Marriage Act: Needless Distraction
Like swallows returning to Capistrano, state Republicans can be counted on to return to Raleigh each year with a proposal to amend the state’s constitution to “defend marriage.”
On Sept. 12, the General Assembly will consider House Bill 777 and Senate Bill 106 (co-sponsored by Jamie Boles and Harris Blake, respectively), which propose “to amend the constitution to provide that marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time, and that no other relationship shall be recognized as valid marriage by the state.”
No one seems interested in articulating the nature of the threat that allowing gay people to marry poses to the institution of marriage. What is the state’s interest in denying any rights to citizens — citizens who work, employ people, contribute to their communities, obey the law and pay taxes just like the rest of us — solely on the basis of the most personal aspect of their lives?
There is an inescapable irony in that the very people who can’t stop talking about too much regulation and too much government in our lives are more than happy to insert government into the most personal decision that two adults will ever make together.
There are currently six states that allow same-sex couples to marry, and so far heterosexual couples that were married before the passage of those laws remain just as married. In fact, the most notable effect of allowing gay people to marry in New York has been about a billion-dollar boost to the state’s economy.
Moreover, why is this necessary when the laws already on the books limiting marriage to heterosexual couples seem to be working just fine?
One explanation is that the bills aren’t really about marriage at all; they’re about shunning. They say to gay people who have all the same obligations of citizenship as the rest of us, “You are not welcome here. You are ‘less than.’”
Gay people are part of the fabric of our society. When a paramedic who happens to be gay resuscitates someone whose heart has stopped beating, he has not less than saved a life. When a police officer who happens to be gay answers a call, she is not less than the law. When service men and women who happen to be gay put themselves in harm’s way, they are not less than patriots.
I attend church at a welcoming congregation. A few weeks ago, we were privileged to witness the baptism of the infant child of a lesbian couple. It was the welcoming of a beautiful child by two strong, dependable, adoring parents into a beaming family of faith. No one involved was less than.
The other explanation for the proposed amendment is that it is pure pandering. It is a bone thrown to conservative evangelicals for their years of faithful support. The problem is that this year the Republicans have the numbers to put the amendment on the ballot.
This comes at a time when attitudes toward gay marriage are shifting. An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted in July found that 51 percent of Americans support the right of gay people to marry; 45 percent oppose and 4 percent are undecided. By comparison, in 2005, only 39 percent of Americans supported the right of gay people to marry; 58 percent opposed and 3 percent were undecided.
The shift in attitudes is confirmed in North Carolina by a recent poll conducted by Elon University, showing that 56 percent of North Carolinians oppose an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage and 52 percent” support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.”
The problem is that the GOP panders to conservative evangelicals for a reason. It’s because that group can be counted on to vote. It is the wag-the-dog effect of a focused minority controlling a less dependable majority. There are a thousand reasons to be disenchanted with government, a thousand reasons to want to to disengage from the process. And it seems to be the duty of each generation to be an embarrassment to its progeny.
But let’s pass on this opportunity to swim against the tide of history. This proposal is a distraction from the urgent challenges facing our state. Let’s dismiss this effort and ask Rep. Boles and Sen. Harris to focus their energy on the most important thing they promised to do: create jobs.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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