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|Interview: How Atlanta changed the heart of gay marriage opponent Louis Marinelli|
|by Shannon Hames|
|April 14, 2011 13:31|
When the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage brought its “Summer of Marriage” tour to the Georgia Capitol in August 2010, more than 300 counter-protesters gathered across the street to show support for same-sex marriage.
The vibrant counter-protest was a stark contrast to the NOM rally, which drew only about 35 attendees, including the event’s organizers. Among them was Louis Marinelli, a self-described conservative Republican who spearheaded the tour.
On his website, Louis recently came out of his own closet with the revelation that he now supports civil marriage for gay couples.
He also credits his stop in Atlanta as the turning point when he realized that he might be wrong about the issue of same sex marriage.
“[I]t was in Atlanta that I can remember that I questioned what I was doing for the first time. The NOM showing in the heart of the Bible Belt was dismal and the hundreds of counter-protesters who showed up were nothing short of inspiring,” Marinelli wrote at louisjmarinelli.com.
“Even though I had been confronted by the counter-protesters throughout the marriage tour, the lesbian and gay people whom I made a profession out of opposing became real people for me almost instantly,” he wrote.
Since his announcement, NOM has downplayed Marinelli’s role in the “Summer of Marriage” tour. “Louis Marinelli worked in a volunteer capacity as a bus driver during our summer marriage tour. Around this time, NOM began to pay him as a part-time consultant for helping us expand our internet reach,” NOM President Brian Brown said in a statement on the group’s new Facebook page. “He has since chosen a different focus. We wish him well.”
As Marinelli’s change of heart made national headlines last week, he spoke with the GA Voice about why the Atlanta protest moved him so deeply.
GA Voice: You were an activist against same-sex marriage equality for almost five years. Why did you feel the need to fight us?
Louis Marinelli: I started back on Aug. 2, 2006. I was a college student. I came across some news about gay marriage. Something triggered in my mind and I wondered why nobody was opposing this. The gay marriage momentum was rolling from state to state and I told myself that I had to do something to be some kind of force against it.
What was it that made you so fearful of gay people wanting to be married?
You know, I think that the issue was not specifically the issue of gay marriage but an overall decline in what society thinks marriage is and the general liberalization of married life. Things like the ease of obtaining a no-fault divorce are things that liberalize the marriage laws. I don’t think it was something specifically in terms of what gay people were going to do, but the movement in the country in that direction was the last straw.
We agree that when you have couples who love each other and want to get married and make a commitment to each other, all of society benefits. So why didn’t you support that when it involved gay couples?
I had a misconception that all gay people are highly promiscuous. I understand now that that is not the case. The impression that I had was that the legalization of same-sex marriage would create a situation where marriage was basically government recognition of who you live with. It wasn’t going to have any specific meaning. So that’s what I was fighting against — that devaluation of what I thought that marriage was.
The article that you wrote where you came out in support of marriage equality, you said that the NOM tour stop in Atlanta was the beginning of the timeline of your change of heart.
I had some beliefs about Atlanta going into it that we were going to have a very successful turnout given the fact that we were going to have Dr. Alveda King with us. I thought it was a city deep in the South, the Bible belt — I knew that we were going to have a highly successful rally with huge numbers. When we got there, we had a very low turnout. On the other hand, your side (the GLBTQ crowd) had a very high turnout.
There was something very different about the protesters in Atlanta than the other ones that we encountered earlier on the tour. The Atlanta crowd was inspiring. It made me look at them and question myself for the first time. I said to myself, “What am I doing here?”
The memory that sticks with me most of Atlanta is the protester interaction with our rally. They were holding hands, they were singing with our singer. It really humanized them to me. Before, I looked at them as wildly different. At the rally, they were there in opposition to us but they were smiling and holding hands and singing and it made me feel like I was being very petty about this issue.
What really put it all into perspective for me was that in a city where we should have had a great turnout of people who support traditional marriage, we had almost nobody.
I didn’t come out with this earlier because I was concerned that for some time that I was just going through a phase. Maybe I was being a softy on the issue. It took some time for me to realize that the newfound feeling that I had for equality was a genuine feeling.
The months that followed the marriage tour, I changed the theme of my blog from a single, marriage-oriented issue to general conservatism and then, I came out supporting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December and then at the end of January, I came out in favor of marriage equality.
You spent years fighting marriage equality, went on this tour and then had an epiphany and have now done a complete u-turn. What are your family and friends saying?
Because this was a long process, I was actually able to tell them on my own accord in my own timing and in a way that wasn’t so surprising to them. They saw it slowly unfolding and everyone has been very supportive.
My mother was very surprised and concerned because she didn’t understand why I could change like that. But she was very helpful because at first, it was very difficult for me to even say the words. I was working against it for so long.
Do you feel the need to undo the damage that you may have caused?
I got into a mode where I felt that I just wanted to make the point and walk away from it because it was something that was causing me a lot of stress because it was such a personal inner struggle.
After I made the announcement, however, I received so many letters of support and kind words — that has inspired me to want to get up and do what I can to help the cause. I want to make myself available in any way that I can to pursue the cause of marriage equality.
Now that you’ve been in both camps, what do you feel that the LGBT community can do to advance the cause of marriage equality?
Given the fact that that most liberal people already support their cause, I think that the best strategy moving forward is to try to convince people like me by doing the same thing that you and your friends did in Atlanta — force people to see gay people in everyday life.
It wasn’t some kind of a speech or a video or something like that for me. It was just going there and seeing you with my own eyes...
Maybe that kind of strategy moving forward where you just let the people get to know you. Play a game of poker or something and let them walk away after spending that time with you and they’ll say, “These people are deserving of their civil rights.”
Top photo: Louis Marinelli (left) spearheaded the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage’s 2010 ‘Summer of Marriage’ tour. He credits the hundreds of peaceful counter-protesters in Atlanta as the starting point for his journey to supporting civil marriage for gay couples. (Marinelli photo via Facebook; Atlanta photo by Laura Douglas-Brown)
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