When my family first moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., from Boston, Mass., in the 1980s, I distinctly remember attending worship at Church of Reconciliation (a Presbyterian Church, USA), in which there was an “offering of letters.” We were asked to consider writing letters in support of some Democratic-supported federal legislation. The person announcing this call for letters was very straightforward about whom we should write to in support of this legislation: “Since we have Senators Helms (a.k.a., “Senator No”) and East as our U.S. Senators, perhaps you can adopt another state’s senators who would be more likely to support this important initiative.” I fretted about what kind of state we had moved to, having moved from a liberal state where Ted Kennedy was our senator to a conservative state represented by Senator Helms. I envied states in which there was a chance of arguing for the right, good and just thing, regardless of one’s political party.
I experienced that similar bout of envy in the last few days while driving on I-5 by the dome of the Washington state capitol building in Olympia. The state senate was literally in the process of voting on their marriage equality bill, with all political signs showing that the chances were good for passage by a bipartisan majority, just like New York a few months earlier. The next morning, splashed above the fold on the front page of the local newspaper were pictures of LGBTQ couples and children celebrating this legislative victory. There were stories of LGBTQ parents rejoicing, looking forward to having access to state laws that would protect their families from harm. Tears broken by big smiles were captured on many people’s faces. As I was flying back to North Carolina a few days later, the Washington State House of Representatives followed the Senate’s lead, with Gov. Christine Gregoire promising to sign it into law. Granted, Washington State has Rev. Kenneth Hutcherson, a conservative African-American pastor whose hate of LGBTQ civil rights echoes the sentiments held by Rev. Patrick Wooden (Raleigh’s Upper Room Church of God in Christ fame). Rev. Hutcherson is vowing to raise enough signatures to let the people vote on marriage equality in November 2012. But, even with this threat, many people I talked with — conservative and liberal alike — were hopeful that the people would be for marriage equality!
As I write this column, I am sitting in my mom’s house in a suburb of Portland, Ore., feeling as if we were the creamy center of an Oreo cookie, because to the south, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a devastating blow against their Proposition 8. Prop 8 prohibited marriage equality in California after several months where the state allowed for marriage among both people who are straight and LGBTQ people. Sadly, Oregon —the squishy center — had amended its state constitution, banning marriage equality in 2004 when former President George W. Bush was re-elected. Bush’s campaign manager Karl Rove was sure that placing amendments to ban marriage equality on several state ballots would drive out the conservative vote for Bush, which it did. Oregon’s LGBTQ group, Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), chose not to pursue amending the constitution allowing for marriage equality. It is always a costly uphill battle to amend constitutions. BRO’s leaders want to be sure when they have a winning chance to amend the constitution. For now, educating the public is their option.
My family lives in North Carolina. My partner and I are about to pay state taxes again. We pay for services in a state that already denies us the right to marry. But, because of mythical “activist judges” who might deem equality among all citizens a basic right, guaranteed by the Constitution, a cabal of conservative legislators chose to further keep North Carolina away from the 21st century. If passed, this constitutional amendment will impact our families’ health care, retirement benefits, inheritance, hospital visitation and make it impossible for LGBTQ couples to adopt children. It is up to the voters to decide whether our constitution will keep LGBTQ people permanent second class citizens or begin to work toward marriage equality.
Once again, I’ve got a bad case of state envy. : :