Strategist with Anti-Gay Org Has Change of Heart, Supports Gay Families
A strategist with the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage has undergone a Road to Damascus moment and come out in support of marriage parity for gay and lesbian families, GLBT site Good As You reported on April 8.
The article sparked a news release from the Human Rights Campaign, which summarized the career of NOM strategist Louis Marinelli.
"Marinelli did harm to the LGBT community," the HRC release noted. "He was the strategist behind NOM’s multi-state 2010 Summer Bus Tour and a key digital strategist for the organization, writing things like, ’Those who wish to promote homosexual behavior are encouraging people to shorten their life spans.’ "
Good as You examined Marinelli’s history with NOM and commented on Marinelli’s "Incendiary tweets" regarding GLBTs, such as the one cited in the HRC release, a longstanding--and long-discredited--claim touted by anti-gay groups that originated with anti-gay activist Paul Cameron.
Cameron--who was expelled by the American Psychological Association in 1983--is the founder of the anti-gay Family Research Institute. His studies purporting to show that gays are inherently unhealthy have been widely lambasted by health professionals and condemned by professional organizations such as the American Sociological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association for his "consistent misrepresentation of sociological research," as the ASA phrased it in a 1986 APA resolution. In 1996, the CPA approved a similar resolution renouncing Cameron for "consistently [having] misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism," according to a Wikipedia article.
Marinelli’s use of Cameron’s claims is standard for anti-gay groups seeking to pathologize GLBTs and is based on an assumption that gays will invariably contract HIV through sexual contact. In an interview conducted via email, Marinelli repudiated his earlier stance.
"I quoted from the research of Paul Cameron when I said that homosexuals have a shorter life-span," Marinelli wrote to Good As You correspondent Jeremy Hooper. "I must say that when I quoted this man I was not aware of his history and here and now do not wish to comment on the legitimacy or irrelevance of the man’s work as I am neither a psychologist nor does psychology interest me.
"What I said, referring to the life-spans of homosexuals, I continue to believe in the following context: Any group of people that contract any viral disease more than the general public due to the nature of their lifestyle, logically, will have a life-expectancy lower than that of the general populace," added Marinelli.
"However, that kind of rhetoric, implying that gay men are unworthy of civil marriage due to any particular health issues surrounding their sexual activity was both inappropriate and offensive. It is for those reasons, that I retract this statement."
As Marinelli now tells it, the work he did for NOM brought him into contact with real gays and lesbians--and once he actually met them, his certainties about who and what they were crumbled.
"As you may already know, I was the one behind the 2010 Summer for Marriage Tour which the National Organization for Marriage sponsored and operated throughout July and August last year," Marinelli recounted. It was my doing when, in March that year, I approached [NOM president] Brian Brown about sponsoring and participating in a series of traditional marriage rallies scattered around the Nation."
Continued Marinelli, "Ironically, one of the last tour stops added to the itinerary was Atlanta and I bring this site up because it was in Atlanta that I can remember that I questioned what I was doing for the first time. The NOM showing in the heart of the Bible-belt was dismal and the hundreds of counter-protesters who showed up were nothing short of inspiring.
"Even though I had been confronted by the counter-protesters throughout the marriage tour, the lesbian and gay people whom I made a profession out of opposing became real people for me almost instantly. For the first time I had empathy for them and remember asking myself what I was doing."
Love and Marriage... and Public Policy
Marinelli clarified his stance in a number of other ways, saying that he remains personally opposed to homosexuality, but that he could not justify that stance by pointing to sacred texts or church teachings since he is religiously agnostic.
Although Marinelli stands by the assertion that sex between individuals of the same gender is socially harmful because of sexual practices that can spread HIV, he also noted that public health issues have no bearing on the question of allowing committed same-sex couples the right to participate in marriage.
Moreover, Marinelli made a point of distancing himself from the rhetoric and claims of blogger Pete LaBarbera, who runs anti-gay site Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
"I have been reading via Twitter and his website what this guy has to say, and it is clear that he is just a hateful man and I would be embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with him," Marinelli told Good As You.
"If there is an issue of shame, it is a result of acknowledging the number of people I have targeted, hurt and oppressed," Marinelli stated. "And if there is an issue of embarrassment, its roots lie in the face-to-face encounters I have had and expect to have with those with whom I once toiled over this very contentious issue."
Marinelli not only took personal responsibility for propagating assertions that he came to believe were false and harmful, but called on society in general to address wider issues of morality and standards of personal conduct--for gays and straights alike.
"I think a lot of work needs to be done for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, to change the culture of promiscuity in our country and we would be doing ourselves a favor to focus our energies on that instead of singling out and [laying] the blame on one of the many guilty parties," Marinelli wrote.
Marinelli summarized his change of heart by explaining that as he considered the claims that NOM and other anti-gay groups had perpetuated, he came to realize that the rhetoric wildly missed the mark of reality.
"I really came to understand that gays and lesbians were just real people who wanted to live real lives and be treated equally as opposed to, for example, wanting to destroy American culture," Marinelli recounted. "No, they didn’t want to destroy American culture, they wanted to openly particulate in it."
Moreover, while Marinelli still stands by NOM’s efforts to promote marriage in a religious context, he noted that there is a difference between a religious organization seeking to preserve a traditional form of marriage as a religious sacrament, and working to deprive families of their civil rights.
"The negative thing about NOM’s work is that it diverts our attention from what is important to preventing a group of people from obtaining civil marriage licenses," Marinelli noted.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Kevin Nix identified Marinelli’s change of heart as symptomatic of an increasingly widespread understanding of gay individuals and their families, and the real--as opposed to imaginary--agendas of same-sex families.
"This defection is a good example of what is, and will continue to be consistent in the fight for equality," Nix stated. "Once people actually meet LGBT people, they are more likely to support equality." Continued Nix, "Even NOM’s own people are having trouble with the organization’s unusual mission: to stop committed gay and lesbian couples from getting married.
"We know such defections among more Americans, including NOM’s most strident supporters will continue over time," Nix added.
"Despite its public portrayal of ’tolerance,’ " the HRC release said, "NOM is an extremist organization that opposes not only marriage equality, but civil unions as well."
Reader response at Good As You was euphoric.
"A rarity: I am speechless," one commentator remarked.
"This really shows the value of confronting the other side with information, not just rhetoric," wrote another.
"Look[s] like Brian Brown just lost a boyfriend!" quipped a third contributor.