The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) was formed in 2007 for the purpose of passing California’s Prop 8 prohibiting same-sex marriage. NOM RI was formed sometime between 2008 and early 2010 and announced publicly at the New England Family, Life and Marriage Summit held on February 27, 2010 at the Ocean State Baptist Church in Smithfield.
Placed in charge of NOM RI was Christopher Plante, formerly of Heritage of Rhode Island, a group that foisted a discredited and dangerous “abstinence-until-marriage” sex education program on Rhode Island schools until mysteriously closing up shop in late 2007.
In my April 2010 interview with Plante, he told me that NOM RI is unique in the NOM structure. Normally when NOM determines that a state is “under attack” by marriage equality advocates, they work with grassroots organizations that are already there, usually pro-life, “pro-family” organizations. When NOM looked at Rhode Island, they realized there was no grassroots organization to work through, so they determined to open an office here. Rhode Island is, according to Plante, where the action is.
At the New England Family, Life and Marriage Summit, extreme anti-gay hate group MassResistance! was notably absent. I was assured that the group, headed by Brian Camenker, wasn’t invited because he represented an extreme, anti-LGBT position that did not mesh with the family focused theme of the meeting.
The FRC Action Political Action Committee, the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Institute of Connecticut, Cornerstone Action of New Hampshire, and the Alliance Defense Fund were trying to present a position that defended “the traditional definition of marriage” without descending into the kind of open homophobia and hatred that MassResistance! was known for. Still, Peter Sprigg of the FRC could not help but complement the work MassResistance! had done fighting against bullying statutes that might defend LGBTQ people from abuse in schools, saying, “Give credit to MassResistance!. I don’t always agree with everything they say, but on (Gay Straight Alliance issues) they did good work.”
Of course Peter Sprigg’s FRC would join MassResistance! later that year on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups, anticipating in a way NOM RI’s now open relationship with Brian Camenker and MassResistance!
The media coverage of the New England Family, Life and Marriage Summit ignored the history of hateful comments made by representatives of the various groups in attendance. Though marriage equality and LGBTQ rights protesters held a peaceful protest outside the venue, the Providence Journal ran the headline “Family-advocate summit draws protesters” which made it seem like people were protesting families, not homophobia and lies. In her ProJo piece Maria Armental wrote, “One group stood outside Ocean State Baptist Church chanting pro-gay slogans Saturday. The other gathered inside the church talking policy and politics on the traditional family: a man and a woman.”
The event was held in a center attached to the church. The protest was peaceful and not disruptive in any way, I know, because until the attendees were told of the protest outside, no one inside the meeting knew it was happening. Armental set up a false dichotomy in her writing that made the protesters outside seem like extremists and the people inside the church’s function room, like Peter Sprigg, who once said that homosexual behavior should be criminalized, seem like reasonable, rational people.
Plante claims in the interview with me that NOM RI is a grassroots organization, and that all its operating costs are covered by donations made by Rhode Islanders. This is of course impossible to verify, as NOM keeps the identities of its donors secret, but Plante also says that NOM gets its donations from individuals, not groups. This is not accurate.
The Washington Independent revealed that NOM received $1.4 million from the Knights of Columbus in 2009. The Knights gave more money to NOM than they spent on charitable giving, such as food banks, that year. Think about this next time someone tells you that the KoC is a charity predisposed to doing good works in the community.
Of course, the Knights aren’t the only Catholic institution supporting NOM. The Washington Independent reports:
“You’ve got this really interesting funnel of tax-free money coming from the Dioceses and the Council of Bishops and the Knights of Columbus directly to these campaigns,” notes Phil Attey, executive director of the newly launched organization, Catholics for Equality. “Why are groups like NOM hiding where they’re getting their money? If it turns out to be a front group for the conservative side of the church, Catholics have the right to know because the majority of American Catholics, and we can show you heaps of polls, don’t support that [kind of spending].”
This close connection to the Catholic Church might be the real reason NOM has set up shop in Rhode Island, until recently the most Catholic state in the United States. Bishop Tobin of the Providence Diocese makes no secret of his opposition to marriage equality. The Catholic Church seems happy to team up with NOM, MassResistance!, the FRC and almost any other Christian groups opposed to marriage equality.
