Less than a year ago Louis Marinelli was touring the country on a bus fighting against same-sex marriage, working for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the largest anti-gay marriage groups in the country. Now Marinelli has defected from NOM and is advocating for marriage equality alongside the very same people he’d sparred with for years.Marinelli first got involved with NOM because he was running an anti-gay marriage online organization called “Protect Marriage: One Man, One Woman” that he started in 2006. That organization, based on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, grew to what he believes was the largest on the Internet.
So when NOM began emerging as a major force against gay marriage, Marinelli contacted NOM President Brian Brown to establish a partnership. He first got in touch in 2009 and they were contractually working together as of 2010. Over the summer, he drove NOM’s “Summer for Marriage 2010” RV and blogged the whole thing.
But it was that summer tour with NOM — which he said gave him the opportunity to “meet and greet and see the real people that my work was negatively affecting” — that ultimately led Marinelli to a “change of heart.”
“That was the seed, and over the past six months, that seed has grown until it came today to my endorsement of same-sex marriage,” Louis Marinelli said in an interview with TPM from Russia, where he’s working as an English teacher. “I don’t want people to think it was something that happened overnight or even over a week or over a month.”
The blog Good As You first interviewed Marinelli about his switch, which Marinelli wrote about on his personal blog. As Marinelli explained in an interview with TPM, he’s been struggling with the issue for awhile now.
“I remember verbally asking myself, why am I here?” Marinelli said of his time on the bus tour. “Why am I doing this? And that’s what I said would be the tipping point, when I realized, okay, that’s not right. I’m not doing something that was right.”
Marinelli’s announcement wasn’t just a hit for NOM on the optics level — it had a real impact on the strength of their organization since Marinelli controlled the Facebook page associated with NOM. They’ve since had to start from scratch, and their current Facebook page has just over 500 members.
After Marinelli’s announcement, NOM President Brian Brown posted a message on their page that said 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,” Brown wrote. “He has since chosen a different focus. We wish him well.”
Marinelli had nothing bad to say about Brown, telling me he “never displayed any kind of animosity or hatred or even bigotry” and called him a “really nice guy.”
But Marinelli didn’t feel the same way about NOM Chairwoman Maggie Gallagher, who he described as “off base” and “kind of in her own world” and “not really down to earth.”
Marinelli now says NOM is “just a small group of people, 20 or less,” most of whom are “fringe Catholics” who “have this belief and have this strong financial backing.”
“The thing that is standing between marriage equality and the gay community is a small group of fringe Catholics with a lot of money, and I really want to get that message out, because they’re not as big as they make themselves out to be,” Marinelli said.
“One thing I know about NOM is they are completely driven by their religious faith,” Marinelli. “They are doing this because they don’t recognize civil marriage as marriage, they recognize only the church sanctioned marriage.”
Since NOM was his primary source of income, Marinelli will be making a personal sacrifice as well.
“It’s gonna be tight the next couple of months as I plan out what I’m going to be doing, hopefully I’ll be able to explain the situation to my Russian landlord,” Marinelli said. “But I plan on coming home in June anyway, so I’ll at least be home for the summer and I intend on using that time period of the summer in order to reach out and do what I can to help the cause.”
Marinelli said he hopes to “help undo some of the damage I did in the past” and “be there and help with the future or marriage equality.”
“I’ve received hundreds of messages since my announcement of support and kind words and it’s very amazing for me because I’ve been nothing but harsh and offensive to these people and they’ve shown me nothing but kindness in return,” Marinelli said. “So definitely I want to return the favor and if there’s an organization out there that needs my help or thinks my message can be used in the advancement of this cause than I’m going to make myself available.”