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Rules of the game

As many people on campus know, I am an avid board game enthusiast. Though I recognize that games are just games, I don’t think its very fun when people mess around with the rules. And I think everyone hates playing with people who make up rules as they go along. I also love politics, and politics shares some similarity to Scrabble or to Catan—you want the procedures to be fair and well-defined. But politics isn’t just a game; it is the process by which our nation decides which course of action to take, both on issues that are small as well as on issues that are literally life-or-death.

So, unlike in board games, winning actually matters to me—whether that means winning elections, or winning legislative battles, although I don’t think of it in my head as a competition. The candidates I support and issues I back, I back because I think it will make our communities stronger, more just and more peaceful. I thought the United States itself scored a big goal with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which provided health care coverage to 32 million Americans—we could almost populate Canada with the people who will receive health insurance as a result of Affordable Care. I think North Carolina itself will score a big goal if we can defeat the Anti-Civil-Union Amendment, and show LGBT citizens that we support their rights. When the stakes are so high, people will want to take whatever actions they can within the rules.

I started “Duke’s Biggest Party” with a column that generated a lot of conversation not only about the Anti-Civil Union Amendment, but also about what things are or are not fair to say in or about politics. Since I’ll be talking about politics in mostly every column, I’m going to lay out now what I think the rules of fair campus political debate are. I’ll start with a few quick ones.

One: I am allowed to use similes. Example: Alex Trebek, like Josef Stalin, has a prodigious mustache. Am I saying that Alex Trebek is a murderous despot? No. Not every comparison is an equation.

Two: “The other side” of the issue is not always the Republican Party. Good ideas come from across the political spectrum.

But, getting to the most pressing rule for me: If I believe a political issue is morally black-and-white, I will not pretend otherwise.

Some people think that there is a rule in political debate that says “Whether I agree or disagree with other people, I have to respect their point of view.” There are many points of view that I disagree with, but that I still respect. There are a few, though, that I neither agree with nor respect.

There was a point in time in the United States when slavery was a political issue. There was a point in time in the United States when women’s suffrage was a political issue. There was at time in the United States when the systematic extermination and forcible relocation of Native Americans was a political issue.

Imagine any of these were still political issues today, and imagine that there were people on the other side of the aisle who supported any of these policies. Would you feel compelled to say “I respect your opinion that you have a right to enslave Africans?” or “I believe the morality of sending 15,000 Cherokees on a death march across the United States is an issue on which reasonable people might disagree?”

I don’t think that people who vote for the N.C. Anti-Civil-Union Amendment (Amendment One) this May are poorly intentioned or somehow evil. I do think we’ll think about Amendmnet One in 50 years the way we think about anti-miscegenation laws, which stopped people of different races from marrying, today. Proponents of anti-miscegenation laws had all sorts of bible verses on their side—religious arguments were the primary justification for many proponents. I’m glad our society has realized that if two people of different races love each other, that’s great! I’m waiting for the day that our society realizes that if two people of the same sex love each other, that’s just as great.

I’m not interested in name calling for its own sake, but to me, its not unfair that I’ve called out people for refusing to speak out or voice the opinion about Amendment One—what’s unfair is that if Amendment One is passed, gay couples will find it much harder to adopt children, receive health care benefits, will find it much harder to love and be loved.

Elena Botella is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Monday.

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