By Joseph L. Conn
On May 8, North Carolina voters will decide on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. As you might expect, the drive for the measure is fueled almost entirely by ultra-conservative religious forces bent on imposing their doctrines by force of law.
Southern Baptist denominational leaders, the state’s Roman Catholic bishops and their Religious Right allies are weighing in heavily. State law already limits civil marriage to one man and one woman, but that isn’t enough for the theocracy-minded crowd. They want a constitutional amendment mandating "some-sects" marriage.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) has dropped into North Carolina to demand that “every Bible-believing Christian” vote yes. And Richard Land, top lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (designated a right-wing theocratic group by me) told local seminarians that voters must adopt Amendment One to send a message to the Supreme Court.
According to the Associated Baptist Press, Land said, “If the people speak in North Carolina and in the other states and affirm marriage as being between a man and a woman, I believe that it will tip the balance of the Supreme Court to reject trying to foist by judicial imperialism same-sex marriage on a populace that is clearly opposed to it. If we lose, they will exercise their judicial imperialism. That’s what’s at stake, and you’re first up.”
How ludicrous! Same-sex marriage isn’t even before the high court, and when it arrives there, the justices will look at constitutional principles and precedent, not a referendum in North Carolina, when they make their decisions.
Fortunately, progressive clergy in the state, including some Southern Baptists, are speaking out against Amendment One.
Writing in the Winston-Salem Journal on Monday, the Rev. Charles Francis Wilson said the issue is about civil rights and the separation of religion and government.
“To be sure, there are those who have clear, sincere religious convictions that define marriage as only being between one man and one woman, and these rights will be preserved even if the proposed amendment is defeated,” observed Wilson, a retired Southern Baptist minister and president of the local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Faith groups that hold such convictions will continue to practice their religion as they choose. It is not appropriate, however, for those religious convictions to be written into law that applies to all citizens.”
Wilson noted that America is not immune from government-enforced discrimination against minorities. He cited the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the mistreatment of African-Americans through Jim Crow laws.
“An individual acting on discriminatory attitudes can be harmful and threatening,” said Wilson, “but government discrimination can relegate an entire classification of citizens to second-class citizenship. Amendment One as government discrimination will embolden hate groups and, by implication, endorse homophobia.
“How can we even think,” he concluded, “of discriminating against our own citizens who pay taxes, contribute to our society, worship in our congregations, serve in the military and represent us as elected officials? We are not talking of some kind of alien creatures; we are talking of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and our law-abiding neighbors. In the United States, such discrimination is anathema.”
Will North Carolina voters heed the reactionary siren song of men like Perkins and Land, or will they listen to better angels of their nature represented by voices likes Wilson? On May 8, we’ll find out.