(Reuters) - A confidential memo saying the best way to fight same-sex marriage is to drive "a wedge between gays and blacks" and manipulate Latinos drew criticism on Wednesday in the weeks ahead of a vote to ban gay marriage in North Carolina.
The memo written by the National Organization for Marriage was made public late Monday as part of a lawsuit in Maine, where voters will consider a November referendum to legalize gay marriage.
The previously confidential memo outlined a number of strategies aimed at increasing opposition to gay marriage among Latinos and blacks as a way of undermining the argument that gay rights are equivalent to civil rights. "It's really quite appalling that they would try to divide portions of the country along racial lines," said Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality North Carolina, a group leading opposition to a May 8 referendum on whether to change the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement that NOM's plan was rooted in cynicism and predicted it would fail.
"No group, no matter how well funded, can drive an artificial wedge between two communities whose histories are so intertwined. People of color understand what it is like to be the target of discrimination. No public relations strategy will make us forget that," Jealous said.
The memo, discussing NOM's 2008-2009 accomplishments, outlined its strategy for fighting the movement to legalize gay marriage, including one effort called ‘Not a Civil Rights Project.'
"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks - two key Democratic constituencies," the memo said. "Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage… provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots."
The memo also discussed efforts to reach out to Hispanics by labeling support for same-sex marriage a concession to ‘Anglo' culture and a plan to get Latino celebrities to do television ads.
"We must interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity - a symbol of resistance to inappropriate assimilation," the document said. Following the memo's release, NOM issued a statement saying the group has "worked extensively with supporters of traditional marriage from every color, creed and background." Like North Carolina, Minnesota voters will consider a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Maine's referendum considers whether to allow it.
Same-sex couples can currently marry in the District of Columbia, New York, Iowa and four New England states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.
Gay marriage laws have also been passed in Washington, effective June 7, and Maryland, effective in January 2013.
(Editing By Barbara Goldberg and Dan Burns)