It seems fitting somehow that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced the decision that marks another major step toward marriage equality in North Carolina this week, just a few days after the General Assembly voted to allow charter schools in the state to discriminate against gay students.
It’s a perfect microcosm of what’s happening these days in North Carolina and how out of touch our leaders are with the attitudes of people.
The federal appeals court ruled that Virginia’s constitutional and statutory ban on gay marriage violated the U.S Constitution and North Carolina falls under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit, making it all but certain that North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban will also be struck down.
Last week, the House and Senate decided to remove a provision in a charter school bill that banned the schools from discriminating against gay students.
The debate was remarkable for its disingenuousness, with Republicans insisting that gay students were already protected even though the bill explicitly defined characteristics that could not be the basis of discrimination — ethnicity, national origin, gender and disability — and sexual orientation was not among them.
During the legislative debate about the amendment, lawmakers supporting the ban on same-sex marriage stood shoulder to shoulder at rallies and press conferences with homophobic zealots who said gay people are an abomination and are going to hell. At one event, a minister knocked two padlocks together in his bizarre version of an anatomy lesson.
Though the amendment passed, polls show attitudes in North Carolina, like much of the country, have changed dramatically in the last few years. A survey in April found that almost two-thirds of North Carolinians now support same-sex marriage or civil unions, both of which were banned by the marriage discrimination amendment.
But that change is not yet reflected in the attitudes and statement of the folks currently in charge of things in Raleigh.
After Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Monday that he will no longer defend the state’s gay marriage ban, a move that seems obvious in light of the 4th Circuit decision, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger blasted Cooper’s decision, saying he was violating his oath of office.
Berger would rather Cooper waste his time and our public money defending a law in a case he has virtually no chance to win. Not only has the 4th Circuit Court spoken loudly and clearly that marriage discrimination violates the federal constitution, every federal court that has considered a challenge to a state ban on same sex marriage has ruled in favor of marriage equality.
But Berger and the anti-equality forces soldier on, desperately clinging to the past. A spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory called on Cooper to request a stay in the cases pending against North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban until the case reaches the Supreme Court.
McCrory seems to know the days of the ban on marriage equality are numbered, but wants the state to discriminate against gay couples as long as it can.
It’s pathetic, but predictable. But it won’t be long before gay couples in North Carolina have the same right to marry the person they love that heterosexual couples do and there’s not much Berger or Stam or McCrory can do about it.
Then we can move on to protect gay kids at charter schools and gay adults in the workplace. You can currently be fired from your job in North Carolina simply because you are gay. That is absurd and offensive but that will change too.
The national momentum for equality is powerful and unmistakable. It’s too bad most of our current political leaders must be dragged kicking and screaming toward a fairer and more decent state for the people they represent.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.