(Inter)National Organization for Marriage propping up Ireland marriage equality opponents

As we’re all well aware, it’s really, really hard to be a Christian in America right now. It’s especially tough if you dare to whisper, speak, tweet or march in favor of the idea that marriage always has been and always will be between one man and one woman. As the public is decreasingly devout and increasingly supportive of marriage equality, America’s Christians are worried that there are fewer and fewer places in which it is still socially acceptable to tell people that their love doesn’t matter.

That’s one of the reasons why one of America’s premier anti-gay hate groups, the — ahem — National Organization for Marriage, is taking its talents across the pond in search of greener pastures on the international anti-gay circuit.

On Friday, Ireland will vote on a referendum that would, if passed, add one line to the country’s constitution that reads: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” Recent polls show that the referendum is likely to pass with roughly 60 percent support. All of the major political parties in Ireland have backed the referendum. On Saturday, the Guardian reported that NOM recently sent a letter to its list of donors encouraging them to visit keepmarriage.org, hosted by the parent site mothersandfathersmatter.org, in order to “bring awareness” to the anti-marriage effort. The letter reads, in part:

Just like in campaigns for marriage here in America, slanted public opinion polls become fodder to influence and depress supporters of marriage. This is happening in Ireland. If [the no campaign] can manage to pull off a victory, it will be a tremendous boost to the cause of marriage worldwide. Please do what you can to bring awareness to their efforts.

A spokesperson for NOM denied that the group was funneling American dollars to the campaign against the referendum.

Both sides of the campaign have traded allegations of foreign tampering with the race. Opponents  of the referendum, both Irish and American, have charged that American philanthropist Chuck Feeney has poured millions of his own dollars into the pro-marriage equality campaign through his organization, Atlantic Philanthropies.

Of course, by keepmarriage.org’s own citation, Atlantic Philanthropies hasn’t made any donations to pro-LGBT organizations since 2011, to say nothing of political campaigns. The campaigns in favor of the referendum, which, unlike the sites being promoted by NOM, use Irish .ie domains for their websites, have denied receiving any international funding. Yes Equality, the primary campaign in favor of the referendum, added in the Guardian that not only have all of its donations come from within the country, but that the average donation was €70.

If the referendum passes, Ireland would be the first country to ever institute marriage equality via popular vote, as opposed to legislation or a judicial decision. This would be a stinging rebuke of the Catholic Church, which has traditionally wielded considerable power in the country.

Keep in mind that Ireland is, at least on paper, a remarkably religious country: 84% of the country’s citizens identified as Catholic in the country’s last census, although surveys conducted shortly afterward showed that only 47% identified as religious, suggesting an even more marked “cultural theism” in Ireland than in the United States. The Irish constitution, while having removed all preferences for particular religious faiths and denominations, still makes explicit reference to God and specifies that a fetus has a right to life. Though loosely enforced, the country still has a blasphemy law on the books.

This high degree of nominal (if not deeply held) religiosity has led to American Christian groups eyeing Ireland before, as the country is seen as one of the last bastions of hope against the supposed moral decay that has gripped the rest of Europe. In 2013, the Atlantic reported that one of Ireland’s most prominent anti-abortion organizations received the bulk of its donations and Twitter following from American citizens; even its donation form was at one point in dollars instead of euros.

In any case, barring a colossal failure of public opinion polling — not impossible in referendum elections — Ireland will affirm marriage equality on Friday despite the best efforts of Christians at home and abroad. If history bothers to remember the National Organization for Marriage’s efforts in the race, it will be only to say that they stood squarely on the wrong side of it.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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