After the vote on Amendment One was held and passed by the citizens of North Carolina, Governor Beverly Perdue spoke out about what we, as a state, looked like to the rest of the nation: “People around the country are watching the state and are confused…North Carolina was a progressive and a forward thinking state that stood up for civil rights…we look like Mississippi” (May 11, 2012).
The comment raised a reaction from both those who voted for and against the Amendment. Those who voted for the Amendment, along with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, took great umbrage at the comment. Those who voted against the Amendment wondered where Gov. Perdue was while some of us were working on phone banks, going door to door and distributing material against Amendment One. To this day Gov. Perdue has not come out in support of marriage equality, having voted for the state Defense of Marriage Act when she was a state legislator.
In light of the passage of Amendment One — now part of North Carolina’s Constitution — it is interesting to note one thing about the population of Mississippi that surpasses that of North Carolina’s citizenry. Although Mississippi ranks 42nd in the nation for the number of same-sex couples per household, it leads the nation in the percentage of same-sex couples raising children, a study by the Williams Institute (a gender orientation and identity public-policy organization based at the University of California, Los Angeles) reported. Nationally, 22 percent of same-sex couples are raising children, but in Mississippi 33 percent are raising children. Mississippi has a total of 6,286 same-sex couples” (Jackson (MS) Free Press, Aug. 26, 2011). Mississippi!? That means there are more same-sex couples with children who feel safe, if not comfortable, living in Mississippi than the once-progressive-but-always-conservative state of North Carolina. Maybe it has to do with the cost of living, the “live and let live” or regardless of your politics, or who you live with, “blood is thicker than water” attitude of some Southerners. Perhaps it is the quieter rural, backwater life some people have chosen to live, being honest and smart about who knows about one’s relationship with a partner and child or children.
This fact about Mississippi reminds me of something I do not want to forget in light of North Carolina’s Amendment One’s passage. While, for some same-sex couples and their children, there are many advantages to living in the thriving metropolitan parts of North Carolina, we live in a state of 100 counties, where there are many same-sex couples and children who live in one of the 6900 small cities, towns, villages and rural hamlets in N.C. Same-sex couples in Robbinsville, Lincolnton and Warrenton, as well as those who live in rural parts on a farm or in the mountains of this state also felt the impact of the Amendment’s passage, but chose to be quiet about expressing resentment, if not downright anger, about how the vote went down.
A story: When I was interim senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Henderson (an hour’s ride north of Raleigh in rural Vance County), I was delighted to meet lesbian and gay couples raising children side by side straight couples with children. They worked in the surrounding county, paid taxes, joined swim-golf clubs and contributed to the community life. Discovering that I was a Presbyterian pastor who is gay, they even started to come to worship to check both the congregation and me out. Granted, there was an unspoken, but firmly held “don’t ask, don’t tell” etiquette that guides all conversations. But, they were there, queer and happy.
Our sisters and brothers who are lesbian and gay are in each and every county of Mississippi and North Carolina, no matter how big or small, liberal or conservative, the county may be. We who are LGBTQ are everywhere and our numbers are growing. We are part of the rich, vibrant life of not only the large cities, but the small farms, county public schools and the small independent coffee shop with the only espresso machine in the county. Along with our children, being smart and honest, we will continue to educate, share our lives, our relationships and slowly, but decisively, change the very fabric of the places where we live. : :