Same-Sex Marriage Ban: Bigotry Isn’t Only a Southern Brew

Only the gray states lack an amendment prohibiting gay marriage

I‘m a native North Carolinian and my state turned to the dark side this past Tuesday, voting to amend or state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, indeed any type of union other than a so-called traditional marriage between a man and a woman. I don’t know if that means in the tradition of Kim Kardashian or if those who voted for the amendment have something a bit bit longer in mind before it counts as a marriage.

I voted against the amendment as did all the people with whom I’m still speaking. I have no patience with bigotry of any sort and there is no rational basis for such beliefs. The I’m entitled to my opinion” argument doesn’t fly with me. I’m entitled to discontinue all association with you if you choose to be a bigot.

However it is not my intent to rant about bigotry in this post.

I am disturbed at a trend that I’ve spotted among quite a few non-Southern folks to declare this anti-gay marriage bigotry to be a Southern problem. It’s not that I mind well-deserved criticism directed at my state for the recent vote to add legalized discrimination to our state constitution. I am disturbed because as long as it’s the other guy who is responsible, then we avoid uniting in a collective effort to dismantle these laws as in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  History is littered with denials of rights up to and including genocide in which everyone says, “Who me? I didn’t approve of it. It was ________.” (fill in the blank).

Thirty-one states have amended their constitutions to declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. Unless the South has cloned itself, this problem extends way beyond the South.

What North Carolina has done is draw attention to this problem yet again. By the way. Minnesota plans to vote on this issue in November. I’m not good at geography, but I’m pretty certain that Minnesota is not in the South. It was particularly disturbing to read one person’s comment, on a blog post about North Carolina’s recent vote, asserting that she lived in Virginia and would not set foot in North Carolina because of the passage of Amendment One. Virginia already has a constitutional amendment preventing gay marriage. It’s as if the country has been asleep since around 2004 when state legislatures began amending state constitutions to enshrine bigotry as legal.

Only six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages as of May 2012. Wikipedia has a good article identifying which states have passed anti-gay marriage amendments and the effect of those amendments that is accurate up until May 2012. It includes NC’s recent vote.

sheria reidUntil we face the reality that bigotry knows no geographical boundaries, we’re simply going to engage in periodic indignation when homophobia slaps us in the face, blame it on the south and then go on about our business, secure in the myth that only those other people practice bigotry. Thirty-one states down, only 19 more to go. This is a national issue, not a southern one and we need a national strategy to address it.

Sheria Reid
The Examined Life

Posted: Monday, 14 May 2012


  1. harry says

    Years ago, our civil government should have supported civil unions at the
    federal level for anyone, gay or straight. Such as law would not conflict with religious marriages and both should be able to coexist.

    I understand the hard core gays will not lobby for gay or civil unions as they prefer the gay marriages over civil unions. They seem to want the word marriage more than they want a solution. Marriages usually happen in a church, before a pastor, church members, and GOD. The word marriage appears in the religious papers of many faiths many times and not at all in our Constitution. Civil unions should be structured by our civil government to include anyone who prefers not to be married in a church. The law should have the same features as current marriages and a divorce feature would also be needed and the division of joint property rules would be required.
    The legal rights of marriage, property, taxes, etc, should be the model for the rights of civil unions. This solution allows our government to serve both sides of the question and takes the pressure off of the defense of marriage law. I would like to see some in Congress to offer such a law for civil unions.
    I say all this being the father of a gay daughter who is married to another gay lady of a different ethnic group. As they live in places that do not offer gay marriages, I hope to unite us all under a federal civil union law.

  2. Libby S. says

    Once again you are spot-on. Bigotry is not just a Southern problem and I personally am getting tired of hearing that it is!!

  3. Reggie Brown says

    … as long as it’s the other guy who is responsible, then we avoid uniting in a collective effort to dismantle these laws…

    You hit the nail on the head, Ms Reid. One way to move forward on this issue is to convince those in our community who hide behind archaic verses in the Bible to acknowledge that their bias is based on Cafeteria Christianity. People pick and choose passages in the Bible based on what they already believe, just as they tend to seek out friends and articles that reinforce their predetermined viewpoints. If they don’t like gays, they’ll justify it by saying it’s God’s Word they’re following, not their own inherent bias. Those of us who see homosexuality as a natural part of human sexual expression are more likely to focus on Jesus’ biblical record of love and acceptance. In our faith communities, we need to remind people to distinguish between equal rights in civil marital contracts versus holy matrimony, which is a religious concept.
    The question we face now is how to generate enough support for gay rights to get past this political quagmire we’ve been in since the 1970s. The GOP has repeatedly used the fear of gay rights as a bludgeon against our Party’s candidates. Homophobia is one of the right wing’s biggest fundraisers and get out the vote strategy. Right now, LGBT citizens and some supporters are fighting for equality, but for the most part, young liberals assume it’ll all work out eventually, and older Democrats just won’t take a stand on it. Somehow we have to convince most Democrats that it’s in our best interest to move forward with this. President Obama could lose the election fall because anti-gay bigots flock to the polls to vote not just against him, but for the upcoming pile of anti-gay legislation in many states.
    I can think of some strategies, especially in minority communities. Creating faith-based LGBT-friendly groups to raise awareness, and to plan and implement walk-outs and protests every time a pastor or other leader preaches against gay rights would help. We can also correct our friends and colleagues when they confuse or merge civil marriage with holy matrimony. Most importantly, we can point out the parallels between the black civil rights movement and today’s gay rights movement. The next time someone claims that the gays are hijacking the African-American civil rights movement, remind them that bigots also used the Bible to justify slavery, and later miscegeny. We don’t have to compare oppressions between different groups, we just have to recognize the similarities in function and effect, and work to stop them. When people claim that oppression of gays and lesbians is not comparable to that of African-Americans, they are empirically wrong. Not only is the oppression similar, but the path forward may benefit from some of the same techniques we used in the 1950s.
    Here are some statistics:

