North Carolinians against Amendment One lost their fight. An amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman as "the only legal domestic union" is now part of the state's constitution.
Miracles happen. Occasionally, polls get it wrong -- in fact, it's in the nature of polling to be wrong now and then. But not this time. The best any poll showed for defeating Amendment One was a 14% deficit. That was too long a row to hoe, and Nate Silver Himself had long ago proclaimed the chances slim.
Perhaps a stand against the amendment by that most popular of North Carolina institutions -- its college basketball team -- might have swayed enough voters; I doubt it though. Throwing everything else at it and the kitchen sink did not. From the Big Dog and a sitting President to the NAACP, it wasn't enough. Ads about how children would suffer and publicity about idiots urinating on anti-amendment signs didn't have a significant effect. Speakouts by entertainers, corporate executive and religious leaders, great videos and other social media -- crickets.
The Bard Was Wrong
North Carolina is one of the more anti same-sex marriage states in the nation. Polls consistently show that only about 30% of North Carolina voters support making same-sex marriage legal, while somewhere around 45% of American voters do (1). Its attitude towards marriage equality is more like that of other Southern states than it is like most Blue states, despite North Carolina narrowly voting for Obama in 2008.
But Amendment One wasn't just about marriage equality. It outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships, and maybe other family support laws. The majority of North Carolinians didn't want to see those things go away. Tar Heel residents -- you just got hornswaggled. Specifically, you got taken in by the siren of wording. You read, but you did not comprehend the subtext.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.And that's all she had to write. If the text doesn't mention civil unions, health insurance benefits or beating your partner, the average voter isn't going to think about such things.
Poll results show that pretty much any time people are asked something to do with marriage being between 'one man and one woman' they will support it, even as they are simultaneously willing to support the proposal that 'gay and lesbian couples be allowed to marry.'
Indeed, an amendment with different wording but the same meaning would not have read as sweet, but the authors of the amendment knew their nectar.
Why Not Deja Vu?
It is depressing, but interesting, to compare the fate of North Carolina's Amendment One to that of the Briggs Initiative. The Briggs Initiative was a California ballot measure voted on back in 1978 which
would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools.As with Amendment One the initiative started out polling as an overwhelming favorite, 61% in favor to 31% opposed. As with Amendment One, big names came out in opposition to the measure: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and President Carter all eventually spoke out against it. According to Wikipedia
major organizations and ecclesiastical groups opposed it.But unlike Amendment One, the campaign against it and the opposition of big-name politicians made a huge difference. In one month the initiative went from 61%-31% in favor to a miniscule 45%-43% advantage, and then a month later went down to a huge defeat, 42%-58%.
Why was the Briggs campaign so incredibly successful (a swing of 46% !), whereas the campaign against Amendment One seemed to have little effect (perhaps a total swing of 10% from the 58% - 32% sampling done by a PPP poll done back in December, 2011)?
I just don't know.
It could be that people could readily see the unfairness of the discrimination in the Briggs Initiative once it was explained to them, while no amount of explaining can get over some people's ingrained sense of "marriage."
It could be that many people are now less likely to be swayed by any kind of argument, simply assuming that a rationale must be wrong if it is coming from the "other side," in this case liberals. It could be that many people are simply unreachable. They watch Fox News now instead of Walter Cronkite as they did back then, and are essentially insulated from any kind of self-questioning of their position.
It could be that the three weeks or so that the campaign against Amendment One got itself into high gear just isn't long enough to have a significant effect on public opinion. There were nine weeks from September 1st -- the time of the very unfavorable Briggs poll -- and the eight weeks after Labor Day are traditional politicing time when people may be paying more attention.
Or maybe Harvey Milk needed to be resurrected.
As an incredibly minor pundit, I suppose I should have the answer. But I don't.
How does the language problem affect the upcoming battles in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and
Minnesota's proposed amendment is very similar to North Carolina's.
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?"Polling has shown that the issue closely divides the state. But there are significant caveats. When only polls that include the exact language of the amendment are averaged, the result is
For amendment: 47.8%
Against amendment: 42.8%
While if all polls about the amendment are averaged, we get
For amendment: 46%
Against amendment: 45%
The language of the one poll with the strongest anti-amendment results illustrates again the power of the "one-man, one-woman" construct, or, more precisely, the lack of its presence:
"Please tell me if you would favor or oppose amending the Minnesota constitution to ban same-sex marriage."There is, however, good reason to have hope. Minnesota is certainly a more progressive state than North Carolina, and those against Minnesota's proposed amendment have an ace in the hole. Amendments to Minnesota's constitution must be approved by more than 50% of all those who cast ballots in the election -- not just a majority of those who vote on the ballot initiative. Therefore anyone who chooses not to vote either for or against the amendment (leaving the slot blank but casting a ballot) is effectively voting 'nay'. I've read that in the past around five percent of Minnesotans typically do not vote on amendments. That's probably going to be high, given the visibility of the issue, but even if three percent don't vote, that a three-percent leg up for the good guys.
In Maryland and Washington State, the question will not be formulated as an amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but as agreement with or as a people's veto of the Legislature's bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Consider the summary text of the Washington ballot measure:
This bill allows same-sex couples to marry, applies marriage laws without regard to gender, and specifies that laws using gender-specific terms like husband and wife include same-sex spouses. After 2014, existing domestic partnerships are converted to marriages, except for seniors. It preserves the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform or recognize any marriage or accommodate wedding ceremonies. The bill does not affect licensing of religious organizations providing adoption, foster-care, or child-placement.Now there's some language for you! "Allows... without regard to gender", "Preserves the right of clery...", "Does not affect..." Those who organized collecting signatures to allow the people to vote on the Legislature's action wanted much different language, but fortunately a judge decided against it and came up with the above.
(The ballot language for Maryland's proposed people's veto does not yet exist. The petition drive uses the language of the Legislature's bill, and only if enough signatures are gathered will the ballot language be developed by the Maryland Secretary of State. We can hope for language on par with Washington's.)
In Maine, it is not a question of ratifying an Act of the Legislature; rather voters will approve or disapprove a standard ballot initiative. It reads
Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?Magnifique! "Favor...", "Protects...", "Ensuring...". The ballot initiative was written by its proponents, taking full advantage of the "power of the pen" to influence the will of the voters. (Since when would any clergy be forced to perform marriages against their consciences?)
Losing the North Carolina battle is particularly cruel to the unintended victims of this monstrosity: children, some victims of domestic violence, and anyone who will be denied health care benefits. But this was a phyrric victory for the opponents of equality. As Scott Wooledge opined just days ago:
Proponents have essentially conceded they have no answer for the secular opposition arguments made by business, legal, medical, family professional and civic groups.In reality, the war is over. The opposition just is unwilling to admit it. 50% of Americans support marriage equality, and less than half do not.
Soon, as these things go, Denmark, France, and the United Kingdom as well as a number of additional US states will have marriage equality. One way or another, by the end of 2016 California, with 12% of America's population, will again be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The iniquities of DOMA will soon become untenable with so many states recognizing same-sex couples as married, even if a conservative Supreme Court manages to finds its provisions constitutional in the next year or so.
A generation which overwhelmingly supports marriage equality is now entering adulthood. Let us welcome the future while we continue to fight in the present.
(1) a majority of American adults support marriage equality, but it is important not to confuse the set of adults with the set of registered voters