Karen Ocamb

Republican Ted Olson Going to NC to Fight Marriage Amendment

Filed By Karen Ocamb | March 13, 2012 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Amendment One, Coalition to Protect All Families, gay marriage, marriage amendment, marriage equality, North Carolina, same-sex marriage, Ted Olson

American Foundation for Equal Rights attorney Ted Olson on stage after the premier of Dustin Lance Black's play '8' in Los Angeles (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Renowned conservative Republican attorney and marriage equality hero Ted Olson is going to Greensboro, North Carolina on April 1 for a rally to help defeat the antigay initiative Amendment One. The proposed antigay constitutional amendment on the ballot for the May 8 Republican Primary would not only ban marriage rights for same sex couples but would prohibit recognition of all same sex unions.

During a brief interview after the West Coast Premier of Dustin Lance Black's play '8" about the district court trial that found Prop 8 unconstitutional, Olson noted how "opinions have shifted" considerably since Prop 8 was passed in California in 2008. He hopes more Republicans will support marriage equality and oppose measures such as Amendment One, which Olson noted, "wipes away the whole thing," meaning all legal recognition of same sex relationships.

"I'm going to go down to North Carolina in April. There's a big rally down there. I'm going to go down and do my bit," Olson said. "We want to win one. You heard the [Perry v Schwarzenegger Prop 8 trial] witness talk about how the outcome [of antigay ballot measures] is always against gay and lesbian people. It would be really great if we started changing that. And maybe North Carolina is a chance."

The site for the rally is significant. More after the break.

On Feb. 1, 1960, four local black college students sat at a Woolworth's lunch counter at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro and asked for a cup of coffee. They were refused service at the "whites only" counter and asked to leave. Instead, the Greensboro Four stayed and sparked a non-violence protest movement against racial discrimination. The old Woolworth's is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Olson was invited to participate by members of the Faith Against Amendment One coalition, a part of the statewide campaign Protect All North Carolina Families.

The coalition campaign opposing Amendment One hope Olson's appearance will move Republicans, considering the expected large turnout for the Republican Primary, and counter the National Organization for Marriage and Religious Right heavyweight Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, which has launched a "Values" bus tour that NC resident and blogger Pam Spaulding notes lures kids with candy to get attention for their antigay message.

Pam and Matt Comer reported on a sermon Perkins gave at a First Baptist Church in Charlotte, in which he said:

God defined marriage. It is not for us to redefine. Even when we go into the voting booth and we cast a vote on the marriage amendment number One here in North Carolina, we are not defining marriage. God already defined it. Who are we to think that we can redefine it? Today, you're going to hear this and I've heard it. You've probably read some of the articles about me coming to town. You know, we are told these are political issues and the church should leave them alone. The truth is, they became political issues because the church for too long did leave them alone. It's time that we begin to preach the whole counsel of God. It's not a matter of just baptizing. It's a matter of teaching each and every believer to align themselves with the truth. Jesus said, "Sanctify them," in John chapter 17, "Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth." My friends, this, as a follower of Jesus Christ, as one who says, "Yes, I will make you the lord of my life," this is his word. This is definitive. We can't change it. We can't run from it. We can only obey it.

What Perkins and the Religious Right are not saying is the real harm Amendment One will do to children and to non-gay domestic partners. On March 2, a Charlotte Observer editorial called the initiative proponents out on their misrepresentation of what the constitutional amendment would do:

"....[L]awmakers have already determined that wording: (for or against) “Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state.” The explanation, says the Secretary of State’s office, aims to explain “in simple and commonly used language” what the amendment is designed to do.

But voters will be largely on their own in finding out the true implications and potential pitfalls of this proposal. One place to look is a 27-page report (http://www.law.unc.edu/documents/faculty/marriageamendment/dlureportnov8.pdf by three UNC law professors. The report is an eye-opener on the amendment’s broad possible ramifications – for straight couples who are unmarried.

