On Tuesday, May 8th, North Carolinians head to the polls to vote on Amendment One, a proposed state constitutional amendment defining not just marriage, but basically a family unit, as a married, one-man, one-woman couple. Opponents of this move have accurately pointed out that (1) there was no need to rush this measure onto the May ballot, when a general election vote in November would be more representative due to naturally higher turnout; (2) although primarily promoted as a “defense of marriage” measure, the amendment is redundant on that score since North Carolina law already prohibits same-gender marriage; and (3) as written, the amendment revokes benefits for a large number of unmarried heterosexual couples. And this doesn’t even go into the fact that support for this piece of civil legislation is driven completely by religious rhetoric. That’s why it’s so important for religious leaders who oppose this odious and divisive initiative to step into the conversation.

I was living in North Carolina in 1990 when former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African American Democrat, lost his bid to defeat long-serving Republican Senator Jesse Helms. Still vivid are the memories of the relentless radio and television ads clearly suggesting that a vote for Gantt would be a vote against God. Roadside billboards reiterated the same general message. Gantt ran a strong race; who knows what percentage of the 52-47 vote was swayed by that messaging.

In September of last year, State of Belief Radio featured an interview with MCC Winston-Salem pastor Ron LaRocque, who had participated in a fast in opposition to the proposed amendment. Click here to listen.

We’re working on having a representative of the North Carolina group Pastors Against Amendment One on this weekend’s State of Belief Radio. Host Welton Gaddy has co-written a powerful statement in opposition to this amendment:

Amendment One: Carrot tops and Bible verses
By the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy and the Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren

As longtime ministers, each of us places great significance in the family values that guide our lives and the way we lead our respective congregations in Louisiana and in North Carolina. But in North Carolina, family values are in danger.

If passed, Amendment One to the N.C. Constitution would define marriage as between a man and a woman. We view such legally codified discrimination as an affront to all people who recognize the inherent value in marriage as a means of legally recognizing the union of two people – regardless of the identity of the people.

In the United States, marriage is a legal right that should not just be available, but also legally ensured, to all citizens – whether they are involved in heterosexual or same-gender relationships. When an individual denies that right based on his or her religious values, he is violating the promise of religious freedom to all. A constitutional law limiting marriage – explicitly defining it in a way that only allows for some who wish to get married to be able to – puts at stake the religious liberty of individuals and faith communities.

If a given individual’s religious beliefs teach him or her that marriage is only between a man and a woman – fine, that individual should live as his or her religion teaches.

Other states in our union have legalized marriage for all, and in the process, have never sought to dictate to religious communities which rites and blessings they can or should offer. Thank God, the United States is a democracy – founded upon inalienable democratic principles. No democracy should condone the limitation of anyone’s rights, including those that would be affected by the proposed amendment.

It’s an embarrassing injustice.

As Americans, we all – or, at least, we all should be entitled to share the same civil rights. Remember that what makes our country so rich is its diversity – people who can track their heritages to countries across the globe, the sanctity its historic roots place in pluralism, and the right to practice any religion or no religion – without fear of government-imposed restrictions.

We must encourage each other to celebrate the diverse nature of faith in this country that has thrived in great part because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. To violate anyone’s rights in the name of religion is to open the door to possible violations of everyone’s rights in the name of religion.
In North Carolina, the promise of religious liberty lies in the hands of the voters. We hope they will make the decision at the polls that will reinforce everyone’s right to practice his or her religion as he or she chooses, to choose not to practice any religion, and to know that the Constitution of the State of North Carolina will protect individuals and communities of faith.

In fact, we believe that, much to the chagrin of the naysayers out there, society is far from being in danger of harm from embracing religious liberty; the very opposite is the case. If North Carolina voters do not sanctify religious freedom by voting down Amendment One, the strength of religious freedom in all communities across the state will be weakened.

Most of us agree that families are stronger when there are two parents; couples do better when they can legally secure their relationship. Amendment One threatens both of those realities and ensures that same-gender couples will have no choice but to go to great lengths and expense to secure only a few of the many rights married persons take for granted such as fostering and adopting children and having access to healthcare coverage through one’s spouse.

Our nation was founded upon freedoms of which religious freedom was first. Amendments like the one that voters are today considering in North Carolina gravely endanger that freedom as enshrined in our Constitution. Though we respect the right of each and every American to practice his or her religion as he or she sees fit, no particular religious theology should ever become policy for a non-sectarian government.

People of faith should not be attempting to use the machinery of government to deny legal rights to fellow citizens. The referendum in North Carolina is an opportunity to stop those who would infringe upon the rights of others, not a chance to impose their religious beliefs on others. If Amendment One does not pass, the people of North Carolina will make a clear statement that they value religious liberty and do not want anything marring it to become inked in their state’s Constitution.

The question before us is not whether we are good Christians, good Jews, good Muslims or good persons of other faiths. The question before us is what sort of North Carolina – what sort of America – do we want for ourselves and those who come after us?

The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy is president of Interfaith Alliance, a national, non-partisan grassroots organization that celebrates religious freedom. He also serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana, and hosts the radio show, “State of Belief.” The Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren is rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh and a member of the Interfaith Alliance.

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