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The extremist bigotry surrounding Amendment One 

Proof that history repeats itself — especially in North Carolina

The Amendment One debate got a lot hotter last week, as the mask of piety and "family values" was torn off the National Organization for Marriage. Until then, the battle over Amendment One — the "anti-same-sex marriage" measure that could also eliminate the rights of North Carolina couples in civil unions — had been fairly predictable: Anti-gay activists said same-sex marriage is an evil comparable to slapping God's mama, and gay-rights advocates said LGBT folks should be able to live their lives the way they please, thank you very much.

But then Durham blogger Pam Spaulding, founder of the prominent pro-LGBT-rights blog Pam's House Blend, pointed out that the "North Carolina" website VoteforMarriageNC.com is actually a creation of the National Organization for Marriage, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has directed anti-gay efforts across the country. The organization always appoints locals to leadership positions in its individual state projects — er, organizations — but that doesn't change the fact that Amendment One is part of a coordinated national effort to deny non-heterosexuals common human rights.

Spaulding was just the start of NOM's problems. The state of Maine, which is investigating NOM's campaign finances, publicized internal documents from the organization that revealed its nasty "strategic goal" to "drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies" and "provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these [black] spokesmen and women as bigots." Talk about white lies. A national media firestorm broke out, and NOM was denounced by everyone from black pastors to members of Congress. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, hit the mark when he said, "Nothing beats hearing from the horse's mouth exactly how callous and extremist this group really is." If nothing else, NOM's days of operating under the mainstream media's radar are over.

Around the same time, the number of North Carolina business executives and conservative leaders who are against Amendment One came close to reaching critical mass. Following Bank of America Executive Cathy Bessant, who announced her opposition to Amendment One, former Charlotte mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot came out against the discriminatory proposal, too. Earlier, tea partyin' GOP Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, of Dunn, and John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, announced their opposition to the amendment on grounds that it would violate civil liberties.

Vinroot's comments came after the pride of Mecklenburg, House Speaker Thom Tillis, told N.C. State University students he thought the amendment would pass but would be repealed within 20 years because the students' generation is more accepting of LGBT rights than its predecessors. Tillis caught hell from conservatives, perhaps because his statement was so revealing of the small-minded, spiteful nature of the pro-amendment campaign.

It has become increasingly clear over the past few years that public acceptance of homosexuals as, you know, actual human beings, is growing dramatically. Homophobes know it, and they're in a fearful frenzy over it. It's all too reminiscent of many white Southerners' fears when it became obvious the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was going to pass whether they liked it or not.

Like the segregationists of those days (and foes of women's suffrage before them), proponents of Amendment One are scared and mired in the past. The whole anti-same-sex marriage crusade seems like a last-ditch effort to pile the sandbags higher against the inevitability of change and social progress. It's the kind of uproar that fits perfectly into this state's long history of progressive changes coming to fruition only after tooth-and-nail resistance by protectors of the status quo. Racial integration, labor rights, women's suffrage, even paving the state's roads (which some preachers denounced as "unnatural") — all those advances were fought mightily by the eras' conservatives, who eventually lost. (Yes, the state's record on labor rights still leaves a lot to be desired, but at least it's not OK to kill strikers anymore.)

I would love to end this column by declaring that the tide has apparently turned and that the state's constitution won't wind up enshrining ignorance and homophobia. But I can't. The contentious nature of the amendment shows progress. But at this point, no one really has any idea how the May 8 vote will turn out, and that's making both sides nervous. Surveys conducted by reliable polling companies are all over the map, with some saying the amendment's passage is certain and others showing more than 50 percent of voters oppose it. Those kinds of results usually indicate that voters are more undecided than the polls reveal, and the conflicting poll numbers are putting activists — as well as columnists — from both sides on edge.

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