Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Reluctant Voter

I've had this HP Pavilion laptop going on five years now. It still has Windows XP and is getting a little worn around the edges. It stutters a bit running the recent videos, and it definitely will not run the latest games. The only upgrade was to the memory. The hard drive is only 60 GB. I like it that way as it forces me to carry only essential programs. I also enjoy it for the times when I want to write away from my desktop or play an older game. The screen is plenty big, and it has wireless. I use it still for my history presentations as it can hook up easily to another monitor. It does exactly what I want it to do.

With this laptop, I have carried on a tradition similar to the stickers on a college football player's helmet. Every time I vote, general election or primary, I put the "I Voted" sticker on the laptop. I rarely talk about political stuff. I am the typical independent who has become more dismayed with both political parties in recent years. Still I vote because I believe it gives me the right to complain even if I vote “none of the above.”

This primary I was saddened to vote on a constitutional amendment in North Carolina. Voting for a candidate is quite risky because, despite their campaigning, you are never quite sure what you will get from that person. That is the nature of politics. Voting for an amendment is quite different because the constitutional law usually takes effect immediately. A well-educated voter should have a good idea of the future impact of a well-written amendment. A poorly written amendment leaves the door open for widely varying interpretations. The voters have no more certainly than if they were voting for a person.

The proposed amendment being considered through May 8 in North Carolina is written on the ballot as follows:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

The language of the amendment is a jumbled mess. While I was against the amendment from day one, I have become more disgusted with the legislators who wrote and forced this through. The phrase “domestic legal union” is the big issue. White the authors and supporters of the amendment claim it is about protecting the institution of marriage and outlawing same-sex marriage at the constitutional level, the language extends far beyond that intent. It applies to any couple who is not married. It has potentially disastrous effects on health benefits, child support, domestic violence, and end-of life decisions just to name a few issues.

At a recent discussion on WXII in Winston-Salem, it seemed for a few minutes that the amendment supporters were happy with the ambiguous language. They wanted the courts to be bogged down for the next several years deciding what a “domestic legal union” encompassed. It was a chilling moment as it seemed they had left their talking points and briefly exposed how they really felt about the gay community. Quickly they retreated to their Biblical doctrine. It is important to note that most other state amendments say that “the only marriage that will be recognized...” While I am not thrilled with this, it at least protects opposite gender couples who are not married.

Two points have stuck with me over the several months since the amendment was put on the ballot. The first is that a constitution should be used to grant rights, not take them away. This is one of the major problems with Proposition 8 in California as it took away rights that had already been granted. The last North Carolina amendment restricting marriage was in 1875. It prohibited marriages between whites and blacks. Is that the legacy we want?

Second, I respect the religious opinions of those who are against gay marriage. I believe there can be an honest conversation amongst people of faith concerning Biblical meanings and interpretations. I believe we can even agree to disagree. The problem comes when one group's beliefs intrude on the others' rights to equal protection under the law. Numerous straight couples have come out from many different backgrounds saying gay marriage does not affect their marriages. If we have learned one thing during the gay rights movement, it is that gay couples have the same issues, dreams, hopes, desires, and life choices as straight couples. Are we so hung up on the relatively small differences that we cannot see the similarities?

With a heavy heart, I voted no to an amendment that I believed should not be there in the first place. The potential harms are so great. I only touched on a few here. I love living in North Carolina. Even if the amendment passes, I will not leave as we will get it right eventually. History though will look on May, 2012 as either a turning point or a step backwards. I am a bit selfish as a transgender woman when I see hope for my gender variant brothers and sisters if the amendment fails. I also realize much work remains no matter the result. Borrowing from that great speech almost 50 years ago, we will look at “the content of their character,” and the dream will be that much closer to reality.