Playing Amendment One

Becky Garrison: On May 8, 2012, with 2,136,277 votes cast, 61% of voters in North Carolina voted in favor of an amendment that makes “marriage between one man and one woman… the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” While North Carolina already has a law prohibiting same-sex marriage, Republicans deemed this vote necessary to ensure that the law could not be struck down by “activist” judges.

With this amendment’s passage, North Carolina becomes the 31st state to pass an amendment upholding “traditional marriage.”  The Pew Center for the States reports that “a similar ban is on the ballot later this year in Minnesota. In four other states, supporters of gay marriage are on the offensive. In Maryland and Washington, voters may be asked to decide whether to allow new laws permitting same-sex marriage to take effect, although neither measure has not qualified for the ballot yet. And in Maine, a citizen initiative later this year would authorize gay marriage. Proponents are trying to get a similar proposal on the ballot in Ohio.” An infographic map charting the state of gay marriage in the United States can be found on their website.

The New York Times outlined the concern, raised by a group of family law professors from across the state, that this vague language could also apply to the more than 150,000 straight couples in the state who live together but are unmarried. The amendment could also invalidate domestic-violence protections, undercut child custody arrangements and jeopardize hospital visiting rights.”

Religious leaders such as Rev. Billy Graham positioned this law as gay versus God, thus contributing to the misperception that only “homosexuals” will be impacted by this decision. According to The Advocate, earlier polling results indicate that a number of voters bought into Graham’s interpretation of the amendment and thought they were voting to oppose “homosexual” marriage. When those surveyed were informed about the amendment’s broad authority to outlaw civil unions, only 38% supported it, compared to 46% who opposed.

In passing the amendment, many white and African-American conservatives set political differences aside to vote in accordance with a literalist interpretation of the bible. Even though the NAACP, and many black leaders–religious leaders or otherwise–campaigned hard against the amendment, The Charlotte Observer stated, “many black voters continued to see same-sex marriage not as a civil rights issue, but as a lifestyle choice with which they don’t agree.”

Over at Alternet, Kristin Rawls refutes this analysis of the black and Latino vote, noting the multi-racial coalitions formed to defeat the amendment.  She adds that the media did not apply similar scrutiny to the white vote.

Among the organizations united in the Vote for Marriage NC ( coalition include the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), Christian Action League, NC Values Coalition, African American Pastors, and NC Baptists. Also the Catholic Diocese in North Carolina’s non-partisan public policy organization Catholic Voice North Carolina worked with their Executive Committee to pass this amendment with the diocese contributing $100,000 to this cause.

Over at Religion Dispatches, Peter Montgomery  chronicles some of the “loving” actions done by those seeking to preserve the institution of marriage. These voices include NOM spokesperson The Rev. Patrick Wooden, who reminisces about those bygone days when anti-LGBT violence was the norm, the wife of a state senator endorsing this amendment in order to populate the diminishing Caucasian race and Pastor Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville encouraging his churchgoers to beat any “homosexual” or “butch” tendencies out of their sons and daughters.

As reported by Indy Week “the anti-Amendment One campaign chose not to emphasize the point about civil unions in its advertising, however. Instead, the Coalition to Protect All NC Families raised alarms about ‘unintended harms’ that could be caused by the language, which makes heterosexual marriage ‘the only domestic legal union’ valid in the state. This strategy served to bring together  a number of African-American clergy and pro-LGBT faith based coalitions, a move that challenges NOM’s strategy  to use “homosexual marriage” as a wedge issue to split the Democratic party by pitting pro-gay liberal activists and African American and Latino leaders against one another. In a statement, George Reed, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches reflected on these advocacy efforts, “Individuals who may not believe in gay marriage have come to realize that they also do not believe that the state’s foundational document, its bedrock of freedom, should be used to discriminate.”

Progress NC lists churches, faith based organizations and over 500 religious leaders, who have been actively campaigning against Amendment One. Also, a complete list of religious groups opposing the amendment can be found at Protect NC Families website.

Following this development, a group of LGBT couples in North Carolina plan to request marriage licenses as part of a “We Do Campaign for Southern Equality” to continue the fight for marriage equality and the pro-gay activist community in North Carolina plans to “look at all legal options and political options” to overturn the amendment. In addition, some wish to move the 2012 DNC convention from Charlotte to a more pro-gay environment. Also, the pro-gay activist community in North Carolina plans to “look at all legal options and political options” to overturn the amendment.

Their options will undoubtedly be governed by who assumes the position in the Oval Office. At present, Mitt Romney proclaims he will support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Given the donation made to NOM by Romney’s Super Pac (NOM has since endorsed him for President) Romney appears to be making inroads toward convincing all but the most dogmatic fundamentalist that he is the “pro family candidate.”

In Obama’s public announcement in which he stated that he now supports same sex marriage, he noted that the Justice Department will not enforce DOMA, an act they consider a violation of the equal protection clause. While Obama expressed his disappointed in the Amendment One ruling, he also stated that same sex marriage is an issue that should be left up to the states. Whether Obama’s support is pre-election pandering–the kind that has no teeth once the ballots are counted–remains to be seen.

This post was updated on May 16, 2012.

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