This week, the North Carolina General Assembly ignored a wave of statewide protest and passed an anti-LGBT bill that will put civil rights on the ballot in the May North Carolina primary election. The measure passed in the State Senate by a 30-16 vote and in the House by a 75-42 vote.
The measure calls for a referendum on a proposed “Bigot Amendment” to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage in the state of North Carolina. It would also deny any and all legal benefits to same-sex partners. In addition, lawmakers claim the placement of the referendum on the May primary ballot was a move made to “depoliticize the issue” (i.e. avoid the November elections).
There are so many things wrong with this course of events and decisions that it’s hard to know where to begin breaking it down.
First, and most importantly, the concept of putting people’s rights to a vote is utterly illegitimate. In addition, the introduction of this amendment is a clear violation of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection for all citizens under the law. Despite these facts, the battle over the proposed amendment has been completely legitmized by media coverage and even the by the legislators who claim they are “LGBT-friendly.” What both the media and the politicians are missing in this debate is that the debate itself is illegitimate. Speeches that claim to “support love” during the debate over this amendment ring hollow when the same person won’t commit to supporting the struggle of LGBT people at any other time. After all, despite many years of LGBT organizing and petitioning to legislators, not only does NC still not allow same-sex marriage–it doesn’t even allow civil unions.
And even opponents of the amendment have shown their true colors in the debate over when the measure should be voted on. A group of Democrats claimed the Republicans were trying to “politicize” the measure by putting it on next November’s ballot. That’s probably true. We already knew the GOP would stand on the side of bigotry.
What hasn’t been talked about though are the two assumptions being made by the Democrats. Assumption 1: Being re-elected is more important than people’s rights. Assumption 2: If they stand against the amendment they won’t be re-elected.
That they made the first assumption shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s the second assumption that is far more telling.
They’ve made the mistake of falling into stereotypes about their own home. The stereotype? That people in North Carolina are all backwoods rednecks who support the Tea Party and think the South will rise again. Not true.
As in every state, there are elements of the population who have deeply mixed consciousness, are bigoted and reactionary. But having lived in North Carolina for nearly five years now, in rural, urban, and suburban areas, I know the people of North Carolina are generally not bigots. Politicians and their analysts keep talking about the “reaction of 2010,” where North Carolina voters supposedly reacted to the state “turning blue” for Obama in 2008 by electing many Tea Party politicians.
The superficial nature of this analysis based only on voting results completely misses the real issue. After all, elections don’t reflect the will of the actual population. Statistically speaking, a person is far more likely to vote if they are wealthy, white, and own land. Take a look around North Carolina, where reported unemployment stands at 10.4%–well above the national average of 9.1%–, where foreclosures are high, and the state continues to make every effort to disenfranchise the poor and people of color at the ballot box.
The 2008 election showed exactly how disenfrachised and alienated working people have been in this state: when those people actually voted (70% of registered voters cast a ballot), the demographics of the state’s voters changed dramatically. In 2010, that number was only 44%, with turnout rates in poor areas as low as 30%. People hadn’t all of a sudden decided to switch to uber-reactionary Tea Party politics with the racism, sexism, and homophobia they could muster. The people who had voted for Obama in 2008 just didn’t vote.
Conventional wisdom–which is a synonym for capitalist bullshit–tells us that this is because Democratic voters are lazy, slackers, don’t care, etc. This is a ridiculous explanation.
The 30% of North Carolinians who voted in 2008 but seem not have voted before or since are not lazy, or uninformed, rather they are alienated by two party capitalist politics that don’t represent them in the slightest, let alone fight for them. However, Obama’s campaign was able to make these people feel like they had investment in politics again, so they came out and voted.
Over the first year in office, however, Obama proved to be a colossal disappointment. He didn’t fight for the public healthcare that so many North Carolinians desperately need. He didn’t deliver on increased services for veterans, a disappointment to a state with one of the biggest military population in the country. He proposed austerity measures that are going to push so many of the people in North Carolina over the edge. He pushed through the Race to the Top (Bottom) program, which forced further education “reforms” here, in a state with severely underfunded, understaffed schools. As a result, thousands of teachers have been laid off.
The politics of the Democratic party had, once again, failed the people of North Carolina. No wonder they hardly felt compelled to run to the polls in 2010. The lesson to take from this is not to institute policies that are even more reactionary and bigoted. The people of North Carolina, for the most part, were not crying about so-called “socialism” taking over the country because of a proposed public option. They weren’t in favor of laying off teachers.
The people of North Carolina are not going to be turned off by taking a stand against bigotry. That the Democrats think the people of this state are so hateful and discriminatory shows exactly how out of touch with their own people they are.
This is exactly why we cannot allow the Democrats to co-opt our movement against the Bigot Amendment. We need to get out in force to vote against the bill in May’s referendum, but we also need to hold these politicians to account.
I’ll be voting a big, fat NO on Amendment One in May, and you should too.
I won’t, however, be casting one vote for any lame-ass Democrats.
What we do need to do is continue the organizing efforts that have already begun. We need to educate people about the amendment. We need to make sure everyone is registered and able to vote by May. We need to continue to hold rallies and marches like the ones that took place all across the state last week. We need more brides marching in the street for marriage equality like they did in a 2010 show of solidarity.
At the rally in Greensboro last Monday (Quaker-style candlelight vigils are something else, let me tell you), we stood together, united. It was a diverse crowd that reflected the reality of the changing state of North Carolina–the Tar Heel state.
Someone told me once that this is called the Tar Heel state because when faced with daunting odds, soldiers in the American Revolution stood their ground to take on the British soldiers and then won.
With the legislature fighting against us, our odds are daunting, but let’s make like Tar Heels. Let’s fight until we win.