As lawmakers in Rhode Island move toward passing marriage equality, National Organization for Marriage–Rhode Island (NOM-RI) responded with a series of very familiar newspaper ads and personal mailings warning voters of the “consequences” of marriage equality.
The newspaper ad, with the heading “The Big Lie,” claimed that religious organizations would be forced to sanctify same-sex marriages, as happened to the Knights of Columbus, and cites another case in New Jersey involving a Methodist organization. Both groups, the ad argues, were bullied by supporters of marriage equality due to their conservative religious beliefs. The mailings warned that if marriage equality is passed, children will be forced to learn about same-sex marriage as early as kindergarten as in Massachusetts public schools.
These ads are examples of two of the most common types of the Right’s anti-LGBTQ messaging, addressed in PRA’s recent report, The Right’s Marriage Message. The first, “Victims” messaging, portrays religious organizations and individuals as victims of same-sex marriage, whose religious liberty is violated when they are prohibited from discriminating. The second displays “Harm to Kids” messaging, which tries to convince voters — especially parents — that kids will learn about same-sex marriage or sexual behavior in school (and often pushes fears that this could influence their own sexuality).
But the only “Big Lie” comes from NOM. Marriage equality does not change existing laws regarding businesses discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation. And while no same-sex marriage law has mandated changes to school curriculum, they have included provisions ensuring churches will never be forced to sanctify any marriage against their wishes.
Politifact Rhode Island was quick to dismiss the ads. The only case they found involving the Knights of Columbus was in Canada, where the discriminating organization was fined. The New Jersey case too is riddled with holes — the first big one that same-sex marriage is not legal in New Jersey — and the facility in question was not a church but a pavilion for public use, including by organizations with other religious affiliations. The courts declared that the pavilion had to be made available in the future. This “Ocean Grove” case has been touted in anti-LGBTQ ads ever since.
The Massachusetts school cases were also found wanting. Politifact found that this story seems to hinge on one case. Two families filed a lawsuit because they objected to their children being exposed to two books that violated their religious beliefs: one that depicted different types of families, including a same-sex parent family, and another called “King & King.” The suit was dismissed but one of the couples, Robert and Robin Wirthlin, has since been featured in anti-LGBTQ ads across the country — including in all four states with same-sex marriage ballot initiatives last fall.
Although NOM and its affiliates lost all four campaigns last fall, expect to see them continue to play a role in any state considering marriage equality, with historically successful tactics and new spins. To learn more about these right-wing strategies and how to combat them, check out PRA’s The Right’s Marriage Message.