It has now been a full year since the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples should have equal access to marriage across the entire country. On Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) commemorated that anniversary with its annual March for Marriage on the National Mall to rally against marriage equality. Attendance was dismal.
The success of NOM’s past marches has been inconsistent. The first such march, held in 2013, had somewhere between 2,000 and 15,000 attendees, depending on who was doing the estimating. The 2014 rally had a smaller crowd — around 2,000 — while last year’s rally, held the weekend before oral arguments in Obergefell, probably had some 6,000 participants.
Saturday’s rally had fewer than 250 participants. And that’s not an estimate. There were few enough attendees that ThinkProgress hand-counted them.
In fact, ThinkProgress offered NOM’s march the most generous tally possible. The count was taken about halfway through the rally’s programmed content, and it included the speakers and organizers, infants, counter-protesters who actually support LGBT equality, curious passers-by who looked like they might possibly be paying attention to the rally, and any journalists who were documenting the event, including the five of us who were in attendance. Our count was 237.
The poor turnout likely reflects many factors, including the fact that NOM President Brian Brown announced that the march was happening on June 3rd, providing only about three weeks’ notice for people to make arrangements to get to Washington, D.C. And unlike in past years, there were no massive fundraising campaigns to organize buses from churches. In 2015, for example, many of the participants had come from New York City, thanks to organizing efforts by New York State Sen. Ruben Diaz (D) and other evangelical preachers from the Bronx’s Hispanic community.
But the dearth of attendees could also symbolize how defeated conservatives feel by Obergefell. NOM President Brian Brown called for overturning Obergefell, but offered no ideas for how that would even be legally possible. Other speakers emphasized the need for wedding vendors to be able to discriminate against same-sex couples, seemingly giving up on the idea of actually banning same-sex marriage ever again. Frank Schubert, NOM’s National Political Director, dedicated most of his remarks to opposing transgender equality, an issue that has no discernible connection to marriage whatsoever but has become one of NOM’s priorities.
Though the rally and futile march to the Supreme Court were such a flop, NOM’s event was nevertheless a cultural milestone for the progression of LGBT equality.
A Defense of Discrimination — Celisa Calacal
In addition to advocating for marriage being solely between a man and a woman, many of the March for Marriage speakers called for the passing of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA).
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced FADA after the Obergefell ruling last year, but it was based on the previously proposed Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. According to the bill, FADA seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking a “discriminatory action” against an organization or person because of their beliefs about marriage. But in reality, FADA amounts to “state sanctioned discrimination” against the LGBT community. It would only serve the interests of those who do not wish to comply with recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples.
During the rally, speakers such as the Heritage Foundation’s Jen Marshall and Heritage Action’s Tim Chapman called for the protection of “religious liberty” and urged those in the crowd to call their representative and vote in support of FADA. Rather than protecting “religious liberty,” FADA would privilege certain religious beliefs, allowing individuals and businesses that receive taxpayer dollars to ignore marriage equality if it violates their religious beliefs.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, FADA would hurt critical protections for LGBTQ people as well as their families. For instance, hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid must see any patient they request. However, FADA could make it so that hospitals can decline service to a person in a same-sex marriage solely on the basis that it is a violation of their religious liberty. Commercial landlords and shelters receiving grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development may also feel empowered by FADA to refuse housing to a same-sex couple.
Just like the Abolitionists — Sydney Pereira
During Brown’s remarks, he compared opponents of marriage equality to abolitionists. Brown has made the comparison between same-sex marriage and slavery before, but it sounded even less apt a full year after Obergefell.
“Let me remind you that this is not the first time that a profound lie about who we are as human beings has been put into the law. Slavery was one such example. The early abolitionists were told to ‘go home.’ ‘You’re never going to change anything.’ They were mocked, derided — even in the newspapers of elite opinion of the day, the New York Times of the day. They were told, ‘No matter what you do you’re not going to change this.’ The Civil Rights Movement: we witnessed the same attempt to have a lie embedded in the law and the force of government used to suppress those who might disagree with the lie.”
He warned attendees not to acquiesce to the pressure to give up the fight.
