The chance to prove the bigots wrong

The chance to prove the bigots wrong

- in Fitzsimon File

The appalling decision by the North Carolina House and Senate to put the rights of a minority of people in the state up for a majority vote is done.

Now voters will decide in May if bigotry will become part of the state constitution, a document that is generally changed to expand individual rights, not take them away.

And the term bigot is the one that fits, despite protests from supporters of the anti-gay amendment and the Christian Right lobbying groups who coordinated the assault on human rights and who will lead the effort to convince the majority of North Carolinians to join their hate crusade.

Speakers at rallies and press conferences that were sponsored, attended, and promoted by Republican legislative leaders said gay people are an abomination and are going to hell. One minister knocked two padlocks together in his bizarre version of an anatomy lesson.

And there’s House Majority Leader Paul Stam, who recently compared being gay to polygamy and incest after last year mentioning bestiality and pedophilia as comparable.

So enough already with the puffed up indignation about being called bigots. Bigots you are.

But the arrogant, fear-mongering, misguided moral crusaders may be in for a surprise in next spring. Most people in North Carolina don’t believe that their own marriages are somehow threatened by allowing two people of the same sex to make a lifetime commitment to each other.

In fact, if everyone in North Carolina with a gay child or sibling shows up to vote in May, it will be difficult for hate to win.

If everybody in the state who talks to their gay neighbor every few days or sits at lunch with their gay co-worker casts a ballot, it is hard to see how the calls for bigotry can prevail.

And if everybody who believes that we should never discriminate against human beings because of whom they love makes it to the polls, there is little chance that the radical fundamentalist theocrats will have another day to celebrate.

There are plenty of very specific reasons to vote against the pro-discrimination amendment in May. It strips benefits from partners of same-sex workers, weakens domestic violence protections, and threatens individuals’ rights in wills and trusts—just for starters.

The amendment is poorly drawn, unclearly written and could wreak havoc with dozens of the state’s laws and regulations. There is little dispute about that. That’s why no public comment was allowed at the General Assembly this week.

The pro-discrimination forces knew that a closer look at their vague amendment would raise questions they couldn’t answer or were not willing to.

That’s why they refused to let legal experts explain what the amendment would do or let business leaders testify about how much it will hurt their companies and North Carolina’s economy.

The anti-gay forces wanted to make the vote in the General Assembly only about their absurd claims about protecting “traditional marriage” that not too long ago was allowed only for people of the same race.

There’s a reason the complaints about the “overreaching courts” and activist judges sounded so familiar. It’s what George Wallace and his segregationist allies said 50 years ago as they stood in schoolhouse doors, that they did not want the courts and activist judges telling them they could not keep discriminating against a group of people because of the color of their skin.

Imagine if the courts had stayed out of it then and the integration of public schools had been left up to a popular vote in 1963 in Alabama.

That’s what this generation of discriminators is counting on, that the public agrees with their narrow-minded views and will write them into North Carolina’s constitution.

But the forces of hate and discrimination have made a major miscalculation. This is not 1963, it is 2011 in a state with a progressive tradition where people have come a long way in their understanding and acceptance of those who are different from themselves.

The last few days in the General Assembly may have been among the darkest for basic human rights in North Carolina since the days of Jim Crow and the Speaker Ban Law.

But that wasn’t the people of North Carolina who voted this week in favor of bigotry and discrimination. That was a majority of the General Assembly, kowtowing to powerful religious fundamentalist interest groups that are a key part of their political base.

Just because the forces of bigotry and division have shown they can intimidate weak-kneed lawmakers, doesn’t mean that the people of North Carolina agree with them.

We will find out in May. I have a feeling the forces of discrimination are in for the shock of their lives.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
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