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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The problem with "states' rights" Part 745, North Carolina edition

by digby

So the "traditionalists" won another one. North Carolina's Amendment One was approved overwhelmingly by the people. And it's a really bad one. It doesn't just ban same sex marriage, it bans domestic partnership laws, which is really cruel. It's hard to argue that it's all about the "sanctity" of marriage when they go out of their way to ensure that LGBT citizens are denied the basic right to benefits like health care and equal treatment in child custody and adoption.

Here's an article on how this will play out for some real humans who live in North Carolina:

For same sex couples in the South, North Carolina has stood out as a bright light of possibility, where domestic partner benefits have been recognized in some cities and by some private companies.

Libby and Melissa Hodge moved to North Carolina from Georgia in 2008 -- where a similar marriage amendment was passed in 2004 -- in hopes of a more secure life for their daughter, 4.

The women married in Vancouver in 2006, but have yet to live in a state that recognizes their marriage.

After Georgia's amendment passed, they began looking for jobs in what they thought would be a friendlier state. Eventually, Libby Hodge found a job with the city of Durham, one of several local governments in North Carolina offering benefits to domestic partners; she now receives health coverage that covers Melissa Hodge's biological daughter. (The Hodges requested that the child be referred to only by her middle name Elaine.) The Hodges planned for a second parent adoption, so that Libby could be also be legally recognized as Elaine's parent, providing more financial security for the child.

But in 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled against a second parent adoption in families headed by a same-sex couple, making an adoption far more difficult. And if Amendment 1 passes in May, Elaine will lose her health benefits through Libby's plan. For Elaine to be covered by Melissa's plan could cost an additional $500 a month.

The Hodges are feeling additional financial uncertainty because the amendment would raise questions about how the courts would deal with not only child custody issues but also about visitation rights and end-of-life arrangements.

"It's hard to know where the ripple will stop if something goes wrong," Libby Hodge said. "We still don't know exactly what the effects of the amendment will be, and we don't know how to plan for that. You just pray that nothing ever goes wrong."

Unmarried straight couples living together would also lose any domestic partner benefits they might have if the measure is passed. But they have a potential solution: getting married. The Hodges now say that because of the uncertainty with their finances, they might have to move again, although both would prefer to stay in the South, near their extended families in Georgia.

The possibility that other workers could move out of state is a concern for Cathy Bessant, a global technology and operations executive at Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte. In a video that Bessant recorded for the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families (an opponent of the amendment), she said the measure would have "a disastrous effect" on the ability of businesses in the state to compete for jobs and economic growth.

"What Amendment 1 does is make it look like we're a state that ignores both the needs and the preferences of the next generation of America and the world's workforce," Bessant said.

Everyone says that gay marriage is in the bag. It's a done deal, we can feel confident that this battle is pretty much won, it's just a matter of getting it on the books. But 30 states now have constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage to one degree or another. And as we know, it isn't just the old South. My own land of fruits and nuts just did it in 2008.

This is the essence of retrograde, reactionary politics and there's a long history of these "sovereign" states exercising their "rights" to deny minorities their freedom at the hands of the very people who use the word like a weapon when it comes to having to pay an extra five cents in taxes. There's not a thing new about this.

This is why we have to depend upon the United States Supreme Court to enforce the fundamental American value that we protect the constitutional rights and liberties of minorities against the prejudices of the majority. Unfortunately, the Roberts Court is hardly likely to be the one to do it. But that's how it's going to have to happen, at least in order to extend the rights enjoyed by straight Americans to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters all across America.

I'm not saying it won't happen. Of course, I believe it will. But it's not going to be settled until the court rules.

Here's Michelangelo Signorile interviewing the sponsor of the Amendment in case you'd like to know what motivated him:

In one bright spot, we have a North Carolina Blue America winner tonight, Patsy Keever, who will not be faced with a run-off and will challenge Patrick McHenry in November.

Update: Think Progress points out that the last time North Carolina amended their constitution on the issue of marriage, this was it: