Monica Hesse’s Washington Post profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown would have been almost worthwhile to publish, were it not for her immediate incorrect assumption: That we haven’t met, and don’t know how to deal with, these “smiling” gay rights opponents before. ‘Cause that’s a farce, Monica.
The Oxford-educated Brown (pictured, with wife Sue) is different from the James Dobson crowd, you see, because he and NOM president Maggie Gallagher aren’t these fire and brimstone types. Brown isn’t saying we’re all going to burn in hell, or that we’re an insidious and horrific group of people. Rather, he frames the debate that we’re after “special rights” that “redefine” the word “marriage,” which is, apparently, the jurisdiction of religious groups. (Though NOM is an “interfaith” group, remember. Or maybe it’s “non-faith”?)
And just like the Human Rights Campaign, they’re setting up headquarters in Washington. Because that is where “real America” is, so long as your version of real America consists of lobbyists and legislators.
But Brown’s NOM is a whole new class of anti-gay advocacy, because as America moves toward mainstreaming LGBTs, this organization can speak in modern terms that don’t involve words like “sodomy.” Brown’s camp dresses up the debate as a historic clash between everyday Americans and a group of whiny homos.
And while we understand it’s a journalist’s job to remain objective, the Post‘s Hesse (and her editors) amply gloss over the fact that Brown, 35, is trafficking in hate. Precisely because Brown dresses up his brand of bigotry is why we need him exposed for what he represents: nothing more than your average, neighborhood homophobe.
But this country is not made up of people in the far wings, right or left. This country is made up of a movable middle, reasonable people looking for reasonable arguments to assure them that their feelings have a rational basis.
Brian Brown speaks to these people. He has a master’s degree from Oxford, and completed course work for a doctorate in history from UCLA. He shoulders the accusations of bigotry; it’s horrible when people say that your life’s mission is actually just prejudice. He tries to help people see that opposing gay marriage does not make them bigots, that the argument should have nothing to do with hate or fear, and everything to do with history and tradition.
The reason Brian Brown is so effective is that he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.
You must commend folks like Brown for their tenaciousness. He’s good at raising money (from a group of bigots), he’s good at framing the debate (among sympathetic media), and he’s good at reading public perception (don’t use phrases like “ban gay marriage”).
But he’s also operating in an arena where the public consciousness is actively endorsing his brand of hatred. This is not about “special rights” or “redefining” anything. Same-sex marriage advocates are about “equal rights,” something any objective journalist would freely tell you she also supports. And just because Brown can put on a suit, speak eloquently, and deliver talking points does not differentiate him from any other hate leader. Even if Brown does talk about all his gay friends.
It’s time to start identifying these people, in newspaper headlines and television reports, for what they are: bigots. If it’s okay to identify white supremacist leaders as racists, then it should be perfectly reasonable to identify anti-gay proponents as homophobes. These individuals advocate separation. They advocate oppression. They advocate hatred.
And Brian Brown isn’t just out to ruin the lives of gay Americans he doesn’t know. He’s also ruining the life of his wife, Sue, who he supposedly loves, because he’s made a career out of HATING PEOPLE.
When Brown came from California a few months ago, the family moved into a comfortable house in Great Falls, surrounded by trees. His children are precocious and sweet; his wife is gracious and funny.
Sue Brown had never really thought about same-sex marriage until she met Brian. “Obviously, I always realized there were gay people,” she says one Friday morning, sitting in the still-sparsely furnished living room. “But I didn’t think about them wanting to get married.” And once she did: “Initially, I probably thought, well, what’s the big deal if they do? What does it have to do with me?”
When she and Brian got engaged, she envisioned normal family life, both of them returning from their jobs — she was a high school English teacher — and having family dinner. Now, while he’s crusading, she deals with home-schooling the older children and caring for the younger. It hasn’t been easy.
“Connecticut was really hard,” she says. In Connecticut, they lived on a street with two sets of lesbian parents. One summer a mutual acquaintance threw a neighborhood party. Brian wasn’t invited at all, and Sue’s invitation came with a note: “We know what Brian does. If your views are not the same, you can come to the party.” Sue stayed home.
“I get how [gays and lesbians] feel,” she says. “I get that.”
She’s pictured what it might be like to be on the other side of this debate. “I know many awesome women, and I’ve thought about what if I got together with one of them” and tried to raise a family.
She has thought through it. She supports her husband. “I can only go by my own experience, and I believe there’s a huge difference in gender.” The kids don’t need Brian “walking in the door because he’s another person. They need him because he’s a man.”
Mr. Brown readily points to centuries of civilizations that never properly affirmed same-sex marriage. So this is a guy who can appreciate a good history lesson: When this chapter of human history is written, you’ll be on the wrong side of it, sir.
(Photo: Washington Post)