On Tuesday, the National Organization for Marriage's "Summer of Marriage" tour rolled into town for a little rally up by the Capitol to preach the non-canonical gospel of Straight Only Matrimony. In response to their rather rinky-dink operation, Madison turned out by the hundreds (about 466 of them to be exact) to show their support for full equality. My adopted home town never disappoints.
I attended the event officially to cover it for the Wisconsin Gazette (and you should pick up a copy of their new issue to read the full report), but the truth is, of course, that I would have gone regardless. Despite the major gains made in recent years for LGBT rights, there's still a long way to go and it's still important to stand up and fight.
Wisconsin, after all, continues to have a wildly discriminatory law on its books that effectively bans both gay marriage and civil unions. And there are still people like NOM and its supporters working tirelessly to deny equal rights to their fellow citizens out of some misguided sense of persecution.
Since the rally, I've read a number of op-eds wondering whether the big crowds showing up to protest and shout-down the NOM crew are just feeding the fires of the bigots. Indeed, the newest tactic by groups such as these in their own fight for what they often call "religious freedom" seems to be a co-opting of the very language traditionally used by minority groups seeking civil rights.
Take a look at NOM's website and it's filled with sensationalist press releases and videos of what they claim are "shocking" infringements on their rights by pro-gay marriage protestors. They've taken up the cry of noble victimhood and make comparisons between their crusade and that of the abolitionists of old.
Steve Chapman, writing for the Chicago Tribune, accurately observed that, "The endeavor has managed to make opponents of gay marriage look like a brave, embattled minority, even though they constitute 53 percent of the public and have gotten their way in all but a few states."
At the Madison rally, where pro-equality marchers outnumbered the NOM rally 8-to-1, NOM president Brian Brown and chairman Maggie Gallagher took turns shouting into their microphone about how "intolerant" their opponents were. They claim simply to want to be heard, and to be allowed to "protect the sanctity of marriage" all while crusading against the right of loving gay couples to themselves be heard and recognized as full and equal citizens.
It's a seriously clever bit of deflection, but a bigot by any other name would smell as rotten.
Two men or two women wishing to enter into a legally binding partnership, with all the responsibilities and benefits currently reserved only for heterosexuals, pose absolutely zero threat to anything but people's ignorant ideas.
Legalizing gay marriage doesn't even threaten religious freedom, even though groups like NOM scream to the contrary. If an individual church, synagogue, or mosque does not wish to perform a ceremony for a gay couple, so be it. They have the same right to decline straight couples, actually.
So there's that argument down the toilet. As for their cry of being an oppressed minority? Well, anyone from an actual oppressed minority (like gays, or people of color, or certain ethnic groups, etc. etc.) would be quick to laugh, cry, or fly into a rage at the audacity of such a claim.
Cognitive dissonance is a helluva drug.
The truth is that homosexuals and the transgendered have faced a nearly inconceivable amount of bias, discrimination, threats and physical harm for centuries. It's only recently that these people your brothers and sisters have been at all able to come clean and live honest lives. And there are still so many who can't or won't, because the social or familial stigma is just too much to bear.
Organizations like NOM aren't helping. They were instrumental, for instance, in funding Proposition 8 in California and helping to spread lies and fear in order to get people to the polls.
For those of you in a heterosexual marriage, I want you to imagine having some outside group of people you've never met coming into your home, condemning your relationship, and having it officially declared null and void. I don't imagine you'd feel too good about it.
So my answer to the question of whether showing up and drowning out the voices of NOM and its sympathizers does more to hurt or help the pro-gay marriage cause is this: Every peaceful show of support helps. Emphasis on peaceful. No threats. No angry shouting. Jubilant cheering and chants of "You need a hug! A big gay hug!" work.
Each person brave enough to come out of the closet or openly support those who do is one more chip in the wall of discrimination. Silence, while useful at times, can ultimately lead to the acceptance of a harmful status quo.
Track polls over the years and support for gay marriage has steadily increased. Among the under-30 crowd, there's even stronger support it. That's the future. Time and the tide are both on the side of full equality.
NOM and their ignorant ilk can kick and scream 'til their hearts content - it is, after all, their constitutional right to do so. But it's not their right to withhold rights from others simply because they hold some outdated and, frankly, historically blind view of what marriage has and always should be.
And we need to tell them, and everyone else, about it.