Comment

Amendment critics, busy writers

April 29, 2012 

The caller, a Cary subscriber whose name I couldn’t catch despite repeated tries, spat out her words as if something vile were on her tongue.

“I just want to say how utterly, utterly disgusting the editorial page was this week like it has been so many times before,” she told me in her voice mail message. “This Amendment One, there wasn’t one letter for it, and you talk about trying to be fair and balanced. I don’t think you have a clue.

“Many of us are for this amendment, and yet you just print the negative. It’s really sad that people are so blind.”

It must have been Thursday morning’s batch of letters that set her off, because that’s when she called. On that day, we used part of the Other Opinion page for letters, in response to what has been an intense flow of reader comment on the proposed marriage amendment to the state constitution. The breakdown: eight against, none in favor.

Because polls supposedly have shown that the amendment stands a good chance of approval when it goes before the voters on May 8, it’s fair to wonder about such an outpouring of views in opposition. But it’s a fact that the vast majority of letters to The People’s Forum about the amendment have been critical. We’ve been swamped with letters from people who hope the thing goes down in flames.

From the other side we’ve heard surprisingly little. But a common theme seems to boil down to this: North Carolina has to make this constitutional change to remain in God’s good graces.

Anyone is perfectly entitled to believe in the sanctity of one man-one woman marriage, but how is writing that belief into the state’s constitution not the furtherance of one particular religious code by the force of law?

Americans, after all, are supposed to have both freedom to practice their religion and freedom from having to knuckle under to someone else’s religion. This amendment, beloved of certain Christians, converts a religious conviction that homosexuality is sinful into a secular ban of same-sex marriage and beyond that of civil unions of any sort.

Many anti-amendment letter-writers have grounded their position in a more tolerant strain of Christianity. But the Republican politicians who figured that putting the amendment on the ballot would help them at the polls had conservative church-goers in mind.

Back to our letter selection process: When writers are debating an issue, our aim is to run letters that reflect the flow of comments on either side. A big imbalance among the ones we receive will be reflected in an imbalance among those we publish.

That said, we also will go to extra lengths to run letters with dissenting viewpoints, especially if they’re contrary to our editorial positions.

I checked on the marriage amendment letters we had run on the seven days ending Thursday. By my count there were five pro-amendment, 18 anti. A fair sampling of those received? You bet – tilted toward the pro.

So what happens to all the otherwise acceptable letters – i.e., reasonably clear, properly signed, not form letters, not nine yards long – that don’t make it into the print edition? To the extent that we can manage it (because editing letters and processing them for production in any format is labor-intensive), we put them online.

On Friday, April 20, for example, we posted 12 marriage amendment letters in our Opinion Shop blog. The score: one for the amendment and 11 against. Many of the opponents were writing in rebuttal of a letter we had run in print a couple of days earlier from a policy expert at the Family Research Council in Washington.

That expert had declared: “Society gives benefits to marriage because marriage benefits society. Since same-sex relationships can never give to society the two key social benefits of heterosexual marriage (natural procreation, and both a mother and father for the resulting children), there is no reason to give same-sex couples legal benefits simply based on their sexual union.” Uh, so marriage without fruitful multiplication, as it were, is somehow less valid or worthy?

Our letter-writers went for the jugular. As it happens, the skewered expert had been trying to skewer the authors of an anti-amendment Point of View article. So goes the debate, as played out in our pages.

I hope my caller reads this column. Maybe if she calls back, I’ll be able to ask her why she thinks it’s so important to alter our constitution when state law already says that if you want to get hitched, you need an opposite-sex partner.

The courts might overturn the law? Don’t hold your breath. But if they do, it likely would be under the Constitution of the United States – which has the last word, and which is supposed to keep government and religion a respectable distance apart.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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