They're not speaking very loudly at this point, but the fact is that there are some moderate and even fairly conservative Republicans in the General Assembly who'd rather have nothing to do with the proposed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that Republican lawmakers want on the May 2012 primary ballot in North Carolina. It is a messy bit of business, after all.
It's also a waste of time and energy in a state where there is already a law on the books banning same-sex marriage and not recognizing gay marriage performed in other states. Why this step of amending the state's constitution, the very framework of government, on a clearly ideological issue? Advocates say it's to protect a ban should a state judge somewhere overturn the current law and then have that ruling upheld through the state's appellate courts.
That's an improbable scenario, to say the least. But another rationale has to do with getting the Republican Party's tea party members and others in its most conservative base charged up for the spring primary in hopes that enthusiasm and funding will carry over into November. Claims that a May vote instead of a November vote takes politics off the table are dubious. This is all about politics. And ideology. And "payback."
Yes, make no mistake. Republican Rep. Paul Stam of Apex, a veteran member of the General Assembly who's long chafed at Democratic control, is a leader among so-called "social conservatives," and now that he's majority leader in the state House he sees an opening to push his agenda. And though Republicans claim to be the party of small government, this amendment in fact represents big government. Because of conservative desires to regulate personal behavior, it flies in the face of the right to equal protection under the law.
The problem is, many Republicans know gay people, and they know that gay men and lesbians seeking the right to marry are no threat to the Republic. For them to have that right does not infringe on anyone else's rights. And many private industries have granted domestic partners including gays and lesbians health insurance and benefit rights for quite a while.
The amendment wouldn't attempt to dictate to the private business community. But business people, many of them anyway, are nervous about this amendment, fearing that it might discourage prospective employers who are enlightened on the issue from coming to North Carolina.
At a time when unemployment is high and many citizens of this state are in search of work, it is mind-boggling that Republicans in the General Assembly would go to the time and expense of taking up a constitutional amendment of this nature. The question, "Don't you have better things to do?" is at this point rhetorical.
And it's not as if they're on a roll. Thanks to their refusal to retain a tiny addition to the state sales tax, thousands of North Carolinians are losing their jobs, with public education being hit hard at all levels. Environmental regulators are weaker, agencies are understaffed and veteran state employees are worried about keeping hard-earned benefits.
This is a misguided cause, mean and vindictive and discriminatory, motivated by a cold-blooded extremism. At a time when Republicans should be trying to prove themselves as leaders, they are doing just the opposite.