“Now, sadly, some people — even within our churches, within our communities — even though they know the truth in their heart, what they face by the power of government, the power of elites saying this is done, they will capitulate. They will not stand up. They will deny what they know in their heart is true. And there is nothing, I tell you, nothing more sad than denying the truth you know in the heart, going against your conscience in order to make men and women happy. We can never ever do this.”
Following this section of Brown’s speech, a man in the small crowd shouted ‘Amen!’ while others clapped and cheered.
Other conservatives have made this comparison as well. They cite the 1857 Dred Scott case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that slaves were still the property of their owners even in free states. Opponents of marriage equality believe they must keep fighting after Obergefell just like abolitionists continued to fight slavery after Dred Scott. The comparison, of course, neglects to distinguish between the impacts the two decisions actually had on people’s lives.
Think of the Children — Evan Popp
One woman, who came to the march from Chicago, told ThinkProgress that when considering the impacts of marriage equality, one must think of the children.
“It’s unquestionable that gay couples are fully functional and able to love just as much as a heterosexual couple, but the challenge is no two moms can replace a dad,” she said. “A child is never going to say ‘Where’s my dad? Oh here are two women, now I don’t need a dad.’ It’s just not a functional answer to a child’s need to have a mom and a dad.”
Actually it is. In January of 2015, researchers at Columbia Law School found 74 out of 78 studies that met their methodological criteria showed children of gay and lesbian parents were at no disadvantage compared to children of heterosexual couples. One study even found that though same-sex couples had higher stress levels, their parenting was comparable to heterosexual couples.
Along with her belief that kids can’t function with two moms, the woman also emphasized that marriage is a key to the overall welfare of a child. “From a child’s perspective, everything falls apart when you don’t support the structure of marriage,” she said.
In one respect, she’s right. Children whose parents are married do generally fare better. However, given the research pointing to same-sex couples’ ability to parent just as well as heterosexual couples, her opposition to marriage equality seems all the more hypocritical. Same-sex couples were raising children prior to Obergefell, which means those children can now have parents that are married, something she would seemingly want for them.
Regardless, that attendee’s concern for children was echoed by several of the speakers, as well as on the signs that were recycled from previous years’ marches.
Rosaries for Marriage — Rachel Cain
Catholic influence was particularly evident at the March for Marriage. For example, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who serves as Archbishop for the Military Services, delivered an opening prayer, as he has in years past. The giant red banners dotting the minuscule rally were also provided by a Catholic group.
About 30 members from The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a Catholic lay organization, traveled from Hanover, PA to participate in the march. John Horvat, the vice president of the organization known for its red capes, said they attended the march in order to “defend traditional marriage.” Although the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide last year in its Obergefell decision, he said that they “can’t give up the fight” and that the Court should repeal its ruling. He likened their battle against same-sex marriage to their struggle against reproductive rights, a struggle that had its own setback at the Supreme Court on Monday.
Horvat said that TFP organized 2,000 “Rosary For Marriage” rallies across the United States to take place that very day. ThinkProgress was able to confirm just a few of these rallies in San Antonio, TX, Mission Viejo, CA, Bel Air, MD, Woodstock, VA, Honolulu, HI, and Omaha, NE, but none of them seemed to have attracted more than a dozen participants — if that. TFP could not confirm the claim of 2,000 rallies to ThinkProgress.
A pamphlet disseminated by the TFP at the rally claimed that the comparison between the civil rights movement and the fight for marriage equality is a false analogy, because “inherited and unchangeable racial traits cannot be compared with non-genetic and changeable behavior.” In reality, sexual orientation is not “changeable”. In fact, efforts such as “conversion therapy” aimed at changing someone’s sexual identity to make them fit in with the heterosexual norm have largely been discredited as harmful for mental health and for reinforcing anti-LGBTQ stereotypes.
This weekend, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church should seek forgiveness for discrimination against gay people. “We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this [treatment of gay people], but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize; forgiveness,” he said.
Gay Catholic groups, while appreciative of the apology, think that the Church needs to do more than apologize for mistreatment — these sentiments must be reflected by reforming Church teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes homosexuality as “objectively disordered” and that having sex with a same-sex partner is a sin.
NOM announced Tuesday that the 2016 March for Marriage was a “tremendous success,” boasting “about 400 people” in attendance.
The 2017 March for Marriage has already been scheduled for Saturday, June 24th.