Listening to the rhetoric from progressives around the constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in May, one might think the amendment has nothing to do with marriage, equality or the LGBT community.
Instead I see tweets like this
— Protect ALL Families (@protectNC) March 8, 2012
This has been the tone of the anti-amendment campaign since its beginning. It has focused on the conclusions drawn by UNC Law Professor Maxine Eichner in her paper on the broader effects of Amendment One. I have the utmost faith in Eichner’s scholarship and I am fully prepared to accept her conclusions. In a rush to appease their far-right financial backers, the GOP hastily pushed through an amendment that is vague and will certainly have unforeseen consequences, no doubt harming families and children.
But that’s not why the amendment is bad.
It’s bad because it enshrines hate and discrimination into our constitution. It's bad because it sends a message that members of the LGBT community aren’t welcome and aren’t equal in North Carolina and it's bad because it drags us back to the days of separate water fountains and segregated lunch counters. Not to mention that within a generation it will certainly be repealed.
It seems to me that some of the strategy disagreements center around how to interpret a poll result that PPP found earlier this year
57% of NC voters support gay marriage or civil unions...and 56% support amendment that would ban both: publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/01/n…
— PublicPolicyPolling (@ppppolls) January 12, 2012
Why did 60% of respondents say they support legal recognition for gay couples but also a similar number say they intend to vote for an amendment prohibiting legal recognition? It's about the question they are being asked and the questions they are asking themselves. The amendment language seems innocuous to those who aren't in the right mindset. The challenge of this campaign is to put voters in the right mindset.
In the aftermath of that poll, I heard a lot of anti-amendment advocates saying, “See this is Personhood – that’s the campaign we need to run.” To me nothing seemed farther from the truth. While both Personhood and A1 are overreaches and both have unintended consequences, Personhood’s ‘side-effects’ were intrinsically connected to its intended effect. That is to say there is a natural association between abortion, in vitro fertilization, contraception, etc in most people’s minds. To defeat personhood in MS, you needed folks to go vote and think, “I am opposed to abortion and I’m voting against Personhood because it might take away birth control, etc.” That wasn't so difficult because when people are thinking about Personhood and abortion, they naturally thought about birth control, etc.
But with A1 the issue is more complicated. The ‘side-effects’ of A1 aren’t as connected to its intended goal. There isn't a natural association for most people between the definition of marriage and domestic violence or the rights of children. My concern is without that natural association, the arguments about A1's 'side-effects' will seem inauthentic to voters and the right will argue it's a red herring, concocted by liberal elites.
So, what could we do differently? Well as it happens, Minnesota is considering a similar amendment. Take a look at these two sites and see if you notice anything different.
Minnesotans United for All Families
Protect ALL NC Families
On the hope page of the MN group, they feature LGBT couples, along with heterosexual couples, telling their personal stories and why they are opposed to the amendment. In MN they are running an equality campaign, focusing on the intended consequences of the amendment; that it will ban any legal recognition for gay couples and enshrine hate into the consitution.
What about video? The Coalition to Protect ALL NC Families recently put out this video
I thought the comparison to the civil rights movement was effective, but at the end I was left wondering, wait, who is being oppressed, who is fighting for equality? There is no mention of the LGBT community, only vague references and video from a HRC gala. I found the end particularly interesting, right as the video fades out we see Sen. Ellie Kinnaird rise to speak. While the video ends it's worth looking back at what she said. This is from the Durham Herald Sun story written the day after the Senate debate,
"Senator Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat, said the amendment was about the oppression of gay people. 'What we are doing here is making a situation that is difficult for many people much, much worse,' she said."
And before you say 'well Australia isn't NC' note that in Australia only a slim majority support marriage equality. That is a higher number than in NC, however, a recent Elon poll showed that 64% of North Carolinians support either gay marriage or civil unions. While not everyone is on board with marriage equality, these poll numbers show that at least 2/3 of voters don't have a problem with the gay community and could be persuaded by an equality campaign.
You have to force people to ask themselves the right questions, make them see the consequences of their actions. Make sure that everyone who votes for A1 realizes what they are doing, that they are actively denying their friends, their neighbors and, yes, even their family members the dignity and equality that every person deserves. That's how you bridge the gap of people who support legal recognition but told PPP that they would vote for A1. By forcing them to ask themselves the right questions.
I've traveled this state with an openly gay Senate candidate and I believe North Carolina is ready for this. I believe that most people in our state don't hate the LGBT community and on a gut level know they should have the same rights as everyone else. We just have to help them see the whole picture.