For weeks, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown has been touting the “historic” March for Marriage, telling supporters “this is our time” to “change history.” A month ago he wrote excitedly about a “game-changer,” a $500,000 matching gift from one of the major donors that keep NOM afloat. Brown had been inspired by a massive turnout for an anti-marriage-equality protest in France, and hoped for something similar in Washington. But even with big donors and heavy-weight Religious Right co-sponsors, Brown and his allies couldn’t pull it off. Not even close.
In reality, NOM’s rally had a few, perhaps several, thousand attendees. (NOM’s Thomas Peters claims 15,000, which seems, um, generous.) And every time one of the speakers tried to make the crowd feel like part of a larger movement by talking about the 200,000 people they said marched recently for one-man/one-woman marriage in Puerto Rico, or the hundreds of thousands or millions in France and Spain, or even the 585,000 who have signed the Manhattan Declaration or the half million who marched against legal abortion, it only served to highlight how few bothered to show up in Washington. According to various speakers, the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent five busloads; anti-gay state senator Ruben Diaz claimed 32 buses from New York. Brian Brown gave a shout out to some Chinese Christians from Chicago.
The ethnically diverse speakers’ list was a mix of old and new, including some familiar faces on the anti-gay circuit, such as Harry Jackson, Gary Bauer, and Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats. Harry Jackson led the crowd in a chant that he said was a prayer for the Supreme Court: “Let God arise and his enemies be scattered.” Bauer delivered a blustery message to the Republican Party that if they “bail” on marriage, he’ll lead as many people as he can out of the GOP (which may not be that much of a threat). Vander Plaats urged Supreme Court justices to look to the Founding Fathers, Billy Graham, and Pope Francis. Also speaking were Doug Mainwaring, now making the circuit as the anti-equality gay man the Religious Right loves to love; Frank Schubert, the mastermind of the dishonest Prop 8 campaign and every anti-equality campaign since then; and Jim Garlow, who made a name for himself among the Religious Right with his pro-Prop 8 organizing. Garlow insisted you cannot call yourself a Christian and support the Court’s “obliterating” what he called a “core aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Garlow should have seen the packed crowd at the morning’s pro-equality interfaith service at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation.) Garlow warned Supreme Court justices that they will one day stand before “the Chief Justice of the Universe” and will be held accountable if they defy His ways.
A couple of groups sent under-30 speakers to say how wrong the media is to suggest that Millennials are a lost cause on this issue. But facts are facts, and polls show that support for marriage equality is overwhelming among under-30 Americans: 72 percent of Millennials believe same-sex couples should be able to get legally married, including 58 percent of under-30 Republicans.
Many of the speakers were on-message to the point of being boringly redundant, repeating the message on marchers’ pre-printed signs: “Kids do best with a mom and a dad” and “Every child deserves a mom and a dad.” Sometimes this came with a strong shot of gender stereotypes: mothers provide tenderness and fathers provide protection. Brian Brown even showed a video of the Religious Right’s newest heroine, the 11-year old who testified against marriage equality in Minnesota and asked which of her parents she did not need, her mother or father. Perhaps someone could explain that no same-sex couples seeking to get married have any desire to force her to get rid of either parent.
NOM’s backers for the marriage march included the far-far-right-wing Catholic group Tradition, Family & Property, with its scarlet banners, capes, and marching band (see Adele Stan’s reminder who TFP is), Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, a couple of Catholic dioceses, the Knights of Columbus and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Brown gave special thanks to the Mormon-run GFC Foundation for providing grants for buses.