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That NOM Commercial - I'm Not Laughing - Mo's Journal
April 21st, 2009
04:45 pm

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That NOM Commercial - I'm Not Laughing
So the inappropriately named National Organization for Marriage has produced a television ad in opposition to marriage for same sex couples. The ad uses actors portraying people who have supposedly been adversely affected by legal recognition of same sex couples and exhorts the viewer to join the “rainbow coalition” that is saving “traditional marriage” by making sure the queers don’t get legal recognition. The thrust of the ad is that same sex couples haven’t been content to live their own lives, but are instead trying to make heterosexual couples change the way they live. The ad can be seen a bunch of places, including here, on the HRC website where you can also see audition tapes for the ad, underlining the point that the people speaking in the ad are actors and not the people they claim to be in the ad (e.g. one person says “I’m a California doctor” as opposed to the traditional “I’m not a doctor but I play one in homophobic commercials”).

The commercial and the National Organization for Marriage interviews associated with it have been criticized seriously by a number of groups and people, including HRC, and satirized and mocked by others, including The Colbert Show. I’ve been dissatisfied with the serious objections and haven’t found the parodies funny. Here’s a bit of why.


The main argument that Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has been making is that allowing same sex marriage has the result of restricting freedom of religion. The ad her organization puts out refers to three cases (as if the actors were the people involved, which is misleading, but they do refer to real events):

- A woman says something like “I’m a California doctor who had to choose between my religion and my job”

- A man says that his church was fined for not allowing gay couples to have commitment ceremonies on church property

- A woman says that as a Massachusetts parent she is oppressed because her child is taught that same sex marriage is okay in public school.

In addition, Gallagher references in interviews what she refers to as Catholic Charities of Boston being “forced” to shut down its adoption services because it would not place children with gay parents.

HRC has done a pretty good job of giving the facts of each of the three cases referenced in the ad and showing how NOM is purposely lying about them. In fact, the first two aren’t about marriage at all. To summarize:

- In the Benitez decision in California, the state’s highest court ruled that doctors cannot refuse to treat someone based on the patient’s sexual orientation, that the state’s civil rights statute protects gay men and lesbians from that kind of discrimination, just as it does people of color and other stigmatized groups, and that a religious belief that discrimination against a stigmatized group is required is not a defense. The discrimination that was practiced occurred in 1999, long before same sex marriage was briefly legal in California. The decision was based on the laws in effect at the time.

- In the NJ case, the church got a special tax break that was given only to those organizations willing to rent to the public without discrimination, and they indeed rented their beachside pavilion for parties, concerts, weddings, civil war reenactments. They refused to rent it to a same sex couple planning a civil union ceremony (same sex marriage is not legal in NJ) and were fined for not complying with their agreement to rent to any member of the public. Again, their religious belief that it’s okay to discriminate against gay people was not deemed reason enough to violate the law.

- In the Massachusetts case, it’s much more closely allied to marriage law. A parent sued to stop the school from representing different kinds of families – including same-sex parented ones – in the curriculum of the public school. She felt that her religious belief that same-sex marriage is wrong should outweigh other families’ needs to see their relationships reflected in the public school curriculum, that only families her particular religious beliefs deem okay should be given legitimacy in the public school, not all the families in the school.

HRC rightly points out the lies and misleading suggestions in NOM’s material but I think they – and the other critics – miss an important point: religious freedom is not absolute. In a civil society, people are free to practice their religions provided their religious beliefs aren’t such that they impinge on the rights of others. Racial discrimination, for example, is against the law even if your religion tells you that the races must be kept separate. Similarly, public schools belong to the public, not just members of one religious group, so they are not required to restrict all teachers and students to make the curriculum or the environment acceptable to one single religious belief. We live in a pluralistic society with multiple religious beliefs and multiple religions and their beliefs are often in contradiction with one another. Government’s proper role is not to force one religious view of marriage or anything else on all citizens, regardless of their own religious beliefs. Government’s role – in a country with an Establishment Clause – is to stay out of the way of religion, while not allowing “my religion tells me to” to be an excuse for imposing lesser civil rights on others.

