We have been there before. After I voted in my first election in 1972 (the voting age had changed to 18), I overheard some folks saying, “I’m ashamed. I’m going to move out of North Carolina.”
The issue for them was the election of Jesse Helms, a WRAL television commentator, to the United States Senate, where he would be in political residence for 30 years.
I didn’t vote for Sen. Helms, but I did have a family connection with him all my life and had personal regard for him and a measure of admiration for his legendary ability to take care of the small and large concerns of the folks back home.
As many of my generation and the one preceding us knew, one couldn’t then get to the right of Helms without falling plumb off the Earth. So for some in North Carolina, his election to the Senate and his voicing of a populist ultra-conservatism in the years thereafter was enough to ... well, to make them want to move out of the state. But most didn’t. And a majority of voters, just by the way, disagreed with them in five elections.
And then there was the Speaker Ban Law, a monumental bit of foolishness wherein communists and subversives were banned from speaking on public university campuses. When that happened, more than one person in the liberal bubble of Chapel Hill reckoned that they might just have to move, so “ashamed” were they of North Carolina. In time, thanks to some level-headed judges and Bill Friday, then president and currently president emeritus of what is now the University of North Carolina system, the just plain stupid law went away.
Not many, if any, folks had put their houses on the market and headed North as a result of the Speaker Ban. (Well, maybe a few commies ... just kidding, Chapel Hill!)
So now we have the marriage amendment, in effect not just a ban on gay marriage, which we already had, but a constitutional ban just in case some of those pointy-headed liberals thought they could sneak one past us. It passed overwhelmingly in the state that’s always said it was more level-headed and enlightened that its neighbors to the West, North and South.
We showed ’em.
Or rather, the Republicans in the General Assembly who were eager to get on with a conservative social agenda once they tired of slicing up services and causing cuts in public education, showed ’em.
And almost immediately, the letters and calls and conversations turned to whether the Mayflower people had enough trucks to take us all out to Montana or even Pennsylvania or Massachusetts in the dark of night. Wouldn’t want people to see us, don’t you know. Ashamed, and all.
It’s understandable, one supposes, given that this amendment is pretty personal to a lot of folks, who think they’re the target of intentional and personal discrimination.
I voted against the amendment, but I’m not ashamed of North Carolina. I’m disappointed that in a time of economic crisis, when people I know have lost their jobs and in many cases have not found other ones, the members of the General Assembly chose to spend time on something that could have been filed away forever without presenting any threat to the Republic.
Some of those members probably ought to be ashamed ... of themselves.
But the rest of us shouldn’t use the occasion to be ashamed of North Carolina.
The state has never been as progressive as the election of some governors such as Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt might indicate. But the truth is, those guys and some other governors did boost education, and they did take moderate positions on civil rights, for example, when that wasn’t the most popular view among the people. (One wonders how a precursor of federal civil rights laws might have fared on a ballot in North Carolina in the 1950s or ’60s.)
And North Carolina isn’t just the politicians who pushed this ridiculous amendment. There are all sorts of honest, well-meaning folks on all spots on the political circle who may disagree but aren’t bad people. And some citizens who count themselves as Christian conservatives backed the amendment because of their theological beliefs, and they didn’t need the endorsement of Billy Graham to push them in that direction. They’re entitled to that without opponents writing off their views as illegitimate.
Likewise, there are people such as the Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, a fine Christians in my opinion, who steadfastly worked against the amendment. Good people and sincere people with honestly rendered viewpoints.
Ashamed? No. As the next generation ages and gains more power in government, the so-called marriage amendment will be overturned, just as the Speaker Ban law was, just as Jim Crow laws were. Not because people were ashamed, but because time and common sense and cooler heads prevailed.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org