How important is it to know how our elected officials will vote on N.C.’s same sex marriage amendment next month?
Mecklenburg’s Board of County Commissioners planned to discuss a resolution addressing the amendment tonight, but chair Harold Cogdell postponed the vote because commissioner Jennifer Roberts won’t be at the meeting. We think the board should cancel the vote altogether rather than wasting county time grandstanding on an issue that at this point doesn’t need their attention.
What, though, of the candidates for public office in 2012? Amendment One is fast becoming a litmus test, and at least one candidate doesn’t much want to talk about it.
In Tuesday’s Observer, reporter Tim Funk asked a clearly reluctant gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory about his thoughts on Amendment One, which would constitutionally ban same sex marriage and jeopardize benefits that homosexuals in civil unions receive. McCrory, of course, is best served talking about the topic as little as possible. You don’t want to loudly take sides on issues that will anger potential supporters - in McCrory’s case the urban and suburban moderates he’ll fight for this fall.
McCrory told the Observer he plans to vote for the amendment but didn’t want to say why. Asked what he would say to Charlotte’s business executives who have come out against the amendment, McCrory said: “Let me say this: We’re taking it to the people and let them vote. I respect the opinions that are being presented on all sides, and I’ve stated how I plan to vote.”
McCrory has a point. His vote is his own, and May 8 is about representing yourself, not potential constituents. And while that vote might tell us something about the character of a candidate, what's more critical to know is the practical application of that character. Would he or she vote individual values in office, or do the will of those constituents?
In the case of same sex marriage, that opportunity might come shortly after May 8. Should Amendment 1 pass, as polls have shown it probably will, N.C. lawmakers will likely have to confront the probability that the amendment jeopardizes the legal agreements and employment benefits of same sex couples. What we really want to know of candidates is this: Would you support protecting those benefits and interests?
McCrory has been consistent on that issue. In 2003 and 2004, he opposed providing employee benefits to same sex partners. He also pointedly declined to send a welcome letter to those attending a dinner in Charlotte for the Human Rights Campaign, which supported same sex marriage.
His most likely opponents in the fall aren’t as easy to predict, despite what they might tell you. Bob Etheridge and Walter Dalton each say they’re against Amendment One, but in 2006, then U.S. Rep. Etheridge voted for a resolution that called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have had the same potential impact on civil unions and benefits as N.C.’s pending amendment. Etheridge told the editorial board last week that while he believes marriage should be between a man and woman, his position has since changed on civil unions.
Dalton also once supported anti-gay legislation, co-sponsoring N.C.’s Defense of Marriage Act in 2005. Asked about that at Monday’s gubernatorial debate, he gave perhaps the most honest answer of this election season.
“I was running in my State Senate District then,” he said. “I need votes from a different group of people now."
Peter St. Onge