Politics ain’t beanbag, as Mitt Romney likes to say. And fighting for civil rights isn’t, either. People will stop at nothing to deny others the right to the dignity and respect that comes with first-class citizenship in this country. We saw it — and continue to see it — with African Americans during the Civil Rights era. We’re seeing it now as gay men and lesbians push for equal rights, including the freedom to marry. So, it should come as no surprise that there was a detailed plan to pit the two groups against each other in an effort to stop the steady march towards marriage equality.
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a virulently anti-gay group fighting same-sex marriage with lies and distortions all over the country. In 2009, it succeeded in banning gays from legally marrying in Maine through a ballot initiative. But NOM is suing to overturn a Maine law that would require it to disclose its donors to that effort. Yesterday, a federal judge unsealed a slew of documents. Nestled among them was NOM’s blueprint for driving a wedge between blacks and gays.
I have to admit: NOM’s strategy was genius — of the evil variety.
From “National Organization for Marriage Board Update 2008-2009”
C.) Not a Civil Right Project
The strategic goal of the project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of the party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the cost of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on the issue. Consider pushing a marriage amendment in Washington, D.C.; find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally.
No one likes to be used, least of all black folks who have been used for centuries, either as pawns or as the bad guy. So, I don’t think this revelation will endear them to NOM. But you can’t be used in such a manner if you’re not primed to take the bait.
Many African Americans recoil at the notion that the struggle for gay civil rights, including the right to marry, is in any way parallel to their ongoing fight. Yet the parallels are there. As I argued earlier this month, what links the two struggles is the quest for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law. For blacks to actively stand in their way is the height of irony.
Meanwhile, the “gay marriage base” (read white [gay] people) clobbering those spokespeople was bound to happen. Just as when African Americans slam folks as bigots who would openly deny them their rights as guaranteed under the Constitution, some in the “gay marriage base” took the bait to call blacks bigots on the issue of marriage equality. Not a smart move when some of the targets of such criticism have endured dogs, water cannons, false imprisonment, the Ku Klux Klan and worse just to get the right to vote.
“NOM’s internal documents are a cynical catalogue of contempt,” Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, told me, “not just for gay people, not just for people of color, but for the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated.” In a statement provided to the Human Rights Campaign, civil rights icon Julian Bond said, “NOM’s underhanded attempts to divide will not succeed if Black Americans remember their own history of discrimination. Pitting bigotry’s victims against other victims is reprehensible; the defenders of justice must stand together.”
NOM’s strategy, which also included enlisting Latinos, was a failure. There’s no marriage amendment in Washington, D.C. With Republican help, the New Hampshire legislature beat back an effort to overturn a state law legalizing same-sex marriage. And legal challenges to the constitutionality of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act are wending their way through the court system. Marriage equality is coming — no matter what dastardly plan NOM has cooked up or will cook up.