organization tries to reduce an electorate's priorities, so that an even larger audience will realize how that NOM is an anti-intellectual organization that runs counter to grown up conversation. And since NOM is the organization that far-right has anointed as its designate "protect marriage" group, we will be showing the larger marriage movement's true colors.

I truly believe that even many of those who don't yet think we gay folk deserve a wedding ring do believe that the National Organization For Marriage is ripe for de-legitimacy. The Mathis/Golding race is not proof positive of that, but it is a sign that firmly points in the right direction. Let's run with that!

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