Part of what bothers me about this is the huge sense of entitlement that says that the religious beliefs of Evangelical Christians should be the law of the land, while the religious – or other – beliefs of others don’t count for anything. I suppose that’s what happens when you’ve been in power for a long time and think you ought to be still, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable.

The other part that bothers me is the hypocrisy. After all, legal recognition same sex marriage is not the first legal structure that contradicts some people’s religious beliefs and that hasn’t been deemed earth shattering when it’s not applied to gay people. Maggie Gallagher, for example, says that if same sex marriage is made legal on a federal level, no Catholic could be confirmed as a federal judge. Yet somehow we manage to have lots of legal structures that contradict Catholic doctrine – including marriage after divorce – and that hasn’t stopped any Catholic judges from being confirmed, or even bothered any Catholics that we’re hearing from.

Which brings me to Catholic Charities of Boston, which until recently placed children for adoption under contracts with the State of Massachusetts. After same sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, CCB placed children with married gay couples. Its Board of Directors – 42 Catholics, most of them lay people – voted unanimously to comply with non-discrimination laws and continue to do so. Then the Archdiocese of Boston told them they couldn’t place children with gay families and they had to ask for an exemption to Massachusetts state law in order to discriminate. Eight board members immediately resigned in protest and the others tried to work this through with the archdiocese, but when the bishops would not bend on this, CCB ceased doing adoption work rather than ask for an exemption to the law. Is this state interference in religious freedom? Or a powerful religious body requiring that an affiliated charitable organization discriminate illegally against the conscience of its independent board and the law of the state it operates in and takes money from to pay its staff? And tell me, why was CCB not required to refuse couples where one of them was divorced and remarried? [Info about the CCB case can be found at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/03/11/catholic_charities_stuns_state_ends_adoptions/ and other places.]

When a “faith based organization” chooses to provide a secular function like adoption it is to my mind morally and ethically obliged to do so in a non-discriminatory way. I would certainly hope they are legally required to as well.

I think the gay organizations are trying not to rock boats by not pointing out that religious freedom doesn’t allow you to impose your religion on others. They’re retreating behind a “nothing will change – don’t worry” mentality to promote same-sex marriage. Well, I think something will change and it’s way overdue. Bigotry will no longer be enshrined in the law of the land and called “religious freedom.”

(20 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:xtricks
Date:April 21st, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
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I think the gay organizations are trying not to rock boats by not pointing out that religious freedom doesn’t allow you to impose your religion on others. They’re retreating behind a “nothing will change – don’t worry” mentality to promote same-sex marriage.

I think it’s because gay organizations and a lot of the current gay culture is leaning heavily towards assimilation ‘we are just like you’, as a way to defuse fear and anger instead of ‘we are different but so what/that’s no reason to restrict rights’.

Unfortunately, assimilation does not really do anything to eradicate bigotry, it simply says that the prejudice doesn’t apply to (whatever group) because we’re not really different. The underlying bigotry remains and whenever the ‘sameness’ argument fails, it springs up again. It also simply shifts the fears of difference to a different group (such as transfolks or intersex, poly or kinky people), instead of trying to teach the culture that different doesn’t intrinsically equal bad.
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From:talktooloose
Date:April 21st, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
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IAWTC.

I've always been leery of assimilationist tactics. True civil rights means that people have to get used to things that make them uncomfortable if they are not actually interfering with the basic tenets of the society. Trying to make the LGBT community pallatable to mainstream America is whiny and inappropriate. Also, the wrong order of events.

Rights have to be argued on their own merit. The comfort will follow when the world doesn't end as a result of the change in law.
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From:mofic
Date:April 21st, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
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I get the need for assimilationist tactics sometimes. Or rather I can see how they can help smooth the way - if the first Whatever is ever-so-mainstream aside from his/her Whateverness it makes it easier for people to accept. But it's not a way to get legal rights, I don't think.

