The National Organization for Marriage is pledging to continue its efforts to ensure that companies that back same-sex marriage pay a “price” in Middle Eastern countries that are hostile to gay rights.
The statements came during a NOM conference call Thursday evening, which the organization billed to its supporters as a discussion of the 2012 elections -- which resulted in the legalization of gay marriage in three states and the defeat of a gay-marriage ban in a fourth -- and of “what’s next in the fight to defend marriage.”
During the call, NOM’s top leaders said they needed to greatly expand their fundraising efforts. They argued that Mitt Romney should have focused more on the same-sex marriage issue, and they blamed Karl Rove for allegedly pushing Republicans and outside groups to focus solely on economic issues.
NOM also suggested that opponents of same-sex marriage would argue in court that Tuesday’s election results were evidence that gays and lesbians do not constitute a “suspect class” and that the Defense of Marriage Act should therefore not be overturned.
The American Independent obtained an invitation to the conference call and dialed in.
During the call, one participant cited Starbucks, which endorsed gay marriage legalization in Washington, and General Mills, which spoke out against the proposed gay marriage ban in Minnesota. The participant asked what could be done “to stop the wave of corporate sponsorship of gay marriage.”
NOM President Brian Brown responded by saying that NOM was targeting the international business of companies that support same-sex marriage such as Starbucks, which NOM also hit with a national boycott effort this year. Brown said the aim is to make these companies’ political stances known in countries in the Middle East and elsewhere that generally do not support same-sex marriage, or homosexuality in general.
“Their international outreach is where we can have the most effect,” Brown said. “So for example, in Qatar, in the Middle East, we’ve begun working to make sure that there’s some price to be paid for this. These are not countries that look kindly on same-sex marriage. And this is where Starbucks wants to expand, as well as India. So we have done some of this; we’ve got to do a lot more.”
“It takes money to go up against someone like Starbucks,” Brown continued, noting that NOM’s resources had been spread thin. “I mean, we’ve got 50,000 people who’ve said, ‘We’re no longer going to purchase Starbucks products,’ but that’s the tip of the iceberg. Has it had some effect? I think so, but it’s nowhere near enough. An example has to be made of some of these companies if we’re going to get this sort of tidal wave of support for same-sex marriage to stop.”
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Earlier this year, NOM announced that it was taking “Dump Starbucks” campaign “international.” In a statement at the time, Brown said that “DumpStarbucks.com online ads will also start running in Egypt, Beijing, Hong Kong, the Yunnan region of China, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.”
“What happens in Seattle won’t stay in Seattle,” Brown said at the time. “By making gay marriage core to his brand, Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz [sic] is telling millions of customers and partners who support traditional marriage in the Middle East, China, South America and North America that they aren’t truly part of the Starbucks community.”
The theme of the call Thursday was that the fight is not over, which is something NOM has been stressing in the media since Tuesday’s election. Both Brown and NOM national political director Frank Schubert waved away the notion that the marriage equality wins signal that Americas now favor same-sex marriage -- they said these were simply liberal states where gay marriage advocates drastically outspent gay marriage foes and won by slim margins.
“The most important, you know, reality is that our work has gotten harder, but we are not defeated,” Brown said. “These are, as I said, four difficult states. We will have more fights, we will have more wins, but we’re going to need to be able to match the other side. We’re not going to be able to win in these sort of states being outspent in the way that we were.”
Looking to the future, Brown warned supporters of upcoming marriage fights in Delaware, Illinois, and Rhode Island, and of potential Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, and the fate of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Brown said he believes the marriage equality wins will actually hurt gay-marriage advocates’ arguments in cases involving DOMA “because one of the arguments of the other side is that gays and lesbians are a suspect class, and that means that there’s some level of political powerlessness. That clearly is not the case.”
“I think that on one level, the fact that we lost in these states may actually help us win in the Supreme Court,” Brown said. “Also, for someone like Justice [Anthony] Kennedy -- who has said in the past, has not wanted the court to be too far ahead of public opinion -- the reality that the majority of states have voted with us, but recently some states have voted to redefine marriage underscores the idea that the federal government doesn’t need to act here, that the states are dealing with this on their own, and the federal government shouldn’t bypass the democratic process right in the middle.”
Schubert repeatedly said that “marriage remains a winning issue” and blamed Mitt Romney’s campaign and the larger GOP campaign for failing to talk enough about same-sex marriage. He suggested that if the whole country had voted on the issue Tuesday, same-sex marriage would have been opposed by “65 percent of the vote.”
He said this assumption was based on the fact that on average “marriage outpaced the GOP tickets” and also based on a national Election Day survey NOM released Friday. That survey, which was conducted by conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway’s Polling Group, found that “60% of Americans who voted in the election favor marriage being the union of one man and one woman.”
By contrast, national exit polls from this year’s election found that 49 percent of polled voters said same-sex marriage should be legal in their states, compared to 46 of polled voters who said it should be illegal.
NOM: Karl Rove's economic issues strategy was a 'false bill of goods'
Both Brown and Schubert made it clear that NOM’s immediate goal is to raise more money. They attributed their recent losses to the fact that they were outspent by gay marriage supporters.
“[W]e’re spread thin, and part of the story of this election is, you know, we tried to fight four fights all at once right after putting all our money into North Carolina, and the other side spread us out,” Brown said.
In a press release Wednesday, Brown said that NOM had contributed “over $5.5 million” but that the organization was outspent “by a margin of at least four-to-one.” On Thursday’s call, Schubert said NOM had raised a little more than $10 million and that marriage equality supporters had spent about $33 million.
“We’ve got to attract the support of economic conservatives, who are primarily interested in issues other than marriage, and have them see how it’s important that we operate as a coalition, as our opponents do,” Schubert said. “We’ve got to take their model and apply it to ourselves. We’ve got to do a better job at raising major gifts; we’ve got to do a better job at raising smaller-dollar gifts.”
Brown agreed that the conservatives focused too closely on economic issues during this election. He called out political strategist Karl Rove, whose Crossroads groups were reportedly the largest outside spending organizations of the 2012 election.
“I think that the Republican Party in general was sold a false bill of goods this election, and the notion that we should only talk about economic issues gained the day,” Brown said. “This was really sort of Karl Rove’s strategy. There was hundreds of millions of dollars raised for outside groups, and they wanted everyone to stay on message on jobs. … Clearly it was a mistake, because it didn’t work.”
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Brown also said NOM wants to keep attacking, through advertising, conservatives that come out in support of same-sex marriage, like the group did with Republican state senators from New York who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011.
"If anything comes out of this election, we need to have what Rove had, which is the ability to have a super PAC-like structure, where there is money that is being used as a help, a sort of carrot, and that there are also sticks,” he said.
Brown also said that voter turnout among NOM’s constituency was low.
“The other side … their get-out-the-vote machine -- Obama, and the Democratic Party -- was just unbelievable for an election of this type,” he said. “And our people did stay at home. There was actually less Evangelical voters in many of these states. … It was an absolute disaster for us."
‘We are sort of a baby organization’
NOM has long been criticized for portraying itself as a grassroots organization when so much of its major financial support has come from a few wealthy donors and conservative foundations.
But to the group’s supporters, Brown and Schubert talked about the need for more genuine grassroots support.
“We think that we need to look closely at how we organize at the grassroots level.” Schubert said. “We have a lot of superficial support, particularly in the Protestant community, but we’ve had a very difficult time in operationalizing that support into actual grassroots activities, getting people walking precincts, making phone calls, doing the day-to-day hard work of being grassroots allies for us.”
Brown said the organization is now trying to figure out ways to attract more grassroots supporters.
“Just looking at the battlefield, we are not the Human Rights Campaign,” he said. “They’ve got 40 million dollars; they’ve got multiple grassroots directors. We are sort of a baby organization that’s had to grow very quickly, and we are going to be focusing a lot more on the grassroots.”