By barring the state from recognizing as legal any domestic union other than heterosexual marriage, the amendment’s “impact [goes] far beyond current N.C. law,” the professors say. It puts at risk protections enjoyed by heterosexual couples – young couples who delay marriage, middle-aged couples who’ve decided not to marry and elderly couples who’ve been married before and see no need to remarry late in life. These groups are 88 percent of unmarried cohabitant N.C. households, according to the 2010 Census.

Among the possible impacts of this bill on them? It could:

Invalidate domestic violence protections for all unmarried partners

Undercut existing child custody and visitation law

Undermine protections for disposition of a deceased partner’s remains, hospital visitations and emergency medical decision-making

Invalidate trusts and wills

House Majority Leader Paul Stam, author of the amendment, has pooh-poohed these concerns. He says the critics are trying to scatter dust in people’s eyes, to take (voters’) eyes off the ball.”

But Maxine Eichner, co-author of the paper, says these are issues that emerged in states with similar marriage amendments. North Carolina’s proposal is broader than most other states’ laws and poses more detriment to the rights of unmarried couples – straight or same-sex.....

It’s a shame this unwise and unnecessary amendment is even on the ballot. It wrongly writes discrimination into the state’s constitution – and it jeopardizes protections for straights as well as gays. Voters should reject this legislation.

Ryan Rowe, Director of Faith Outreach, told bloggers and reporters on a Sunday, March 11 conference call that the campaign recognizes that many people in the South get their information and fellowship through their houses of worship, making the faith program all the more significant. He said that the Episcopal Diocese, the NAACP Faith Affairs Council, the Council of Churches and support from national organizations such as Catholics for Equality. Rowe also said that over 4,000 calls were made from congregations in Raleigh last week, with some of the congregations holding phone banks three times a week.

The campaign was buoyed by a recent Elon University Poll showing that 54% of North Carolinians oppose Amendment One, perhaps thanks to the emphasis on the harms to children and families:

The Elon University Poll results are clear that most residents -- 54% -- oppose the amendment. Support for full marriage rights for same sex couples or civil unions has gotten stronger in each of the four Elon polls over the past year.....

Looking deeper into the results indicate that women strongly oppose the amendment banning same-sex marriage. When I say strongly, I'm talking 63%. Breaking it down even more, 42% of women said they supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples and 26% said they wouldn't go that far but would support civil unions. Men weren't nearly as supportive: 28% said they supported full marriage rights and 29% supported civil unions.

Other trends in North Carolina:

* Self-described liberals are much stronger in support of some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples (87%) than self-described conservatives are in their opposition (47%). In fact, 51% of conservatives support legal recognition of same-sex couples.

* A majority of all age groups oppose the amendment. People 55 and older have the softest opposition, but 56% of them still said they would support either full marriage rights for same sex couples or civil unions.

But the Elon blog explained that the amendment could still pass:

Given the polling results, it might appear that the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions will get swatted into the cheap seats to use a basketball analogy during ACC Tournament time.

Not so fast. There are a few reasons that the amendment may win the day....

[I]f the race for the Republican nomination is still on in May -- and it could well be -- then expect a heavy GOP turnout at the polls. Given that more Republicans support the amendment, their turnout may overpower the more liberal opposition to the amendment. It may well be up to amendment opponents to energize their supporters to actually get to the polls. (I suspect they know that already.)

If the 18-35 year-old voters don't turn out in sizable numbers -- they tend to have weaker turnout than older voters -- then that will further weaken the opposition.

Be ready for a full-court press ad campaign from both camps.

The Elon Poll survey North Carolina residents, without making a distinction of whether people say they are likely to vote. While I doubt it skews the results in a measurable way because the opposition is strong, it could.

Update: N.C. Policy Watch points out another good reason. The language of that amendment takes the hard line: it would ban all state recognition of same sex couples permanently - whether it's called "marriage," "civil union," or something else.

If this truth is made clear to voters, the amendment will almost certainly fail as voters will quickly view it as too extreme. If, however, voters are allowed to approach the vote as (incorrectly) a simple "up or down" referendum on what they think of same sex "marriage," it has a strong chance of passage.

