(Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

(Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

As Michelangelo Signorile explains, it’s all about the cash. They simply can’t raise money with anti-gay hatred and fearmongering the way they used to:

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the leading force behind the now-failed effort to stop marriage equality, announced in September that it will be joining the ugly fight against a law passed in California to protect transgender children in schools from bullying and discrimination. The move is completely outside NOM’s claimed mission to “defend” marriage as an institution of “one man and one woman.” But it’s not a shocker. We’ve seen it all before among radical right groups hellbent on enforcing a religious agenda.

During the ’80s and early ’90s, amid the darkest years of the AIDS epidemic and well before the reality of marriage equality, conservative religious groups that were focused on battling against abortion rights would sometimes meet with limited success. The groups often shifted into gay-bashing campaigns (augmenting the work of lesser-known, diehard anti-gay activists) as a way to raise lots of money to re-energize their anti-abortion crusades. The Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA), for example, got an initiative on the ballot in that state in 1990 to require parental notification for abortions by minors. It failed, and the OCA came back in 1992 with Measure 9, which would have had the Oregon Constitution deem “homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.”

That failed too, but not until after a long, brutal campaign punctuated by hate and violence in which the OCA and other groups raised a lot of money. The issue of gay and lesbian rights was always a cash cow, because there was much fear and misunderstanding about gays, a tiny and often invisible minority at the time. AIDS only exacerbated that, as the right exploited a panic over the epidemic and further stigmatized gays as diseased, dirty and disgusting. Radical right groups promoted fear and ignorance, putting money in their coffers for the larger ideological battles they were waging against women’s right to choose, secular society, free speech and what they saw as widespread sexual immorality — battles that have re-energized them over the years and which they are still waging, sometimes with alarming success (as evidenced by recent anti-abortion legislation in the states), using the Republican Party to do it.

Today, with Hawaii on the verge of becoming the 16th state to pass marriage equality, and with gays much more visible, conservative ideologues are having a harder time on the issue, including trying to raise money around it. But it doesn’t mean they’re any less ferociously focused on taking away the rights of gays — or women, or Muslims, or atheists or any other group that doesn’t fit their Christian theocratic worldview.

These groups only exist if they can gin up fear and hatred against minorities, as they distract their donors from the real problems in the world for the sake of preserving an imaginary far-right utopian ideal that never actually existed. As former AFA staffer Joe Murray explained recently, when the Religious Right began to focus on gay rights, they thought they had found their permanent cash cow, and they’ve clung to the notion that they’ve only lost because of some dark, well-funded cabal of gay rights activists who are subverting the way “real Americans” think. The truth, of course, is that we’ve come as far as we have for a number of reasons, chief among them that gays and lesbians are more out than ever before, and when your daughter/brother/next door neighbor is gay, it’s a lot harder to swallow the BS that the Religious Right is selling on the subject.

Unfortunately, far too many people don’t understand what “transgender” means, and there are still people who hear fearmongering about men in dresses using women’s bathrooms and it genuinely scares them. So for now, we have the latest Hail Mary from NOM and other groups, hoping against hope that, having lost on the marriage equality issue, anti-trans hatred will keep them solvent for a few more years. Heaven only knows who’s next on their hit list, but just as the public has learned the truth about gay people, they will learn the truth about trans people, and the Religious Right will have to move on.

This does, of course, completely disprove NOM’s constant contention that they simply existed to “protect marriage,” or that they were ever any less bigoted than their compatriot organizations.