Marriage Equality Brings Out Some “Dead-Enders”

Thom Tillis. Wikipedia — NCGA (Public Domain)

Written in 2014 on behalf of the Secular Coalition for North Carolina.

In 2003 Donald Rumsfeld dubbed the Iraqi insurgents “dead-enders” for having nothing left to do but go down fighting. Recent events in Iraq call into question his prescience on this point, but recent reactions to the arrival of marriage equality in North Carolina remind us that Rumsfeld’s colloquialism is sometimes apt.

Immediately following the US Supreme Court’s decision to not hear an appeal by the state of Virginia (and four other states) seeking to ban same-sex marriages, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis vowed in his second debate with US Senator Kay Hagan to continue defending North Carolina’s ban. Tillis and Phil Berger (NC Senate President Pro Tem) quickly filed last minute motions to intervene in several legal challenges to our state’s same-sex marriage ban that were making their way through federal courts.

On October 14 the second federal judge in North Carolina (appointed by George W. Bush) ruled our state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but also allowed Tillis and Berger to appeal whether the Virginia ruling applies to North Carolina. It should be noted, however, that this same judge stated clearly in his opinion that “all parties should be aware that no further briefing as to whether [the Virginia ruling] is controlling precedent is necessary.” Yet Tillis and Berger continue to spend $400 an hour on a California lawyer and chairman of the conservative National Organization for Marriage to defend the indefensible. Some have speculated that Tillis’ is simply trying to energize his base, at North Carolina taxpayers’ expense, for the upcoming US Senate election. But whatever the motive, it’s almost certainly a legal dead-end in light of the recent US Supreme Court decision.
In less than a week since our state’s marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional by two federal judges we have already seen several North Carolina magistrates refuse to marry same-sex couples or resign their positions. And several conservative Christian fringe groups have sent misleading and unsigned memos to all of the state’s registers of deeds offices suggesting that they could refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if their personal beliefs conflict. Now Berger has pledged to introduce legislation to attempt to allow such religious exemptions. One North Carolina high school has even been pressured to cancel a production of the most produced play in North American high schools (Almost, Maine) apparently because some parents and area churches complained about one of its nine scenes which features a gay couple.

Not to be outdone by these more moderate “dead-enders,” a Baptist pastor in North Carolina who once compared LGBT people to “maggots” and “murderers” reacted to the US Supreme Court decision and pending ruling in North Carolina by preaching to his congregation last Sunday: “You think Ebola is bad now, just wait.” Another pastor protested the first gay weddings at the Mecklenburg County and Courts Office in Charlotte. Last year Wolf Blitzer hosted a community dialogue on “Politics, Religion and LGBT Equality” at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory. One of the questions from the audience expressed concern about being labeled a bigot if you “believe what the bible says about homosexuality.” One of the panelists responded: “If the shoe fits, wear it. And if it fits and it’s uncomfortable, take it off.” While these “dead-enders” only represent a small minority of North Carolinians, we believe it is time for them to take off the combat boots. Our state is better than this.

This point of view column was submitted to (but never published by) the News and Observer on 19 October 2014 on behalf of the Secular Coalition for North Carolina. The coalition published it publicly on their own web site on 21 October 2014. The North Carolina General Assembly finally gave up on a direct challenge to SCOTUS’s ruling, but they later passed legislation allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to opt-out of marriage services on religious grounds. That case is still in the federal courts. Since the GOP took over the NCGA, they have passed 13 bills that have been declared unconstitutional costing NC taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees.