On Tuesday, voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly passed Amendment 1 by 61 percent. Amendment 1 redundantly defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. I use the word “redundantly” here because North Carolina already has a ban on same-sex marriage but opponents of marriage equality pushed for the amendment in order to close any remaining loopholes. In addition, the “marriage-plus” portion of the amendment extends this ban to same-sex civil unions and could possibly prevent government offices from providing domestic partnerships benefits to their employees.
Many claim this amendment won’t change the status quo in North Carolina but others believe this will cause a series of issues later in the future. Does an unmarried woman suffering from domestic violence have any protections under the law? Even if the couple wasn’t married, most courts would recognize a civil partnership existed and the abuser would be held to the domestic violence laws already in place. Will Amendment 1 alter this? Will the victim be entitled to same protections?
These were just some of the thoughts flowing through my mind last night when news broke of the ban’s passage but they weren’t the only ones. Anger, sadness and a feeling of complete and total helplessness collectively struck at my very being. I’m furious that so many people rushed out, enthusiastically and gleefully, to prevent their fellow neighbors from obtaining equal rights under the law. I’m sad that the majority of people in North Carolina couldn’t recognize that this was a mean-spirited amendment constructed solely as a political ploy to energize a contingent of people during an election year.
In all honesty, I woke this morning to a sinking feeling of helplessness. 61 percent. Really? By that much? I faced reality some time ago and, in doing so, recognized that this amendment was probably going to pass but I never thought it would do so by such a majority. Dragging myself out of bed I went to work and began reading article after article about the bill’s passage and its ultimate meaning for the future of marriage equality. I read statements from both sides of the issue and cringed when I read somewhere that hopefully this will teach us a lesson, that the LGBT community now knows moral people across this country won’t stand for such sins.
The more I read, the angrier I became. My first thought was to lash out at Southerners and their backward ways but that doesn’t help anything. The battle for equality isn’t about Southerners or us wishing they would once again secede from the rest of the country. This isn’t about political parties or the tea party. This is about knowledge and education. This is about equality and equal protection under the law. This is about acknowledging that the rights of the minority should never be determined by the majority.
Throughout history, whenever important issues were placed on the ballot for the majority to decide, the majority chose wrong. Whether it was voting rights for women or civil rights, the American citizenry voted against equality, against fairness and in favor of fear. They fear the unknown. They fear what makes us different. Everyone tends to forget that it is our differences, our nationalities, our genders and, yes, even those we love that makes us Americans. Our diversity weaves together a national tapestry so strong, so resilient, that we are the envy of the world.
I’d love to cite election year politics as the reason for the amendment’s success and, to an extent, it does share a large portion of the blame but the bill’s passage provides evidence of another significant issue plaguing the fight for marriage equality. Mainly… the failure to reach out to African-American voters in this nation. A majority of African-Americans in this country identify politically with the Democratic party. Each election, they provide democratic candidates a push towards electoral victories, yet each time same-sex marriage bans appear on the ballot, a majority of African-Americans vote against marriage equality. This fact provides those fighting for marriage equality an opportunity to get out there and help turn opinions around.
It amazes me how often we forget that we are in this world together, how much we rely upon one another. In times like these, we focus so much on our differences that we begin to rip at that national tapestry. And for what? What good does it do? What good does keeping a group of people oppressed do for you? These are the questions I ask myself every day. And I keep asking them in the hope I can get some answers. But the answers never come. All I hear are excuses. Excuses centered on bigotry, on religion and a hypocrisy so deeply rooted in a broken political dialogue that nothing anyone says anymore makes sense.
I awake each morning knowing I’m considered a second class citizen in this country. I know that no matter how much I love my partner or how many states offer civil unions or same-sex marriage, I will continue to be a second class citizen until this nation, in its entirety, acknowledges my right to enter into a marriage with the one I love. Is it great that I live in Illinois where civil unions exist? Yes, of course it is. But until my marriage is acknowledged nationally, it weakens its validity. We’d be married in Illinois, but not in Indiana. A simple trip to the outlet mall across state lines would then dissolve our marriage and leave us legally vulnerable. If you ask me, that’s not equal protection under the law.
Yesterday’s loss struck me hard. It both frightened and saddened me all at the same time. But it also reminded me that we need to fight harder, reach out to those who oppose us and educate those who otherwise revel in fear and hatred. As soon as we give up, they win. If we allow such setbacks to tarnish our desire for equality we stand to lose every battle from this moment forward.
One day marriage equality will be a reality for all of us. When that day comes, may we always remember the battles we have lost. May we remember the hardships, the trials and courage instilled in so many of our fellow supporters. I hope we remember those who will never live to see such a day… the old hands clasped in passion and determination who faced horrendous bigotry but held on to the love they shared. And when I hold my partner’s hand and pledge my life to him, I hope North Carolina flashes in my mind. I want to be reminded that this did not come easily and that anything worth having is worth fighting for. In the end, no matter how hard the battle or how difficult the journey, we will prevail and our love will guide us to victory.