And, frankly, I have a lot of baggage around this from being in the first wave of out gay parenting, where we all had to be sooooo perfect just to be accepted as possibly okay. We rarely challenged that, but it takes its toll. I organized discussion groups on gay parenting topics in the late 1980s/early 1990s and by far the most popular topic was "The Pressure To Be Perfect."
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From:talktooloose
Date:April 21st, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
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Wow, what a beautiful and clear piece of writing. I hope you can disseminate it in other places.

May I link to it from my LJ?
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From:mofic
Date:April 21st, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
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Oh please do.
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From:executrix
Date:April 21st, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
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But you're arguing for the value of diversity and inclusiveness (you're not trying to keep someone who wants to go to church from going to church, or someone who wants to marry a person of the other gender to do so) against people who think that diversity and inclusiveness are *wrong*--makes it hard to have a debate.

Also, FWIW, for many years non-Catholic New Yorkers were constrained in their ability to divorce precisely because of Catholic opinion on divorce, and there are *still* Sunday blue laws in some areas, and in most places you can't get drinks on Sunday until after church is over no matter how little interest you have in going to church.
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From:mofic
Date:April 21st, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
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Well basically I'm not trying to argue diversity and inclusiveness with people who want a theocracy. What I am saying is that if you want a theocracy don't argue for it by saying you want religious freedom. And if people do argue for theocracy by saying they want religious freedom, we damn well ought to call them on that.

And, as I said, it's the entitlement of it that bugs me to a great extent, and that nobody seems to acknowledge that in the arguments against it, because that would require saying they *aren't* entitled and rocking the world view. But just try to imagine, for example, an Orthodox Jewish group arguing that providing tref food in public schools, and distributing nutritional information that refers to shellfish and pork, infringes on their religious rights. Imagine Orthodox Jewish and Muslim groups getting together to insure that all women cover up on public beaches because women in bikinis prevent them from adhering to the dictates of their religion. Imagine the outcry if the Archdiocese of Boston *had* said that the CCB couldn't place children in homes where the parents were divorced and remarried. It's only Conservative Christians who get to impose their religious beliefs on others, and it's only certain beliefs that we kowtow to.
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From:beck_liz
Date:April 22nd, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
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But you're arguing for the value of diversity and inclusiveness (you're not trying to keep someone who wants to go to church from going to church, or someone who wants to marry a person of the other gender to do so) against people who think that diversity and inclusiveness are *wrong*--makes it hard to have a debate.

This. I know many, many conservative Christians who believe that "multiculturalism" is a bad thing. Heck, it was what I was taught for years. I mean, we're talking about people who think that the folks in the church down the street, whose doctrine is only slightly different from their own, are seriously misguided and possibly going to hell. *shrug*
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From:mofic
Date:April 22nd, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
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Yeah, but if you mean "my religion and no other" don't say it's a religious freedom argument. And if people say it's a religious freedom argument, then we ought to call them on it. That's all I'm saying.
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From:mofic
Date:April 22nd, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
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Okay, that's not all I'm saying :-). I'm saying that when they frame it as a "rainbow coalition of people of all faiths coming together" - which is what they're saying, not that inclusivity is bad, that they *are* inclusive - then religious people who really do believe in religious pluralism - and there are some - have an obligation to object. And I don't see that kind of objection happening.
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From:beck_liz
Date:April 22nd, 2009 02:47 am (UTC)
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True. Because what they're saying is, "We're totally inclusive! Except for those guys. And those guys. But! Totally inclusive."
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From:wneleh
Date:April 22nd, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
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If it's the MA situation I'm thinking of, the complaining family is really odd - I'd even heard of them before they ever became anti-gay crusaders, just from their comportment in kiddie music classes or some such. Given the size of the Boston metro area, that says something. They wouldn't have made good TV, I don't think.

Friends of ours (well, more C's) are a lesbian couple with children in that school; one of them became the spokesperson for sanity. She did it well.



