Nothing has catalyzed religious conservatives in recent years quite like idea of “religious liberty,” and the notion that the expansion of LGBT and women’s rights will somehow infringe upon that freedom. It has been at the core of the National Organization for Marriage’s agenda against same-sex marriage, and in the 2009 confidential memos released this week, the anti-gay group proudly celebrates its success with this messaging. If marriage equality advances, NOM sees religious liberty as a way to “protect” conservatives from having to recognize same-sex couples:
Although these religious liberty protections are in some ways more narrow than one might desire (focusing primarily on religious institutions, to the exclusions of individual professionals and business owners), they nonetheless mark a turning point of sorts in the gay marriage debate. Three of the four states to have passed a same-sex marriage bill this spring, did so only after the inclusion of real, substantive religious liberty protections, validating NOM’s frequently expressed concerns for the religious liberty of traditional faith groups if same-sex marriage is adopted without specific protection.
This is NOM engaging in post hoc spin, because in the same memo, NOM admits that this “religious liberty” rhetoric is manufactured — a gimmick the organization hopes to deploy in Europe:
We have learned how to make the coercive pressures on religious people and institutions an issue in the United States. We will use this knowledge to raise the profile of government attacks on the liberties of religious people and institutions in Europe, both for internal domestic consumption in Europe and to halt the movement towards gay marriage worldwide. Our goal is to problematize the oppression of Christians and other traditional faith communities in the European mind.
The most important takeaway from these memos is that NOM’s strategy has very little to do with actually making a case against same-sex marriage. The concept of “religious liberty,” like all of NOM’s tactics, is just another scare tactic designed to alienate constituencies and stigmatize gays, lesbians, and bisexuals:
- Scare the black community into taking exclusive ownership of the notion of “civil rights.”
- Scare the Latino community into believing that supporting marriage equality constitutes an abandonment of tradition and assimilation into “Anglo” culture.
- Scare parents with threats that their children will be “sexualized” through education about homosexuality.
- Use “glamorous non-cognitive elites” to scare progressives with evidence that anti-equality voices can find traction in the media.
- Rally anonymous donors with falsified and exaggerated threats of “boycotts, picketing, and occasional violence” from LGBT activists.
- Recruit young spokespeople from prestigious universities to spread the message that gay relationships are harmful to society.
- Convince the people of society that gay rights can only advance at the expense of religious freedom.
In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asserted his firm belief that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” At the end of the day, NOM is nothing more than an insidious fear factory. No doubt, the dark hour of inequality will end in victory when “met with that understanding and support of the people themselves.”