Weekly Briefing

Unleashing a culture war

Campaign over discrimination amendment will change North Carolina in ways unforeseen

There’s been some talk in light of the General Assembly’s decision this week to approve the so-called “marriage amendment” that “not much will really change.” According to this line of thinking – promoted mostly by amendment supporters – all their decision to send the amendment to the May ballot does is to preserve the status quo. “So, we’ll have a vote next year on something that’s already barred by law,” say the supporters. “What’s the big deal?”

Whether it’s sincere or knowingly deceptive, this is ridiculous, head-in-the-sand talk. The hard truth of the matter is that, whatever the outcome of the debate that takes place during the next 236 days, North Carolina and its citizenry will be profoundly affected and changed.

The impact of the impending campaign itself is not an issue that many people have discussed over the last couple of days as the mad rush to ram the amendment through the General Assembly ran its course. Most people have been focused on the amendment itself, the actual language of the proposal, the arguments pro and con, the practical results of enshrining such a proposal in our constitution, and the appalling lack of process that House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger employed in passing the proposal.

Fewer people have been focused on what this week’s legislative decision means for the North Carolina body politic itself – what it will really mean to have such a raw, divisive, emotional and unprecedented campaign.

Battle lines

One person who does seem to grasp what the amendment vote portends for our state is State Rep. Ray Rapp – a moderate Democrat from the mountains of Madison County. Rapp touched on this matter during Monday afternoon’s debate on the House floor:

“We can stir up this whole state; get everybody pitted against one another, get everybody angry. And what I’m really concerned about in that regard is what we’re hearing from the business community. They really don’t like it when we’re declaring – when we’re unleashing culture wars in this state. They’re not real happy about that because it’s not good for their environment and I’ve heard from businessmen.” (Emphasis supplied).

Think about it for a minute. Rapp is completely right. Think about the millions of dollars worth of TV, radio and internet ads to which we can now look forward. Think about the flyers that will start materializing on the windshields of churchgoers, bingo players and Friday night football game attendees. Think about the business boycotts. Think about the rumors and innuendo and deceptions that will be sprayed about. Think about the Thanksgiving table and bar room arguments. Good God, think about the anonymous, venom-filled comments and rumors that will fill the radio talk shows and news websites throughout the state.

This isn’t going to be just any old, run-of-the-mill campaign – it’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out, no-holds-barred brawl; a pitched battle for the very heart and  soul of our state.

As a result of this week’s decision, North Carolina is about to enter uncharted waters. For perhaps the first time since the Vietnam War when we were half our present size and not nearly so well-connected, all North Carolinians – nine million people – will be forced to choose up sides.

It will happen in the churches, synagogues and mosques, in suburban cul de sacs and rural PTA meetings, on factory floors and in college dorms; all over the state people will find themselves forced to pick a team – to be divided in one more way than they already are.

Consequences

And you know what else will happen?

Innocent people – kids probably – will be harmed and maybe even die.

If this strikes you as alarmist, stop for a moment and think again. Millionaire businessman Mitchell Gold understood this fact when he spoke Tuesday morning at a business leaders’ press conference at the General Assembly. Gold is a gay man who knows all about the pain, hateful derision and ostracizing that LGBT people must frequently endure.

Gold spoke powerfully and eloquently when he noted that the people for whom he worries most in the aftermath of this week’s decision are the LGBT kids who will be forced to hear over and over every day of their unworthiness. Gold noted that these kids already face horrific discrimination and bullying in our society and a suicide rate far in excess of their straight counterparts. Now, this will be compounded by the unleashing of a tide of ads and speeches and forced side-choosing.

As a result of the decision to push this debate to the front and center of the state’s political agenda, hundreds – maybe even thousands – of young people will decide to come out about who they are in the coming months. For many (hopefully all), it will be a liberating and positive experience.

But for some, however, it will also be a dangerous decision and one that might well have delayed to a safer time and place were it not for the demands of the public debate.

If you think the next eight months won’t bring out the worst in some of the would-be bullies of our state, think again. We can only hope tragedy is avoided – especially in smaller, less diverse communities where such developments will be less familiar.

Silver linings?

Are there any positive developments that might come of the next eight months?

Absolutely.

Polling indicates that if voters truly understand all of the consequences at-stake in the vote, it may well go the right way. Many, many people still uncomfortable with the idea of same sex “marriage” support the concept of same sex domestic partnerships and will likely chafe at the threat that the amendment language poses to such relationships.

The good guys can clearly win this one.

And, regardless of the outcome of the vote, there can be no doubt that the months to come will speed up the process – already well underway – in which North Carolinians are coming, at long last, to accept and embrace the concept of LGBT equality. This time next year, we can rest assured that more people than ever before will accept LGBT North Carolinians as full and complete citizens. The trend on this matter is strong and irreversible and the impending campaign will abet it.

But the price of this rapid escalation will likely be high. As with all “wars” – be they actual armed conflict or simply cultural – there will be lots of collateral damage in the months to come. Let’s hope it turns out to be worth it.