NOM Resorts to False Facts in NY Marriage Fight, Says HRC

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday May 12, 2011

Anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage is set to air ads opposing marriage equality in New York. The ads repeat claims that alarmed parents and helped win passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008. The problem? The claims were false then--and they remain false now, equality advocates say.

"The so-called National Organization for Marriage is set to air a television ad in New York that falsely claims marriage between two committed gay or lesbian people would be taught in schools," a May 10 press release from the Human Rights Campaign said.

"PolitiFact, a premier non-partisan fact-checking web site, deemed NOM's message about schools 'false' on their Truth-O-Meter as recently as February," the release added. "NOM aired the same ad in 2009 while opposing marriage equality in the Empire State."

That was the year the New York State Senate voted for the first time on marriage equality, although the measure had passed multiple times in the State Assembly previously.

But the bill failed, partly because lawmakers who had earlier vowed their support backed out and cast their votes against the measure.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to work for the equal treatment under law of gay and lesbian families, and said that marriage equality will be one of his administration's signature issues. Even though the state legislature has become even more Republican-dominated following the latest election, Cuomo's ambition to bring New York into the small cadre of states that offer marriage equality may not be in vain. Support for the measure has gained a toehold among GOP legislators, with one Republican state lawmaker, Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward recently voicing support for marriage parity.

"We're fighting for loving, committed gay and lesbian couples going down to the courthouse to get married, which has absolutely nothing to do with what is taught in schools," HRC President Joe Solmonese pointed out. "The ad is a piece of fiction. School districts determine what is taught in schools."

A similar ad campaign in California was attributed with spooking parents and helping the anti-gay ballot measure Proposition 8 squeak through. Anti-gay proponents of the ballot measure advertised the message that unless marriage rights were stripped from same-sex couples, young children would be taught about gay and lesbian families and same-sex relationships in the classroom. One television commercial depicted a young girl seemingly "choosing" to become a lesbian after reading a book at school in which a prince marries another man rather than a princess.

The state's education officials decried the claim as false.

"I've seen the spots on the TV, and [legalized gay marriage] just isn't going to require any kind of teaching of personal relationships or lifestyle," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell told the Associated Press at the time. "That's just not an accurate statement or portrayal."

But voters believed the claim and narrowly passed the ballot initiative, which re-wrote the California constitution and, for the first time, rescinded a minority's existing right at the ballot box.

In the end, however, yanking marriage rights from same-sex families did little to ease the fears of anti-gay parents. A year after the passage of Proposition 8, anti-gay activists in the state were still targeting school curricula, claiming that anti-bullying videos promoted homosexuality to children. Eighteen thousand families, however, had managed to hold on to their married status only through a court's finding--but under the change in law, gays and lesbians who had married in California would not be eligible to marry again in the event of death or divorce.

Proposition 8 was subsequently struck down in federal court as being unconstitutional. That verdict is now under appeal, and same-sex couples remain unable to marry in California.

"Independent fact checkers will quickly determine, as they did previously with other NOM propaganda, that things don't quite add up in this New York commercial," Kevin Nix, the NOM Project Director for the Human Rights Campaign, said.

"Fear and fiction is the mother's milk of this secretive, virulently anti-gay organization," Nix added.

"NOM's advertising campaign comes as a former NOM strategist, Louis Marinelli, defected from the organization because he now supports marriage equality," noted the HRC release. "NOM continues to be under investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission."

National Organization for... Distortions?

NOM chair Maggie Gallagher was criticized last month for offering what equality advocates called "misleading testimony."

"On April 15, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a 'Defending Marriage' hearing to discuss the Obama administration's decision not to defend Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court," reported Equality Matters in an April 22 posting. "The three witnesses at the hearing included National Organization for Marriage chairwoman Maggie Gallagher, Ethics and Public Policy Center President Edward Whelan, and Carlos Ball, Professor of Law at the Rutgers University School of Law.

"All three witnesses swore to tell 'nothing but the truth' during in their testimony, but that apparently wasn't enough to keep the pro-DOMA witnesses honest," the posting added, before providing an extract of the hearing's transcript.

"GALLAGHER: Gay people have families that are not marital families, but they are families. I myself was an unwed mother so I have first-hand experience with being in a family that is not a marital family. I don't think that you need to have a message of stigmatization and exclusion to protect an ideal which is important to the whole society.

"NADLER: That's the whole point of DOMA, to stigmatize and exclude.

"GALLAGHER: Well that is your opinion, with all due respect. It is not my opinion nor, I think, what was expressed by Congress in 1996 or by President Clinton."

"The 1996 House Report On DOMA Explicitly Emphasized The Importance Of Stigmatizing Homosexuality To Prevent "Wavering Children" From Choosing To Be Gay," the Equality Matters article noted. Moreover, "The Report Revealed Congress's Desire To Reflect Society's 'Moral Disapproval Of Homosexuality,' " the site's text added.

An April 25 Pam's House Blend article also criticized Gallagher for offering "incorrect testimony" at the hearing, in this instance, for citing a report on the children of single parents to bolster claims that children do better in mixed-gender households as opposed to same-sex families.

While reports on children raised by single parents do indicate that those children do not do as well as children from homes with two engaged and attentive parents, reputable studies have demonstrated that the two parents do not have to be of opposite genders. Children of same-sex parents do just as well as their peers with two parents of mixed genders, according to the studies.

Those results were reported as early as 2005, if not earlier, and reaffirmed as recently as last year in an array of studies.

"It's more about the quality of the parenting than the gender of the parents," the co-author of a review of international research, New York University's Judith Stacey, said in a Jan. 21., 2010 USA Today article.

NOM has also come under scrutiny for alleged violations of campaign finance laws in at least two states.

"NOM provided more than $1.8 million of the $3 million spent by opponents of marriage equality to pass Question 1--but it illegally failed to disclose where the money came from," text at NOM Exposed recounts. "Public disclosure laws create transparency by informing voters who is behind a campaign effort. Maine's law does this by requiring that any funds raised to support or oppose a ballot question be made public.

"NOM flouted this law, first by soliciting funds from donors to overturn marriage equality in Maine, and then by refusing to disclose the contributions. As a result, NOM deliberately hid from the public almost two-thirds of the total money the Yes on 1 campaign spent to run its deceptive campaign to overturn marriage equality," the text continues.

"Based on an initial complaint filed by Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate, the Maine Ethics Commission launched a formal investigation into NOM's fundraising tactics in late 2009. NOM has refused to cooperate with the state inquiry each step of the way, stonewalling requests to turn over documents to the Ethics Commission."

The site's text noted that in the case of the Proposition 8 campaign in California, "While NOM and ProtectMarriage sought in court to avoid their legal obligations to report their donors, the Prop. 8 campaign also deliberately covered up the enormous contributions of NOM's close ally, the Mormon Church. In a November 2008 complaint filed with California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate documented the Mormon Church's extensive undisclosed involvement in the Prop 8 campaign.

"Only after the election and after the FPPC announced that it would open a formal investigation did the Mormon Church finally acknowledge involvement in the Prop 8 campaign and disclose nearly $190,000 of previously unreported contributions."

NOM subsequently subpoenaed Karger in a legal case that sought to shield the group from having to follow election laws that required public disclosure of donor lists.

A judge ruled against NOM last year in a case involving a donor list in a campaign to rescind a marriage equality law in Maine at the ballot box in 2009.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.