Op-ed: Just the Facts on North Carolina’s Marriage Amendment
Maryland. New Jersey, New Hampshire. So far this year, the bumpy road to marriage
equality has played out in four states, with wins in three, and an unsurprising
veto in the Garden State by Republican Governor Chris Christie.
Next up, North
Carolina’s voters head to the polls on May 8 to vote on Amendment One, a
constitutional instrument that would bring the Tar Heel State in line with all
of its Southern neighbors in codifying discrimination against not only its LGBT
citizens but all of its residents. As in other states where this battled has
raged of late, the vitriol has been high, opinions are voiced as fact, and
efforts to obfuscate the impact of the Amendment widespread. This perfect storm was in evidence recently
when The News & Observer of Raleigh published an op-ed
titled “The Case for the
Marriage Amendment” by John Long, a software engineer.
The public outcry to Long’s op-ed was overwhelming, leading
the paper to publish letters on its blog that same day. Repeatedly, the letters
highlighted the “misinformation,” “falsehoods,” and “assortment of illogical
and factually mistaken elements.”
This troubled us, too – the blurring of the line between fact and
opinion, but also between fact and fiction — which is why we think it’s
important to clarify what Amendment One is, and is not.
While we certainly hope that North Carolinians will reject
Amendment One, we also hope, regardless of their position, that voters will
make their decisions based on facts, with fiction kept in its proper place: novels.
Assertion Number 1: “For most of my lifetime, gay marriage was
never a consideration. Neither was it a consideration for all but the last few
decades of human history.”
Fact: That may be Long’s perspective as a
presumably heterosexual male, but history tells us otherwise. For example, the
late Yale historian John Boswell (The
Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe) found
examples of same-sex unions performed by Catholic Church prior to the 1400s,
which is simply to say historical precedent exists, and that civilization did
not end. In fact, it flourished.
Number 2: “The very definition of marriage has always been ‘one man, one woman and
their children,’ with emphasis on the children.”
Fact: Students and scholars of history, other cultures or other faith
traditions conclude otherwise. Ancient Israelites supported a man’s having
several wives. The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's all now include
same-sex unions in their definitions of marriage. Our definitions of marriage have evolved over centuries and likely will
continue to do so.
Assertion Number 3: “The
reason for marriage has always been children.”
Fact: Wasn’t it Tina Turner who said, “What’s love got to do with it?”
Indeed, we marry for all kinds of reasons, from financial ones, to get away from
our parents, for immigration purposes, because a woman is unexpectedly pregnant,
and, of course, to purposefully start families. To this point, the nonpartisan Brookings
Institute reported in 2010: “Married couples
with children accounted for just over one in five U.S. households in 2008,
about half their share in 1970.” Perhaps the better question is: “What do kids
have to do with it?”
Number 4: “[S]ame-sex couples simply do not provide the right foundation for
raising children. Studies have shown that children do best when both a (female)
mother and (male) father are present.”
Fact: Every major professional medical association – from the American
Psychological Association to the Child Welfare League of America — supports the
notion that children raised by lesbians and gay men differ in no significant
way from those raised by heterosexuals. Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld
noted in 2010 that “in 45 empirical studies of outcomes of children of same-sex
couples… none found statistically significant disadvantages for children raised
by gay and lesbian parents compared with other children.”
Assertion Number 5: “[S]ame-sex marriage would not strengthen
marriage but weaken it. Increased rates of infidelity and divorce have weakened
marriage in the last half of the 20th century, and the prospects aren’t looking
very rosy…. Extending marriage to same-sex couples would only increase and
accelerate the weakening trend in marriage today.”
Fact: Yes, it’s true that the institution of
marriage in is trouble. But Holning Lau,
associate professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill, found in his research that
Massachusetts’s data on annual divorce and marriage rates showed no difference
in the four years before and four years after same-sex marriage became legal.
He also presents data from Europe concluding that “there is no
association between legal recognition of same-sex unions and fluctuations in
rates of marriage, divorce, and non-marital births.” The bottom line: You can’t
blame the gays – or same-sex unions — for our collective marriage woes.
Assertion Number 6:
“It is important to note that,
should traditional marriage be upheld in North Carolina, no one’s rights will
Fact: In a report titled “Potential
Legal Impact of the Proposed Domestic Legal Union Amendment to the North
Carolina Constitution,” UNC law professor Maxine Eichner explained that the
vagueness of the phrase that marriage would be the “only domestic legal union”
allows for interpretations that would endanger numerous benefits that gay and straight couples receive from domestic
partnerships. These include domestic violence protections or child custody and
visitation rights. We’d hate to see anyone’s rights curtailed, least of all
those of families and kids.
The May 8 vote
isn’t a thumbs-up, thumbs-down determination on whether same-sex couples will
have the right to marry. North Carolina already has a law that restricts
marriage to one man and one woman.
John Long and other proponents of the amendment’s passage are
entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but voters should reject spurious and
baseless arguments. With the outcome of the May 8 vote potentially harming the
civil rights of all North Carolinians, we trust informed voters will make
decisions rooted in fact and, when in doubt, ask for sources and citations.
STEVEN PETROW, a former president of the National
Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, is the author of The New Gay Wedding and lives in
CHUCK SMALL, a former N&O editor, is now an
editor and school counselor who lives in Raleigh.