Are you feeling good about our chances in November? Still sitting on the sidelines because you’re just not that into politics? Are you leaving all the heavy lifting to your local and national organizations? Are you still waiting for equality to come to you, instead of grabbing the bull by the horns?
Well listen up people. Here’s your wake up call.
On Tuesday, May 8, 2012 North Carolina voters passed a sweeping ban on gay marriage with Amendment One enshrining discrimination in their state constitution.
Our movement has seen tremendous progress and growing support in recent years. Since 2008 Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, New York, Washington DC, and most recently Maryland have embraced marriage equality. And after a crushing defeat in California, LGBT families were given new hope when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declared Prop 8 unconstitutional.
Support for constitutional amendments banning same-sex couples from marrying has been dropping as support for marriage equality continues to rise. Reportedly 52 percent of Americans now support marriage equality.
Our unions, our relationships, even without marriage, are real. And at long last are receiving recognition and acknowledgement particularly at the federal level where benefits have been extended to partners of Federal employees, including hospital visitation rights; and issuing diplomatic passports and benefits. Small steps, yes, but progress none-the-less.
The long arc of the moral universe at last seems to be bending toward justice for LGBT couples and families. We have not made it to the proverbial Promised Land, but we have been to the mountain top and have tasted that better day in LGBT history.
And then North Carolina passed Amendment One joining 30 other states having some sort of constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
I don’t hate North Carolina. As a matter of fact I have North Carolina roots. Although my mother was born in Michigan, the rest of her/my family came to Detroit as part of the great Northern migration.
I have friends in North Carolina – some transplanted from Michigan some native born. All are out, proud and, while not ignoring the challenges of being gay in a southern state, were for the most part pretty optimistic about life for the LGBT community in North Carolina.
North Carolina – it’s a part of me. It’s a state I had considered for relocation; and the ancestral home I had planned to visit this summer but all of that was before North Carolinians voted to deny my community our civil rights.
So what the hell happened in North Carolina?
Polling by the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families showed that when voters understood how far-reaching Amendment One was, they turned against it – but only 40 percent even knew the amendment banned civil unions.
Although there was record primary turnout, that turnout represented only 34.37% of eligible voters – sad in comparison to the 70% turnout when President Obama took North Carolina in 2008. Then the turnout in North Carolina was among the states with the highest voter turnout in the country.
With a larger turnout, it’s just possible this thing could have been defeated. But with no contested Democratic race and the GOP nomination all but a “done deal,” we (liberals, progressives, etc.) didn’t take care of job one – getting out the vote.
Just look at the statistics and it becomes clear why Amendment One was put on a primary ballot when voter turnout is expected to be low. It was no coincidence. The people behind this Amendment and every other assault on our civil rights know exactly what they are doing. It’s called strategy – a strategy to systematically turn back the hands of time and dismantle any progress for full LGBT equality.
It’s how they have been able to keep their issues in the fore-front for months during the long drawn out GOP primary/caucus cycle gaining free press for divisive issues.
While we’ve been waiting for the big dance in November, they – the bigoted far-right are using every opportunity to cement their stranglehold on American politics; wrapping fear, bigotry and prejudice in a cloak of religious self righteousness that is contrary to the very beliefs this country was founded on and far from WWJD.
So how do we fight future challenges to our civil rights by these discriminatory amendments? We must be as strategic, as opportunistic, and as vocal as the other side.
We say it again and again. When our communities (and I mean OUR communities where we live, work and raise our families side by side with the same people who would deny us equal rights), when OUR communities know us, know our stories, they are against far-reaching, discriminatory legislation.
Remember “Don’t ask. Don’t Tell.” We told our stories again and again. When Congress asked, we told of serving in fear of being discovered, stripped of not only benefits and years of service but our self-respect. They asked and we told. They asked and our comrades, superiors and allies testified on our behalf joining our voices for the end of this discriminatory policy.
DADT provided a level of discourse, a teachable moment and ultimately a defining moment where America saw that the LGBT community was not asking for special rights but reclaiming our place as an integral part of the fabric of America.
So maybe the time has come for us to take on a “Do ask! Do tell!” campaign. Let’s ramp up our ground game and take it to the streets.
We need to show up at every neighborhood meeting, town hall, and candidate forum, in collaboration/cooperation with our friends, allies and progressive partners, take advantage of every teachable opportunity to dispel the fear and ignorance about our community while reclaiming our place as valued members of every community.
On May 8th in North Carolina we fell down, but we got up. And, with President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality, there will plenty of opportunities to engage in conversations that will not only educate but change hearts and minds in 2012 and beyond.
It’s on and poppin’ folks! So roll up those sleeves and let’s get busy.