NOM Defector Speaks Out

gay rights protesters“I remember verbally asking myself, why am I here?” Thus began NOM member Louis Marinelli’s gradual but inexorable shift, from working against marriage equality through the nation’s highest-profile activist group, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to abandoning that group to instead work for democratic equality. Specifically, it was during NOM’s “Summer for Marriage” summer tour last year, when he finally got to meet and speak to actual gay people, that he realized something wasn’t right.

Much of what he can tell us we already suspected, but the validation is gratifying: NOM is “just a small group of people, 20 or less,” mostly “fringe Catholics.” This much is easy to guess just from their rhetoric, with its powerful papist tone. (I attended a Catholic school for three years. It’s easy to spot, once you’re familiar with it. Of course, in heavily Catholic Rhode Island, it may be harder to distinguish from much of the background culture.)

What’s worth taking away in Marinelli’s account is that NOM is not a group that can be reasoned with: “They are doing this because they don’t recognize civil marriage as marriage, they recognize only the church sanctioned marriage.” Anyone who’s tried to talk to them already knows this, but this confirms what most of us suspected was the reason: NOM argues almost exclusively from an absolutist Catholic position, affording no room for the constitutional provisions most of us take for granted. This explains why they have no problem with arguing positions that seem irrational (and indeed often are) under U.S. law, and seem deaf to reasoned arguments of democratic fairness.

In the simplest terms: Don’t bother trying to argue with these people; they can’t and won’t hear you. In their view, the only valid argument is theirs, and any conflicting argument is by that inherently invalid. At the same time, it’s gratifying to hear that once in awhile, we do get through to them. I had previously argued that it’s pointless to confront them, but Marinelli’s story proves me wrong.

See y’all at this year’s picnic!

6 thoughts on “NOM Defector Speaks Out”

  1. Who’s “suggesting that it is only the Catholic Church” that opposes marriage equality? Nothing in the linked article or my post about it says that. Both only claim that NOM is made up mostly of “fringe Catholics” who are opposed, and neither offers any opinion of the RCC or Catholics generally, or says anything about other groups and peoples opposed to marriage equality; this is just about NOM, not anyone else.

    What do you mean by, “the good people among us to bear the cross of same-sex attraction”? It sounds like mixed metaphor, or it sounds like you’re vexed by same-sex attraction, a “cross” you must “bear,” which is the way I’ve usually heard that metaphor used but I don’t think that’s not what you mean. I’m genuinely confused by your usage here.

    The appellation “special rights” is subjective, not objective. At some point in history, all newly recognised civil liberties were viewed as “special rights” in some way by those resistant to their recognition and acceptance. I understand that you feel this way, but feelings and fact are not the same thing. Nor is fact itself always the same, in different contexts — even the exact same facts about the exact same thing. In a strictly Roman Catholic context, as I believe I understand it, the sacrament of marriage is defined and limited in various ways special to that context. But the public instrument that goes by the same term is not strictly defined or limited by the strictures or tenets of any given faith tradition, and therefore not subject to the same evaluation, at least not beyond the legitimate input of members of that faith as citizens in a society with others who may feel differently.

    Every church has their own rules, which they can follow as they choose; that’s separate from the public provision of general citizen rights. The legal institution of marriage is a public instrument, not a religious sacrament, even though they are often considered the same by many people. If the legal instrument had to be defined only by religious beliefs, then once every different church got to place their own limitations on it, it would either be available to much fewer people, or only to the members of whatever happened to be the dominant faith at that time. That would then be a product of theocracy, not democracy, and I think that most Americans, however devout in their own faith, would agree that public institutions must be available to people of all faiths, not merely a few or only one.

    The charge being made by the man who left NOM is that the people in that group define marriage not only for themselves by strictly Roman Catholic guidelines, but also hope to enforce that same definition on the public at large. While anyone can appreciate their desire for everyone else to see things their way, that goal is anathema to a complex society governed by laws that are supposed to treat people of all faiths equally. While the RCC is very large and powerful, it is not the only faith in this country; even many other Christians strongly support marriage equality. If NOM had their way, the members of those other faiths would be denied their equal rights under our constitution, and that’s not fair.

    Now, to be fair, there was a time in Western history where Roman Catholic policies and public policies were more or less the same thing. But that dominance passed centuries ago, and since then Western societies, while still strongly influenced by Roman Catholic views, are not anymore governed by them alone, but by the shared values of a diversity of faiths, including many non-Christian faiths, and even by those with no defined faith, or none at all. That’s how democratic societies work. What we had before was theocracy, and whether you prefer that or not we no longer have it.

