April 27, 2012
A sense of panic appears to be setting in among the forces who want to write discrimination into the North Carolina constitution. And for good reason.
The campaign to defeat the anti-gay Amendment 1 in North Carolina has been working hard for many months, and the signs are there that the amendment could go down, making it only the second time a statewide anti-gay amendment has been rejected by the voters. Arizona rejected a ballot measure in 2006 but managed to pass it later. Polling on the amendment has shifted rapidly toward opposition among many demographics. Last month, a PPP poll showed that the only constituencies opposed were independents and young voters. Democrats were narrowly supportive, Republicans strongly supportive, and African American voters were also very much in support. The poll suggested that a lot of voters didn’t know what the amendment would do, and when they were informed of its effects, they actually opposed it narrowly.
This week, there was a new poll that told quite a different story. Support was at its lowest in any poll on the measure so far, and opposition was at its highest. Democrats, once narrowly supportive, are more strongly opposed. Now, more people are aware of what the amendment does, though some people are still confused. African American voters, while still in support, lost ten points or so of support over the course of a few weeks. This poll was taken before any ads were released, before any campaigning was done aside from grassroots action. That means numbers shifted at least six points in a few weeks based on the campaign’s message alone, a message that no one had gotten to see in ads before the poll.
Tom Jensen of PPP says:
“The against side has an advantage in terms of tv air time and grassroots momentum and for the first time this week I really believe there’s a chance the amendment could fail,” Tom Jensen, director of PPP, told TPM in an email. “I never would have thought that until now.”
He added: “I think opponents of the amendment should be very encouraged and if they do every little thing they can in the final days to make sure voters are informed the potential for a seismic upset is there.”
Then the campaign’s ads, co-produced by Chad Griffin from AFER (and incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign), came out, telling the stories of a woman who’s children would lose health insurance if she loses domestic partnership benefits, and another woman who would lose protections against domestic violence. The focus has been on the broad wording of the amendment – saying that the “only domestic legal union” would be a marriage between a man and a woman. This means it affects gay and straight couples in domestic partnerships and civil unions, and depending on how courts read this new language that is unprecedented in North Carolina law, could reach to eliminate children’s health insurance, domestic violence protections, and a whole host of legal protections granted to those in legal unions that would be abolished.
The War on Women (and children) has escalated over the past year or so, and Amendment 1 would only make things worse for women who are seeking health care and protections from domestic violence. The governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, has stressed this point repeatedly. Families and children would face uncertainty and loss of legal protections if this were to pass. She recently recorded a video, partly based on footage from her speech at a women’s convention she attended, urging voters to get out to the polls and vote no. She has posted the message, “When a measure as divisive as Amendment One appears on the ballot, none of us should remain silent.”
The proponents of the amendment are suggesting that these effects will never come to pass:
Many believe that it would simply outlaw same-sex marriage, unaware that it would also deny legal recognition to all civil unions and domestic partnerships. Kennedy said the campaign has emphasized that gay marriage — already illegal under North Carolina law — will be unaffected by either outcome.
“What the other side says is that it’s just about marriage and protecting marriage, but what we’ve been saying all along is that it’s about much more than marriage,” [Jeremy] Kennedy [campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect NC Families, the campaign opposing Amendment 1] said. “Why would we be so irresponsible to amend our constitution in a way that would strip families of benefits and domestic violence protections?”
The pro-Amendment 1 campaign got their ads up – they are religious in nature, about the Bible’s nonexistent command that marriage should be protected as between a man and a woman. They need to move independents, who strongly oppose the amendment, as well as other constituencies who are moving toward opposition, and it seems like a real stretch to believe that ads focusing on the Bible would get those constituencies fired up enough to turn out to vote in a primary election where the nominees for both parties are already pretty much chosen. I’m not even sure the ads, which use the standard one-liners about “protecting” the “institution” of marriage and repeat the “man and a woman” line over and over are going to be enough to get the base out. How long has the base been hearing those same lines?
