NOM intends to make same-sex marriage a wedge issue in 2012

The Human Rights Campaign’s watchdog project NOM Exposed, which tracks the spending and lobbying activities of the National Organization for Marriage, recently revised its strategy. According to a leader on the project, HRC believes NOM’s focus in 2012 will be centered on the national stage to ensure that same-sex marriage remains a primary issue in the presidential race; thus NOM Exposed will be closely following NOM’s federal election activities.

Ever since New York legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples last summer, NOM has pushed attack ad campaigns against Republicans who are not outspoken against same-sex marriage. And in the current Republican race for the 2012 presidential nomination, NOM’s target is Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Paul has thus far maintained a strong showing in the latest primary races and in various polls, even at the religious right’s Values Voter Summit straw poll last fall.

Though Paul came in third in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and second in yesterday’s New Hampshire primary (even winning an entire ward), as the race lurches forward, there are no clear signs that the anti-war candidate with mostly libertarian values is going to take the nomination.

A Rasmussen Reports national poll released last week shows that the majority of likely Republican primary voters polled (44 percent) believe Mitt Romney is the strongest challenger to President Barack Obama, compared with fellow contenders Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. In the poll, Paul was identified as the weakest challenger to Barack Obama.

Still, NOM has been spending cash to ensure Paul’s defeat.

On Monday NOM announced a $50,000 independent expenditure effort in New Hampshire to campaign against Paul, focusing on his refusal to sign NOM’s “Marriage Pledge.” NOM had launched its anti-Ron Paul Wrong on Marriage! website and released a negative television ad before the Iowa caucuses. The ad, below, suggests that, as president, Paul “would destroy traditional marriage in America.”

NOM President Brian Brown credited Paul’s placing third in Iowa, which NOM considers a defeat, with the negative ads. In a blogpost titled “Ron Paul Meets His Waterloo on Marriage,” Brown writes:

Ron Paul, to his credit, has always been a stalwart pro-life vote, and at NOM we know from our past experience in other elections that faith-based voters who see a strong pro-life candidate often just assume he or she is good on marriage too.

In Paul’s case that’s just not true, and we had to let Iowa voters know the truth.

Ron Paul’s a good man, but he’s just wrong on marriage.

NOM released a statement on the results of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night, with no mention of Paul or his second-place finish. Instead, the organization congratulates Romney for his second primary win. The former Massachusetts governor has promised NOM he will support a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Kevin Nix, HRC’s campaign media director, who also heads NOM Exposed, told The American Independent he thinks NOM is using Ron Paul to make same-sex marriage a top issue in the GOP nomination race.

“The presidential election is predominately about jobs, the economy and the deficit — it’s not about social issues,” Nix told The American Independent in an email. “Yet NOM is trying to inject ‘gay marriage’ into the campaign by running negative ads against Ron Paul. Brian Brown & Co. must stay visible to stay viable. And staying relevant for them this cycle means spending buckets of money to defeat a bottom-tier candidate who is very unlikely be the Republican nominee — and who, by the way, is no friend to the LGBT community.”

According to Nix, Paul is not a friend of gay and lesbian Americans because he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act and against a 2009 hate crimes bill.

The NOM Exposed relaunch is intended to sharpen HRC’s strategy against NOM, in essence to weaken its influence in local, congressional, and presidential elections. Though progressive advocacy groups across the nation paint NOM as a fringe group — largely because the organization is believed to be funded by a handful of secret wealthy donors and has a tendency to misrepresent certain aspects of its operations – NOM has had influence on the campaigns of nearly all the frontrunners competing for the GOP nomination:

  • NOM co-sponsored a presidential forum in Des Moines, Iowa, just before Thanksgiving, which is where Paul directly told Brown he does not support a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage and in fact believes that the church — not the government — should decide if gay and lesbian couples can marry.
  • Robert George, NOM’s chair emeritus, co-hosted last September’s Palmetto Freedom Forum in South Carolina, which was attended by most of the GOP presidential contenders.
  • All the major candidates — except for Paul — have signed the NOM pledge to support a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage and to defend DOMA in court.
  • And in December, NOM President Brian Brown was spotted at a $1000-a-plate fundraising dinner for Newt Gingirch (he was also caught on tape shoving a Mother Jones reporter after Occupy Wall Street protesters infiltrated the event).

This week HRC released a statement, authored by Nix, explaining the future shape and scope of NOM Exposed:

The mission of NOM Exposed is unchanged: to make legislators at the national and state levels and the media aware of what this group is really all about, who funds it, and how it’s moved even more outside of what mainstream and, increasingly, right-of-center, Americans think about LGBT people. NOM, you will recall, is not only against marriage equality, it is opposed to civil unions. […]

To the Rogue’s Gallery we’ve added NOM’s new chairman and Tea Partier John Eastman (who by the way gave money to support now defunct candidacy of Rep. Michele Bachmann.) Also included are the group’s corporate project director, Jonathan Baker and blogger Thomas Peters. I would also highlight Neil Corkery gave $2,000 to Rick Santorum in the third quarter of last year.

Nix emphasized that information on NOM Exposed is and will continue to be based on documented research.

Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, the LGBT advocacy group Freedom to Marry, which will also be active in the presidential election, does not think NOM will succeed in making same-sex marriage the central issue of this year’s presidential race.

“NOM’s obsession with gay-bashing is wildly out of step with the majority of Americans, who support the freedom to marry, and even with those who don’t but recognize that the country has many urgent priorities and going after gay families is not one of them,” Wolfson said in an email. “The handful of secretive funders who NOM exists to funnel funds for will beat their anti-gay drum and push their political agenda, but even more and more Republicans recognize what a majority of Democrats and independents believe — ending discrimination in marriage helps families and hurts no one.”

Photo: National for Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown speaks at NOM’s 2010 Summer for Marriage Tour, July 27, 2010 (Flickr/Lost Albatross).