That there is significant support in the North Carolina legislature for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages is hardly surprising, given the state's broad streak of social conservatism.
North Carolina has built a reputation as among the more progressive states in the South - a national leader in universities, community colleges and research parks. Back in the 1920s North Carolina earned the nickname as "the Wisconsin of the South" when that state was synonymous with progressivism. In the sixties, National Geographic magazine labeled North Carolina "the Dixie Dynamo."
It was the most culturally Southern state to vote for Barack Obama for president in 2008. A recent state-by-state Gallup poll found that North Carolina was the second most Democratic-leaning state in the South.
But progressivism has always been mixed with a deep social conservatism - one rooted in the churches, in the small towns and in the countryside.
North Carolina is, as former Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole liked to say, the buckle on the Bible Belt.
So at the same time that Democratic Gov. Cam Morrison was pushing through appropriations to build a great university and highway system in the 1920s, he was preaching against the evils of demon rum and banning two biology textbooks that discussed the theory of evolution.
"I don't want my daughter or anybody's daughter to have to study a book that prints pictures of a monkey and a man on the same page," Morrison said.
When pushing for more spending for education or roads, governors would invoke the Bible or God's will to move people to support programs they believed in.
Jim Hunt, the four-term governor, the prototype of modern Tar Heel progressivism, was so strait-laced he refused to serve alcohol in the Executive Mansion.
North Carolina instituted Prohibition years before the rest of the nation. Until 1978, you couldn't even buy a drink in the state; only Oklahoma was drier.
Gay rights? The legislature wasn't even sure it wanted to give women any rights. It rejected both a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920s, and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
Democratic lawmakers passed a law banning gay marriages. Not to be outdone, the new Republican leadership - knowing a campaign issue when they see one - hopes this week to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages with the idea of putting it before the voters during the November 2012 election.
A majority of North Carolinians, 61 percent, think same-sex marriages should remain illegal, and only 31 percent think they should be legal, according to a poll released last week by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm based in Raleigh.
Only 30 percent say they would vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages. But everywhere a ban on gay marriages has been on the ballot, it has eventually passed.
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