On May 8, 2012, North Carolinians will vote on Amendment One, the North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Amendment. Amendment One will appear on the ballot as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, which means it was initiated by the state legislature but will be rejected or approved by voters.
The House gave voters the power to decide whether a ban on same-sex marriage should be written into the state constitution in a 74-42 vote on Sept. 12, 2011. Two days later, the amendment passed though the N.C. Senate in a 30-16 vote.
Proponents of the bill say the amendment needed to be passed so the people, not the courts, can define marriage. But opponents argue that the majority should not vote on the rights of the minority.
Marvin Ellison, a gay ordained Presbyterian minister and a Willard S. Bass professor of Christian Ethics, recognizes that the controversy surrounding the amendment was inevitable.
“It seems that almost whenever two or more are gathered, there will likely be conflict or at least intense conversation about marriage, family rights and same-gender loving people,” he said.
Ellison argued that there are three voices in the public debate concerning same-sex marriage. The first voice is that of marriage traditionalists, who resist marriage equality because they fear it will erase gender differences. A second voice is that of marriage advocates, who, Ellison said, find marriage exclusion to be a form of discrimination that violates the principal of equal protection under the law.
The third voice is that of marriage critics, who support the right of same sex couples to marry, but are not persuaded that it will automatically lead to greater relational justice.
“For marriage critics, same sex marriage is an ambivalent good,” Ellison said. “If not quite a bust, not entirely a must.”
I myself am a strong advocate for gay marriage. I wholeheartedly believe that if this amendment passes, hundreds of thousands of North Carolina families who fall outside of the “marriage between one man and one woman” definition will be harmed, because a heterosexual marriage will become “the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” The proposed amendment will interfere with will and trusts, end-of-life arrangements, hospital visitation privileges and would interfere with the state’s ability to recruit businesses and jobs.
But more importantly, why is it the state’s right to choose who can marry whom? Choosing who you want to marry is a basic personal freedom.
“What it means to be human is expressed most fully in this remarkable capacity to love and be loved,” Ellison said. “To enter into intimate connection with others. To deny therefore a group of people…the freedom to marry and the moral right to love and be loved is therefore not a minor inconvenience or merely unpleasant, it is rather an exclusion that is dehumanizing, unjust and wrong.”
Focusing solely on gaining equal access to marriage, however, could be detrimental if other requirements of justice are ignored. So, vote against Amendment One on May 8. But let’s remember that the larger issue is gaining equality in all aspects of our society.