2015 is shaping up to be a disaster for groups fighting gay rights in the United States.
The year started off positively for supporters of LBGT equality: same-sex marriages began in Florida on Monday, making the Sunshine State the 36th state in the country to allow it. With this milestone, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin wrote, more than 70 percent of Americans, totaling more than 200 million people, now live in a state that recognizes marriage equality.
Those opposing same-sex marriage are on their heels, and increasingly unwilling or unable to make a stand against it. Asked whether the public acceptance of gay marriage was inevitable, one of the foremost opponents of gay marriage, Maggie Gallagher, gave this vague, philosophical answer:
“Nothing is inevitable. ‘Inevitability’ is the progressive substitute for the idea of Divine Providence,” Gallagher, the former president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, told The Daily Beast. “Either God is in charge, or the future hasn't yet happened and is freely determined. Or God leaves us free.”
In a sign of the times, the ordinarily media-friendly National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association have outsourced their press inquiries to specialized conservative consulting groups. On Monday, the two associated consulting groups told The Daily Beast they couldn't even get in touch with their counterparts at NOM or the AFA to book interviews about what 2015 holds for them.
By their own acknowledgement, the National Organization for Marriage is struggling: in a year-end fundraising plea, its president admitted that the group’s “resources are nearly exhausted” going into 2015, in part due to spending in the 2014 election cycle.
But it’s worse than “nearly exhausted”: NOM’s 2013 tax filings showed the group with more than $2.5 million in debt. And their fundraising collapsed by 50 percent from the previous year.
"They have a tough road ahead, and more and more they're being honest about that. That's becoming their new cry, now they're the David against Goliath," said Jeremy Hooper, a political consultant who has monitored the activities of anti-LGBT groups for a decade. “They're owning the fact that they're at a loss now.”
Those who have watched anti-gay groups closely suggest that there will be two major strategic shifts in their strategy.
First, as opposition to gay marriage collapses, American anti-LGBT activists will slow their battle against it. Instead, they’ll fight for the rights of those who hold anti-gay views—with resources shifting to so-called “religious freedom” groups.
"It's becoming increasingly evident that where the opponents of same-sex marriage can make a serious case is that it is a violation of religious liberty to sanction same-sex marriage," said Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a long-time adovate for marriage equality. “[Their strategy is] to circle the wagons and say, look, if we're not going to win the debate on the public legitimacy of same-sex marriage, we can win the religious liberty one so that we don't have to be a part of this."
And second, with falling support domestically, many anti-LGBT groups will take their message abroad to places where the momentum is with them.
“It looks like the hardest core of anti-gay marriage advocates are turning their attention overseas, by lobbying for anti-gay marriage and anti-gay rights in places like Uganda and Russia,” Rauch said.
This is where much of the action will be for anti-LGBT groups. In February, Slovakia will have a referendum on whether marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman. The month of May will see an Irish referendum on the legalization of same-sex marriage. In Uganda, legislators are considering further criminalization of LGBT advocacy and same-sex relationships. And the homophobia in Putin's Russia may be a contagion that spreads to former Soviet satellite states such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Ultimately, 2015 might be the year American anti-LGBT advocates wish they could skip. Asked about potential victories this year for those who oppose gay marriage, Gallagher replied, “I suspect the focus is going to be on 2016[‘s presidential race,] and that social conservatives are going to struggle between choosing a champion and choosing a conventional ‘winner.’”