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Topics In the News
Blowout in North Carolina
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/09/12
Last updated on: 05/09/12
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It was not even close.

By a margin of 61 to 39%, voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly approved Amendment One, which adds discrimination to the state constitution, banning not only same-sex marriage but recognition of any "domestic relation" other than a marriage between a man and a woman. It will likely end domestic partner benefits for unmarried couples in the state and may end recognition of "common-law" relationships between unmarried heterosexual couples.

Although defeating Amendment One was always thought to be a long shot, many believed that it could be done. Polls showed that while 60% of the state's voters were opposed to same-sex marriage, almost 60% were in favor of either same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. It was believed that we could defeat Amendment One if we could educate the electorate to the fact that it banned not only same-sex marriage but also civil unions and domestic partnerships and that it may also wreak other "collateral damage."

Hence, the Protect All NC Families organization, which managed the campaign against Amendment One made the strategic decision to emphasize the collateral damage and relegate the question of same-sex marriage (and gay and lesbian people) to the sidelines.

The campaign issued a number of well-made videos that emphasized the generalized harm that Amendment One would cause. Most of these videos barely mentioned gay and lesbian people. Others in effect endorsed a ban on same-sex marriage but said Amendment One "goes too far."

The election results confirm that this strategy was fatally flawed. It conceded too much and it gave the impression that our own campaign was ashamed of gay and lesbian people. It suggested that the collateral damage done to unmarried heterosexual couples was a greater affront than the ban on same-sex marriage itself.

The message was inauthentic from the beginning. Our mobilizing against Amendment One in reality had little or nothing to do with the collateral damage and everything to do with the ban on same-sex marriage.

Notwithstanding the real harm that Amendment One may do to unmarried heterosexual couples or women or children, it was duplicitous to pretend that that was the reason we thought Amendment One should be defeated.

In contrast to our obfuscation, our opposition defined the question clearly: for them Amendment One was about homosexuality and it was intended to punish gay men and lesbians and to devalue their relationships.

Indeed, for our opponents, the entire campaign was about sin. They unleashed a campaign that can be described only as disgusting. It was utterly unrestrained by any sense of decency. They made no pretense of conducting a civil campaign about policy issues. For them, it was an expression of religious belief. A vote for Amendment One was a vote for Jesus.

Unfortunately, our official campaign was too timid to respond vigorously to the opposition's frank bigotry. Besides, to do so would be "off message," since our side continued the pretense that the campaign was not about homosexuality.

Instead of using the campaign to educate people about the lives of gay men and lesbians, we allowed the bigots to define us as perverts and incarnations of evil with very little rebuttal.

We should have forthrightly defended same-sex marriage. We should have said that same-sex marriage was itself good, good both for same-sex couples and good for the institution of marriage. We should have insisted that it was unfair and unAmerican to deny citizens equal rights.

Protect All NC Families did a number of things right. They raised sufficient funds to wage a competitive campaign. They recruited distinguished North Carolinians--including conservatives as well as liberals--to denounce Amendment One. They forged important bonds with the African-American community, including the NAACP and a number of pastors. That they failed was not because they lacked energy and commitment.

They failed because the strategy was wrong. They paid far too much deference to our opponents' religious views and failed to call out religious-based bigotry for the ugliness it is.

The kind of aggressive campaign that I would have preferred them to run might also have lost, but at least we would feel that we had been honest and forthright and unashamed.

We must not repeat the same errors in the battles to come. It helps that Maine, Washington, Minnesota, and Maryland are somewhat less religious (or at least differently religious) than North Carolina. The frank appeals to bigotry practiced by our opponents in North Carolina are likely to be counter-productive in those states.

Perhaps most importantly, the referenda in November are focused clearly on marriage equality. In these campaigns, it will be impossible to hide gay couples and their families in the shadows and pretend the issue is something other than same-sex marriage and equal rights under the law.

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