EDGE Talks to NOM: Anti-Marriage Group Details Rhode Island Plans
The National Organization for Marriage burst onto the public eye with a much-parodied video, "The Gathering Storm." The "storm" metaphor fit its leader, Maggie Gallagher, who has become a lightning rod for both sides of the marriage debate.
NOM has been one of the leading opponents of same-sex marriage in the country. Most recently, the organization has devoted its resources to a line-in-the-sand effort to see to it that Rhode Island does not become the latest New England state to allow same-sex couples to wed.
As the very last state in New England that has not legalized same-sex marriage, Rhode Island holds particular significance for both sides. Its GOP governor opposes such a measure, but the issue is very much alive.
EDGE managed to get the Executive Director of NOM’s Rhode Island chapter, Christopher Plante, to sit down for a face-to-face interview to provide his perspective on NOM’s mission.
Plante, a resident of Warwick, R.I., began by reasserting NOM’s mission: to defend and promote marriage. "Gays and lesbians are free to live as they choose," said Plante. "They’re not free to redefine marriage for the rest of us."
On August 16, NOM held its first annual "Celebrate Marriage and Family Day," an event which featured heterosexual married couples renewing their vows at the Aldrich Mansion in Warwick. About 30 representatives from GLBT organizations stood outside the mansion’s gates to express their anger about NOM’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
The protestors were "respectful and dignified", Plante noted, adding the communications between the GLBT community and himself have been civil.
One of NOM’s more notable national board members is Orson Scott Card, a science fiction author and columnist for the Mormon Times. Card advocated for the overthrow of the government if California’s Proposition 8 had failed to pass last year. Card also wants to criminalize sexual intercourse between consenting adults.
"The dark secret of homosexual society--the one that dares not speak its name--is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally, " Card wrote in 2004.
For his part, Plante says he was unaware of Card’s involvement with NOM and denied that NOM is a hate group. "I don’t believe that at all," Plante said. "Do I think that there are extreme people on both sides of the movement that can say hateful things? Absolutely. NOM is here to defend marriage, to protect it, and to encourage it."
Kathy Kushnir, the head of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) called NOM "exclusionary", a charge Plante does not deny. "You know what? Absolutely, because we believe marriage is between a man and a woman. If that’s enough to make NOM a hate group, that makes every person that stood up [at the Celebrate Marriage and Family Day event] a bigot. Are we willing to go that far and say the 800 people on the lawn of the Aldrich Mansion are bigots?" Plante asked.
Plante and other same-sex marriage opponents have warned of what they see as the potentially destructive impact on society if gay and lesbian couples are allowed to get married. Although there won’t be any damage in the immediate future, the effect on future generations will be especially harmful, according to Plante.
"It truly makes fathers or mothers optional," he asserted. "An institution that has been clearly important, proven to be crucial to the upbringing of children, proven to be the ideal place to raise children with a mother and a father makes that optional. Why would we want to legalize and give the force of law to something that we know is less than the ideal? By codifying same-sex marriage we are intentionally creating a class of children that are denied either a mother or a father. There’s nothing compassionate about that."
Plante believes same-sex couples can obtain many of the legal benefits which accompany marriage without having to get married. He points to the recent passage of a funeral-planning bill, which would allow gays and lesbians to make funeral arrangements for their same-sex partners.
"What the same-sex marriage movement wants is marriage," Plante complained. "In California [where Proposition 8 passed, which took away same-sex marriage], they already have almost all of those rights. Proposition 8 did not change same-sex couples’ rights, it just denied them the title of marriage. There was an uproar, so it’s not about the rights. It’s not a civil rights issue."
Members of the Rhode Island GLBT community believe otherwise. Ken Fish, who has been active in the fight to win equal marriage rights in the state, said Plante is "parroting his employer’s empty rhetoric." Fish called same-sex marriage "the biggest civil rights struggle of our time."
Susan Heroux, a member of Queer Action of Rhode Island, sees NOM’s mission as less than noble.
"My wife and I have been legally married for two years and living in Rhode Island," Heroux told EDGE. "The idea that our marriage redefines someone else’s marriage is simply ludicrous. Groups like NOM want to keep marriage exclusive to heterosexuals - they want to limit marriage to themselves--and that sounds like the definition of discrimination to me."
Plante does not support the concept of civil unions. Every state which has allowed civil unions eventually upgraded to granting full marriage rights for same-sex couples, he pointed out. (New Jersey is next in line, with full marriage apparently only a question of when, not if.)
NOM has launched a new campaign, known as "Two Million For Marriage," which calls for concerned citizens to lobby their Senators and Congressmen to vote against an attempt to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The consequences of repealing DOMA would be grave, according to NOM’s latest newsletter: "If they succeed in abolishing DOMA, then activist judges will spread same-sex marriage across America.....young schoolchildren will be required to learn that same-sex marriage is good and that parents and pastors who disagree are bigots...and religious charities will be forced out of business (it is already happening in states where same-sex marriage is legal)."
In Rhode Island, much may hinge on the polls next year, when voters elect a new Governor. Attorney General Patrick Lynch (D) and former United States Senator Lincoln Chafee, both prospective candidates, support same-sex marriage.
Governor Don Carcieri, a Republican, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and endorsed the efforts of NOM at a press conference last April.
Plante says NOM will play an active role in supporting candidates who oppose gay marriage and making sure legislators who favor gay marriage are defeated.
"We are going to be involved politically," Plante noted. "We are going to work as hard as we can for a small organization here in Rhode Island to influence that election to protect marriage."
Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.