ACLU right to test NC’s same-sex marriage amendment

July 12, 2013 

When the social conservatives in the Republican-run General Assembly pushed their state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, unfortunately strongly approved by voters, they anticipated an easy go of it: amendment referendum OK’d by the legislature, amendment approved by voters, and that’s the end of that.

What they didn’t anticipate was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had blocked married same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The high court also, in effect, upheld a lower court ruling that overturned California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages, which are again taking place in that state.

And so, surprise, surprise, the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking a route through the courts to challenge the state’s constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage. Doubtless the state will spend a fortune defending this ideologically-driven, politically-fueled amendment that is offensive to many North Carolinians and seen as just plain silly by others. (Although yes, approved by a wide margin.)

The marriage amendment was driven by Republicans who were rallying the troops by exploiting resentment of gay people and the ridiculous belief that allowing gay marriage is a threat to conventional marriage. But as the Supreme Court ruling has signaled, public attitudes about same-sex marriage are evolving, as they should, and in many places the issue is not what it used to be in terms of its ability to inflame the public.

Even some members of the General Assembly who voted for a referendum on the amendment were uncomfortable with it, but felt they’d been put in an impossible position.

It is good that the ACLU is challenging the law, and given the high court ruling, it seems entirely possible that it could be successful. At the least, it will give North Carolinians more insight as to how Republican lawmakers used a highly-charged, emotional issue to divide the people in order to pander to the most narrow part of the GOP “base.”

Law conceived in anger at one group of people is usually bad law. The motivation behind it is not to improve society – it has not been shown that same-sex marriage hurts anyone, or a community in general – but to find a group to target for attack and thus unify a particular group of like-minded political allies.

Republicans in the General Assembly did that. How is the state better? How have lives been improved? If it is so right, why are increasing numbers of states moving toward legalizing gay marriage? And what about the negative effects, the possible loss of new industries because companies with diverse workforces don’t want to move employees into a hostile environment?

The ACLU, much maligned by conservatives in North Carolina and elsewhere as the voice of liberalism and labor, may well be doing the state, and certainly its more enlightened citizens, a favor.

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