Monday, May 07, 2012

Vote Against Amendment One

I try to keep my mouth shut on most political issues, and I am generally successful...but not this time. Sorry in advance. (I promise not to make a habit of this.)

Tomorrow is primary election day in North Carolina, and in addition to a bunch of primaries that I don't really care about (hooray voter apathy!), something called Amendment One is on the ballot. Amendment One concerns the issue of gay marriage. In a nutshell: marriage is already defined by law in North Carolina as being between a man in a woman, and Amendment One would further solidify that by adding it to the state constitution, to make it harder for us to change our minds later. In addition, Amendment One also bans any other type of "domestic legal union" (e.g. civil unions).

Tomorrow, I will be voting against the amendment.

Why vote against? Well, there are a lot of reasons to vote against the amendment, regardless how comfortable you are with the idea of gay marriage. For me, as a supporter of LGBT rights (straight allies, we're called), it's a no brainer. As for everyone else...we'll, let's discuss.

"One man, one woman" is already law in North Carolina. So why is the state even bothering with this amendment? Here's how I see it. Acceptance of LGBT rights is gaining traction nationwide, and the Republican-controlled legislature recognizes this, and they don't like it. The amendment is an effort to delay the inevitable shift to fully and widely accepted gay rights for as long as possible. Even most Republicans believe that eventually, gay marriage (or something equivlent to it) will be recognized on a national basis.

As much as I see this as strictly a civil rights issue, with most political issues, I try to see things from both sides. So, let's look at this from the opposite perspective for a minute or two. I think people who vote for the amendment will do so for one of two reasons. The first reason is because they are a conservative Christian with an ingrained belief that homosexuality is wrong, a sin, etc. The second reason is because that while they don't have anything against gays, they've always known marriage as "one man one woman", and the concept of two men getting married just seems weird.

As much as I'd like to spend seven paragraphs ripping this misleading, offensive, fear-mongering, and mostly false pro-amendment article to shreds, we can't do anything about the first group in the short term. There's no point in getting into an argument with these folks. They are set in their ways.

But the second group...well, this is why I'm writing this blog post. Why are LGBT rights slowly gaining traction nationally? Why are people my age solidly in favor of gay marriage? Because as time goes by, people are finally realizing that homosexuals are people, too. They're trying to live their lives just like everyone else. And a world in which gays have equal marriage rights? You know, it's not so bad. You can still marry someone of the opposite sex (and divorce, too!) just like you always have, and your marriage won't be affected or "cheapened" in any way. And the whole "what is happening to our society???" notion...well, many had similar thoughts when we started giving black people rights, too.

And despite what the afore-linked "Threat to Marriage" article might claim or imply, churches in gay marriage states are NOT required to start marrying same-sex couples. Churches in states like Massachusetts are not obligated under law to change what they consider to be a marriage. And, that's fine with me. Churches should be (and are) allowed to do as they wish. After all, I personally see "marriage" as a religious construct first and foremost.

HOWEVER, at some point, society decided to get into the business of tracking marriages outside of the strictly religious context. In today's society, filling out and signing a marriage license gives you all kinds of super awesome perks and privileges! (Joint income tax returns, health insurance benefits, hospital visitation rights, and so on.) So why are we only allowing straight couples to have these perks and prvileges?

Maybe the issue is with the word "marriage", which like I said, is a mostly religious construct. But hey, what if there was a different term out there other than "marriage" that we could use for gays? You know...something that's just the legal equivalent of marriage but isn't called "marriage", per se?

A civil union sounds like the perfect compromise to me: let's give gays the same rights as married people, all while leaving the "traditional definition of marriage" as it is. Everybody wins, right?

Except...not. Amendment One outlaws civil unions, too. And this is where it becomes a civil rights issue. This isn't about continuing to allow churches to operate as they wish. This is about discrimination against gays.

Beyond the issue of gay marriage, there are apparently a bunch of other unintended consequences associated with Amendment One, too, such as effects on domestic violence protection for unmarried live-in couples. (Oh, right, it's "wrong" for unmarried couples to live together, too. ) Since I linked to a pro-amendment website, here is a link to an anti-amendment website which goes into some of that. (And yes, that page is also guilty of fear mongering. I'm not particuarly fond of the whole "Amendment One HARMS CHILDREN!!!" thing, but hey, at least they source some of their claims!)

I, of course, only have one vote. But I'm trying to do my part beyond that. The more people come out in favor of LGBT righs and against discrimination, the more people in that "second group" will re-think their initial stance on this issue. Many of my friends feel the same way, and I am confident that soon, those who tolerate gays and accept LGBT rights will become the overwhelming majority.

We may already be the overwhelming majority in the Triangle. Drive around Raleigh or Durham, and you'll see a LOT of anti-amendment signs in people's yards. There are a few pro-amendment signs in the area, but they are far outnumbered by the "Vote Against" signs. One thing I've noticed is that the "Vote For" signs around here are often not in people's yards, but are placed at high visibility locations along major roads. This suggests to me that it's not the people placing the "Vote For" signs, but the campaigning "first group" I talked about earlier. The people - those who have actually thought this through - are strongly against the amendment.

But once you get away from the cities, that's where you start seeing a lot of pro-amendment signs. The culture in the rural South is still a bit intolerant towards gays, in part because they don't have a presence there. If you're a homosexual couple, you certainly aren't going to move to Laurinburg, of all places, right? You'd rather move to a more gay-tolerant state, or if you must move to the South, one of the big cities. This is a hard pattern to break. Increasing acceptance of LGBT rights in areas where homosexuality is strictly a "distant evil", and nobody has actually ever met a gay person in their life, is our biggest challenge.

And, unfortunately, this is likely why the amendment will pass. Nate Silver isn't wrong often, but I hope he's wrong this time.

Well, this is the best I can do. Thanks for reading, and if you're registered to vote in North Carolina, I strongly encourage you to VOTE AGAINST tomorrow.

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