But their side has even more problems to contend with: they recently paid to produce a new ad that is incredibly defensive. It is a response to the opposition’s contentions that the amendment will have unintended consequences in health care and domestic violence – backed up by doctors and lawyers. So, the pro-Amendment 1 side is now forced to spend time and money combating actual verifiable truths and legitimate worries because the campaign opposing the amendment told their stories first and loudly and often. Losing control of the message is a sure sign of a faltering campaign, and it’s clear the supporters of the amendment are not going to be able to define their campaign in a positive way. The ad, which swears that “the only thing” the amendment does is define marriage as between a man and a woman, that it doesn’t take away legal protections, cites research admitting that the amendment will indeed ban civil unions and domestic partnerships. So it is not only a costly, time-consuming defensive ad but an easily debunked false ad that distorts research – a favorite pastime of anti-LGBT groups.
And the opposition to this odious and regressive amendment is sending its message to every constituency. They are ramping up efforts across the state in the final two weeks before the primary date of May 8. The campaign has worked hard to build a coalition with a lot of diversity, and this week the state NAACP is rolling out its media campaign to expose the harms of Amendment 1:
This week, in the face of an extreme rightwing attack on minorities and the poor, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP is rolling out a major media campaign to make clear the facts and constitutional dangers facing all North Carolinians through the discriminatory Amendment One.
Through ads in African-American newspapers, radio spots across the state, mailers, and robocalls to tens of thousands North Carolina voters, and brochures distributed to over fifty counties through grassroots NAACP branch leadership, the public education campaign is already resonating with everyday North Carolinians.
The National Organization for Marriage, it was revealed recently, has fought to split the black and gay communities through race-baiting, homophobic tactics. This is while both communities are struggling on so many different fronts and while both desperately need allies. The right wing has been trying to exacerbate racial tensions for decades but the NOM memos exposed a deliberate strategy. With so many fronts in the war against minorities, and all of them stemming from right-wing thought, we know who the opposition really is.
“The polls and the politicians are asking the wrong questions on this discriminatory amendment, hatched in the backrooms of the extremist, rightwing think-tanks,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “Our message is consistent: A vote on the same sex marriage amendment has nothing to do with your personal and religious opinion on same sex marriage but everything to do with whether or not you believe discrimination should be codified and legalized constitutionally. We should never seek to codify or vote discrimination into the very heart and framework of our Constitution.”
Dr. Barber continued, “The real insult to the Civil Rights Movement is that the same regressive, ultra-conservative Tea Party type folks suing to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, re-segregating and robbing our public schools of valuable resources, blocking workers’ rights to organize, trying to force us all to get photo ID’s to exercise our right to vote and cut back on the time and opportunities to vote, and attempting to repeal the Racial Justice Act, now somehow think the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement cannot see through their Trojan Horse trick.”
Dr. Barber said, “On the grassroots level we get a very different response when we cut through the Trojan Horse trick of the Tea Party backed forces and ask ‘Do you think we should tamper with the protections of the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Under the Law clause, or Section One of the North Carolina Constitution?’ When we ask ‘Do you believe, especially in the South, we should create a precedent whereby the majority votes on the rights of a minority?’ the sinister divide and conquer rhetoric is torn asunder. When people find out that groups leading the pro-Amendment efforts, like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, are affiliated with national organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, they are horrified by the deceitful Amendment One. When people find out that the amendment could also negatively impact heterosexual couples, take away domestic violence protections for women, strip legal recognition and protection from unmarried couples and leave families and children with no basic access to healthcare and prescription drug coverage, people overwhelmingly see through the distractions and tricks and say, ‘We won’t be fooled. Not on our watch!’”
With those in favor of the amendment scrambling to defend the irrationality of banning something in the constitution already prohibited by state law, working to combat truths about the broadness of the amendment’s language and its far-reaching unintended consequences through distortions and lies, and to stop the rapid shifting of voter opinions from support to increasingly strong opposition through ads that remind voters the campaign is based on its reading of the Bible, we’ll see how quickly support continues to decline. There’s less than two weeks left and the signs point to a possible defeat of this thing.
1. Contribute to the campaign on ActBlue so they have the resources they need to get our message out.
2. Sign up for a Courageous Conversation about Amendment One with someone you know in NC.
4. Download social media tools and yard signs to show your opposition to Amendment 1.
5. Volunteer to Call for Equality – a GOTV phone banking effort against Amendment 1.