Jun 20, 2014

Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of attending a rally on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, where about 2,000 people gathered to proclaim their support for what they believe is “traditional” marriage: a legal union of one man and one woman.

Organized by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the “March for Marriage” featured some familiar faces. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) joined former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) along with Roman Catholic dignitaries and others to galvanize opposition to recent same-sex marriage victories.It was a strange day. Some people wore costumes. One man was dressed as Captain America; another was in colonial garb. Outside the Capitol, a man in a Barack Obama mask stood before a giant sign reading, “GAY MARRIAGE IS SATANIC.”

From the platform, speakers vowed defiance.  “We will not accept judgments redefining something as obviously true that it takes a man and a woman to make a marriage,” thundered Brian Brown, head of NOM, said in a speech that slammed recent court rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans.  Brown later told the Agence France Press, “This is the beginning. We are going to be here every year and we are going to stand up for the truth and we never go away.”Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco echoed that confidence in his own remarks, saying, “They [society] will figure out this truth about marriage.”

A coalition of the nation’s far-right groups co-sponsored the event.  Although speakers didn’t deviate from the talking points we’ve always heard from the Religious Right and its allies, I think the demographics of the line-up and the crowd in attendance provide some new insight into the Religious Right’s strategy following its failure to halt marriage equality. Specifically, the crowd contained large numbers of Latinos and African-Americans, and speakers reflected that diversity.Several, including Cordileone, delivered remarks in Spanish as well as English, and African-American faith leaders, including the Rev. Bill Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors, appeared.

Will this outreach to minorities work? Probably not. According to a Gallup poll published this year, 55 percent of all American support marriage equality – a result it called a “new high.” That support is particularly high among Millennials (78 percent), and it’s growing in minority communities, too.

The Washington Post, in conjunction with ABC News, reported in 2012 that 59 percent of African Americans support marriage equality; a separate poll conducted by the National Council of La Raza and Social Science Research Solutions the same year put that number at 54 percent for Latinos.NOM and its allies are aware that they operate in a cultural climate increasingly hostile to their point of view. The group may have hoped its speaker line-up would position it as the representative of a silent majority of Americans, but the rhetoric those speakers produced did little to advance that goal. Their reliance on tired, dogmatic lines that have increasingly lost favour with the American public shows that they’re unwilling to accept just how much of a minority they’ve become.Even as NOM’s speakers lambasted runaway government and judicial activists, there were more signs of the ground shifting beneath them. The day of the rally, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), which represents 1.8 million members, voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. The vote wasn’t even close: Religion News Service reports the denomination’s general assembly voted 3-1 in favor of the measure.

Despite all the hype, yesterday’s March for Marriage didn’t display an organized popular movement against marriage equality, but rather a straggling, angry crowd whose refusal to accept reality is matched only by their penchant for colonial-era cosplay – it was less a march and more a collective stumble.

The rather pathetic nature of the event was echoed in a tabloid newspaper produced for NOM by the ultra-conservative Washington Times. The paper contained a collection of recycled columns by far-right writers fulminating about “biblical” law and “God’s original design for marriage.”

Mixed among the invective were two interesting ads: One was from the Universal Peace Federation, a front group for the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.  (Moon, you might recall, loved “traditional” marriage so much that he would frequently marry total strangers in mass weddings.) The other ad was from a crank who claims that his special water, which supposedly changes the “hydrogen bond angle,” can cure any illness – even cancer. It was a sign that this crowd may be just a wee bit gullible.I returned to Americans United’s office in the afternoon glad to be free of that band of extremists. But I was also reminded that the Religious Right is unlikely to allow its legal failures – and even disappointing numbers – to slow its assault on the separation of church and state.

Yesterday’s march might not have been impressive number wise, but it nevertheless served as a timely reminder of the importance of the First Amendment.