'I Do'? I Don't!

Article excerpt

Byline: Eve Conant

Brian Brown is leading the fight against gay marriage. And succeeding.

Brian Brown's hate mail is divided into two categories: messages that go straight to the police and those he dumps into a growing computer file labeled OPPOSITION. One riled caller threatened to hang him from a tree "and burn you while your children watch"; someone else sent an e-mail offering to "donate" a pipe bomb to his office. The majority, however, simply vent frustration at Brown, who has emerged as the nation's fiercest crusader against gay marriage.

A big reason for their frustration is that Brown is succeeding. His National Organization for Marriage played a key role in financing the Nov. 2 ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled to legalize same-sex marriage there in 2009. NOM was also a major force in voter initiatives that rolled back gay marriage in Maine and California, contributing $1.4 million and $1.8 million, respectively, to those campaigns. "We're sending a strong message to judges, as did our wins in Maine and California, not to be immune to what is happening politically or too far ahead of public opinion," Brown says. The Iowa victory comes at a critical moment in his fight: on Dec. 6 a federal appeals court in California is set to hear arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which contests the constitutionality of the state's anti-gay-marriage amendment, Proposition 8.

As gays and lesbians battle in the courts and legislatures for marriage rights, Brown is on a mission to match their determination and dollars. Using direct-mail campaigns, donor outreach, and bus tours around the country, he spreads NOM's message that preserving "traditional marriage" is necessary to protect families and ensure religious freedom. "We believe the marriage issue is the last frontier in the fight," he says. "We have to hold the line there." Although NOM operates with a skeleton staff, its budget has ballooned from $500,000 in 2007, when Brown cofounded the group, to more than $13 million today. With that war chest, it was able to pour some $5 million into 100 races in the recent elections.

Critics like to paint Brown as a cynical lobbyist who's just trying to ride antigay sentiment before it peters out. Evan Wolfson, founder of the New York-based Freedom to Marry, says that while recent electoral setbacks are worrisome for groups like his that are fighting for same-sex marriage, he sees NOM as a last-ditch effort to stop the inevitable. "But they are a very dangerous last hurrah," Wolfson says. For his part, Brown, 36, says he doesn't have political aspirations--even though he just moved his offices to Washington's lobbyist row, K Street, and is in the process of launching ActRight.com, a hub for conservative activism and fundraising.

Brown would make a good politician. An Oxford graduate, he's extremely polished, the kind of campaign leader who sticks faithfully to such benign-sounding talking points as "good-hearted people can have ideas that are profoundly wrong." He mostly tries to avoid demonizing gays and lesbians: NOM ads invoke Martin Luther King Jr., the right to free speech, and the right to vote, not quotes from Leviticus. "Emotions run high on this issue, and people can be vitriolic. I never have to worry about that with Brian," says Kevin Smith of Cornerstone Action, a nonprofit group working with Brown to overturn gay marriage in New Hampshire. Even Brown's opponents begrudgingly give him props. "He is the perfect president because he's the Oxford-trained Catholic who can spin, spin, spin," says Arisha Hatch of the Courage Campaign, an online organization for progressives, who tapes Brown's events and posts them online as fuel for gay activists. "When he doesn't have an answer, he will debate how the question was posed."

In spite of NOM's efforts to appear mainstream, gay-rights advocates say the group is a carefully orchestrated front for religious organizations and virulently antigay individuals--like the NOM supporter at an Indianapolis event who held up a sign with two nooses that read THE SOLUTION TO GAY MARRIAGE. …