Make Your Vote Count

Article Published: May. 3, 2012 | Modified: May. 3, 2012

When I write my Sweet Tea with Lemon columns, I usually like to start off with something light or humorous (the sweet tea) and then segue into a topic of greater importance (the lemon).

I’ve been trying to think of a lightweight way of wading into a column about our state’s upcoming vote on Amendment 1, but I’m having a hard time finding levity in it.

In case you’ve been at the bottom of the ocean with James Cameron the past few weeks, Amendment 1 is an attempt to alter North Carolina’s state constitution so that it will include a provision that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

In other words, if passed, it would be written into our constitution that gay couples are forbidden to have the same rights as opposite sex couples, even if they legally marry in another state that recognizes gay marriage.

Proponents of Amendment 1 like to say things like, “Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina” and “all the other states in the Southeast have similar laws in their constitutions.”

To which I say, “So what?” To paraphrase some good old-fashioned maternal advice, if all of the other states in the Southeast jumped off a cliff, would that make it a smart thing for North Carolina to do?

The more insidious proponents actually say that Amendment 1 will have no legal ramifications for non-married opposite sex couples.

According to an April 30 story in The Charlotte Observer by Lynn Bonner, “Amendment opponents and supporters agree that health insurance and other benefits offered by local governments – for gay and unmarried heterosexual couples – would be disallowed if the amendment passes. Such domestic partner benefits are offered by nine local governments across the state, including Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg counties, (and the cities of) Durham, Chapel Hill and Asheville.”

Although most of the elected officials in favor of Amendment 1 won’t admit it, a lot of what is propelling this legislation is religion. If your religion tells you that homosexuality is wrong, fine. Just don’t impose your religious beliefs on the rest of us.

If you feel that marriage is a sacred institution between you and your spouse and some deity, fine. Just don’t impose that definition on the rest of us.

Believe it or not, some marriages take place without a wedding invitation being sent to Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed. Atheists get married in North Carolina every single weekend. In fact, it is legal in this state for an agnostic to marry a Hindu, a born-again Christian to marry a Satan worshipper, or even a Hassidic Jew to marry a Muslim – as long as they are of the opposite sex.

For a lot of oldtimers, this talk of allowing gay people to marry in other states must remind them of the day that North Carolina ended its anti-miscegenation laws and finally allowed blacks and whites to marry each other. Except that never happened.

North Carolina legally forbade blacks and whites to marry from 1715 until June 12, 1967, when those laws were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, due to a case aptly titled Loving v. Virginia.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all of the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.

“The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not to marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Personally, I find it embarrassing that North Carolina did not allow marriage between blacks and whites until 1967 and had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the Supreme Court into the modern era of basic civil rights.

Amendment 1 is just more of the same.

A few weeks ago, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (one of the supporters of Amendment 1) stated that he believes Amendment 1 will pass in May but will probably be overturned in 20 years because the next generation of Carolinians will be more tolerant of gay marriage.

To me, that’s just sad. To imagine Tillis and his cohorts in Raleigh making one last stand against “the gays,” knowing full well that their children and grandchildren will find their actions foolish at best, despicable at worst, is just pathetic.

But I guess that’s what they feel they were elected to do. If that’s the case, they might be in for a surprise in November.

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