The leading national organization opposing same-sex marriage has sought to split the Democratic Party base by pitting African-Americans and Hispanics against gay-rights groups, according to confidential strategy memos made public by court officials in Maine.
"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies," says one of the memos. It also suggests "interrupting" the process of cultural assimilation for Hispanics in hopes of curtailing support for same-sex marriage.
The documents, dating from 2009, were written by the National Organization for Marriage and had been kept from the public until Monday, when they were unsealed by court officials in Maine.
They were part of a two-pronged legal challenge of Maine's financial disclosure laws. Still unresolved is whether the NOM will have to release the names of donors to its successful 2009 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Maine.
The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay-rights organization, first circulated the documents Monday night, and its president, Joe Solmonese, assailed the strategies that they detailed.
"With the veil lifted, Americans everywhere can now see the ugly politics that the National Organization for Marriage traffics in every day," Solmonese said. "While loving gay and lesbian couples seek to make lifelong commitments, NOM plays racial politics, tries to hide donors and makes up lies about people of faith."
Through the Human Rights Campaign, veteran civil rights leader Julian Bond also condemned the NOM strategy.
"NOM's underhanded attempts to divide will not succeed if Black Americans remember their own history of discrimination," said the statement from Bond, a former chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Pitting bigotry's victims against other victims is reprehensible; the defenders of justice must stand together."
NOM's president, Brian Brown, was unapologetic, issuing a brief statement hailing his organization's collaboration with other black and Hispanic leaders, including Bishop Harry Jackson, a Maryland church pastor, and New York state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.
"Gay marriage advocates have attempted to portray same-sex marriage as a civil right, but the voices of these and many other leaders have provided powerful witness that this claim is patently false," Brown said.
"Gay marriage is not a civil right, and we will continue to point this out in written materials such as those released in Maine," Brown added. "We proudly bring together people of different races, creeds and colors to fight for our most fundamental institution: marriage."
The NOM documents depicted Democratic Party leaders as "increasingly inclined to privilege the concerns of gay rights groups over the values of African-Americans."
"Find, equip, energize and connect African-American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots," one memo said.
The memos stressed the pivotal political role of Latinos as a swing constituency.
"Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values?" one NOM memo asked. "We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity ... a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation."
The NOM strategy also called for portraying President Barack Obama as a "social radical" and seeking to cast same-sex marriage in a negative light by linking it to other issues, such as pornography and sexualizing of children.
Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, a national advocacy group supporting same-sex marriage, said the memos suggest the NOM "will stop at nothing to push its agenda, pitting American against American, minority against minority, family members against family members."
"These smoking-gun documents show how NOM has sought, in the most cynical ways imaginable, to bait the gay community in hopes of provoking a hurt response that would further divide," he said.
The NOM is playing an active role this year as battles over same-sex marriage unfold in several states.
In Maryland and Washington, the organization and its allies are gathering signatures to place measures on the Nov. 6 ballot that would overturn recently passed same-sex marriage laws.
In Maine, it will be seeking defeat of a measure already placed on the November ballot that would legalize same-sex marriage. In North Carolina and Minnesota, the NOM is supporting ballot measures that would amend the state constitutions to define marriage as only between a man and woman.
The unsealed court documents illustrated that the NOM sometimes falls short of its goals. The memos said a priority for 2010 was to repeal gay-marriage laws in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. But same-sex marriage remains in effect in those three jurisdictions along with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New York.
The memos contained extensive details about NOM's finances, but they do not identify individual donors, including three who had given more than $1 million apiece as of late 2009.
In Maine, the group leading the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage — Mainers United for Marriage — announced the appointment of Matt McTighe as campaign manager. He had been the state public education director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based gay-rights law firm.
McTighe said he was reviewing the NOM documents Tuesday, but was troubled by what he saw on first take.
"We try to focus on telling the positive stories on why marriage matters to all committed loving couples in Maine, and here they are trying to use fear and scare tactics to turn people off," he said.
Crary reported from New York. Associated Press writer Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report. David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP.
One of the unsealed NOM memos: http://bit.ly/GUGMhZ