Activists with the Asheville, N.C.-based Coalition for Southern Equality began their We Do Campaign on Oct. 3. The two-week effort organized nearly two dozen same-sex couples who requested marriage licenses from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds.
Campaign organizer and Coalition for Southern Equality Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara said the effort is meant to draw attention to the discrimination same-sex couples face. She said LGBT families are being denied basic, constitutional rights and freedoms.
The group’s campaign is a perfect example of grassroots, non-violent direct action, highlighting in real time the effects of discrimination upon its victims. Further, the direct action forces otherwise well-meaning people to either defend the discrimination or stand up in solidarity against it. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger chose the latter. It was a decision that put him between a rock and a hard place, so to speak — a straight ally, he was forced to uphold a law which even he believes is unjust.
“A few years ago I decided to dive head first into the world of politics, because I thought I could help make the world a better place,” he wrote on Facebook. “I wanted to do more than stand on a street corner in Boone holding up a protest sign.”
He added, “Now that I have become a public official, I find myself in a role that requires me to uphold the law of the state of North Carolina. While I am proud of what I have accomplished, there is more work to be done. Because today when I was asked to give a friend of mine, who happens to be gay, a marriage license, I had to deny her and her partner of 30 years the joy of marriage and it broke my heart.”
Direct actions like the We Do Campaign are important. Reisinger and other LGBT-friendly people in positions of power are having to confront their own feelings and the law. Such experiences are necessary in the continued quest for justice and equality.
But, as with other cases of direct action this year, I believe the coalition’s campaign could have been more strategic. I applaud the group’s approach and appreciate its thorough non-violence in thought, word and deed. Yet, I question the appropriateness of the campaign’s timing, the message it sends and its potential to backfire in the looming electoral conflict over a proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.
As news of the campaign spread across the state and nation, anti-gay lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the pro-amendment group North Carolina Values Coalition, outlined why she thought the coalition’s actions would do more harm to pro-LGBT causes than good.
“I think it makes our case why we need an amendment,” Fitzgerald told AP writer Tom Breen. “When people see that, they’re going to be concerned, and they’re going to take it as a sign of aggression on the part of people who advocate for same-sex marriage.”
With unfortunate regret, I must say I agree with Fitzgerald. Our community’s potential to defeat the anti-LGBT amendment at the ballot box in May will not depend upon our ability to convince North Carolina voters to support full marriage equality. Though recent polls show at least a plurality of voters and citizens heading in that direction, a larger portion still remain opposed to full equality. Our movement’s singular advantage is the integrity and honor of our state’s people; though they might not support full equality, they do not support outright hatred and draconian discrimination for discrimination’s sake.
Take, for instance, the recent announcement from U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a conservative Tea Party favorite who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District. She does not support full marriage equality and likely never will. Yet, she will vote against the amendment because, according to her spokesperson, it is too broad and too vague.
I urge my fellow LGBT citizens and our allies to be more thoughtful in their approaches to direct action and protest as we move into the early phases of our campaigns against the anti-LGBT amendment. Drawing upon the progressive principles and history of this great state and its great people, our community will have a phenomenal opportunity to defeat the amendment. In order to accomplish that goal, we should each keep in mind what will be of best benefit to the entire movement. Demands for full equality are important and should never be ignored, but they should be balanced, strategic and well-timed. : :