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.

Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist blasts N.C. state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam for taking too much time to worry about marriage when there are so many other pressing issues on the table:

The 2009 legislative session has just begun and our state faces huge challenges: rising unemployment, a growing budget shortfall, crumbling infrastructure, and a broken mental health system, to name a few.

So what does NC House Republican Leader Paul Stam spend his time worrying about? Creating jobs? Repairing bridges? Helping those who’ve lost everything in the downturn?

Nope. He’s too busy making sure that my partner and I don’t have-and will never have-any rights or recognition in this state.

Yep, within the first hours of the session, Stam made clear that writing anti-gay discrimination into North Carolina’s constitution was a top priority for him this session.

He doesn’t have real ideas or solutions for dealing with the huge problems we’ve got, but he has a plan to “save” marriage. (He hasn’t managed to explain how letting more loving, committed couples participate in the institution of marriage will damage it in any way, but never mind that.)

What Stam and his cronies don’t like to talk about is that their proposal isn’t just about denying equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. It’s about denying absolutely any sort of recognition or protection for those couples.

No civil union. No domestic partnership. No joint health insurance.

Read the rest at NC Policy Watch.