Tuesday, April 14, 2009

NOM – The Gathering Storm: More than just a bad analogy

by Michael Collins

Last week the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) – a pet project of Robbie George – started a new campaign featuring a scary video. While I am in support of ‘Religious Liberty,’ NOM’s definition of Religious liberty is wholly out of keeping with America’s longstanding tradition of separation of church and state.

The commercial begins with a dark and stormy night (a tired metaphor by the 1900’s) and fake lightning bolts descending on a “rainbow coalition” of conservative people. The imagery reminds me of the poster for Twilight; another pro-Christian excursion into pop culture As the commercial continues, there is a stark transition into a beautiful sunrise (or perhaps sunset) while Damon Owens promises a better tomorrow. On the NOM website the video is described as a “60-second TV spot ‘A Gathering Storm’ bringing viewers face to face with the growing religious liberty threat posed by same-sex marriage.”

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has produced an excellent rebuttal to the legal claims made in the commercial. Scroll to the bottom for the quick facts. I, however, am more interested a critical analysis of the imagery and words used in this commercial which I find problematic.

Lets go through this line by line:

There’s a storm gathering
• well…that didn’t take long. Alex Massie of The Spectator points out that the title of the campaign is Winston Churchill’s opus titled, The Gathering Storm. Are we really to believe that the demand for equality in marriage is equivalent to the Nazi movement. Or, perhaps, the ‘Gathering Storm’ is supposed to be the response by ‘traditionalist.’

The clouds are dark and the winds are strong and I am afraid.
• It’s strange, but the commercial tacitly admits that the motivating fear for the campaign is fear; a fear of change, a fear of difference, a fear of spreading equality.
Some who advocate for same sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same sex couples.
• Who are these people the commercial refers to. The wonderfully innocuous group is easier to demonize. The other, they, “some people” are perfect targets for a campaign that attempts to reduce equality. There is a very real danger in dehumanizing the opponents of the conservative, anti-gay rights program.

They want to bring the issue into my life. My freedom will be taken away.
• Again with the “they.” Who is NOM so afraid of? And what freedoms will be taken away. See the HRC article discussing the public and private spheres for religious belief.

I’m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job. I’m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can’t support same sex marriage. I’m a Massachusetts parent helpless watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is okay.
• All of this is pretty handily taken apart by the HRC post.

But some who advocate same sex marriage have not been content with same sex couples living as they wish. Those advocates want to change the way I live. I will have no choice.
• With the overwhelming victory of Obama, it’s surprising that ‘change’ is supposed to be terrifying. I guess the target audience didn’t vote for Obama. This commercial relies on a false sense of security promised by consistency and tradition: If things change, there is the possibility they could get worse, so we should resist change. This logic ignores the lived suffering of in the LGBT community only to privilege the fear of change held by some conservatives.

The storm is coming. But we have hope, a rainbow coalition of people of every creed and color are coming together in love to protect marriage
• The commercial utilizes an ironic inverse of the term rainbow coalition. As one of my friends pointed out, it’s a rainbow coalition…of people united by a fear of homosexuality.

This commercial – ringing with fear, intolerance and factual inaccuracies – should start a national dialogue. While opponents of Gay Marriage want to center the discussion around fear, I think the discussion needs to be grounded in mutual respect and understanding.


At April 14, 2009 at 2:56 PM , Blogger Aku said...

Lizz Winstead (who created the Daily Show) put together a great parody/response to this ad: http://www.feministing.com/archives/014806.html

At April 14, 2009 at 3:41 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

Here you can see the auditions to play these real citizens who are concerned about protecting marriage:


At April 14, 2009 at 3:43 PM , Blogger Amelia said...

I'd also like to point out that NOM has started posting this ad on the Daily Princetonian's website.

At April 14, 2009 at 3:58 PM , Anonymous CristinaL said...

"But some who advocate same sex marriage have not been content with same sex couples living as they wish. Those advocates want to change the way I live. I will have no choice."

I've read it over a few times, and I'm still confused by this statement.

Is NOM suggesting that same sex marriage advocates are forcing same sex couples to marry? That same sex couples will not be able to continue living the unmarried, if not closeted, lives "they wish" they had? Is the line, "I have no choice," referring to a gay man or woman 'forced' into same sex marriage or gay culture?

I'm not trying to be antagonistic. I'm just genuinely puzzled.

At April 14, 2009 at 4:07 PM , Blogger LSG said...

If anyone would like to tell the Prince that they're not pleased with this ad, the feedback form at http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/feedback/ can be sent directly to online advertising.

At April 14, 2009 at 4:46 PM , Blogger LSG said...

What anti-gay rights people usually mean, Cristina, is that if The Gays get their way it will inhibit the anti-gay people's freedom of religion or freedom of speech or freedom to indoctrinate their children with intolerance -- which of course it won't, but it sounds properly scary, right? If "fear of the gays" is the driving force in your life?