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From:hitchhiker
Date:April 22nd, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
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From:mofic
Date:April 22nd, 2009 10:44 am (UTC)
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Good for you!
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From:alilypea
Date:April 22nd, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
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I don't live in the U.S but I remember reading about the church and learning abuot what was going on there and it was absolutely shocking to me.

Here in Canada things are a little bit different minded, although my brother's husband did get some trouble when trying to adopt my niece because of them being gay.

I have to admit I don't quite understand it.
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From:mofic
Date:April 22nd, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)
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It's interesting how the trajectory of gay rights progress/backlash has been different in the US and Canada. I'm a dual citizen and have lived in both countries since coming out. In the 1970s when I was living in Montreal, the legal climate was better in the US - marginally at the federal level but significantly in certain localities and states than in any Canadian provinces. But in the 1980s and 1990s there were big setbacks in the US on the federal level at the same time as there were big advances in certain parts of the country. So a lot of advances, including domestic partnership and second parent adoption, came to the US first, but only in parts of the country.

Then at the end of the 20th Century/beginning of this one, Canada made huge strides on the federal level while the US generally did not (Lawrence v. Texas being a notable exception). Still, the US is much more varied in its legal climate so there are places where it comes close. And social climate is something else entirely. Legally, Winnipeg (my Ancestral Home Town) is a better spot for a same-sex couple than NYC, but all my relatives who live there say it's much easier to be gay here.

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From:painglass
Date:April 24th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
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Hello, you don't know me (I am a friend of talktooloose) but I just wanted to say thank you very much for this insightful, well researched writing on this latest controversy. I have been striving to come up with a response other then "WTF?!" since I saw the clip on The Colbert Report late last week, but you have blown anything I could possible say out of the water. I deeply appreciate that something like this is out there and I am very happy I got a chance to read it!

Thank you!
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From:mofic
Date:April 24th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
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Thanks for dropping in! Friends of talktooloose are always welcome.

Did you see that the National Organization for Marriage has thanked Colbert publicly for airing their ad? OT1H this stuff is easy to mock, but OTOH as we saw in California this kind of tactic apparently changes the minds of the stupid and impressionable, and sometimes there are enough stupid and impressionable voters to sway the results. Which is why civil rights really ought to be guaranteed by courts, and judges who care about civil rights should not be decried as "activist."
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From:painglass
Date:April 24th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)
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I did see that NOM thanked Colbert! I think he made a mistake placing their ad front and center and focusing so much attention to it. His "parody" was terrible as well. I know he is very tongue-in-cheek, but his clip has gone far beyond his audience now. As far as judges are concerned, I recently read a great book that addresses this issue in passing titled "Covering" by Yoshino. He asks the all important question "Why is it judges are called "activist judges legislating from the bench" when they judge in favor of civil rights and other left wing politicos, but they're called "fair-minded and just" when they judge in favor of anti-gay rights and other right wing politicos?" It is the rhetoric each sides uses which confuses the picture. Unfortunately, the right rhetoric has been in charge of this country for the last 8-9 years and they're pissed that they're losing it to the left.
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From:mofic
Date:April 24th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
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I know he is very tongue-in-cheek, but his clip has gone far beyond his audience now.

I was just thinking this morning about both Stewart and Colbert, and their influence on popular culture. They are comedians and I don't think they have any obligation to do more than entertain, but there's no doubt that they are influential in a lot of ways. And it's pretty interesting what they decide to cover. I don't think, for example, that there's any other venue with such a large audience for promotion of serious books - history, politics, philosophy. And there's always a comedic spin to the author interview, but there's also some aim, I'd think, in choosing those books rather than Dan Brown, yk?

I think you have a good point about rhetoric. I'm taking a course in Modern Jewish History and when we covered the rise of Hasidism, one of the points that the professor made is that the Hasidim "got the good name." Hasid means "pious one" and their opponents were left with "Mitnagid" which means "against." She said it was a little like the anti-abortion movement choosing "pro-life" to mean restricting women's rights...
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