Saturday, March 3, 2012

Amendment One: Which Side Are You On?

I rarely get political here, but every now and again something comes along which needs speaking out about. My home state of North Carolina’s upcoming vote on “Amendment One” is one of those things. The text of the amendment reads as follows:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

This will be put up for a vote before the people of North Carolina on May 8, 2012 during the state primaries. If the amendment passes, it will become a part of the North Carolina State Constitution. There are an enormous number of concerns about this bill’s language, and the effect it could have on domestic violence laws, child visitation, employment benefits, and end of life arrangements for any kind of unmarried couple. These ramifications will wind up being decided by the courts. While certain legislators have dismissed concerns about these potential issues, in other states with similar amendments the courts have indeed interpreted the law as invalidating such contracts and arrangements between both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

In other words, Amendment One is poorly written, ill-conceived, and really bad law. My wife, K. Dale Guffey, has spoken out about this with eloquence and passion both on her blog and in two PSAs for Neighbors for Equality and the recent Race to the Ballot initiative. She’s a graduate of the Law School at Wake Forest University, and one hell of a smart cookie, so check her out to learn just how bad this law is.

But you know, for me, the problem with Amendment One isn’t that its bad law because it’s poorly written, etc, but because it’s bad law because it’s immoral, unethical, and bigoted. Any student of American history will tell you that describing the United States as a nation “with liberty and justice for all” is not an accurate reading of the facts of that history. What I can also tell you is that our history is full of people who refused to accept the injustice they found, who stood up in Reconstruction and risked their lives to try and create a South where African-American men could exercise political rights alongside white men. Who pushed through the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and tried to enforce them, only to be defeated by violence and a nationally deep-seated racism. Yet who never stopped working and speaking out, refusing to allow white supremacist governments to re-write the histories unchallenged. Others took to the streets in mass and twisted the arms of the U.S. Congress to send an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote to the states for ratification. Tens of thousands, though living in forced second-class citizenship here at home, nonetheless eagerly enlisted in the Armed Forces to fight in the muddy hellscapes of France in World War One, and on the land, sea, and air in two hemispheres in World War Two.

Our history is filled with people who faced dogs, tear gas, water-cannons. People who faced bullets and bayonets and military cannons. People who sometimes lost the fight, but never surrendered, and came back to win the wars.  The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s did not spring up full grown from Martin Luther King’s forehead, but was rather a culmination of a century of struggles, of hopes raised and crushed and raised again. Who in the South today can hear the racist, pro-segregation rants of Strom Thurman and George Wallace without wincing? Oh there are a few, I know, but thank God that most of us shake our heads in disgust and pity and anger that our parents’ or grandparents’ generations could have held such beliefs.
All of that changed because people, some great, but most just average folk, stood up and said “No. This is wrong, and I won’t have it.” In the face of dogs and guns, in the teeth of batons and masked riders in the night, in spite of rape and death and burning, we the people finally cried “Enough!”

And white women began to vote.

And African-American men and women finally began to vote.

More Americans began to have a say, and therefore a stake, in our country.

Well, for anyone out there who has looked at the Civil Rights marches in D.C., Selma, or Birmingham and thought, “Man I wish I had a cause like that, something noble and good to really get behind!” I have news for you: Amendment One is that cause.

Again we are faced with an attempt to deny basic civil rights to American citizens. Again efforts to claim those rights are met with vitriol every bit as bigoted as Thurman and Wallace’s anti-desegregation rants. Again bigots are trying to use God to enforce hatred and intolerance. As was done with African slavery. As was done with Freed People’s rights, as was done with Women’s rights. As is being done with the rights of homosexual people in this country right now, even as I type this.

Right now, people on my street, in my town, in my county, and across my state are denied the right to make a legal contract that anyone else, so long as they are not first cousins (turns out NC will let first cousins marry, just not "double first cousins") and are at least 18 (without parental permission), 16 (with parental permission), or 14 (if already pregnant) can make in North Carolina with a few dollars and a trip to city hall. That ain’t right.  You know it ain’t right. Replace “homosexual” with “African-, Asian-, Hispanic-American” and you damn sure know it ain’t right!

This is it, folks. The Civil Rights movement isn’t over, and it’s come to our very doorsteps. History awaits us. What will you say when your children or grandchildren look to you and ask about the Civil Rights movement of the early 21st century? When they ask, “Which side were you on?” how will you be able to answer?

I know what’s right, and it’s not denying my fellow American citizens their legal rights. We don’t often get such a clear opportunity to align ourselves on the right side of history, and the right side of every single thing we believe in as a people. Be on the right side of history and make your posterity proud of their heritage. Vote “NO” on Amendment One on May 8!
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