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Robbed of the ability to celebrate the President’s statement on marriage equality

“On May 8, just over 20 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters cast a ballot in support of the amendment — the lowest support of any amendment that’s passed in Southern states. To put it another way, 14 percent of North Carolina’s population decided the fate of all of the state’s families.”
— the sad truth, from a great analysis at Facing South by Chris Kromm on the bruising Amendment One vote

This post is inspired by an interesting Facebook thread on my wall where I shared my reaction to the President’s marriage equality debut. It gave me a chance to reflect upon why I felt so numbed by Tuesday’s vote that the landmark announcement by Barack Obama did nothing to penetrate my anger and sense of loss. I felt little sense of elation. I posted around 11 PM last night:

I just completely cut myself off from phone and internet after 5 until now. I’ve lost track of calls/interviews I’ve had to field about NC or the President and marriage equality. I’m so drained from yesterday, just spent. What happened in NC was so horrible that it robbed me of the ability to celebrate the President’s statement on marriage equality.

I really have no patience for the “get over it and get behind the President” meme popping up when his campaign screwed us over here, then put all of the LGBT orgs into fawning/sleep mode when this move, while landmark in its precedence, does nothing to advance any actual rights — like, say, signing the EO for fed employment non-discrimination. That would actually affect many, many lives in a tangible way.

Of course one way to look at this is that the President’s coming out — and specifically the timing of it — is to rebuke the results that placed bigotry in the North Carolina Constitution. On the other hand, Barack Obama’s official campaign, OFA, did nothing on the ground or online to help encourage people to vote against the amendment. The only nod was a statement, months ago, that he opposed the amendment; the President still holds the belief that marriage should be decided by the states, even now. So the people have spoken in NC on a civil rights matter than shouldn’t have been on the ballot in the first place.

The curious thing about the last 24 hours is that one of my statements in an earlier post about the prospect of the President’s support for marriage equality seemed to have struck a nerve in some people.

Being jerked around, constantly seen as an ATM, and the man can’t even state the obvious, and his surrogates continue this tap dance of stupidity over what is or isn’t an affirmation that the President believes in full equality for gay and lesbian couples. His own campaign couldn’t even lift a digital finger to tell people to vote against discrimination here in NC. The President can’t even sign an executive order barring employment discrimination against LGBTs in federal contracts.

The reaction by some to my feeling that “it smarts sitting here in NC where his evolution is cold comfort for those of us now living under the thumb of a marriage discrimination amendment” was to chide me for not giving the President credit for this groundbreaking statement that sets the standard for future Democrats running for office on this issue (and places Republicans in a world of hurt). Nowhere in any of my essays on the matter do I negate the impact of this; what I do express is that here in NC, there are more than a few people experiencing what I am, and that there is nothing wrong with publicly documenting it, affirming that one can be in this celebratory limbo — for good reason.

The equality movement will celebrate — as it should — and move on; it will be easy to forget how hard we fought without the President’s help here. The expect the outflow of gay $$$ to his campaign will now accelerate. We’re left to pick up the pieces until the feds/courts help us here in North Carolina.

That said, nothing I wrote implied “Romney should be elected” or suggested “don’t vote for the President.” People may have lots of reasons for not voting to re-elect the President or supporting his campaign, but discussing the fact that the lives of LGBTs have been treated like a political football is what I am saying and nothing more. It doesn’t mean I will fawn over this marriage equality and lie down and ignore the real harms that his policies and political decisions have wrought, the President has an opportunity to take measures in his hands at this moment to actually advance equality in places that are hurting right now.

That pesky executive order

Like signing an executive order barring discrimination in employment by contractors and agencies dealing with the federal government. Apologists say that this is a matter for Congress to deal with — I have no quibble with that, but the President has chosen to sign many executive orders saying “we cannot wait.” Why is it that he has hesitated on stopping discrimination where he can when it comes to LGBTs? Why can this wait? Put the EO in place and work to change the statute in Congress. Walk and chew gum at the same time.

Pointing this out is essential in the wake of his decision to support marriage equality, a symbolic gesture of great impact, on an issue that actually has less support publicly than the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Signing an executive order to address it where he can is surely not more risky politically, yet he has not done it.

I feel strongly about the EO because it does affect LGBT progress in states that do not have state level ENDAs. If one cannot come out of the closet at work without fear of being fired, that’s one less person that can openly advocate for marriage equality, civil unions or DPs, change hearts and minds, any of the long-term acts that will change states like NC on a cultural level. We’re realistic that a permanent fix will have to come at the federal level, but when the EO comes at such a small cost politically and is avoided, it sends a terrible message to the LGBTs still most at risk in this country, and only makes it more difficult for those of us on the ground who are able to speak out because of protections afforded by private employers that are forward-thinking.

