Anti-gay leaders from states where issue is on ballot this year sound pessimistic at Values Voter Summit — a sign their streak is set to end
Anti-gay activists have never lost a referendum on marriage equality (32-0), but that might be about to change. (Well, they did lose once in Arizona, but voters reversed themselves within a year.) Shifting demographics and more accepting attitudes could make 2012 the year that America junked the anti-gay marriage juggernaut. Voters will decide on marriage questions at the ballot box in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and Washington state.
The outcome of these fights is critically important because one of the extremists’ main talking points is that their track record proves that they represent “the people” against activist judges and the ruling elite who are enacting such laws against the will of voters.
Last week, I attended the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., where there was a Saturday morning panel featuring leaders of the statewide fights against gay marriage. With the exception of the Minnesota representative, the anti-gay activists seemed as desperate as they were defeatist — which is a change from the optimism of previous years.
Carroll Conley, executive director of the Maine Family Policy Council, was incredibly pessimistic and claimed his campaign had “tremendous obstacles to overcome.” He began his speech by blasting the Catholic Church for not helping enough with his efforts.
“Our campaign is absent the leadership of the Catholic Church,” complained Conley. “This great ally in so many other battles and so many other times has chosen not to engage publicly. The Bishop’s absence is a tremendous obstacle in a predominantly Catholic state … we are seemingly not in a good place.”
Desperate to gain traction, Conley implored the audience to contact him if they knew of any “religious liberty conflicts” that he could presumably distort to trick voters into believing that marriage equality clashed with religious freedom.
If Conley is having trouble attracting support, it might be because his message is too sectarian and he appears to be using his campaign as an effort to proselytize: “It is my belief that as we stand here on this beachhead, we are doing this for the glory of God, to honor him, to honor our community, and draw them to Jesus Christ. And I ask that you pray and consider that be our motivation that the Lord would anoint our efforts in his honor.”
Joseph Backholm, the executive director of Preserve Marriage Washington, was also a bit too much of a holy roller for the state he is representing: “You are not on the wrong side of history because God is not on the wrong side of history,” he piously proclaimed to the pompous puritans.
If not to underscore his disconnect with the majority of his state’s voters he declared, “I bring you greetings from the People’s Republic of Washington State.” This crowd of archconservatives that hallucinates commies under every rock had a hearty chuckle. But I’m not sure calling voters communists is the best way to convince them to support your cause.
The strategy of Backholm is fascinating. He believes that the majority of Washington voters don’t really support marriage equality. They are deceived, weak-minded and subject to peer pressure not to appear homophobic. To counter this, his campaign has a simple message: “Demonstrate there is no inequality” and convince voters that they “can be kind and also support [heterosexual-only] marriage.” The problem Backholm will have with educated Washington voters is that neither assertion is true.
Derek McCoy, executive director for the Maryland Marriage Alliance, excited conference-goers with a rousing speech. His strategy was right out of the National Organization for Marriage’s disgraceful handbook: He would seek to drive a wedge between gay people and African-Americans, as well as appeal to the state’s conservative Catholics. But, McCoy appears terrified that Obama’s support for marriage equality, as well as support from Gov. Martin O’Malley, will undermine his campaign.
“If we lose in Maryland specifically the headlines will read the next day, ‘Obama Wins On Gay Marriage’ and ‘Catholic governor of Maryland Switches the Catholic Vote,’” he said.
John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, was by far the most confident in winning. He claimed that his campaign was leading in every demographic. And he said there was no ethnic or religious group his campaign was not targeting: “We’ve been in the state’s largest mosques and they are solidly behind the marriage amendment … but getting out the vote is everything for us.”
The chance for victory in at least one state is fairly good, which will forever end the Religious Right’s claim that they represent “the people.” From now on, they will be forced to switch their message to the less appealing: “The people are against God.” These anti-gay activists can pray all they want, but their useless movement doesn’t stand a prayer in the long run. People are wising up to their inflammatory lies and realizing that on the issue of gay marriage they are divorced from reality.
Wayne Besen is founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism. He can be reached at [email protected].
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 21, 2012.