Exile on Jones Street: Make that Amendment None

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by Kirk Ross

As laws prohibiting same-sex marriage fall in state after state either through court challenges or at the ballot box, change here is probably coming sooner than later.

If you think that somehow North Carolina can avoid a legal and cultural transition just because of geography ask the folks in Virginia, Kentucky, Utah and Texas how that worked out.

There are already challenges to the North Carolina’s marriage prohibitions via a suit filed by the ACLU not long after voters approved Amendment One to the state constitution. Earlier this month, the organization asked a federal judge in the case to quickly take action, citing movement in other states.

On Monday, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ along with several clergy and church members filed a new suit in federal district court in Charlotte claiming that the state’s prohibition on performing same-sex marriage violates religious freedom. The suit is the first of its kind and adds a new twist to battle. Dwell on this excerpt:

“By denying same-sex couples the right to marry and by prohibiting religious denominations even from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, the state of North Carolina stigmatizes same-sex couples, as well as the religious institutions and clergy that believe in equal rights.”

More legal challenges are possible as well. Over in Orange County former Carrboro mayor, Moral Monday arrestee and real estate attorney Mark Chilton is running in the usually noncompetitive race for county register of deeds. In addition to explaining his real estate law bona fides, Chilton says he intends to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in direct challenge to the amendment.

Similar acts have triggered legal cases in other states and Chilton, and a possible majority of the voters of Orange County, are quite serious. He’s even lined-up counsel to handle the case to ease concerns about big legal bills for the county.

As legal challenges mount we will no doubt be subjected to an argument that this state is “not ready” for the change. Given that it’s election season, we’ll hear a lot of truly awful reasoning including the repetition on long-dispelled statistics on effects on children, society and so on. And, sadly, Franklin Graham will be quoted ad nauseam. But the main argument likely to be put forth as to why North Carolina is “not ready” is sure to rely heavily on the results of the vote on Amendment One 2012.

The 61 percent to 39 percent blowout will be held up as conclusive proof that the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians are still deathly afraid of gay, lesbian and transgender people and that homophobia should remain the law of the land.

Should you find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of seeing this defense in action please feel free to chime in with a few reminders about that referendum.

For starters, mention that it was held during a May primary that was stacked with mainly Republican races, including a rather nasty one at the top of the ticket.

Given changing public opinion, better turnout and a longer time to muster opposition it is possible that the amendment would not have passed had it been held six months later. Its supporters didn’t take the chance and rushed the measure to the ballot before those opposed had enough time to make a case against it. You really can’t stack a deck much more than that.

In the end, Amendment One passed via the approval of only 20 percent of the state’s registered voters. Now, its days are numbered. We won’t see it on the ballot again, at least not anytime soon, but Amendment One is going down in one court case or another. It was and is a temporary, political gesture that’s codified an unfairness that should have never found its way into a constitution whose pole star is “the good of the whole.”

Temporary, political but not hollow. It’s hurt couples and families and made us, by law, less of a civil society. Amendment None: Let’s do this.