    Number of lynchings in America from 1882 to 1968: 4,742 (27% of which were lynchings of white people)
    Number of homosexuals killed by Hitler for being gay: approx 250,000
    Number of gays and lesbians killed via the Catholic Church’s terrorist actions such as witch burning: Millions

    Aside from the horrendous number of gays and lesbians killed throughout history, both African-Americans and homosexuals have been denied legal equality in this country, and the resistance to change was propagated via churches and community organizing. The purpose and effect is to keep both blacks and gays disempowered personally and politically.
    Thank you for your article, and I hope we can all work together in the fight for equality.

  4. says

    Well, it is a bit of a southern issue, at least from a more northerly perspective. Though there’s no reason this should be the case, as America should be “the leader of the free world” as it promotes itself abroad. From Wikipedia:

    On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriagenationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provided a gender-neutral marriage definition. Court decisions, starting in 2003, each already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90% of Canada’s population. Before passage of the Act, more than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in those areas.[1] Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.

  5. S. Luehmann says

    I couldn’t agree more, Sheria. Marriage is between two consenting adults. It’s nobody’s business, but the two people (whatever their sex) involved. Who am I (or anyone else) to tell other adults how to live? It’s not just a southern problem, it’s a nation-wide Civil Rights issue. You either believe all men are created equal, or you don’t. If you don’t, you don’t understand the first thing about our Constitution. 

  6. says

    We are a country of quite a few misconceptions.  Some want to believe that bigotry is a “Southern Issue” or that the issue of gay marriage is a threat to something they perceive as “family values.”  Or, that lower taxes for the wealthy create jobs and economic prosperity for everyone.  Quite a few of us even argue that the Civil War was fought over the concept of “States Rights” and had nothing to do with the issue of slavery.

    What should really be the focus of media in the case of NC is exactly what does a vote on an amendment to the state constitution offered up during a primary election with voter turnout of only 22% of the state’s population really mean?  How exactly did this vote occur and why?  I mean primary elections are popular white old, white, retired people who have nothing better to do and now NC is getting all this publicity from a vote that is now represented as “the will of the citizens” which only passed with 13% of the citizens of NC actually approving the amendment.  

    Then in regards to a “national strategy” again, a noble idea, but not very realistic in light of the fact that we have a broken Federal government and a Supreme Court that is in the pocket of the Federalist Society and thus very partisan.

    You can forget a second, Brown Vs. The Board of Education and or a second Civil Rights act.

    Why do liberals and Progressives continue to “frame” this discussion as one of “bigotry” and why not go after the root issue used to frame this whole conversation, which is family values?  Our national divorce rate is 66% and obviously gay marriage has nothing to do with this statistic.  Our rate of adultery is increasing at an alarming rate and a majority of our children are being born out of wedlock.  We should be out sponsoring amendments on defining marriage as between “one man and one woman ONE TIME!”  We could call it the “One Strike Amendment” and it would be interesting to find out where churches would stand on this issue, where the Family Council would stand on this issue, or Ralph Reed.

    Or how about highlighting the fact that the state with the lowest divorce rate, the lowest rate of children born out of wedlock, in other words, the state with the best “family values is Massachusetts!  Obviously, there must be a correlation between high taxes and family values!  :)  

    Paul Romer, a leading economic thinker and a professor at NYU has argued very convincingly that there is a direct relationship between tolerance and prosperity and that seems to me to be an ideal way to frame the whole debate of gay marriage:  It creates jobs!

    Yes, bigotry, stupidity, and fear of change are not unique to the South.  The real issue is that we, as liberals and progressives, have never learned to discuss or debate issues in a meaningful way with the nation as a whole and we end up standing dumbfounded, like a deer in the headlights of a car, on every issue that is meaningful to us.

    Thus we create ideas like “Southern Issue” to comfort us and explain away why we are always misunderstood.  While our adversaries are going around championing the ideals of individualism and limited government while they sponsor amendments to that do the exact opposite.

  7. Phyllis ZG says

    I, too, live in North Carolina, and before the Primary, I was heartened by the way the national press addressed the issue. No one talked of it as being a “Southern issue,” and most articles stressed that opposition to the amendment came very visibly from religious, business, and civic leaders state-wide. However, once the amendment passed, all of a sudden it was a “Southern thing” again. Frankly, I’m mystified. Bigotry and conservatism are found everywhere; Kansas is as Red a state as they come, and no one ever accuses Kansas of being Southern. California gave us Reagan after electing him to two terms as governor, and of course it’s the state that passed Proposition 8. I think you’re spot-on, that by labeling the discrimination as perpetrated by “them” – Southerners – people can avoid the uncomfortable fact that they & their neighbors are no different.

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