Gay blogger/journo Paul Hogarth writes on the “bumpy road” to marriage equality, addressing various facets of the movement to legalize civil marriage rights for America’s same-sex couples.
Discussing some of the struggles across the nation, and in particular New Jersey, Hogarth makes an argument that movement on a state-by-state basis might yield progress. The Tar Heel State gets a brief, but important, mention.
New Jersey proves that a state-by-state solution can yield progress – as infuriating as the number of setbacks on the way can be. But the recent defeat in Maine also showed how risky it is to go to the ballot. The Right loves to take this issue to the voters, because they can use lies and fear to manipulate a slim majority of the electorate. New York and New Jersey proved that state legislatures are not immune to this either, but it’s preferable than putting the rights of a minority on the ballot. The courts, of course, are always an option.
Advocates should be unapologetic about focusing on states that lack an initiative process, expanding marriage rights in places where it cannot be taken away. More states with gay marriage will also help federal courts conclude that marriage equality is a constitutional right. When reviewing the bans on interracial marriages (1967) and sodomy (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court in both instances noted how many states had already repealed them.
Currently, there are eight states that (a) don’t have marriage equality, (b) did not amend their constitution to ban gay marriage and (c) don’t allow for an initiative process that could repeal efforts to pass it. The states are Minnesota, Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Some – like Rhode Island – are liberal enough to pass it at the legislature. Others will require court action.
Hogarth is right in that North Carolina does not have a ballot initiative process. Tar Heel citizens cannot gather signatures to place a question on a ballot as they could in California, leading to the passage of Prop. 8 in 2008. But, North Carolina remains a fairly conservative state and an overwhelming majority of its citizens and elected officials would quickly vote against marriage equality if given the chance. Fortunately for LGBT citizens, the state constitution places a high bar on procedures for amendment.
North Carolina’s constitution can be amended in two ways. First, a constitutional convention could be called but only if it is first approved by two-thirds of the state House and Senate and then a majority of voters. Second, amendments can be proposed through the legislative branch, being first passed by three-fifths of the General Assembly and then approved by a majority of voters.
These strict constitutional amendment procedures provide a buffer between the oftentimes ill-will of the majority and the rights and liberties of susceptible minorities. And, because the General Assembly is a key part of either amendment process it is vital LGBT-friendly candidates of any party affiliation get elected to the House and Senate and supported by our community come re-election.
Groups like Equality North Carolina, Greensboro’s Replacements, Ltd. PAC and the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) work hard to see progressive and LGBT-friendly candidates for local and statewide elected office get the support they need. Just as the community should support these candidates, we should also support the organizations working on our behalf with candidates, in the legislature and in our local governments.