    What NOM seems to not get is that just because you believe something fervently, that does not necessarily make it so. More to the point, believing something fervently doesn’t mean that everyone else should have to agree. And most importantly, no one’s beliefs are more important than anyone else’s in a country like ours.

    From a democratic perspective, the relevance of sexual orientation is not whatever anyone thinks of it subjectively, but what rational force it has under nondenominational legal systems. The fact that some church may not like it isn’t sufficient grounds for limiting the valid equal rights of other citizens who may disagree.

    From a perspective of faith, the question can’t stray beyond religious canon: If the RCC believes that homosexuality is sin, then that’s the end of it, and no further debate is possible. However, the United States is not governed by the Vatican, or any other church.

    At a legal level, the question isn’t, why should gays be allowed to marry, but rather, why shouldn’t they? Arguments based on faith or discrete worldviews aren’t final in this sphere, because differing faiths and philosophies have differing views that are incompatible. The function of nondenominational government is to allow everyone to follow their own beliefs without interfering with those of others. As a public instrument, a legal contract like marriage must be equally available to people of all beliefs. Allowing the RCC to define a legal institution such as marriage for society at large violates that contract, by raising the specific views of one faith tradition over all others. That’s not how the American system of democracy is supposed to work.

    I know you believe what you believe very fervently, and believe it or not, I respect that. I may disagree, but I defend your right to hold and espouse your views with equal fervor. What you don’t seem to get is that the public debate is inherently separate from the religious debate. No one is telling Catholics what they have to believe or do or say. All we’re saying is that Catholics don’t have the right to define marriage for everyone else in the country. And neither do gays and lesbians, or anyone else, on their own. For personal purposes, we all define it by our own values. For public purposes, we define it collectively. You may disagree with how other Americans define it, but that is a right of the People, independent of the rights of the Church. Within its own sphere, the Church has every right to define marriage however they want, but not outside their own purview. Likewise, the public gets to define marriage for the public at large, but not for any church. That’s how it works in this country.

    What I find flabbergasting is that only half a century ago, many Americans were upset at the election of a Roman Catholic president, for fear that he might try to enforce Roman Catholic doctrines on the country as a whole.* That didn’t happen, of course, as we all know: JFK didn’t want to do any such thing, and did not possess the power to do so anyway, because a democratic society like ours is not subject to one man’s whims, or one church’s. Even so, the popular anti-Catholic sentiments of the pre-War era, together with the election of a Catholic president, led to more discrimination against Catholics in America, which was obviously wrong, and helped many excellent Catholic candidates to lose elections.

    So it seems very odd to me that only a few decades later, many American Catholics seem determined to validate those older fears, by doing exactly what they were wrongly accused of then: trying to influence public policy to enforce strictly Roman Catholic views and values on a diverse population that includes many people who disagree. How can this be good for anyone?

    We’re not at war here, Rob; we’re talking past each other. I’m making a legal and democratic argument, and you’re making a religious and philosophical argument. The apparent conflict is largely illusory, because we are each arguing from different bases that actually share little common ground on which to conflict. You seem to feel that your views are self-evident and universal, but it’s clear tha many people disagree with those views. That doesn’t make anyone right or wrong, it only outlines a range of views, which must somehow find common recognition under a democratic system. The habit of democracy is to embrace, not restrict, so the likely outcome of this public debate will be a broader availability of the public instrument of marriage, rather than a narrower one. That’s not an indictment of your views, nor is it arrogant ignorance. Rather, it’s a recognition that we all have to get along under a common system of law, and sometimes that means that other people get to have and do things that some feel they shouldn’t.

    * I say ‘Roman Catholic’ to clarify that I mean dictates of the Vatican, as there are many other traditions called Catholic that do not agree with all views of the Vatican. Even in Rhode Island, I’ve met many Catholics who are not ROMAN Catholics, and do not agree with the RCC. Generally, though, unless I specify otherwise, when I say ‘Catholic’ I mean Roman Catholic.

  2. Speaking of, “they can’t and won’t hear you. In their view, the only valid argument is theirs, and any conflicting argument is by that inherently invalid…” Rob? You there?

  3. Suggesting that it is only the Catholic Church that is opposing so-called same-sex marriage is very ignorant. To further suggest that it is a small group of “fringe Catholics” that are doing so is laughable.
    The good people among us who bear the cross of same-sex attraction already enjoy the exact same civil rights as anybody else. They are asking for special rights based on their “orientation”, which is something that can’t be clearly defined. Good laws and sound public policy can never be based on something so subjective.

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