April 15, 2011
Newsweek’s Eve Conant, who has been tracking NOM for some time, just published a lengthy piece on the story of Louis’ conversion, including the story of what happened while he sat on a bench in St. Louis with Anthony, and a quote from Louis’ mom:
The young Republican’s turnabout began last summer, when he was on the road with NOM after taking a break from teaching English in Russia. Marinelli, the product of a difficult divorce, had been running an anti-gay marriage Facebook site that he says funneled donations to NOM and had, in the spring of 2010, contracted with the group to help with a summer bus tour and online outreach.
“I started to see that they were not just political targets, they were real people who just… wanted to get married. It started to feel like a petty issue.”
The tour was meant to drum up support for traditional marriage, but at every step NOM workers and supporters were followed by pro-gay activists. The Courage Campaign, a progressive alliance based in California, sent out field director Arisha Hatch and cameraman Anthony Ash to cover the events, often conducting quick and terse interviews with NOM leaders and supporters, including Marinelli.
Marinelli says he just wanted to hold on to a lifestyle he held dear. He was an altar boy who briefly attended Catholic school, and as an adult he was determined to protect traditional values. “I saw gay marriage as just another liberal iconoclastic attack on traditional culture,” he said.
His mother, Karen Clark, said she’s surprised at his change, but not the reasons behind it: “I knew he wasn’t against gay people, he just really supports traditional marriage.” He’s the kind of man, she says “who wants only a Tiffany ring for his fiancée once he gets engaged.”
While on the NOM tour in Atlanta, Marinelli recalled looking out at a crowd of some 300 counterprotesters supporting gay marriage, and it floored him. “I started to wonder—what was I doing here?” he said. “That’s the point when I first started to question myself.”
But he kept on toeing the NOM line. During the tour, he helped with logistics, driving, sound checks, advertising, and Internet promotion, tweeting about the immorality of gays.
In early August he said he sat on a park bench in St. Louis with cameraman Ash, a 29-year-old gay man who asked him questions on camera, resulting in a typically cold interview—until Ash turned off the camera.
“I asked Louis, ‘Can we just be real for a minute’?” said Ash, who was devoting his summer to tracking NOM’s every move. He said Marinelli asked him why Ash had covered his ID badge one day when Marinelli took a photo of it. “I told him it was out of safety, that one NOM supporter had said the solution to gay marriage was lynching, and I was looking out for myself.” (Ash said he was punched and his camera damaged during a subsequent NOM tour.) They talked briefly about their lives, and Ash told Marinelli he had a family whom he had left for the summer to fight NOM. He said he also did drag. “He laughed. You could tell he was uncomfortable, it was kind of overload for him, but he laughed,” said Ash.
That conversation had a lasting impact, said Marinelli. “I realized he was someone I could talk to, not someone I wanted to go after anymore,” he said. “Anthony helped change me because I finally saw someone personally affected by what I was doing.”
Marinelli paused. “I started to see that they were not just political targets, they were real people who just… wanted to get married. It started to feel like a petty issue.”
The power of personal, one-on-one, Courageous conversations. A story we can use with family, friends and colleagues.