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Profile of Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage
The same thing -- large, well-publicized, well-organized campaigns -- for different purposes. In the world of activism, what works for one side can work for the other. In the two years since its formation, NOM has become a leader in the fight against gay marriage, which Brown calls "the issue of the decade."
"Brian has been the foremost grass-roots leader who has been involved in the marriage debate," says Chuck Donovan, a senior vice president at the conservative Family Research Council. "He's one of the more effective leaders out there."
NOM's campaigns have had missteps. "Gathering Storm," with its melodramatic dialogue and fake lightning, prompted parodies as much as panic; one New York Times columnist called it " 'Village of the Damned' meets 'A Chorus Line' " for its instant camp value. Two Million for Marriage, the organization's push to rally online activists around the country, was similarly unfortunate: Apparently no one at NOM had realized that 2M4M, the hip-sounding tag they'd chosen for the initiative, is also the abbreviation favored by gay couples looking for a threesome.
Brown has been undaunted. Along with NOM President Maggie Gallagher, who lives in New York, he keeps putting out or starting up fires. He raises money. He organizes phone drives. He sits in the empty Washington digs and cheerfully takes conference calls about whom NOM should hire for an Iowa position ("I haven't had good luck with the Heritage job bank, but that doesn't mean anything"). He sends out regular e-mail updates to NOM's mailing list, conveying his excitement on the issues with exclamation points. Some pro-gay marriage activists then get hold of these e-mails and mock them.
But his more informed opponents know that scoffing is a response born of fear.
"You have to take them seriously," says Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow for the liberal People for the American Way. "They've raised a tremendous amount of money that they're funneling into various states. They're mostly responsible for putting the Maine veto on the bill."
Brown is confident that if people hear his message, they will believe it. "People already believe it," he says, "but the issue is so deep-seated that they've never had to create an argument for it. Now we have to give people the language to do that." Create talking points. Help them see.
On NOM's Web site, printable PDFs show visitors how to explain their position. "Why Marriage Matters" comes in versions for different religions: Protestant (Spanish and English), Catholic (Spanish and English) and Jewish.
Avoid the phrase "ban gay marriage," the talking points suggest, adding that opponents "know it causes us to lose about ten percentage points in polls. Don't use it. Say we're against 'redefining marriage' or in favor of 'marriage as the union of husband and wife' NEVER 'banning same-sex marriage.' " Bishop Harry Jackson, the Beltsville pastor who has been one of the most vocal gay marriage opponents in the area, sees a happy partnership between his followers and Brown's group. Jackson says Brown and NOM "have a sense of dignity about human beings. They simply believe that marriage between a man and a woman is the best for society. But they're not gay bashers."
"I believe," Brown says, "that there's a clear purpose to what I'm doing."
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