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Sexual Disorientation

The road to marriage equality is anything but straight

June 24, 2009, 12:00 am

Most years, EQNM follows up the legislative session by hosting a debriefing for the community. At these meetings, supporters can ask questions and help consider future strategies.

That conversation didn’t happen after the 2009 legislative session.

“In not hosting those public debriefings, I think we allowed misinformation to fester,” McElroy says. “It reached a boiling point, and a group of leaders in the community decided we needed to bring folks together to clear the air and to establish the way forward.”

EQNM leaders revived a tradition that hadn’t been observed in three years: They invited the community, on June 6, to a “Summit on LGBT Rights.” More than 100 representatives from a variety of organizations turned out for what was ultimately a well-organized brainstorming and mediation session.

Yet, the moderators could not always keep the firefights from breaking out between EQNM’s leadership and several frustrated activists.

While some of the critics spoke to the communication issues, others were more philosophical, reflecting the divide over one of the more contentious aspects of the gay lobbying effort: how to deal with the Catholic Church.

Lobbyists at the session had taken a diplomatic and conciliatory approach. Some believe it’s time to take organized religion head-on.

“I kind of say, ‘Eff the Catholic Church.’ We need to come to them from a position of power,” Montoya, a former altar boy who says he was molested by a priest, tells SFR. “The Catholic Church has lied to me from day one…I don’t believe the church has a position of moral authority on this. Marriage is a civil issue. It’s a state law and the Catholic Church has nothing to do with it.”

Montoya suggests EQNM pursue a new, hardball strategy in which the LGBT community threatens to legally challenge the church’s nonprofit status in court because of its political activities. At the same time, he thinks Siegle should be replaced with a straight, Catholic, Hispanic, male lobbyist.

“I do think that would change people’s minds,” Montoya says. “I’m Latino and I don’t let the Catholic Church influence my way of thinking, but a lot of people do and I respect that. If they see someone like them championing [marriage equality], it would let them take another look at this issue.”

The implication offends Siegle, who compares it to someone suggesting to African Americans in the 1960s that white guys should lead the civil rights movement.

“I think gay people have to be the leaders of their organizations and actions,” Siegle says. “Every lobbyist has a style, and my style is not to alienate people. I may have disagreements with legislators, but I am a liberal and I don’t burn bridges for any reason. You can’t be a good lobbyist and do that.”

Yet many feel like the time for discussion has passed and that it’s time to stop asking for domestic partnerships and push for full marriage equality. Siegle doesn’t disagree.

“It should be part of our strategy to have people picketing and being radical and extreme and saying ‘marriage or nothing!’” Siegle says. “But that’s not your ‘inside’ strategy. Your inside strategy is to work with people to get the bills passed. There are things that people on the outside can say that I can never say.”

Wold also took Siegle and EQNM to task during the meeting, but has since double-backed on her attacks.

“Time has mellowed me since the meeting,” Wold says. “The bottom line is I respect all these people. It’s a roller-coaster ride. When I get back into my clear mind, I see it that way.”

But in order to move forward, EQNM’s leadership may need to learn to respect other community leaders. During the summit, EQNM board members suggested that Wold and Broderick were naive about politics, even though both were leaders in the grassroots Democratic Party movement that resulted in changing New Mexico into a true-blue state and adding gay marriage to the state party’s platform.

“My feeling was that [EQNM] did this event so everybody would have a voice,” Montoya, who was picked to lead the next strategy session on July 11, says. “They are agreeing to be directed by what we come up with…I think they will listen. If they don’t, they will lose their credibility.”

And if the bill doesn’t pass during the next session (the governor would have to specifically add domestic partnerships to the agenda, which will otherwise be limited to fiscal matters in 2010’s 30-day session), the LGBT community will need to brace for a long, hard election season.

“The passage of domestic partnerships is important because we have a sitting governor who supports passage of the legislation,” McElroy says. “We’ve seen what happens when LGBT issues become the focal point of a general election…These polarizing issues don’t bring out the best in voters.”

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