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Dan Forest[This post has been updated — the original version had an incorrect link]. Remember that kid on the grade school playground who hated losing so much that he’d grab the ball and go home when the game stopped going his way? It’s seems a safe bet that North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest was such a child.

The man who is also pretty clearly North Carolina’s most reactionary statewide elected official in memory dispensed another ultraconservative pearl of wisdom recently when he told a radio host in Asheville that North Carolina will probably have to change the basics of state marriage laws now that same sex couples can partake.

After referring the “so-called right to get married” of same sex couples and explaining how liberal judges were misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and acting to “legislate from the bench,” Forest, who is not a lawyer, agreed with radio host Peter Kaliner that North Carolina would probably have to follow Alabama’s lead and change state marriage laws. Recently, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would change how the state deals with marriage so that rather than having state officials issue licenses, the state would simply register marriages after they’re witnessed by a private party.

When Kaliner asked Forest what he thought about such an approach, Forest said it was probably “a next step in North Carolina” if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage. (Click here to listen to the entire depressing interview — the relevant portion is at around the 5:20 mark).

As to what all the implications of such a radical change would mean for people who no longer received a marriage license — either with respect to children, insurance, recognition in other states, etc… — is anybody’s guess, but it doesn’t seem to bother Forest, who would rather do away with state sanctioned marriages completely than let people he doesn’t approve of enjoy their benefits.

Commentary

Gay marriage 2After it gave the bill a perfunctory review and then ignored it, there was hope that the North Carolina House had decided, smartly, to deep-six the discriminatory Senate proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to opt out of marrying same sex couples. Now, sadly, the measure is back and scheduled to be heard in committee today.

Fortunately, the chances of this discriminatory proposal actually ever going into effect remain highly questionable. As reporter Sharon McCloskey explains over on the main Policy Watch site this morning, the bill is a successful lawsuit waiting to happen:

“If the bill passes in the House and becomes law, it would be the first of its kind in the country, according to Katharine Franke, a professor at Columbia University School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Law.

(A similar bill in Texas recently failed after corporations there voiced their opposition.)

And in the eyes of legal experts, it would be unquestionably unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer explains in an excellent editorial this morning why it should never get that far: Read More

Commentary

Rev. William Barber and North Carolina Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove recently authored the following essay on the close connection between modern “religious freedom” proposals and the dark history of racial discrimination in the U.S.  We’re delighted to publish it here.

Extremists also remember Selma:
The ugly history behind “religious freedom” laws

By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

From Ava Duvernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmond Pettus Bridge, to the thousands we crossed the Bridge with and the millions that joined by TV, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grassroots leaders who organized for years, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers, and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960’s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history. Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem with laws which purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate another’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle out of which the 14th Amendment was born—a struggle which continued to play out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s state houses today. We cannot understand the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was part and parcel of America’s first Reconstruction, guaranteeing for the first time that people who had been legally codified as three-fifths persons would enjoy equal protection under the law in this country. The very notion of equal protection for black Americans was so offensive that it inspired an immediate backlash. Two features of resistance to America’s first Reconstruction are essential to note.

First, it was deeply religious. White preachers led the charge, calling themselves “Redeemers” and framing equal justice for black Americans as a moral danger. At the same time, the threat was explicitly sexualized. Black men were portrayed in respectable newspapers as “ravishing beasts,” eager to rape white women.

Here in our native North Carolina, white vigilantes were armed and encouraged to defend their women, leading to the “Wilmington Race Riot” of 1898. Violent demonstrations of white men’s sexual fear led to lynchings throughout the South and Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ida B. Wells, the courageous African-American journalist from Memphis, did the dangerous investigative work to show that the great majority of these lynchings were not about sex but political power.

When the Civil Rights Movement—a Second Reconstruction—was finally able to draw national attention to the vicious patterns of Jim Crow in the 1960’s, the challenge to white power was again conflated with sexual fear. As Danielle McGuire has chronicled in her book “The Dark End of the Street,” civil rights workers were consistently accused of wanting interracial sex and/or having homosexual tendencies.  Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it today over on the main NCPW site, this morning’s Weekly Briefing (“The growing momentum for tuition equity”) explains why the fights for LGBT equality and fair treatment for immigrant kids have a surprising amount in common.

“It may seem odd at first to compare the plight of immigrant kids with that of LGBT adults seeking equality, but when you take a minute to consider the matter, the parallels are striking. There’s the matter of being forced to live in hiding, the effort by society to punish and even criminalize the mere act of existing and, of course, the venom both groups have been forced for so long to endure from a lot of their fellow Americans.

And now, happily, there is also the rapidly developing common experience of a societal attitude overhaul. Where once the idea of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans seemed unimaginable, it is now clearly here to stay.

And so, increasingly, it is with the matter of public policy solutions for undocumented kids (and maybe even their parents). Though still disparaged as ‘aliens’ and ‘invaders’ by a shrinking number of hard core nativists and paranoiacs, more and more undocumented immigrants – especially young people who have lived in the U.S. for big chunks (if not most) of their lives – are coming out and speaking out.

They may not have been born in the U.S.A., but millions of immigrant kids are, effectively, as ‘American’ as anyone else. The United States is the only country they know. Their friends are American, their schools and teachers and daily life experiences are American, the taxes they pay are American. Meanwhile, the notion of sending them elsewhere is widely and increasingly understood to be absurd.”

Click here to read the entire essay.

Commentary

Mooresville writer John Deem is not impressed with state House Speaker Tim Moore’s recent statements about the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” and its potential impact on North Carolina’s “brand”:

Speaker Moore: “I’m all about the brand, ’bout that brand, no trouble …”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore’s promise of a pragmatic approach in deliberations over the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act is all the confirmation we need that the issue has little to do with the protection of faith-guided principles, and everything to do with pure, partisan politics.

Moore’s explanation that he and his colleagues should be guided by how passage of any such legislation could potentially “harm North Carolina’s brand” also is an egregious display of political cowardliness in the face of right-handed flamethrowers from of his own party.

Either the “religious freedom” of North Carolinians is being threatened, or it isn’t. If Speaker Moore believes that it is, then pragmatism be damned. He should push ahead with the legislation at full speed. Protecting the inalienable rights of North Carolinians should always trump concerns about how the state looks to outsiders, after all.

If Moore disagrees with the proposed legislation’s dire warnings of religious oppression, then he should say so (as Gov. McCrory and other influential Republicans already have) and expose the conservative mavericks in the House as extremists bent on using Christianity – a faith rooted in grace – as a tool to separate themselves from their neighbors who might not look, think or love exactly as they do.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is either a battle cry of freedom or a sacrilegious sham. I look forward to hearing what “brand” of legislation Speaker Moore thinks it is.

– John Deem is an award-winning writer and editor living in Mooresville.