Last night, by a vote of 61 to 39 percent, North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being solely between a man and a woman, making it the 30th state with a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Same sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, but this most recent anti-gay amendment goes beyond any already existing state laws by additionally voiding civil unions and domestic partnerships from having any legal status. Just prohibiting gays from marrying wasn't enough for these folks, they had to ensure that any gay relationship was illegitimate in the eyes of the law. Consequently, opponents of the amendment believe that many hetero couples will also be effected by this discriminatory law; it will impact custody issues for unmarried couples, hospital visitation rights, inheritances, and unmarried victims of domestic abuse. Apparently the majority of North Carolinians feel that these are small prices to pay for the satisfaction of having anti-gay legislation written into their state's constitution.
The last time that North Carolina's state constitution was amended was in 1875. At that time it was amended to declare that “all marriages between a white person and a Negro or between a white person and a person of Negro descent to the third generation inclusive are, hereby, forever prohibited.” North Carolina's 1875 interracial marriage ban remained part of the state's charter until a new constitution was adopted in 1971; even though the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated anti-miscegenation laws in the famous 1967 decision, Loving v. Virginia.
It was a very sad and grey morning this morning with news pouring in of legislatively sanctioned discrimination being voted in by a state's majority. Then, unexpectedly, later in the afternoon, in an ABC special report, Barack Obama, the President of the United States, told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts, "I've always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally." Well, this might have been enough to re instill a glimmer of hope in this gay American's morning, but then the President said, "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors -- when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."
Did the President just say what I thought he said? In an instant, North Carolina's ignorance and bigotry was old news. The President just said that he thinks same sex couples should be able to marry!
The phone rang, facebook exploded, history was unfolding before our eyes as we were being catapulted further along into the twenty first century. All through the remainder of the day there have been teary and breathless reactions to Obama's affirming announcement. The breadth of the reaction speaks to an emotional response from a group of people who have historically been marginalized, dehumanized, and discarded. The visceral collective validation of an entire community has been legitimized by the President of the United States. Of course his decision to make this announcement at this particular moment in time is one that has been dissected and analyzed by an army of strategists, but its impact still remains significant. Particularly in light of the fact that churches and communities continue to tell gay children that they are freaks and abominations. I am old enough to have watched friends whither away in sickness and die as Ronald Regan refused to publicly mention AIDS, as it was a pestilence only effecting gay men at the time. To have our President say what he did today is a BIG DEAL. Today I'm proud to say that I voted for him, and I'm gonna do it again.