Bigotry on the Ballot

Activists in North Carolina protest Amendment One

Cross-posted from The New York Times

North Carolina already has a law barring same-sex marriage, but the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature is not satisfied. It devised a measure to enshrine this obvious discrimination in the State Constitution and placed it on the ballot of the state’s May 8 primary election — a test of tolerance versus bigotry that ought to be watched closely nationwide.

In their zeal, lawmakers got careless with the wording of the measure, known as Amendment One. It would constitutionally prohibit recognition not just of same-sex marriages, but of other legal arrangements like civil unions and domestic partnerships. That could harm all unmarried couples, imperiling some children’s health insurance benefits, along with child custody arrangements and safeguards against domestic violence.

The campaign against the amendment is being spearheaded by a coalition of civic, religious, business and civil rights leaders and groups. One of Amendment One’s most vocal opponents is the Rev. William Barber II, president of the state chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. Mr. Barber draws a strong link between the proposed amendment and struggles against racial unfairness, an appeal with special resonance following the publication in March of memos from the National Organization for Marriage, one the most prominent groups fighting same-sex marriage, about driving “a wedge between gays and blacks.”

Polls suggest that defeating this measure remains an uphill struggle, but at least its approval is no longer an entirely foregone conclusion. Much will depend on turnout, especially by voters on college campuses, who will need to vote in larger-than-usual numbers to defeat this declaration of officially sanctioned discrimination.

The North Carolina vote is one of several statewide ballot fights over same-sex marriage the nation will see this year. But public opinion continues to move steadily toward marriage equality. In 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. Today, 47 percent are in favor and 43 percent opposed, according to a new Pew Research poll.

Opponents of marriage equality have never been able to show any evidence that any harm is caused to heterosexual marriages by granting all American adults the right to marry as they choose — because there is no such evidence. With little more than a week to go before the May 8 contest, and early voting already under way, North Carolinians need to consider whether they really want to inflict this gratuitous bigotry on their fellow citizens and their children.