Know Your Right Wingers
Brian Brown isn’t exactly a household name. His career on the national political scene is only in the middle of its second year, and so far he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. As executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), however, Brown has quickly become one of the most influential individuals in "family values" conservatism. Since Brown joined NOM in 2008 to work on its California Proposition 8 campaign, the organization has chalked up successes not just on passing Proposition 8, but with a similar measure called Question 1 in Maine which rescinded marriage equality. Now, NOM is turning its attention to pressuring state legislators in New York and New Jersey to vote against marriage equality bills in those states.
Outside of his NOM press releases and robocalls, Brown remains an elusive figure, but over the past several months he seems to have become more essential to NOM’s day-to-day operations than either its president, Maggie Gallagher, or the chairman of its board, Princeton University professor Robert George. While both George and Gallagher have had long careers in conservative politics, Brown is clearly a rising star.
Brown received a B.A. from Whittier College in 1996, an M.A. from Oxford (where, in a long tradition of conservative Oxonians, he converted to Catholicism), and put in some time on a half-finished Ph.D. in history at UCLA—he never began his dissertation. He and his wife, Sue Brown, have six children.
NOM is only Brown’s second political gig. Until 2008, he worked for the Family Institute of Connecticut, a non-profit advocacy organization that is now trying to overturn Connecticut’s marriage equality law, but in Brown’s day, the organization worked on opposing the distribution of condoms in public schools. FIC is very much part of the conservative establishment: It counts George, Institute for American Values president David Blankenhorn, and many other signers of the Manhattan Declaration, a pro-life and anti-marriage equality document, among the members of its advisory council. FIC is now affiliated with Focus on the Family, though it wasn’t when Brown worked there. In the 1990s, it lobbied to pass the Defense of Marriage Act. Brown’s move from Connecticut to California to work on Proposition 8 for NOM was a logical step.
After moving through the Bay Area, Princeton, N.J., Philadelphia, and regional offices in Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa, and New York to fight against same-sex marriage, Brown moved to Washington, D.C. in July 2009, when NOM opened its D.C. office. NOM doesn’t list their D.C. address. In fact, when Campus Progress went to the last-known address of NOM’s D.C. office, at 1100 H Street NW, the organization wasn’t listed as occupying the building, and the security guards said they had never heard of NOM. Instead the organization prefers to use its Princeton address and phone number.
But the Princeton office is empty and phone calls always go to voicemail—Brown and NOM may have liked the sound of an address across the street from a well-regarded, secular, nonpartisan university, but they have most certainly left the regional confines of New Jersey. In the past few months, NOM hasn’t just attempted to stop the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, but has also positioned itself as an organization with a national agenda. Its overall ideological platform is much more universal than the state-by-state marriage battles which brought NOM and Brown to prominence.
Brown has officially made it on the D.C. scene when he was profiled in the Washington Post in August 2009. That profile, written by a Post staffer named Monica Hesse, was roundly criticized by everyone from Media Matters to yours truly: In her quest to portray Brown as moderate and reasonable, she neglected to mention any criticisms of Brown and the organization he directs. Apparently, the reason Hesse found Brown so reasonable is largely because of his two and a half higher-education degrees. It’s hard to argue that advanced degrees grant someone the status of a political moderate—Brown’s colleague Robert George, for example, is arguably one of the most conservative professors in the country.
These criticisms are many, including objections to the hysterical language of fundraising e-mails signed by Brown, which certainly do nothing to differentiate him from other members of the wacky religious right, and an assortment of ethics complaints about the way that NOM campaigned against marriage equality in Iowa and Maine.
Though Brown was labeled "rational, mainstream and sane" in the Post’s profile of him, it’s hard to argue that of someone who believes LGBT Americans should remain second-class citizens.
However, there is reason to hope that Brown might still realize the error of his ways, and that hope lies in his wife, Sue, who once wondered of same-sex couples getting married, "Well, what’s the big deal if they do? What does it have to do with me?" Perhaps his wife will influence him to be more open-minded.
But if Brian Brown’s political record is anything to go by, it doesn’t look like that’ll happen anytime soon. Keep an eye out for where his career seems likely to take him after NOM, because it’s sure to be just as influential and relevant.
In His Own Words:
“The gay marriage movement has once again used the power of the courts to push an untruth on unwilling Iowans…. Same-sex unions are not marriages, and Iowans should not be forced by law to treat them as such.”
"Same-sex unions are not marriages. Political regimes based on lies about human nature cannot last. Same-sex marriage takes a sacred institution, with deep roots in human nature, and tries to turn it into the plaything of politicians, a creature of the state, a bundle of rights to be tossed about between adults."
"To show the lengths that [Judge Vaughn] Walker has gone to create a ‘record’ favoring the plaintiffs, he even allowed one ‘expert’ witness—a gay man from Colorado who has never lived in California and was never exposed to any Prop 8 campaign messages—to testify that his parents’ efforts to change his sexual orientation failed."
"The truth will not only triumph in the end, it will set us free. Stay strong! God bless you, and please keep praying for victory for marriage in 2010."