Unless Alzheimer's comes knocking one day, I will never forget the front page of the Charlotte Observer the morning after Amendment One was approved. There stood preacher Mark Harris of First Baptist Church of Charlotte, a pro-amendment leader, cupping his hand to his mouth and whooping it up at a party in Raleigh. The image of a supposed religious leader joyfully rah-rahing that the state now blatantly denies equal rights to an entire segment of the population was, well, I hardly know where to start -- shocking, embarrassing, ludicrous, nauseating. Take your pick, they all apply.
Come to think of it, Harris' ill-timed woo-hoo moment was a perfect topper to the spectacle North Carolinians saw during the past few months: namely, people who claim allegiance to Biblical wisdom nearly wetting themselves over the possibility of smacking around a minority group they hate for no good reason. It was one of most openly bigoted, thus repulsive, political campaigns in this state's history — and that's saying something in Jesse Helms Land.
At least now it's over, and although progressives got their butts kicked by a well-oiled religious prejudice machine, now they can focus on what's next. What's next, that is, besides having to explain to out-of-state friends that, no, not all North Carolinians are dirt-eating goobers in overalls.
One thing is certain: the decision to ram through an amendment to the constitution when state law already prohibited same-sex marriage riled up North Carolina supporters of gay rights like they've never been riled before. A quickly organized opposition sprang up, and with remarkable unity, considering that most people were taken by surprise by the GOP's pursuit of a constitutional amendment. Even previously tepid supporters, like former Charlotte mayors Harvey Gantt and Richard Vinroot, woke up and realized that whether they had planned to do so or not, it was now time for them to come out of the gay rights supporters' closet. That uprising of support, particularly strong in larger cities, has invigorated activists fighting for LGBT rights and will make it easier to get backing for any challenges to Amendment One.
And challenges there will be. No one knows exactly what actions are forthcoming, although a move to begin the repeal process has been tossed around since May 8. I don't think that's the way to go, as repeal of a constitutional amendment would probably take a decade to succeed (and by then, we'd be halfway to the time when Speaker Thom Tillis famously predicted the "next generation" would repeal it anyway). I suggest it would be better to challenge the amendment's constitutionality in federal court. That strategy worked in California where in February, the federal 9th Circuit Court ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment rights of gay couples to equal protection under the law. That decision will also be appealed, but the judges' ruling that the California ban "serves no purpose ... other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians ... and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples," is one that should be reasonable to any but the most authoritarian conservative judges, like say Scalia, Alito and Thomas.
Meanwhile, corporate human-resources departments will hopefully sue to protect their right to offer whatever benefits they please, hicks in preachers' clothes be damned. Chances of protecting LGBT employees' rights, I feel, are better than most people currently think. Here's why: The second sentence of Amendment One — the sentence that was left off the ballot — says that the amendment "does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party." That can easily be read as a retreat from banning benefits for LGBT employees; at least, that's what even strong amendment supporters in the General Assembly said soon after the bill was proposed. I found it surprising that no one brought up this part of the issue during the campaign, but then amendment supporters would have had to explain it to their prospective voters, and amendment foes would have had a weaker argument against it. Sounds crappy on both sides' part, but that's politics.
If courts eventually rule that Amendment One's second sentence precludes banning benefits for unmarried couples, gay or straight — and again, this seems a reasonable thing to expect in view of the sentence's wording — Harris and his pals would still have their gay marriage ban. But I doubt he'll be hooting and hollering so lustily.
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