FAPSMEG, (Faith Alliance to Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage as Established by God) is an alliance of the Knights of Columbus, NOM, MassResitance! and various evangelical and Hispanic churches. The tight working relationship between the Knights and NOM is to be expected given the money the KoC and other Catholic organizations and individuals have been pumping into NOM.
In yesterday’s Providence Journal, “State’s taxpayer coalition gives itself a makeover” questions were asked about Providence diocese lobbyist Bernard Healey’s attendance of a fundraiser for Senate President Paiva-Weed. After confirming that Healey attended the fundraiser with a complimentary ticket, diocesan spokesperson Michael Guilfoyle “stressed that as nonprofits, both the diocese and the Catholic Conference do not make political donations.”
In fact, however, the Providence Diocese does indeed make political donations, including one for $2000 to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund (MCCMDF), which worked along side NOM and the Knights of Columbus to effectively “fund nearly 25 percent of the efforts to write discrimination against LGBT people into the state [of Minnesota's] constitution.” Of course, this money does not specifically fund any particular candidate, but it is semantic hairsplitting to not classify such donations as political in nature.
The Human Rights Campaign has devoted an entire section of their website to NOM Exposed, tracking the shadowy money transfers and secretive support that NOM relies on. Their analysis?
NOM is not a grassroots organization. It is run by a few anti-gay shadow donors. Its 2010 Form 990 shows the top two contributed 69% of NOM’s funding – and the top five donors 88%. In fact, the reason why NOM does not have a federal PAC – a very unusual instrument to be lacking for a Beltway advocacy organization of its size – is that it doesn’t meet the basic indicia of a grassroots organization: members.
Other than the suspect statements from Christopher Plante mentioned above, there is no reason to assume that NOM RI functions any differently than its parent organization.
On March 26th of last year NOM Exposed went public with some internal NOM documents detailing strategies in combating marriage equality. Looking for allies in their fight against marriage equality, NOM had decided on a racialist strategy: pitting blacks and Hispanics against the LGBTQ community. NOM writes:
Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots,
Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity – a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation.
Whether it is by intentional use of this strategy or not, Christopher Plante has achieved at least some of this end. In covering the protest FAPSMEG organized at the State house on January 15th, the MassResistance! website reports that “the Rhode Island Hispanic Ministers Association, along with several African-American pastors and a white pastor, organized a statewide multi-denominational coalition of over 100 religious organizations to oppose the bill.” The picture above shows Christopher Plante and Brian Camenker adressing the nascent FAPSMEG alliance, and is from the MassResistance! website.
Other quotes from the MassResistance! piece highlight the racialist strategy:
At the rally several Hispanic and African-American pastors spoke, as well as pro-marriage State Senator Harold Metts.
“There was excellent testimony on… how homosexuality has nothing to do with civil rights…”
Over the week leading up to the rally and public hearing, we worked with some of the leaders of the Rhode Island Hispanic Ministers Alliance. We were very impressed. They are dedicated to religious principles, they are well organized, and they are focused. They know how to pool their ideas and get things done in a relatively short time. In addition, they are not in the least afraid of offending the liberal establishment, or white liberals in general.”
“Too many white congregations mean well but unfortunately don’t execute. They’re afraid to talk about Biblical truth, lest it offend someone. They would often rather “pray about it” than get involved. Individuals often can’t make the time in their busy lives to go out and make a difference. They are well-meaning but don’t have zeal. And as a result they’re usually woefully disorganized and ineffective when it comes to meaningful social action.”
Christopher Plante would have us believe that Rhode Island’s Hispanic churches are all arraigned against marriage equality, and helped stage a large State House protest on the night of the House Judiciary Committee meeting to prove it. Unfortunately, Jeremy Hooper on GoodAsYou pointed out back in April 2011, “…this is *NOT* Rhode Island’s Hispanic population, writ large (around 130,655 in the latest census). It’s not even the Hispanic church as a whole.” It’s the “Hispanic Ministerial Association of Rhode Island… a non-profit corporation that most certainly hopes to increase its influence in conservative politics.” Recent polls show that 59% of Latino/Hispanic voters support marriage equality.
Racialist, bigoted and secretive politics define NOM RI. It should be clear by now that NOM RI, under the leadership of Christopher Plante, is an organization that will seemingly do and say anything to advance its anti-equality agenda. Those who choose to partner with this group do so at the peril of losing whatever putative moral authority they claim.