Hi – I’m Rob Schofield and my wife Noelle and I have been Pullenites for something like a dozen years now. But for those of you who don’t know me or what I do away from this place, I can tell you that I have the rather strange job of being – for lack, I guess, of a better word – a pundit or a commentator.
Just about every day my colleague Chris Fitzsimon and I walk into our offices at NC Policy Watch and stare at blank computer screens (or microphones or TV cameras) and try to coherently articulate our beliefs on the issues of the day – issues like the marriage discrimination amendment; Amendment One.
Our goal: to win the hearts and minds of neutral or uninformed audiences and thereby triumph in a battle of ideas with people who are – as we like to put it – trying to repeal the 20th Century. It would seem good preparation for talking to you about the Amendment.
This morning, however, I’ve decided I would be more effective if I called on some other professional experiences I’ve had through the years.
You see, prior to becoming a pundit, I was a lawyer and a lobbyist for some challenging causes like civil liberties and poor people. When you’re a lobbyist, your job is not necessarily to win hearts and minds. Frequently, your mission is to distill complicated ideas down to a brief, pragmatic elevator speech (or lavatory speech) that a friendly legislator can easily absorb; the idea is to give them the ammunition they can use to convince others who would never listen to you.
So, this is what I’m gonna’ do today. I’m not going to try and convince you how to vote on Amendment One. Frankly, I assume that the vast majority of you oppose it. You don’t need me to tug at your heart strings or spell out the myriad reasons yet again.
It’s elevator speech time; people are already voting. You are the friendly legislators and I am the lobbyist. So, how can I arm you? What can I give you to say to your friends, co-workers, family members and neighbors who may be open to reason?
Try this: The simple truth is that Amendment One is about a lot more than a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. It is, in fact the most extreme and far reaching proposal of its kind in the country. And the reason for this is really a function of four little words.
Amendment One states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in this state. Four words from that statement ‒ only domestic legal union ‒ are the key. Together, they will combine to make this amendment immediately harmful to hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians.
Let’s say them together: “only – domestic – legal ‒ union.”
Here’s what this means:
- It means not only will North Carolina’s constitution ban the recognition of same sex marriage; it will also permanently ban the state from recognizing civil unions.
- It means the municipalities in our state that already allow employees to obtain benefits coverage for their unmarried domestic partners (same sex or opposite sex) will now have to stop.
- It means that thousands of people (gay and straight) will see their existing custody and visitation rights thrown into question.
- It means that unmarried victims of domestic violence – both same and opposite sex – who are currently afforded protection under our law, will quite likely no longer be protected. This happened in Ohio when that state adopted a marriage discrimination amendment.
- And it likely means dozens of other things will be jeopardized that we’re only just guessing at – everything from hospital visitation rights to financial decisions to end-of-life decisions to health insurance for kids – you name it.
- And it means lots and lots of expensive court fights.
So ‒ the people you know think they are opposed to (or unsure about) same sex marriage? Well okay. We can agree for now to disagree on that. But are they for causing all of these other changes and permanently writing them into our state constitution? Really?
I don’t think so. That’s why all of the public opinion polls out there show that when voters understand the amendment and its full impact, they’re against it by a wide margin.
The problem, of course, if that most people don’t understand it and don’t understand the impact of those four little words – “only domestic legal union.” They think the amendment is a simple up or down vote on same sex marriage.
That’s why opponents like us have a tough, uphill battle in the next two weeks.
We’ve come long way. And I mean a long way. Think what the vote in North Carolina would have been on such a proposal 20 years ago. And everyone knows what the future holds. Even the man who put this amendment on the ballot – Speaker of the House Thom Tillis – admitted a few weeks ago that he expects it to be repealed in 20 years if it passes.
The problem, of course, is what happens now and the immediate future. Will North Carolina shock the nation and stop this absurd and dangerous proposal on May 8? Will we spare ourselves the damage to families and the expensive conflict? It’s possible. The tide is clearly turning and we are close to a tipping point.
If it does happen, however, it won’t be because we’ve decisively convinced a huge majority to see, as we do, the obvious logic and justice in full marriage equality. Not yet. That’s coming later.
If we win on May 8, it will be because enough people of varying stripes and beliefs have been persuaded by the pragmatic arguments of people like you and me that this proposal (with its four little words) is simply too extreme.
I pray we will do a good job.