|History's dishonorable moments will repeat|
themselves — unless and until we stop them.
Whatever fight was waged in the Tar Heel State against this despicable ballot measure was a losing battle. I know that's pessimistic, but it's true.
North Carolina's political leanings have moderated a bit in recent years — it very narrowly backed Obama in 2008 after supporting Republican presidential candidates for more than three decades — but it's still a Bible Belt state that didn't even officially recognize interracial marriages until the early 1970s. It has sizable cities, but none that are large enough or liberal enough to outweigh the conservative suburban and rural votes. The amendment in question effectively banned both gay marriage and civil unions, but the latter is rarely enough to dissuade religious voters from privately registering their prejudice against the former at the ballot box. (Check out this interactive map of the results. The numbers are really quite abominable; one rural county in Appalachia along the Tennessee border approved the measure with 89 percent of the vote.)
Left to its own devices, it will probably be at least another decade before North Carolina (or, for that matter, any other Southern state) recognizes same-sex unions on any level. That could be a cause for discouragement. But it only strengthens my resolve to do what I can where I am — and I hope my readers feel that way, too.
Back in January, I wrote about Washington's new marriage equality law, noting that opponents would try to gather enough signatures to force a vote on it in November. There's no doubt that that will happen — not because they're particularly competent, but because they only need about 120,500 signatures to qualify, which is not even 2 percent of the population of this state. (It's far too easy to force stupid ballot measures here.)
I also predicted at the time that voters in Washington would uphold marriage equality if the question was placed before them. I still believe we will. I've researched this enough to have some confidence in it, but I won't bore you with the minutia here. I'll save that for another post.
That being said, once the ballot measure qualifies, we'll see the same campaign witnessed elsewhere of fear, lies, distortion, deception, manipulation, and ignorance make its way to the Northwest — funded largely by vile out-of-state groups like the so-called National Organization for Marriage. We have to be ready for that filth before it even starts. And when it does, we have to fight back hard.
Sometimes, I'll visit gay rights advocacy pages on Facebook, where I'll see agitated comments lamenting the mean-spirited rhetoric and tactics of their opponents. I sympathize with this sentiment — the language and strategies they use can be disgusting. But I'd also argue that friends of equality cannot paint themselves as victims (even if they are). We also cannot be afraid. Neither wins elections.
We have to be positive and civil. We have to tell people's stories. We have to convey the human impact. But we also have to call out the opposition on their lies. We have to respond to those lies forcefully and repeatedly. Most of all, we have to control the terms and messaging of the debate. In this type of battle, once you allow your opponent to do that, you've already lost.
Do I sound like a melodramatic, disingenuous politician? Maybe so, albeit unintentionally. Let me explain my tone.
This is a personal issue for me. It's the civil rights issue of my generation. I have many gay and lesbian friends whose lives are profoundly affected by this movement. I cannot imagine being subject to an organized movement hellbent on stigmatizing my identity and relationship, convincing others that I'm not entitled to the same legal recognition and dignity as others — that somehow, I'm a threat to society because of the person I love. I also cannot not stand by as this happens to others.
I think marriage equality will win in Washington state. But we can't take that for granted. If you live here, check your voter registration. Make sure it's updated. If you aren't registered to vote, do so now. Ask others to do the same. Share with them why this is an important issue to you. And start now. If you forget, don't worry — I'll be contacting you. This will be a personal mission of mine between now and November.
We must counter fear and prejudice with compassion and respect. We have to put a human face on this issue. But we must do so with resolve — and without timidity. If we do, we win.
Check out this excellent blog post written by a friend and former colleague of mine, which explains why gay rights foes are wrong to use their electoral victories to claim the moral high ground. If my post is fueled by nothing but unbridled emotion, his is informed by rationality, intellect, and historical fact. It's well worth a read.