Saturday, April 9, 2011

Once Lost, Now Found: Louis Marinelli of National Organization for Marriage Has Conversion Experience

The story developing now with a former National Organization for Marriage head honcho, Louis Marinelli, is engrossing.  It's in important respects like a modern-day conversion story, a story of scales falling from the eyes, as a person suddenly begins to realize people he has demeaned and sought to treat inhumanely are human beings, in the same way he's human.

Marinelli explains his conversion experience in a posting at his blog entitled, "I Now Support Full Marriage Equality."  As he notes, he was the key player in NOM's 2010 Summer for Marriage tour, which took the NOM circus on the road and tried to drum up opposition to gay rights across the country last year.  As Jeremy Hooper at Good As You, who broke this story yesterday, points out, Marinelli also created NOM's offiical Facebook page.  Marinelli was, in other words, a big player in the NOM show.

And then here's what happened:

My name is Louis J. Marinelli, a conservative-Republican and I now support full civil marriage equality. The constitution calls for nothing less.

This is the conclusion to Marinelli's statement (first link above) about how he has gone from being a strong, active opponent of same-sex marriage to an advocate.  The rest of the post is about how he got there, and that's where the fascination of this story as a conversion narrative lies, for me.

Marinelli was a true believer doing what true believers do: he took the NOM show on the highway last summer to convince his fellow citizens around the nation to collaborate with him and with NOM in blocking rights for gay citizens, removing rights for gay citizens.  And then he began to meet real gay human beings, particularly in Atlanta, where the turnout on behalf of NOM was dismal, but the vibrant presence of folks protesting NOM was, he found to his surprise, "inspiring." 

And what he saw in that inspirational gathering began to work away in his conscience, with this effect:

Even though I had been confronted by the counter-protesters throughout the marriage tour, the lesbian and gay people whom I made a profession out of opposing became real people for me almost instantly. For the first time I had empathy for them and remember asking myself what I was doing.

Knowing leads to empathy: making real human contact with people you've previously regarded as other and less than you is dangerous if you want to remain a true believer of the ilk who foments bigotry, since knowing opens the door to empathy, to a recognition of shared humanity.  

And now Marinelli is left with a problem: he has to confront the fact that what motivated him in his NOM crusades was not--as Maggie Gallagher and NOM like to pretend--primarily concern to preserve "traditional" marriage, but outright mean-spirited hostility towards gay and lesbian human beings, designed to hurt:

If there is an issue of shame [following my change of mind], it is a result of acknowledging the number of people I have targeted, hurt and oppressed.

And as the scales fell from Marinelli's eyes and he looked at the kind of discourse taking place in the comment boxes at the NOM Facebook page, he began to see that he had surrounded himself with hateful people, with people who were about nothing more and nothing less than hate.  Marinelli returned to the Facebook page as he was experiencing conversion (he had relinquished moderating duties to others), and here's what he now saw:

I was largely taken aback by the fact that the page I created had become such a hateful place. My comments and rhetoric paled in comparison to what that place had turned into. I began to understand why the gay community was out there claiming opposition to same-sex civil marriage was all about hate.

I soon realized that there I was surrounded by hateful people; propping up a cause I created five years ago, a cause which I had begun to question. 

And now I'm wondering if this leaves NOM with a big problem.  Do you suppose what Marinelli may really be saying in this testimony of conversion is that what NOM is really all about and always has been all about is hate?

Because if that's what he's saying--and who would know better than he does?--it contradicts the spin that Maggie Gallagher keeps trying to offer us about her organization.  Which has quasi-official status as a premier Catholic organization defending the sanctity of marriage.

Not attacking, demeaning, and removing rights from gay and lesbian human beings.  And certainly not fostering hate.

Which is tad bit difficult to justify as a Catholic value.

The graphic is Paul Granlund's 1967 bronze sculpture, "Damascus Illumination," at St. Paul's Lutheran church, Madison, Wisconsin.

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