Inside NOM’s Strategy: Race-Wedging Black And Latino Voters Against Marriage Equality

As reported earlier, newly obtained internal memos from 2009 document the National Organization for Marriage’s various insidious strategies to oppose marriage equality. This post takes a look at two key race-baiting strategies NOM has employed, one targeting African-Americans and one targeting Latinos. In both cases, the organization commited to “interrupting the race analogy:”

Ultimately we aim to raise the costs of identifying with gay marriage, and also raise the attractiveness of identifying with traditional marriage. But we also need to accomplish a sophisticated cultural objective: interrupt the attempt to equate gay with black, and sexual orientation with race. We need to make traditional sexual morality intellectually respectable again in elite culture.

This strategy explains NOM’s many subtle attempts to oppose psychological claims about the nature of sexual orientation, as well as its alliances with groups that promote the idea that homosexuality is a choice and can be changed through ex-gay therapy. With black voters, NOM takes this a step farther by trying to provoke a disagreement about what constitutes a civil right and who is deserving of such rights:

The strategic goal of this 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 costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates and persuading the movement’s allies that advocates are unacceptably overreaching on this issue.

Recent support from public voices like Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Jonathan Capehart suggest the effectiveness of this strategy may be beginning to wane, but it certainly still seems to be the focus of the effort to oppose Maryland’s marriage equality law. It’s particularly conniving that NOM sought to capitalize on the Prop 8 fallout that blamed black voters for its passage, because subsequent studies found that race was not a primary factor in deciding how people voted.


Though the language is not as obviously sneaky, NOM’s strategy to attract Latino voters is no less an effort to create racial divisions as a means to achieving their discriminatory goals. Rather than framing around civil rights, the organization sought to treat marriage equality as an “Anglo” value and convince Latinos to oppose it as a parallel to resisting assimilation:

Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity. […]

Here’s our insight: The number of “glamorous” people willing to buck the powerful forces to speak for marriage may be small in any one country. But by searching for these leaders across national boundaries we will assemble a community of next generation Latino leaders that Hispanics and other next generation elites in this country can aspire to be like. (As “ethnic rebels” such spokespeople will also have an appeal across racial lines, especially to young urbans in America.) […]

Our ultimate goal is to make opposition to gay marriage an identity marker, a badge of youth rebellion to conformist assimilation to the bad side of “Anglo” culture.

This seems to have backfired for NOM for a variety of reasons. Of note is that Ricky Martin’s “glamorous” re-entry into pop culture has actually allowed many Latinos to see a role model for same-sex families. But perhaps what has been more significantly disastrous for NOM has been the close ties between the LGBT community and immigration advocacy groups. The shared challenges of “coming out” as gay or as undocumented have served to build an effective bridge between the two movements and their goals of freedom and inclusion in society. A recent survey found that 65 percent of California nonwhites under 40 — mostly Latino — support marriage equality. This tactic may have fallen on deaf ears, but it still demonstrates how eager NOM is to intentionally divide communities as a primary strategy for fighting same-sex marriage.


Lastly, it’s worth noting that African Americans and Latinos are just as likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, as white people. NOM’s tactics seek to erase an entire population of people who live at the intersections of these experiences, limiting their ability to fulfill their complete identities.


MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts briefly covered NOM’s race-wedging controversy today. Watch it:

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Dr. Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, has issued a condemnation of NOM’s tactics:

BOND: 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.