Much has been written about Amendment 1, the referendum to change the North Carolina State Constitution to deny official recognition of domestic unions other than legal marriage between a man and a woman. The amendment was approved by 60% of North Carolina voters yesterday.
The passage of Amendment 1 is a serious defeat for pro-LGBT forces. 60% exceeds the polling estimates and, in the land of ballot issues, a 20% margin is pretty much a landslide.
I worked on a bunch of ballot measure races back in the 1990s, starting with serving on the campaign staff of the 1992 No on 9 Campaign against an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment in Oregon. That proposed amendment tried to equate LGBT folk with pedophiles. We defeated it, but not by much.
Ballots measure like North Carolina Amendment 1 and 1992’s ballot measure 9 are as much about racism and bigotry in general as they are about how folks feel about LGBT people. Here’s why:
First, the organizations that sponsor these homophobic measures are part of a movement with a much broader agenda. Oregon’s ballot measure 9 was sponsored by the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance. They also attacked reproductive choice, and held positions against Affirmative Action and humane immigration reform.
That same year in Colorado, an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment passed by ballot measure. The sponsors of Colorado’s measure were the sponsors of an anti-Latino English Only measure just two years before.
For these groups, homophobia offers a soft-entry point into the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of evangelical Christians. By exploiting a popular prejudice, they build the support necessary to advance much more expansive anti-democratic agendas.
Protestant Pastor Martin Neimoller famously spoke to this dynamic when he stood up in solidarity with German Jews saying:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
But there’s more. The very fact that constitutional rights can be contested in what amount to popularity contests should give us all pause. Our federal constitution, at least in theory, is supposed to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Inviting voters to decide whether any minority group’s rights should be protected does an end run around constitutionally guaranteed protections. Amendment 1 and all similar measures put all of our rights in jeopardy.
Measures like Amendment 1 invite us into the dangerous belief that where our civil rights are concerned the majority should rule. That, in fact, majority rule is the most democratic way to determine whether or not any group is eligible for protection when the opposite is true. It is anti-democratic to permanently limit the ability of any group to air their grievances and seek the protection of government.
Japanese Americans understand the danger inherent in majority rule. During WWII, American citizens of Japanese descent were incarcerated en masse because of their ethnicity.
Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws were imposed on Southern states by majority rule. If the Voting Rights Act had been a left to the whims of state by state popularity contests, African Americans might still be barred from voting in many Southern states because of poll taxes, terrorism, and literacy requirements.
But what’s even worse, in my book, is the damage of measures like Amendment 1 to our culture. I remember distinctly how angry it made me to see measures on the Oregon ballot concerning LGBT rights. My humanity was put up for a vote.
I’m not arguing that you have to like me because or even in spite of my sexual orientation, but debating my humanity through the elections system? All of us who are concerned about human rights should be united in our understanding that this kind of thing is just never, ever okay. It’s the same kind of objectifying, ugly thinking that perpetuates racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and every other kind of bigotry.