As NOM's Summer for Marriage Tour 2010 begins to hit its stride, prominent gay group HRC says the entire campaign is a “sham.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest gay rights advocate, says it believes the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) 23-city bus tour to promote opposite-sex marriage is hiding a dark secret in plain view.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications and marketing at HRC, said Tuesday that the tour is designed to incite loud protests, not promote heterosexual marriage.

Sainz said that the group is “devoting its energies almost exclusively to condemning lawful protesters” in an effort to build a case against proponents of gay marriage. Evidence of ill-behaved protesters could boost several ongoing lawsuits that claim opponents of gay marriage face threats of violence and intimidation, and their identities need to be shielded.

“NOM and its allies are making a last-ditch legal stand in Washington and Maine that they should be specifically entitled to hide their political activities, and they're saying that harassment and intimidation should provide them this cover,” Sainz wrote.

The Supreme Court last month rejected the groups' broad claim that public disclosure laws violate the First Amendment, but added that petitioners could return to lower courts with their specific concerns. The groups say they will continue the fight.

Meanwhile, at its eleventh stop in St. Paul, Minnesota, NOM drew a large crowd. One head count put NOM supporters at 163, its largest rally to date.

A counter demonstration held inside the Statehouse rotunda and led by gay rights group OutFront Minnesota drew over 200 supporters.

Calling Minnesota “the next key battleground state,” NOM announced in May it would pour $200,000 into the state.

“Many Minnesotans are unaware that special interest groups are working to convince activist judges and DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] lawmakers to redefine marriage in the state,” Brian Brown, president of NOM, said in a statement.

In its first television ad, the group took aim at four prominent candidates running for governor who support gay marriage: former state Rep. Matt Entenza, independent candidate Tom Horner, former state Senator Mark Dayton and state Rep. Margaret Anderson-Kelliher.

“Leading DFL and independent candidates for governor support homosexual marriage,” a male announcer says in the ad. “And most DFL lawmakers don't want you to have a say. When they ask for your support, ask them if they'll guarantee your right to vote on marriage.”

In previous stops, NOM has made plenty of noise concerning the civility of demonstrators. And in two speeches, Maggie Gallagher suggested that gay marriage backers are haters.

“We live in an upside down world,” Gallagher told a crowd gathered outside a shuttered grocery store. “We live in a world where people tell us good is bad and bad is good … [But] truth and love will triumph over lies and hatred.”

At a Columbus rally, Gallagher expressed a similar sentiment: “I have a message for our good friends who don't agree with us – a few of them are gathered out there on the other side – hate is not a family value.”

At other stops, NOM President Brian Brown has also attempted to flip the script on supporters by saying his civil rights were in danger.

“We've taken great pains to make clear what we are all about,” Brown said Wednesday in St. Paul. “We view ourselves as a new civil rights movement. … Committed to something that in the 1960s was key: the right to vote.”

“We stand for tolerance,” he added. “We will stand up and repudiate hatred on both sides.”

NOM is the group behind measures in Maine and California that have repealed gay marriage at the ballot box.

The bus tour is expected to end with a Washington D.C. rally on August 15.

The bus rolls into St. Cloud on Thursday and Rochester on Friday.