That's why, campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy said on the conference call with bloggers, the campaign needs to press both an air and ground war as soon as possible. "We feel that we’re getting closer but the time for action is now. People need to move between the next 7 and 10 days to make a real difference,” Kennedy said.

Popular North Carolina blogger Pam Spaulding - who has lead the way on coverage of the battle against Amendment One - has literally taken that to heart - donating $1,000 she can barely afford to combat the initiative. Here's an excerpt from her personal note on Facebook:

This AM I gave a donation to the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, which is working night and day to help defeat Amendment One here in my home state, and trust me, I had to dig deep — enough to hurt. And I’m not exaggerating – $1K. That’s money from my rainy day fund that I probably shouldn’t have parted with.

Even worse, I am in a precarious situation because at this point I am losing pay because of my battle with rheumatoid arthritis (which has me at doctors or out sick a lot), and who knows how long I will be able to work full time — or work at all — for very long. But that’s how life rolls…

But this is my state — and my rights are under attack by people who don’t know me, don’t care to know me or my family, and think they are “protecting marriage” with this bigoted ballot initiative that will be before voters on May 8. I’m a native North Carolinian whose family has deep roots in the state and has played a significant part in the business and civil rights history of NC and this amendment, which would restrict rights, not expand them, is wrong for our state.

If I can do it, so can others, but maybe you just haven’t just found the moment to do so, and you certainly don’t have to dig as deep I did: Contribute here: http://ow.ly/9Bgzo (and yes, out of state Blenders, you can donate too!)

Equality NC’s Stuart Campbell also urges people to donate:

Ted Olson's visit to Greensboro will no doubt result in significant statewide media attention and the possible conversion of some hearts and minds of North Carolina's voters. But to touch their souls, as Ryan Rowe suggested, perhaps the best dialogue may be in the church pews.

Actor Martin Sheen, who portrayed Ted Olson in the play '8," talks with Variety's Ted Johnson after the play (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

After the Prop 8 play in Los Angeles, Variety's Ted Johnson and I interviewed actor Martin Sheen, perhaps best known for his role as the President in the TV series The West Wing. Sheen, an activist liberal who portrayed Olson in Black's play '8," is a devout Latino Catholic. Ted asked him how he resolved the Catholic Church's edits on same sex marriage with his own beliefs and activism on behalf of marriage equality. His response was the other side of the "conscience" stance the Religious Right is using against LGBT people and women these days:

This issue transcends politics. This issue, in a sense, transcends morality. You cannot legislate morality. This is about basic human rights. It's about decency. It's about all the things we talked about here this night [in the play '8'] And far more than a theatrical presentation, it is a reflection of what really happened....

[M]y religion's highest standard is conscience. Nothing can get between your conscience and God, not even the church because for 2000 years my church has been lifting up as exemplary various men and women and their lives that have served as inspiration to us over the centuries. We call them saints. And by canonizing these people who've lived what we believe are exceptional lives, we declare or the church declares that they are in heaven, they are with God. And yet, over the same period of time, the church has not condemned a single soul to hell - because it does not have the authority. It does not even have the authority to condemn Hitler. There's no authority in the church. And that has never changed. And it cannot change, otherwise they lose their authority.

They do not have the authority to condemn anybody. They can't say that anybody is in hell. That's between God and the church is not God. The church is a conduit and it is a spiritual journey. But it is not the end of the journey. Our lives are about living honestly in the community, serving each other. We carry our faith outside the church. The church is an institution, primarily of men - at least they are the major authority. And so, they're flawed, obviously. And they're not authorized to prevent any member from following their conscience – no matter what that is. You can't get between a person's conscience and their God. Nobody can do that.

Therefore, by extension, if your conscience tells you it is not right to condone the government hurting children and families and loving couples, it is morally imperative that you say so. That's what the Greensboro Four did in 1960 and what the campaign coalition that includes the NAACP/NC is trying to do now.

To donate and find out how to volunteer remotely, go to Coalition to Protect All Families.

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