Let’s go ahead and call it. It’s 9:47 on the east coast, and with 54% of precincts reporting, North Carolina’s anti-LGBT Amendment One is passing by better than a 60-40 margin. “Pro-marriage” social conservatives are undoubtedly hailing this as a major victory for the “family” and the “sanctity of marriage,” but from where I sit the state’s reactionary forces have done little more than win the battle that loses the war. If I’m Mitt Romney’s advisors (and, despite ample evidence to the contrary, I’m assuming he actually has some), this is one I’d much rather have lost.
If I’m a progressive strategist I’m actually pleased, from a purely strategic perspective, about the result. Yes, I care deeply about fairness and I want a just world for all our citizens yesterday. This means that everyone should have the same rights, regardless of race or religion or creed or sexual orientation or whatever. Period. But if I’m a jaded realist (I am, by the way) I know that we’re talking about a sea-change in American ethics, and these victories aren’t accomplished overnight. Today’s battle is just that – a battle. It is not the war and winning it does not win the war.
In fact, this may prove, in hindsight, to be one of those battles that you actually wanted to lose. Earlier today the Christian Science Monitor offered up an interesting analysis as to why the potential defeat of Amendment One could hurt the Obama campaign.
“The gay marriage issue is an awkward one for Obama at present, given his differing views on the issue with his own vice president and other administration officials,” says Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. “It’s an issue that Obama wishes would go away until after the November elections. The North Carolina vote makes it less likely Obama will get his wish.”
But in other ways, the demographics of the issue work against Obama.
“This is not solely a Republican issue,” says Professor Brown. “African-Americans, who not only often comprise a significant portion of the Democratic Party in Southern states but are also strongly religious, have typically been against gay marriage.”
This makes a measure of sense, but I read the dynamic slightly differently. LGBT rights are tremendously polarizing, an issue set that represents a whole slate of other social liberty issues, and there was every reason to believe that the Amendment One result would be energizing for whichever side lost. We certainly remember all the hay that the Rove Bush administration made with gay marriage, and we can easily imagine Gomorrah’s North Carolina’s legalization of public sodomy civil unions and/or same-sex marriage being a major spur for GOP fund-raising this year, can’t we? Even worse, if you’re a progressive, it might have been just the hook to get the religious base, which doesn’t like Romney and which might otherwise choose to sit this one out, up off the couch and out to the polls.
If A1 wins, though, perhaps it breeds a certain complacency in the conservative voter. We won, they say. We won comfortably, and we did it without that Mormon – so let’s bide our time and wait on a real conservative savior in 2016. Especially since we’re still in the driver’s seat in most states. Bullet dodged.
On the other side of the fence, those of us who genuinely care about freedom and fairness are more outraged than ever. Outrage is motivating, and by the way, polls show that at least half of Americans support equality for LGBT citizens. It’s about six months until Election Day – how much mobilizing do you think we’re capable of?
Obama may or may not want the issue to go away, but from where I sit the religious right has today handed him a very large stick. Here’s hoping he has the courage and insight to use it on them. And let’s make sure that we, the people, make him embrace this, the most crucial civil rights issue of our generation.