N.C. Swayed by Religious Right Tactics Embraces Discrimination

May 9, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

The North Carolinians who voted to alter the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage were largely moved by fear-tactics fueled by far right religious groups bent on punishing lesbians and gay men. The vote also makes North Carolina, as The New York Times notes, the last state in the South to marginalize gay people with a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Until yesterday’s vote, a string of states had provided victories for marriage equality. (In February, Maryland joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in approving same-sex marriage.) North Carolinians, however, were moved by an ugly animus toward gay people. Not only did the state’s constitutional amendment ban same-sex marriage it is so vaguely worded that many commentators have argued that it would outlaw domestic partnerships or civil unions.

A group of North Carolina family law professors warned voters about the scope of the antigay amendment.

Maxine Eichner, a law professor at UNC School of Law, in a video focusing on the sweep of Amendment One, said, the amendment would “certainly ban civil unions, it would ban domestic partnerships at the state level, and it would also ban the domestic partner insurance benefits that a number of municipalities and counties currently provide to their employees.” (Eichner is author of an ACS Issue Brief on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, aimed at banning employers from discriminating against workers or potential employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.)

The Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan in a post dubbed “The Politics of Spite,” slammed the reach and impact of the vote:

Remember how meretricious this assault on gay couples was. They already are banned by state law from marrying. Now their own state constitution bans them from any civil rights as couples whatsoever: no domestic partnerships, no civil unions, nothing. It’s an act of pure punishment of citizens who are gay, a deliberate psychological blow to their self-esteem, their sense of citizenship, their core equality as human beings. A 60 percent majority decided that 2 percent of their fellow citizens are and must remain inferior in law. When gay rights advocates seek recourse in the courts, is it so surprising?

Sullivan noted the involvement of the so-called National Organization for Marriage, a Religious Right outfit that has spent boatloads of money and many years on demonizing gay people and promoting bigotry. The group claims it does not advacne bigotry, but instead protects "marriage and the faith communities that sustain it."

President Obama, who has not embraced marriage equality, but whose administration has stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court and ended the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy said he was “disappointed” in North Carolina’s vote. (DOMA is a Clinton-era federal law that discriminates against lesbians and gay men.) Later today, the president is expected to address gay marriage in an interview with ABC News, according The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone.

Regardless of what the president thinks of same-sex marriage, the battle to advance equality will continue to be waged largely in the states.

University of Minnesota Law School Professor Richard Painter in a post for Legal Ethics Forum notes the forthcoming battle in his state to ban same-sex marriage, writing, in part, “Most of our law faculties oppose it, at some law schools unanimously. Unlike North Carolina, Minnesota was not one of the original thirteen colonies to fight for liberty in the 1770s, but hopefully this fall we will demonstrate a better understanding of what the continuing fight for liberty is all about.”

Whether other states refuse the despicable path that North Carolina voters took, will depend on whether their voters refuse to be divided and swayed by the hateful rhetoric and strategy that emanates from groups like the National Organization for Marriage.