NOM: An Astroturf Web of Deception

  • 06/03/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

Originally Published in the print edition of Random Lengths News, April 5, 2012

Astroturf organizations are good at creating deceptive names for themselves and the “causes” on behalf of which they advocate.

The term astroturf refers to the building of a grassroots program for the purpose of manufacturing public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or deceptive means are used to recruit them. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “deceive” as an act to make a person “believe what is not true; delude; mislead.” And, like some people who believe in the devil say, deception takes all sorts of shapes, forms and color. It can even come in a simple name.

The National Organization for Marriage is perhaps one of the best “astroturfers” out there.

While the organization claims to be “for marriage” and even features a flash photo of a mixed race couple being married by Pope Benedict XVI on its website, the group’s main goal is deny and discriminate same-sex couples from the right to legally marry.

Recently, the National Organization for Marriage barraged Random Lengths News with more than 60 Letters to the Editor faxes alleging that Starbucks Corp. has “begun a public campaign to rewrite laws to recognize same sex marriage.” The letters are exact replicate of each other.

Each letter was verbatim: The same letter with the exception of the name and a Southern California address affixed at the end without actual, signatures. Every fax came from the same La Jolla, Calif. fax number.  The letter writer accuses Starbucks of having a an “anti-marriage” political agenda and that he or she, along with others, will no longer buy coffee at the franchises. Then, it goes on to invite people to a website owned by NOM, that advocates a boycott on Starbucks. Pretty nifty, right?

Starbucks drew NOM’s animus after the Seattle-based coffee retailer stated that it was joining other companies in the state of Washington to support legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples.

At a shareholder meeting this past month (in March 2012), CEO Howard Schultz, was questioned about the company’s stance on marriage equality. Some believe the questioners were NOM-planted people. Schultz restated the company’s commitment to diversity and equality, and that its decision to support same-sex marriage was “not something that was a difficult decision.”  This infuriated NOM.

Just like “One Million Moms” efforts — another one of those nifty deceptive astroturf names that claim 999,300 more supporters than it actually has— to force J.C. Penny’s to fire openly-gay talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres, as the company’s advertising campaign spokeswoman, NOM’s effort to hurt Starbucks bottom line for it’s public support will fall flat.

In fact, the groups efforts is already showing to have backfired if Starbucks online support is any indication. A Seattle Times article about the dust-up has received 18,334 likes, and shared 3,615 times, along with 1,433 overwhelmingly positive comments in support of the company.

Starbucks could justifiably be criticized and called to task for many things, but it’s stance on Marriage Equality is one of them. If anything, NOM is the one with a public image problem with the surfacing of secret documents revealing race-baiting tactics intended to pit communities of color against queer activists. According to those leaked memos,  NOM sought to target the “elite,” “unintelligent celebrities” and “Latino and Latina leaders,” to carry their message.

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

Marriages for same-sex couples, as with biracial marriages in other times, do not threaten the marriage of anyone else. And, though the United States is culturally under-girded by Judeo-Christian beliefs, it should be remembered that our U.S. Constitution codified the separation of church and state to protect religious and non-religious minorities alike. Limiting legal rights to heterosexuals, while denying taxpaying homosexual couples in equally committed relationships IS unfair and it’s simply wrong.

Perhaps the solution to the marriage debate is less complicated than is perceived. Our states and country should probably adopt language into laws that clearly delineate legal marriages from religious marriages by making state or federal government the sole arbiter of marriage licensing as is done in other countries, rather than religious institutions acting on behalf of county registrars issuing marriage licenses.

By vocalizing support for marriage equality, Starbucks has not just assured  a large segment of their coffee loving customer base, the company also made sure that they are on the right side of history.


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