Nice Try, NOM

As we noted yesterday, Miss California Carrie Prejean was going to be featured in a new National Organization for Marriage ad released today.

Well, NOM has put it out and here it is:

Joined by Carrie Prejean, the now-famous beauty contestant who lost her crown when she spoke up for marriage, the National Organization for Marriage today launched the second in a series of television ads to be released as part of NOM’s ongoing Religious Liberty Ad Campaign. The new ad, “No Offense,” opens with footage of Ms. Prejean’s response to a question she was asked regarding same-sex marriage during the Miss USA competition on April 19, 2009. The ad highlights the efforts of same-sex marriage activists to silence and discredit pro-marriage advocates, calling them “liars,” “bigots,” and worse. Over the protests of gay marriage advocates, a group of prominent religious liberty scholars (including scholars both for and against same-sex marriage) recently warned the Connecticut legislature that a bill codifying the state supreme court’s ruling on same-sex marriage raised the potential of “widespread and devastating” effects for religious liberty, if robust exemptions were not provided for faith groups and religious organizations.

The most interesting part comes near the end with the narrator asserts that advocates of marriage equality are trying to silence those who oppose it “because they don’t want to debate the consequences of same-sex marriage. They want to silence opposition. Some of the nation’s foremost scholars warn that gay marriage can create widespread legal conflicts for individuals, small businesses, and religious organizations.”

The NOM ad then flashes the quotes “will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflicts” and “effects would be … devestating” on the screen, but doesn’t say where they came from.

In the press release on its website, NOM instead links to these two letters [PDFs] addressed to Christopher Donovan, Speaker of the House in Connecticut, showing where the quotes came from.  The only problem is that the authors weren’t warning of the “devastating” effects of gay marriage – they were urging the state legislature to pass an exemption for religious organizations when it enacted its marriage equality law:

We write to provide you with an analysis of the effects of Raised Bill 899 on religious liberty. Those effects would be widespread and devastating. If Raised Bill 899 is passed in its current form—without religious-conscience protections—many religious organizations and individuals will be forced to engage in conduct that violates their deepest religious beliefs, and religious organizations would be limited in crucial aspects of their religious exercise.

In the only comprehensive scholarly work on same-sex marriage and religious liberty to date, legal scholars on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate agreed that codifying same-sex marriage without providing robust religious accommodations will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflict.

The second letter comes from Douglas Laycock, Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, who is a supporter of same-sex marriage and wrote to the Connecticut Legislature to urge them to add such an exemption in order to prevent the Religious Right from playing the victim:

[I]is it in the interest of the gay and lesbian community to create religious martyrs in the enforcement of this bill. To impose legal penalties or civil liabilities on a wedding planner who refuses to do a same-sex wedding, or on a religious counseling agency that refuses to provide marriage counseling to same-sex couples, will simply ensure that conservative religious opinion on this issue can repeatedly be aroused to fever pitch. Every such case will be in the news repeatedly, and every such story will further inflame the opponents of same-sex marriage. Refusing exemptions to such religious dissenters will politically empower the most demagogic opponents of same-sex marriage. It will ensure that the issue remains alive, bitter, and deeply divisive.

Connecticut legislators did ultimately provide such an exemption when it passed its marriage equality legislation … and NOM itself hailed it:

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) applauds the Connecticut legislature which, in a surprise move today, adopted substantive religious liberty protections as part of what was expected to be a routine bill implementing the Connecticut court decision ordering same-sex marriage.

“We are just grateful that the Connecticut legislators acknowledged and addressed the serious potential implications of same-sex marriage for traditional faith communities,” said Maggie Gallagher, president of NOM. “We hope this decision represents a change of heart among gay marriage advocates and a new willingness to accept broad conscience protections.”

So NOM posted two letters urging the passage of a religious exemption to the state’s marriage equality law – an exemption that was granted and hailed by NOM – yet is taking quotes from those letters out of context in their new ad to suggest that marriage equality itself will somehow have devastating effects for the nation, when the letters said nothing of the sort.