It is now just a month before voters in North Carolina will decide if discrimination will be written into the state constitution and thousands of families, gay and straight, will lose benefits and rights because of the broad, sweeping language of the amendment approved by the Republican-led General Assembly last year.
Polls continue to show that voters are divided. While a majority still opposes same-sex marriage, a clear majority also supports some sort of legal recognition for gay couples.
And most voters do not support denying unmarried couples employee benefits, domestic violence protections, or equal treatment when it comes to wills and trusts, all things the overly broad amendment could do despite the desperate assurances otherwise of House Majority Leader Paul Stam, a driving force in the amendment’s passage.
The outcome on May 8 is likely to come down to how many voters realize how much damage it will do to families in North Carolina. The momentum is clearly with the folks opposing the discrimination amendment, as more prominent conservatives like former Charlotte Mayor and Republican Richard Vinroot speak out against it.
Vinroot announced his opposition after House Speaker Thom Tillis told an audience at N.C State last week that the amendment would be repealed in 20 years or less because younger people didn’t support it.
A flabbergasted Vinroot told the Charlotte Observer, “My gosh, the legislature wants us to put something in the Constitution that the leader of our party – the speaker of the House – doesn’t think will stand the test of time for more than a decade. “I can’t imagine amending the Constitution for something he believes is that tenuous.”
Tillis can not only imagine it, he can encourage it and he did just two days later. In a statement released from his office Tillis expressed strong support for the amendment and said he planned to vote for it to “honor the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Apparently, Tillis was called to account by powerful interests on the Right for expressing not even reservations but just simply stating that the discrimination wouldn’t last.
He was quick to get back in line but the damage was done and the cynical veil of intolerance lifted another inch or two.
Thoughtful Republicans like Vinroot can’t sit idly by while their party caters to the extremists and hurts families in the process. It will be a surprise if more conservatives don’t make similar statements before May 8.
Tillis ought to be ashamed of himself, but doesn’t seem to be. And maybe that’s too much to expect of a politician who clearly has higher ambitions that trump any sense of decency and respect.
But this whole episode is likely to come back to haunt Tillis and his fellow Republicans in the years to come, whether they prevail with their discrimination message on May 8 or not.
People are waking up to the extremism that Republicans are willing to support or at least manipulate for their short term political gain.
Tillis is right that the next generation of voters won’t put up with it. And they will be voting on a lot more than marriage amendments.