Duke’s campus abounds with symbols of social activism—it’s not uncommon to see students adorned in the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life’s “Love = Love” shirts. Now, students are faced with the opportunity to expand this statement of activism to a tangible, statewide result—the defeat of a constitutional amendment that would enshrine marriage inequality in North Carolina.
On Tuesday the North Carolina Senate followed in the footsteps of the North Carolina House by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing the amendment to be up for referendum on the May 2012 ballot in North Carolina during the presidential primary race. If passed, the act will amend the state constitution to explicitly state that marriage is between one man and one woman. Crucially, the ultimate fate of the proposed law lies with the electorate.
Although historically a partisan issue, the values inherent in opposing gay marriage should transcend party lines. Equality of marriage should not be a political issue; it cuts to the very core of citizens’ civil and human rights.
As students, it is time that we take increased action to supplement our declarations of activism. We have pushed to embrace gender-neutrality in campus housing. The LGBT Center has expanded. Events such as Common Ground and Me Too Monologues promote awareness and acceptance of gay issues. Now Duke students should capitalize on this opportunity to expand our activism to impact our neighbors beyond the “Duke bubble.”
Duke students are eligible to register in North Carolina, as state law requires only 30 days of residency prior to casting a vote here. Out-of-state students willing to transfer their voter registration should do so in anticipation of the DOMA vote. Both the Republican and Democratic parties in North Carolina hold open primaries, so even politically unaffiliated students can express their convictions. Even if students have left campus by the May 8 primary, they can reject the amendment via absentee ballot.
To increase voter turnout, Duke administrators should establish a voting site on campus as they have done in previous years. If voting space were designated on campus, student participation in the vote would surely increase.
We should doubt neither that we have moral obligations to vote to strike down DOMA, nor that our votes will play an important role in deciding the outcome. As a generation, we are more progressive than our precursors, and our age demographic will be pivotal in striking down DOMA. In this instance, failure to vote is not synonymous with inaction; instead, it is equivalent to complicitly accepting a new, harmful law.
As residents (even if only temporarily) of North Carolina and as students of Duke University, we should be concerned with the image of this state. Prospective students may be hesitant to apply to a university in a state that demonstrates regressive social action. And an open environment in North Carolina can only encourage recent Duke graduates to put down roots in the Triangle for the long haul.
Obviously, Duke students alone do not have the power to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. But small actions lead to larger results.
It’s time for students to recognize that “Love = Love” is more than just a shirt slogan.
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