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Did HRC Drive Off with the NOM Defector's Marriage Equality Tour?

Last week, we broke the story that Kitty Lambert, one of the very first lesbians legally married in New York State, would be joining NOM defector Louis Marinelli, once a staunch opponent of gay marriage, on a national marriage equality bus tour.

Curiously, within hours of our story and Marinelli's announcement (via his new group, the National Organization for Marriage Equality), the Human Rights Campaign announced their own very similar bus tour, launching the same week.

Coincidence? Marinelli says no. HRC says yes.

Regardless, it may keep one of the most significant people to flip on this issue from being able to hit the road as a convert.

The timeline of the two competing tours goes something like this:

Marinelli spends the summer of 2010 as the bus driver and digital guru for NOM's anti-gay Summer for Marriage tour. During it, he encounters Arisha Hatch and Anthony Ash of the Courage Campaign's NOM Tour Tracker project. This plants the seeds of conversion in his heart.

Marinelli returns to Russia, where he's been teaching English most of the time the past few years. In April, he gives an interview to Good As You's Jeremy Hooper, officially coming out for marriage equality. Lawrence O'Donnell covers it on MSNBC, and the Courage Campaign sends out a fundraising e-mail under Marinelli's name shortly thereafter. Plans are discussed between Marinelli and Courage about doing some type of tour together, but nothing comes to fruition.

At this point, things get a little fuzzy about how two tours wound up launching on the same date. From a blog post entitled "Corporate HRC Bus Tour Running Tour Off the Road," Marinelli writes that he:

"got on a conference call with Arisha Hatch and Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign to float my idea of doing the tour and to get them to participate. Both Rick and Arisha thought the idea was great and they were excited to be on board and work on the project together. But Mr. Jacobs indicated that he didn't have the power to give the green light to the project himself, or else he would. He had to check in with the chain of command.

"A month later, I hadn't heard back from anybody and I started making calls to the Courage Campaign office from Russia to check in. Each time I was told that Mr. Jacobs was in a meeting or somehow unavailable. I left messages which were never returned."

For their part, the Courage Campaign's Arisha Hatch tells the Voice that, after an initial skepticism the first time Marinelli contacted, she's had "nothing but good things to say about Louis" and believes that "for him to do what he's doing take a lot of courage." She says that, while the Courage Campaign was not interested in going on the entire tour with him, they were interested in possibly doing some events together at certain stops. The Courage Campagin and Marinelli exchanged messages as recently as the end of last week about possibly working together.

However, it may all be for naught. Even though Marinelli had moved forward to start his tour in San Diego, and had even gotten Kitty Lambert to join him, HRC took the wind out of his sails by announcing their tour, launching the same week.

Responding to an inquiry, HRC's Michael Cole-Schwartz wrote to the Voice that:

"[W]e've been planning the HRC bus tour for quite a while and that timing of our release had nothing to do with any external groups or individuals. It was driven by our national poll being completed and the imperative that we begin marketing the events around the tour in the individual cities. Our 'On the Road to Equality tour is an HRC event and the only affiliations it has are with state and local organizations we're working with at individual stops. We haven't coordinated anything with Louis Marinelli or his group, nor is our tour connected with the Courage Campaign."

The Courage Campaign confirmed that they got a heads up about the HRC tour shortly before their announcement, but played no role in it.

Still, Marinelli doesn't seem to believe HRC didn't steal his idea, writing:

"By the way, nice name for the tour, HRC. 'The Road to Equality' has a nice ring to it and if you need a good graphic for promoting the tour, I put one on the NOME website a week or so ago to promote my marriage equality tour. See the big slide graphic for the equality tour where the flags of each state we intend to visit are? Well, right above that is where you'll see the green highway signs on one of which is written 'Road to Equality'. I spent a lot of time on that in Photoshop but [you] can take that, too, if you need it."

The big problem for him, Marinelli says, is not that HRC is also doing a tour, but that it may kill his. Funding sources he was relying on, he says, don't seem to feel the need to sponsor his tour when the well-oiled machine that is HRC is doing the same thing. He even admits:

"I understand the HRC has the manpower, resources, reputation and ability to do their tour and do it well. I won't even contend the fact that they're tour will likely draw more media attention and more people will likely attend their events and sign up for their newsletter and give their credit card information to a young man or woman walking around with a clipboard soliciting donations. Hey, you need money to get the job done and I fully understand that."

Still, as a self described "conservative Republican supporting marriage equality," who had done the same tour the year before for the other side, he knows hitting the road with Kitty Lambert would have given a perspective never heard before, which might have had a better chance of changing people's minds across America than when the HRC bus rides into town.

sthrasher@villagevoice.com | @steven_thrasher


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