March 26, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Of all the electoral prizes up for grabs in 2012 when it comes to marriage equality (and at this point it looks like there will be five), North Carolina might seem like the one with the lowest stakes. Unlike Maryland, Maine and Washington, the most positive outcome in North Carolina doesn’t mean marriage equality becomes a reality. North Carolina state law already bans marriage for gay and lesbian couples, and the state does not offer civil unions. Amendment One is a deeply flawed proposal, but a no vote might appear on the surface like something that would do little to change the status quo or improve the lives of LGBT couples in North Carolina. Why, then, is the ballot measure so important?
In an associated press article published yesterday, Tom Breen calls North Carolina “a discordant note in the Southern choir.” Every other state in the South has passed a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality, with North Carolina the only holdout. The distinction between state laws banning marriage and constitutional marriage bans is more than just semantic: a state court can strike an anti-marriage statute down as unconstitutional, but a constitutional amendment stymies the judiciary’s ability to provide equal protection rights to LGBT couples. State laws can be amended by legislators; constitutional amendments must be repealed by the voters themselves. In this way, if Amendment One were to pass, it would make North Carolina an even less friendly place to LGBT couples, and would mea the eventual path to marriage equality in the state would be longer and more difficult.
More importantly, though, North Carolina differs both demographically and in its political philosophy from the rest of the South. Democrats controlled at least one chamber of the state legislature for over a century until 2010, blocking constitutional marriage bans when they arose. Desegregation in North Carolina took place without the violence endured by other Southern states; Barack Obama won the state’s 15 electoral votes in 2008.
In other words: out of all the Southern states, North Carolina seems the most natural choice to reflect the growing support for marriage equality across the U.S. by bucking the tradition set by its neighbors and defeating a marriage ban. A win for our side in North Carolina would show that the momentum for marriage equality truly is building, and that the coalition of voters from all walks of life that support the right to marry can make a difference and defeat an odious measure like Amendment One. This victory may seem largely symbolic, but it is in fact extremely practical as well. The last time a marriage amendment was considered in a Southern state was in 2008. Amendment One has re-opened the marriage conversation in the South, and now that it is 2012 and much has changed in the last four years, the opportunity is ripe to reach out to citizens and change minds and hearts.
It will be an difficult battle. When the proposed amendment was moved up from the November ballot to the May primary ballot, election watchers believed that a contested Republican primary might bring out more voters who would approve of the amendment, leading to its passage. But Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue’s retirement means that there will be a Democratic primary on the May ballot as well, which should make the Amendment One question more competitive.
Courage Campaign is joining a netroots moneybomb this week to help the Coalition to Protect NC Families, which is working to defeat Amendment One, get a response ad on the air. The No on One campaign needs to raise $1 million to get its ads on the air on April 1–you can click on the thermometer at the top of this post or this link to contribute!
Also, at 3 pm EST today, P8TT will host campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy to take your questions and suggestions. Please tune in then for info on how the Amendment One campaign is going and how you can help out.
UPDATE (3/27): In the interest of full disclosure, and in response to some readers’ comments, I wanted to update this post to go into more depth about the polling issues regarding Amendment One. In my original post, I cited an Elon University poll that said 54 percent of respondents opposed the amendment, with 38 percent supporting it. Some commenters called the Elon poll flawed, and pointed out correctly that two other polls from WRAL and PPP which presented voters with the language of the constitutional amendment itself told a different story, with margins in favor of approving the measure of 58/36 and 56/34 respectively.
It was never my intent to highlight only the results of the poll that shows positive news for our side, and my original post made the point that even in spite of that poll, it would be a difficult campaign to defeat Amendment One. Nevertheless, the different results of the three polls, in my opinion, demonstrates even more clearly why North Carolina is such an important place for the marriage movement to focus on in the next month. While we may be losing on the exact wording of the amendment, the Elon poll shows that we have a chance at winning on the issues if we can educate voters as to just how damaging Amendment One would be, not only for gay couples, but also for unmarried straight couples, the elderly, and children. The North Carolina campaign is about shifting demographics, voter education and laying the groundwork for a future in which the marriage movement can gain the upper hand when it comes to protecting children and their families’ rights. That is why, to me, North Carolina presents an incredible opportunity for advancement, even if the fight looks tough as we approach May 8.