In the beginning, God scratched his backside, and a carbuncle sloughed off, fell into a pile of elephant dung, and grew into the Republican Party. It is for that reason party members report themselves as “created in the image and likeness of God”. But more often than not, scratch the surface and what you’ll find is pure carbuncle. North Carolina’s House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam is of the festering kind.
The first time I came across Stam was in 2009, when he didn’t think the state was killing enough black people. North Carolina had just passed the Racial Justice Act, heralded by civil rights groups as landmark legislation. It is a law that addresses racial inequity in death penalty cases by allowing defendants to have their sentences reduced to life without parole if they can prove race was a factor in their charging or sentencing.
The idea that a black inmate might escape lethal injection seemed to obsess Stam the entire next year. While NC waited for jobs, he spent 2010 (an election year) campaigning for fellow Republicans, using a racist scare campaign in which he made the Racial Justice Act sound like a Get Out Of Jail Free Card for every black man behind bars. His office put out talking points with the blatant untruth that the Racial Justice Act would set murderers and rapists free. (Are they executing rapists in NC now?) Stam got his Republican majority and his repeal too. The Racial Justice Act was saved only by a veto of Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. Unfortunately, she didn’t think to kill the beast that is Majority Leader Stam by driving a (political) stake through his cold and wormy heart.
Now it’s 2012 and it’s the LGBT community Stam has decided to menace. North Carolina already has a law forbidding marriage equality. That prohibition is not punitive enough for Stam. With North Carolinians still waiting on those jobs, he pushed through “Amendment One” which will enshrine Stam’s own virulent brand of unashamed bigotry into the State Constitution. Until the day rational, reasonable people can wrest control of both houses and manage repeal, Amendment One will forbid not only same-sex marriages, but even civil unions or domestic partnerships. And as a bonus, it would rip away and make illegal the benefits that many North Carolina cities and state universities have granted to their same-sex employees. All Stam needs now is to get Amendment One passed by popular vote and no “Democrat” Governor can rescue the gays! No judge can undo the blatant bigotry! Amendment One will secure Stam’s rightful place in history, as the puss stain on the North Carolina Constitution.
But wait! There is an organization with members who know exactly how to take on a bigot like Skip Stam. Freedom to Marry to the rescue! Any minute now Freedom to Marry’s Executive Director, Evan Wolfson, is going hear how a grinning Stam explained to an audience why it is wrong to label his promotion of Amendment One as hate speech. Surely then Wolfson will show up in his Superman cape with a pocketful of attention-getting TV ads revealing the real Skip Stan. Or any minute now, Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry’s National Campaign Director is going to hear about Leader Stam calling the LGBT community “things that can be treated differently”. Next thing you know North Carolina will be snowed under by a direct mail storm. Bullies like Stam don’t scare Freedom to Marry! It is why they were founded. Any minute now….
My mistake. It turns out Freedom to Marry has taken a pass on making an effort to defeat Amendment One. The advocacy group just announced their new $3 million dollar “Win More States Fund”, but North Carolina was not on the list of the “More States” they want to win. Wolfson said he has to use his limited resources where he thinks he can be successful. While on the surface that seems a reasonable statement, North Carolina is happening now. Many of the battles Wolfson has signed up for don’t happen until November. Surely there is enough time to replenish the coffers from a modest ad buy in North Carolina? Bill Browning of Bilerico Project referred to the Freedom To Marry decision as the big “fuck you.” I am quoting him because, lover of words that I am, I can’t put it any better than that.
What makes Freedom to Marry’s decision all the more frustrating is a recent Public Policy Poll which asked North Carolinians about their feelings regarding Amendment One. At first glance, the numbers look daunting. 58% said they planned to vote yes, and only 38% plan on voting against the amendment. But here’s what the internals of that poll said: the voters are not informed on the issue. A full 34% admit they are not sure about the question. When the pollster explains passing the amendment would forever ban civil unions in the state, support drops to 41% and opposition climbs to 42%. That’s a fight that can be won with an education campaign!
The battle over Amendment One will go on without Freedom to Marry. Evan Wolfson may have pronounced the cause doomed and unworthy, but groups like Equality North Carolina and Protect North Carolina Families are in the trenches as I write this, determined to keep the infection carried by Paul Stam from permanently diminishing their great state. It’s a shame Freedom to Marry didn’t show up.
May 8th will tell the tale. It is not hyperbole to say that nothing less the future is on the line for a great many North Carolinians. Until then, Paul Stam, Amendment One, and the efforts of good North Carolinians to stand against hate, will remain, On Our Radar.