Ed Cone’s civil unions strategy might ‘gall,’ but could be effective

Prolific and longtime Greensboro blogger and journalist Ed Cone has been moderating a phenomenal discussion on North Carolina’s Amendment One among his readers over the past week.

It started with the Greensboro City Council’s hearing of a resolution to oppose the anti-LGBT amendment on Feb. 7. Cone and others immediately took Rachel Lee, communications director for the anti-gay Vote for Marriage NC referendum committee, to task after she relayed false polling data to the council and the public during the Tuesday hearing.

In the ensuing conversation — in which Lee refused to answer any of his questions about the constitutional provision and its impact on civil unions — Cone discussed just one of many possible strategies for working to defeat the amendment.

He wrote:

A lot of people who oppose gay marriage might well support civil unions. While such unions are not now available to North Carolinians, this amendment takes them off the table for the future. It’s a zero-compromise solution.

This needs to be discussed whenever the amendment is discussed.


But making civil unions unconstitutional could be a powerful wedge issue.

That’s why the supporters of the amendment do not want to talk about it, and why people who oppose the amendment should make sure it’s a major part of the debate.

Polling data supports Cone’s strategy.

From Public Policy Polling’s recent January data-gathering (emphasis added):

North Carolinians are increasingly having doubts about the state’s proposed amendment to ban gay marriage.  When PPP first polled on it in October 61% of voters said they would support it.  That’s ticked down to 59%, 58%, and now 56% over the course of our last three polls. It’s still leading for passage by a healthy 56/34 margin but the trendlines have to be encouraging for those hoping to defeat it.

The decrease in support for the amendment may reflect voters in the state becoming more aware about just how far reaching it would be. 57% of North Carolinians support some form of legal recognition for gay couples- either full marriage rights or civil unions- to only 40% who are completely opposed to any rights for same sex couples.

There are a lot of voters who are fine with civil unions but not with gay marriage who are planning right now to vote for the amendment, not realizing that it would ban civil unions too.  But some of those folks are starting to move out of the ‘yes’ column, and getting a bunch more of them to will be the key to defeating the proposal.

Focusing on civil unions might be a smart strategy to reach folks in the middle, but it is a strategy that, even if understood, can be upsetting to LGBT North Carolinians. Why fight for table crumbs when you feel like you deserve a seat for the feast?

“Patrick,” one of Cone’s readers eloquently made such an argument:

I would prefer to talk about equal protection of the law and leave everyone, and their churches, to their own morality. But yes, it is galling to have to grope for political compromise to hold out the possibility that sometime in the future you might be granted a legal status that is separate but somewhat similar but ought to be good enough because it’s more than you ever thought you’d get anyway. It is also galling to have to figure out how much prejudice and discrimination you’re willing to accept from people who are your allies because, though vaguely uncomfortable with you, they don’t actively want to spray paint “faggot” on your garage door or toss Molotov cocktails through your living room window. I was born a free citizen of the United States and North Carolina. I work every day. I maintain a respectable home. I pay a third of my income in taxes. I put cans of food in the paper bags the kids leave on my porch. I recycle, and I vote every time they open the door. I didn’t ask to be allowed to marry my partner of 14 years. I didn’t complain last year when I had unexpected minor surgery at Wesley Long Hospital and the holder of my health care power of attorney was cross-examined in the waiting room about his relationship to me and then wasn’t given one of the beepers that everyone else got to let them know their loved-one had survived. I didn’t go looking for Skip Stam to try to gay-marry him, but he came looking for me anyway. I haven’t asked anyone for anything, and I shouldn’t have to. Yes, it galls.

Those advocating a defeat to the amendment — primarily the Coalition to Protect All NC Families — have already begun a great amount of work in educating the public on the potential harm that could come to North Carolina’s families if this amendment is approved. In addition, there’s a great deal of harm that could come to the state’s children, to the state’s enforcement of domestic violence statutes, to personal freedoms and to the economy.

I agree with Patrick. It sucks to have to subjugate our movement for full equality — even if for only a few months. But, marriage equality in North Carolina is a long-time coming. Even if the amendment fails, we still won’t have full marriage rights — we likely never will, at least until Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court steps in. So, this particular political struggle isn’t about marriage. It never was about marriage. Instead, it’s about an out-of-control legislature and radical far-right fringe that’s seeking to extend the reach of big government’s arms into the personal lives and bedrooms of all North Carolinians — gay or straight.

More and more Tar Heel voters are starting to realize just how far-reaching this amendment is. Even some of our more conservative North Carolina voters are beginning to realize the harms of Amendment One, if some of my several conversations with Tar Heel Republicans can be any indicator. For many of them, the amendment is the absolute antithesis of conservatism.

As PPP points out, support for the amendment has decreased a full five percentage points over the course of four months. If the trend continues, we may very well see victory on May 8.

One Response to “Ed Cone’s civil unions strategy might ‘gall,’ but could be effective”
  1. Local Reader says:

    I hope that ultimately all committed loving couples will have equal access and equal protection – but I do think our movement should recognize the importance of domestic partners and civil unions – which can be applied to unmarried heterosexual couples as well. I currently receive benefits through my partner’s healthcare job. We recently found out that at her workplace, only married straight couples and same sex couples can get benefits at her workplace – NOT unmarried heterosexual domestic partners. We think this is unfair. We believe that ALL loving committed couples should have access to benefits. There are many good reasons straight life partners may choose not to marry. They should be able to get benefits even if they choose not to marry! Here’s some more analysis on why this is a strategic and ethical vision for our movements: http://beyondmarriage.org/

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