About one year ago, I found myself sitting in a room full of passionate North Carolinians in one of the many workshops at the annual Equality North Carolina (ENC) Conference hosted at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Their passion was so apparent and their eagerness to ensure equality, opportunity, freedom, and safety for all people of our state and nation was inspiring. I attended with a group of students from East Carolina University, as I did the previous year, and thoroughly enjoyed the information, discussion, and respectful discourse to be had. Mind you, I am politically conservative, so I tend to feel somewhat alienated by the many liberal leaning conferences I attend.
With that said, I felt right at home in an anti-bullying workshop that spoke about the legal issues teachers, students, administrators, and parents face when dealing with bullying in North Carolina public schools. This was an issue that everyone, personal background aside, could come together to organize around. Many of us were shocked to find out how far North Carolina law had come in protecting its students. ENC and legislators in the General Assembly championed an effort to pass strong and effective anti-bullying legislation in the state of North Carolina in order to make our K-12 school systems safer. After a long battle starting with failed attempts in 2007, the General Assembly finally passed a bill, and the Governor signed the School Violence Protection Act into law on June 30, 2009. The law laid out very clear and inclusive definitions of bullying and standards for schools across the state to implement. Later that same year, our General Assembly passed another law protecting children from cyber bullying by making it a criminal offense punishable as a misdemeanor. I’m proud to come from a state where our desire for safety of our citizens is of importance to our legislators and elected officials. The children and future generations of our state are ultimately the people that will shape it into what it will become moving forward. I love to see people organizing around that common purpose, to educate and protect our youth.
Today, while bullying in public schools remains an ever-prominent issue, North Carolina is arguably the most proactive southern state in fighting bullying and protecting children in the public education system. I could not be more proud of our state for these efforts, after experiencing, witnessing, and understanding the things many students, teachers, administrators, and parents face day-to-day in our K-12 schools.
I would like to say North Carolina is continuing such efforts to protect its citizens and pioneering into the 21st century as the inclusive, hospitable, and business-friendly state I know it to be, but I cannot. On September 14, 2011, our General Assembly ratified a proposed constitutional amendment to go to a voter referendum that would, if passed by majority vote, specify that:
“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
The proposed amendment, commonly referred to as Amendment One, will be on the May 8, 2012 primary ballot upon which North Carolina registered voters must decide. Now, as a proud but concerned North Carolinian, I would like to challenge you to consider asking yourself the following questions:
- Why would we need Amendment One to define marriage, when we already have a state statute that does this? If yes, how does it differ from the state statute?
- Why is our General Assembly focusing on social policy, when we face a massive state debt and high unemployment rates?
- If passed, how would Amendment One impact our lives?
- Whom would Amendment One affect?
The amendment is redundant in providing that only opposite sex marriage would be recognized as marriage in our state. However, the amendment goes further in eliminating relationship recognition for all relationships other than opposite-sex marriage; this includes cohabitations, common law marriages, and domestic partnerships – regardless of the sex of the partners. Additionally, a constitutional amendment can only be repealed by another constitutional amendment; this is a much more strict and lengthy process than overturning a law, should public opinion change in the future.
Moreover, if passed, it would automatically eliminate benefits extended to public employees’ unmarried partners, such as health insurance coverage access along with any other unmarried partner benefits. This would affect a number of counties, cities, and institutions in our state. Additionally, to provide some reference of potential impact, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are approximately 222,832 unmarried couples in the state of North Carolina.
The North Carolina unemployment rate as of January 2012 was at 10.2%, not far from the state’s historical high of 11.4% in February of 2010 . If such evidence is not statistically significant enough for the General Assembly to focus on such a pressing matter, I’m concerned our legislators may have a skewed perspective on constituent priorities and should not be handling the more sensitive issues like whose relationships they should be recognizing on the basis of sex or sexual orientation.