This past Friday, I turned 21. As someone who isn’t terribly excited about the prospect of being able to rent cars at 25, I saw this landmark as the last barrier to adulthood. I’ve been driving for five years and voting for three, and now I can purchase alcohol. I feel confident that bouncers and bartenders and waiters will check and double-check my ID until I begin to look a little less like a 15-year-old, but the ID that they will check is a proof of adulthood, a guarantee of all the privileges and responsibilities contained therein.
So naturally, I was excited to go to the WaDuke for brunch and order a mimosa this past Sunday. I showed my ID, took a sip, took a picture and the waitress promptly came back and whisked away the drink. It is illegal to serve alcohol in North Carolina before noon on a Sunday, something she had momentarily forgotten.
This is a law I knew existed. I’ve been grocery shopping with my parents on Sunday mornings when they couldn’t buy beer. But directly after my entry into adulthood, this regulation came across as strikingly paternalistic. If the law’s goal, as it originally was, is to limit any sins perpetuated on Sundays and preserve it as the Day of the Lord, supporters might be disheartened by all my other sins they failed to prevent. I did eat brunch at the WaDuke after all (yum, gluttony!), and sloth played a key role in my afternoon.
This law isn’t unique to North Carolina; it’s not one of those crazy “how is this still on the books?” laws like the “No woman can dance on a table in a saloon or bar unless she has on at least three pounds, two ounces of clothing” regulation in Helena, Mont. The South is stuck in a bizarre stasis. While the rest of the country has moved on to discuss the legalization of marijuana, the Bible Belt remains a swath of fully dry counties and states in an otherwise wet nation. I lived in a small dry town in eastern Kentucky the summer after my freshman year, where my co-workers had to drive across the border to Virginia in order to buy alcohol. This not only required gas and time, but also removed economic activity from a struggling Appalachian community. As has been articulated in legalize marijuana debates: “If you really want to make farmers in America successful, make wheat illegal.” And this holds true with alcohol in dry areas of the Southeast. Legitimate businesses and local governments have lost a source of profit and tax revenues, while bootleggers have gained monopolies on the market.
Churches, like bootleggers, have no incentive to change the status quo. They advocate for the continuation of bans in place since Prohibition and offer transportation to polls for congregation members during votes that might repeal the regulations. South Carolina and Kentucky don’t allow alcohol to be sold on Election Day as a means of limiting voter fraud. It used to be the case that Election Day meant candidates wheeling out barrels of liquor to schmooze voters. George Washington, father of our nation, spent his entire campaign funding to bring 160 gallons of liquor to 391 voters. (And most people think Barack had the cool, youth-oriented campaign!) Local governments see their purview to be protecting their citizens, whether from committing sins, liver disease or voter fraud. But this tradition is aging. It is beginning to come under scrutiny as no more than a remnant of a nation with a more homogenous set of religious-based mores and an election process with much less scrutiny.
Alcohol too is no longer taboo in the way it was during Prohibition. Few churches would retain the younger members of their congregation if they preached every Sunday about the terrors of “Demon Rum.” Studies show that children born to mothers who had one glass of wine a week during pregnancy are better behavedand the benefits of the antioxidants in red wine are well-documented. It’s also telling that there is no push to turn wet counties to dry. Over the past seven years in Texas, there has been an 80 percent success rate in dry counties voting to become wet, while only one town has converted from wet to dry.
It’s now a question of motivation. There are scores of economic as well as personal benefits in turning a county from dry to wet, but will people, citizens or legislators, be incensed enough to tackle the more innocuous blue laws that prevent mimosas at 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday? It’s incredibly clear to me that these laws shouldn’t exist, but at the same time, I would never think to pick up a picket sign or petition my representative. I would even prefer it if my representatives would spend their time personally making every DMV employee sit in a white-walled room for hours just to be told they don’t have the correct form of ID or addressing the fact that gay men and women can’t marry in the state of North Carolina. I do believe that local governments should consider the agency of adults with a little more regard; sobriety doesn’t guarantee a sin-free, disease-free life. This is nobody’s first priority, but I think there can be incredible value in legalizing adults taking responsibility for themselves and their decisions, in legalizing mid-morning mimosas.
Lydia Thurman is a Trinity junior. Her biweekly column will run every other Tuesday. Send Lydia a message on Twitter @ThurmanLydia.