Time to Work on the Real Threats

Time to Work on the Real Threats

- in Progressive Voices

The 2009 legislative session has just begun and our state faces huge challenges: rising unemployment, a growing budget shortfall, crumbling infrastructure, and a broken mental health system, to name a few.

So what does NC House Republican Leader Paul Stam spend his time worrying about? Creating jobs? Repairing bridges? Helping those who've lost everything in the downturn?

Nope. He's too busy making sure that my partner and I don't have-and will never have-any rights or recognition in this state.

Yep, within the first hours of the session, Stam made clear that writing anti-gay discrimination into North Carolina's constitution was a top priority for him this session.

He doesn't have real ideas or solutions for dealing with the huge problems we've got, but he has a plan to "save" marriage. (He hasn't managed to explain how letting more loving, committed couples participate in the institution of marriage will damage it in any way, but never mind that.)

What Stam and his cronies don't like to talk about is that their proposal isn't just about denying equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. It's about denying absolutely any sort of recognition or protection for those couples.

No civil union. No domestic partnership. No joint health insurance.

What does that mean for my partner, Brad, and me?

We've been together for eight years now, supporting and caring for each other like any other couple.

If Stam has his way it would mean our employers couldn't allow us to purchase health insurance for each other and local governments couldn't recognize domestic partnerships. It would also put into our state constitution the second-class status we already face as a couple.

Right now Brad and I pay higher taxes because we're treated as strangers under the law.

Right now Brad and I pay into social security just like everyone else, but know that if something happened to one of us, the other would never see a dime of it.

Right now, in a moment of crisis, a hospital could turn Brad away from my room if I was in an accident, unconscious and dying.

Stam and amendment supporters want to make sure it stays that way for years to come.

He seems to think Brad and I are somehow a threat. I'd be interested to know how living our lives, paying our taxes, and supporting each other through layoffs, illnesses, and family crises threatens him, our state, or the institution of marriage.

We love North Carolina. It's our home. Both of us are active in the community, trying to make our state an even better place for everyone.  So it hurts to hear respected leaders in our state talking about us and the thousands of other same-sex couples making lives together in our state like we're a problem to be rid of.

To hear Stam talk about it, you'd think the public was united behind him, but that's far from true.

Polls have shown again and again that a clear majority of North Carolinians believes same-sex relationships should be recognized and protected by the state, although they disagree about whether to call that recognition marriage or civil union. And that support has been growing year after year.

That growing support scares people like Stam. They see the state changing around them as we grow more diverse and inclusive. Our state has made great strides in the past decades, becoming economically competitive by moving away from a politics of division and embracing a creative economy.

They'd like to stop that progress in its tracks:  No equal access to marriage. No civil unions. No partner health insurance.

This bill is a desperate attempt to shut down the discussion on how our state should treat couples like Brad and me, because Stam and his cohort see that support for their position is diminishing by the day.

The General Assembly should do the right thing and not waste another minute of their time on this divisive constitutional amendment. They've got big list of real threats to deal with, the economy certainly being the most urgent. Surely couples like Brad and I don't belong on that list.

Ian Palmquist is Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, a statewide organization working to secure equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.