In September of 2011, our state legislature voted to put Amendment One on the ballot. On May 8th, 2012, all Duke students who are U.S. citizens of age can vote on an amendment which will read: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” A 1996 N.C. law already legally defines marriage as between a man and a woman—the question, then, of whether same sex couples should have partnerships called “marriages” isn’t on the table with this amendment. With this in mind, how would the amendment change North Carolinians’ lives? It would one, constitutionally prevent any sort of civil union status for same or opposite-sex couples in the future; two, strip unmarried employees of UNC System and municipal governments from domestic partner benefits that they currently receive, including health insurance; three, release criminals convicted of domestic violence from prison if the victim and criminal were unmarried; four, set precedent that when a political party has a large majority, they can enshrine their favorite legislation into the constitution and; five, send the message to LGBT individuals in North Carolina that we don’t want them or accept them.
To me, voting for Amendment One says “I find gay people so threatening, so repulsive, so sinful, so morally inferior to me that it incenses me to conceive of our government treating them as my equals. I can’t tolerate the possibility that they be offered any sort of civil union to recognize their life-long partnerships, even if it that partnership weren’t going to be called marriage. I’m OK with letting people who battered their boyfriends or girlfriends free from prison, as long as it helps stop the gay lifestyle.”
In both the N.C. State Senate and House, not a single Republican voted against the Amendment. With that sort of consensus amongst the elected officials of the Republican Party, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable to say that marriage discrimination is akin to being an official position of the North Carolina GOP. It was the amendment’s sponsor Sen. Forrester who said: “We need to reach out to [LGBT individuals] and get them to change their lifestyle back to the one we accept.”
It has been said that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Here at Duke, I like to assume that Duke College Republicans (Duke CR) are a group of good women and men, but they are doing nothing with regards to Amendment One. Duke grooms its students to be leaders. If Duke CR students want to be leaders in politics one day, they need to know that they will be forced into taking principled stands. Over the summer, I spoke with Will Reach, then Chair of Duke CR. He reciprocated my interest in writing a joint statement on marriage equality, endorsing the viewpoint that the state of North Carolina leave the issue of “marriage” to churches, families and social groups, and that they instead issue domestic partnerships for same and opposite sex couples. He expressed interest in a joint statement—and then withdrew it just before Amendment One was going to vote in the General Assembly. I don’t necessarily want to make this personal; I respect my peers at Duke CR, and have enjoyed working with them. But to me, more important than personal niceties is the fact that a state I love wants to use our constitution as a vehicle of hate.
Last year, two-thirds of the DSG Senate voted to de-charter and defund Duke CR for the “culture of discrimination” that the group had created, particularly against LGBT members. That decision was overturned by a veto by then DSG President Mike Lefevre. Clearly though, Duke CR still has deficit of leaders willing to assert the fact that people of all sexual orientations have dignity and are worthy of full inclusion. It’s time for Duke CR to come out of the closet on Amendment One: either finally break away from the discrimination and bigotry that was exposed by last year’s judiciary proceedings, or admit that the “culture of discrimination” is part of what the Republican Party stands for.
To the members of Duke CR, as a group, or as individuals, if you cannot reach a consensus: join the Duke Coalition for an Inclusive N.C., or admit to your fellow LGBT students to their faces that you reject their love.
The statements of Duke CR in 2009 and 2010—using derogatory slurs—was inexcusable. What they do today by promoting, without protest, an organization that wants to turn queer people into second-class citizens is little better. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Elena Botella is a Trinity junior and the co-president of Duke Democrats.