The longer people have to remain in the closet for their job safety, the fewer advocates we have.

That our some in our own community cannot see this serious problem through their elation over the President’s marriage equality evolution only points out how easily the ladder gets pulled up by more than a few Blue State gays. I’m grateful he did it, and unhappy I’m told by my peers that I’m not even supposed to suggest a more tangible effort would lessen the sting for those of us with no prospect of marriage equality, civil unions and in fact will lose the domestic partnerships in place and have zero prospect for any employment non-discrimination while we wait for a turnover in Congress to address ENDA.

But the suggestion by apologists for the President’s inaction on this is to say shut up and be grateful you don’t have Romney in the White House, who would reverse it. That’s lazy and tired and familiar. Bloggers who pushed hard on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were told this over and over, give him time, wait until ___ (insert some milestone — the midterms, after he does X). Same old, same old.

How soon they forget what that mourning feels like. Back in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President, we also experienced the devastation of the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I felt the hurt here in NC even though it did not directly affect me, but not once did I say (or even think, for that matter) to tell people grieving in the Golden State to buck up and dance in the streets over the election of the first black President.

But that seemed not to be a problem for some in the community to slam North Carolina bigots (who deserve it) and tell the tired, drained LGBTs and allies here to “move on” in less than 24 hours after the devastating passage of the even-more horrendous Amendment One . We will see the elimination of domestic partnerships that exist in some municipalities and counties here. At least in California same-sex partners have myriad rights and benefits afforded to them that couples here could only dream of having.

It’s hard to “move on” when less than 24 hours after the vote families are already under attack here.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James asked county staff Wednesday morning about stripping health coverage from domestic partners of gay county employees, which he termed “faux marriage benefits.”

“Now that Amendment One has passed, it obviously is illegal to offer this benefit, as there is now only one ‘domestic legal union’ recognized in the state,” James wrote in an email to other commissioners and county leaders.”

I doubt the couples in Charlotte-Mecklenburg that have DP benefits are celebrating — Bill James is salivating at the opportunity to undo the sliver of benefits that they have been granted.

This is the death rattle of the anti-gay movement, however, I see the harms along that path to equality and they shouldn’t be minimized. The fact is that very hostile anti-gay acts perpetrated by bigots as they see their worldview going down in flames hurt LGBTs in states without federal protections in profound, real ways on a day-to-day basis.

I am realistic about support for LGBT rights where I live, but minimizing or invalidating the grief isn’t helpful, my friends. Amendment One was polarizing and important to a lot of people. The fact is that 37% of NC voters turned out Tuesday. While that’s a pathetic statement on civic duty, that is  higher than the turnout in 2008’s primary with Obama/Hillary.  Our problem is that too many of the “wrong’ people turned out to cast their ballots.

One of my commenters said it best — the anti-gays had lots of motivation to turn out, the politically engaged pro-equality crowd had lots of motivation to turn out, but the vast majority of voters, people who don’t oppose legal recognition of some kind for same-sex couples, but aren’t particularly moved by the issue, simply didn’t find any underlying personal motivation to go to the polls. That’s the core problem — getting quasi-supportive people to care enough to vote.

And that doesn’t only apply to LGBT issues. I recall how horrified Wake County voters were after the fundamentalists planned out how they could take over the school board a few years ago. Voters were asleep at the wheel and let less than 10% of the voters determine that theocrats should run their school board. The result — the dismantling of a nationally recognized integration program in the school system. Those voters finally woke up a couple of years later and tossed out the fundies, but not after serious damage had been done. Something finally made lazy voters care.

But I do see the light ahead

What I do feel elated about is the preposterous position of Mitt Romney on this issue. His torturous exercise in defining his position on civil unions (and pledging to NOM that he supports a federal marriage amendment) is pathetic and complete and utter nonsense. What benefits should not convey with CUs in order to keep marriage “special” for heterosexuals? The Obama campaign is already exploiting it.

And he plans to campaign on it. Wow, what a miscalculation.

Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, told Chuck Todd on MSNBC’sDaily Rundown that the campaign would make President Obama’s support for marriage equality an issue this November and that Romney will actively push for a constitutional amendment to take away the right of states to voluntarily extend marriage equality to same-sex couples.

Fun fact: did you know Romney, back in his prep school days, participated in homophobic bullying?

But to wrap, for those of us in NC still smarting, we really do seek some of the joy from yesterday’s announcement by the President. We have to get the enthusiasm back and continue our work for equality. I do know that it will come. Just not right now.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding