Commentary: Who will N.C. marriage amendment backers target next?

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverMay 17, 2012 

OK, who’s next?

C’mon, now. Surely you didn’t think the people and groups that fought so hard to add the marriage amendment to North Carolina’s constitution were going to stop if they won Tuesday, did you?

In the immortal words of Bobby “Blue” Bland, “I pity the fool” who thought that.

Emboldened and golden after their overwhelming victory in their quest to ensure that marriage shall henceforth be defined as between a man and a woman – or a man and a woman and his lobbyist paramour when wifeypoo is back home with the young’uns – the conservative groups must now find new targets to go after, to impose their morals upon.

Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church and an opponent of the amendment, told me the day after it passed, “I felt all along that the amendment at its core was not just about marriage.”

“It was part of a much larger political agenda that wants to harm not just the LGBT community,” she said, “but to write hate into our state and federal laws.”

James Miller, executive director of LGBT of Raleigh, said he thinks amendment supporters will now set their sights on employment equality for gays. “They claimed they weren’t opposed to gays, but to gay marriage. They said ‘That word is sacred.’ Now they won’t have that word to hide behind,” he said.

Miller said his and like-minded groups will refocus on non-discrimination in the workplace. “That’s going to be a big, big issue.”

It’s hard to imagine it being a bigger issue than the marriage amendment, over which emotions boiled for months. People on both sides were demonized by the other.

The Rev. Patrick Wooden, one of the staunchest and loudest amendment supporters, was often front and center on the issue. He was also on the front page of Wednesday’s News & Observer, exulting in the victory.

Wooden, with whom I went to junior high and high school and who I consider a friend – although we disagree on most things – called several weeks ago to ask if I wanted to hear some of the hateful, threatening messages left by anti-amendment activists on his answering machine at Upper Room Church of God in Christ.

Nah, homes, I told him. I haven’t finished listening to all of my own hateful and threatening messages yet. For the people threatening him, though, here’s some advice: I wouldn’t mess with that dude if I were you.

It affects all of us

Even if you, like me, didn’t feel strongly about the issue of gays being able to marry, you should feel strongly about people’s rights to live as they choose without being discriminated against. What two dudes, two women or even a man and his wife and a lobbyist do in private has nothing to do with me.

What the state legislature adds to the constitution, though, affects all of us.

That’s why it was distressing to see a majority of voters choose to add an amendment that will remove legal protections for some people.

Despite the rancorous rhetoric that preceded the vote, it’s hard to believe that most North Carolinians walk around all the live-long day thinking “Gee, how can I ensure that gays can’t marry?” or “Man, I sure hope they let them gays marry soon. Why should they be happy?”

Most of you probably felt as I did while watching the Kentucky Derby last week: Despite all of the hoo-ha surrounding it, I didn’t have a horse in that race.

Even if you didn’t have a horse in the marriage-amendment race, though, what happens when the moralists set their sights on an issue that does affect you? What happens when they, for instance, seek amendments banning women from wearing six-inch pumps and inappropriately fitting spandex? Or one to ban people from waddling back to the buffet line at Golden Corral more than twice unless it’s to get some fruit?

What then? I’ll be heartbroken, for one thing.

Then they came ...

Theologian Martin Niemoller predicted what will happen then when he wrote:

First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

All of you who so cavalierly watched as the denial of rights in our state was codified and made law had better think about that and about what the Rev. Petty said. “This was not a theological issue; it was a legislative issue,” she told me. “The Bible is not our constitution. That’s not the way it works in America.”

Nor is taking away rights the way it works in America. At least not until last Tuesday.

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