It is hard to know where to start in describing what happened at the General Assembly Monday when the House voted to allow discrimination to be written into our state constitution.
It was politics at its worst, but it was more than that. It was elected officials lying to the people they represent, but that doesn’t fully describe it either.
It was certainly a startling display of arrogance and abuse of power, but that’s also not enough to capture what happened.
It was simply a disgusting day in the Legislative Building, one of the most disturbing in years, designed to make sure one group of North Carolinians knew that state lawmakers think they are second class citizens, unworthy of the rights and privileges enjoyed by everybody else.
The House and Senate sessions convened with expectations that a Senate committee would take up the anti-gay amendment first, but soon after the sessions began, things changed quickly. The House recessed and the House Rules Committee met to discuss a version of the amendment that no one had seen.
House leaders brushed off questions about the timing, then refused to allow any members of the public to address the committee, including law professors who came to explain the consequences of the amendment for domestic violence protections, same-sex partner employee benefits, and visitation rights.
The Republicans would rather not know, preferring instead to only refer to a legal memo presented by House Majority Leader Paul Stam, the Fundamentalist-in-Chief of the General Assembly.
After a brief debate, the committee approved the amendment on a voice vote and it was off to the House floor where the anti-gay amendment was brought up “for immediate consideration,” which as Rep. Susan Fisher pointed out, is hardly the prudent way to considering changing the state’s founding document.
Stam’s plea to his fellow lawmakers included the lie that he told the Rules Committee, that the amendment before them was exactly the same as the Defense of Marriage Act that passed the General Assembly in 1996 with the support of most Democrats, including House Minority Leader Joe Hackney and Governor Beverly Perdue, then a member of the Senate.
The amendment is not the same. Unlike the 1996 law, it also outlaws civil unions, which has many more ramifications, like ending benefits for same-sex partners of many local government employees, weakening domestic violence laws, etc.
And the 1996 measure was a law, not a permanent change to the constitution. It was also 15 years ago. The times change. Thoughtful people often change with them.
The rest of the House floor debate was dominated by Democrats who made passionate legal, moral, and personal arguments against adding discrimination to the state constitution—to no avail.
The debate came a few hours after a rally by amendment supporters behind the legislative building at which one speaker complained about her side being called bigots by opponents of the amendment.
Rep. Marcus Brandon, the only openly gay member of the General Assembly, told the House that as he was walking to the House Rules Committee meeting, he heard another speaker at the rally say that being gay was an abomination and that gay people were going to hell.
After more than three hours of pleas for tolerance and understanding, the majority of the members of the House voted instead for intolerance and discrimination. They did it over the objection of several hundred religious leaders and the executives of major corporations who are worried about the amendment’s effect on the state’s ability to attract new companies to North Carolina.
And they did it out of desperation, for as several lawmakers pointed out the tide of history is not on their side.
By the time you read this, the Senate may have acted on the amendment too in a vote that is expected to be close. Let’s hope saner and less hateful minds prevail.
But regardless of what happens in the Senate, the House leaders have spoken. House Speaker Thom Tillis voted for the amendment Monday and he didn’t have to.
House Speakers rarely vote unless there is a tie and the anti-gay amendment passed by several votes as 10 conservative and misguided Democrats jumped on the bandwagon of discrimination.
Tillis likes to portray himself and the House he leads as mainstream conservatives concerned about jobs and the economy. He vigorously protests when people rightly characterize the actions of the House as part of a radical right-wing agenda.
He can protest no more. The last corner of the reactionary veil was lifted Monday by Tillis, Stam, and the rest of the House majority.
This is not a jobs General Assembly. This is a radical right-wing, fundamentalist, pro-discrimination General Assembly, desperate to hold on to its outdated intolerance.
And its full hateful colors were on display Monday.