Among the common examples... if you're a fertility doctor you might get in trouble for refusing to impregnate a lesbian couple because you think two lesbians are incapable of being parents -- you will be forced from your profession for exercising your conscience! Churches will be forced to perform gay marriages, thus violating their freedom of religion! Students in public schools will be taught that same-sex marriages are morally acceptable and the equivalent of opposite-sex marriages, violating the rights of you, their parents! (Incidentally, some of their examples aren't just silly, they're straight-up lies -- for example, these are civil marriages and the state can't force churches to marry anyone that the church doesn't feel like marrying.)

Basically, the argument boils down to the idea that they'll have no choice but to (pretend to) treat gay people and gay marriages as equal to straight people and straight marriages, and this will cause some sort of fundamental rupture in their lives.

At April 14, 2009 at 7:32 PM , Anonymous CristinaL said...

LSG, though I don’t agree with it, I mostly understand the argument about gay tolerance encroaching on straight people’s freedom or what have you.

What I’m confused by is the wording: “But some who advocate same sex marriage have not been content with *same sex couples* living as they wish.” This seems to me to imply a couple of bizarre things. First, that same sex couples are somehow being bullied/coerced/forced into marriage even though many, if not all, would prefer their current lifestyle. What this lifestyle is exactly, I’m not sure. Unmarried monogamy? Civil unions? Back-alley cruising? It’s not clear what “living as they wish” is supposed to mean. However, it does connote a certain sense of fatalistic acceptance, which is to say, “those gays know their place, and they’re ok with it.” The second weird thing about the statement is it’s apparent identification with same sex couples. Immediately following the statement about “same sex couples living as they wish,” is the line “those advocates want to change the way *I* live. I will have no choice.” This “I,” so closely linked with those anti-gay marriage “same sex couples,” suggests that they are in fact one in the same. That is, NOM is speaking not just for straight anti-gay marriage proponents, but also gay ones.

If my interpretation is correct (and again, I’ll admit I find the wording confusing and vague), this is very interesting. It means NOM is acknowledging the existence of same sex couples in its own ranks; gay people as a whole are not the enemy. (After all, NOM does ironically refer to itself as a “rainbow coalition.”) Moreover, if some NOM members are gay, then clearly homosexuality is not a choice. (I don’t know if NOM claims that it is, but any self-association with same sex couples would refute this.) However, what this statement does appear to be implying – and what most readers of this blog will take offense at – is the notion that homosexuality is something to be restricted if not entirely suppressed. In other words, same sex couples, like those who support NOM, should recognize that their relationship is not in fact comparable to that of a heterosexual couple. At best, it’s second-rate; at worst, it’s evil.

Perhaps I’ve construed too much from a few seconds of what is a generally absurd commercial. But I wonder if anyone else was struck by this sound bite.

At April 14, 2009 at 8:07 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Absolutely incorrect way of interpreting it, tho I can see why you did (I mean, what you say does kinda make sense, but you really read into it).

I'm pretty sure all they mean to say is the following:

"Advocates aren't ok with us just being tolerant of the way they live, presumably in private, now they are forcing me to accept them publicly."
In other words, "they don't want to just let gays have the benefits that come with marriage, they want me to change my definition of marriage". I think that's a more charitable interpretation.

I mean, it doesn't change many of your conclusions, but it does change what they are saying.

And LSG: you make it seem as though people are crazy to think public change will affect their personal lives...but that's just what gay advocates want, a change in the public sphere in order to change the individual lives of those who are gay (and not just by marriage, which is a direct benefit, but also by the change in society). And it's also not "taking away their right to indoctrinate their kids with intolerance". For some people, perhaps, but for most, it's not an intolerance to gay people, but gay acts. And there is a difference.

As for churches, way to straw man it (honestly, do you do it because it's a good rhetorical tool, or do you really not understand what they are saying...either way, it's messed up). Clearly they don't mean that the state will force them to marry gays (DUH?). they mean that the state could potentially take away tax exempt status, or basically not treat the church as a legitimate institution.

Also, they aren't saying that homosexuals won't make good parents, they are saying a man can't be a mother, and a woman be a father. And children deserve their right to a mother and father. You could argue this, but it's kind of a biological nature vs nurture kind of thing. Are we hardwired to expect a male and female (I'm not talking about gender roles here, I mean strict sex)? I mean, it's really not that outrageous to think so.

For all the rhetoric in the commercial, there is a crap load in the post and these comments too...

At April 14, 2009 at 8:18 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

And, honestly, the Obama victory was not overwhelming, he doesn't have a goddamn mandate, and a lot of really reasonable people disagree with a lot of what he is doing, namely me. Plus, I'm pretty sure he wasn't exactly FOR gay marriage.

Screw Obama, he's a socialist. Oh wait, I can't say that can I, we need to "join together" and not criticize our president. Never mind that people treated Bush like crap...


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