Speak out for equality!

Editor's Note

by O'Neale Atkinson  Editor Emeritus  
Published: February 18, 2012 in Editor's Note

On May 8, 2012 the citizens of North Carolina will have an opportunity to vote on an issue that will make a statement to the rest of the country about our views on what defines a marriage. While other states are fighting and working toward marriage equality, we are struggling to keep North Carolina from taking a huge step backward. Prop 8 in California is being ruled unconstitutional and we are considering repeating the same discriminatory ideology here.

In 2006, South Carolina faced this same decision and chose to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only lawful domestic union to be recognized by the state. I was a resident of South Carolina at the time, and despite efforts to stop this ruling, I was not surprised that the vote passed in favor of banning gay marriage. But, this is 2012 and things are different now, right? I certainly hope so, but I won’t deny that I have my concerns.

I also have a lot of hope for this state to do the right thing and not constitutionally limit the rights of people based on their sexual orientation. The climate in North Carolina is not the same as South Carolina in 2006 and there are organizations across the state working to inform and advocate against this amendment. Jen Jones of Equality NC, with a host of campaign organizers and supporters, is traveling across the state in a “race to the ballot” to educate as many citizens as possible. Businesses and cities within the state are standing up and stating their opposition to Amendment 1.

I commend Jones, Equality NC and the Coalition to Protect NC Families, as well as other businesses and individuals, for all of their hard work and dedication to this cause. We can’t rest all of our hopes on their shoulders; change has to come from each and every one of us. When I lived in South Carolina, I opposed the amendment in 2006, but in hindsight I did not do enough to combat the initiative. After the results of the vote, I spoke with several of my friends and was appalled to discover how many people I knew, some of whom were LGBT themselves, did not go out and vote. The responses I received when I asked people why they did not vote were split between apathy and ignorance. Apathy in that they believed their vote would not make a difference in the decision and ignorance in that people did not even know about the vote. How could this be? I knew about it. I was informed. Why wasn’t everyone else? Because I didn’t speak up.

Talking about politics, even with friends and loved ones, can be a major point of contention and easier left alone in most cases. This is not one of those cases. We have to speak up. We have to inform and educate everyone we know about this issue and the impact it will have, not only on the LGBT community of North Carolina, but on everyone if it passes. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of ground to cover in the next three months. Unless we are all informed about the impact of this amendment and are willing to take personal responsibility in advocating for our rights, then we will repeat the decision in South Carolina.

Gov. Beverly Perdue’s recent decision not to run for re-election could be a major game-changer for this vote. With the addition of a Democratic primary on the May 8 ballot, more voters will be turning out and that could mean more votes in opposition to the amendment. However, we can’t just assume this to be the case and become satisfied that this will be all that is needed to oppose the amendment. I encourage you to share your views on this issue with those close to you. I also encourage you to support organizations such as Equality NC and the Coalition to Protect NC Families as they work to support equality. Follow these organizations online and keep up with their work. Attend their events and volunteer your time when you can. Even if you can’t do these things, you can talk to those around you and make sure that they know the issues and what is at stake when they vote on May 8.

While South Carolina was banning same sex marriage in 2006, New Hampshire was taking steps toward equality and civil unions. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Bishop Gene Robinson, ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and an advocate for equality, as he was visiting Charlotte to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN). Bishop Robinson was also the first openly gay priest to be ordained a bishop and has worked to bring about change within the church in terms of its views on homosexuality. Since a major argument in favor of the passage of Amendment One is rooted in religious doctrine, I asked Robinson if he had any thoughts to share with the people of North Carolina.

“Religious people have nothing to fear from marriage equality. This is not any kind of infringement on the freedom of religion. Typically, we are worried the state will infringe on the church; in this instance, we have the church doing this on the state. The state is in the business of equal protection under the law and treating all citizens equally and, yet, we have religious groups trying to impose their views on the secular state,” says Robinson. “We now have enough gay and lesbian families, many with children, and we know that those families are wonderful and deserve support of the state because we need stable families as the lynchpin of society. This is about equal protection under the law.” : :