N.C. marriage amendment inspires divisive opinions

KENANSVILLE — North Carolina voters will decide in May whether to add an amendment banning same-sex marriages to the state constitution.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) bill would amend the North Carolina constitution to say that marriage is between one man and one woman and “is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

In September both chambers of the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed a bill allowing the measure to be put on the ballot.

While North Carolina law already recognizes marriage specifically as a union between a man and woman, supporters have argued the amendment would strengthen the law against attempts by activist judges and legislators to redefine marriage. Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, have characterized the bill as misguided, stating that it would cause pain to the gay residents of North Carolina and would depress economic prospects for the state.

Among the politicians supporting the amendment is N.C. House Representative Jimmy Dixon (R-District 4). In a statement summarizing that support, Dixon said the DOMA amendment would institutionalize an imperative clearly defined by the Christian religion.

“Marriage was ordained by God and has been accepted, encouraged and established by governments as the keystone of civil societies,” stated Dixon. “People have always rightly been free to choose how they conduct their lives relative to the institution of marriage. This amendment does not rob them of that right. Let all live under arrangements they desire but don’t classify anything other than the union of a man and a women as marriage.”

Dixon said the traditional marriage arrangement constitutes the ideal family unit. “We must preserve that which has made our nation great and marriage between a man and a woman has proven to be the best condition to rear children.”

While politicians on both sides of the aisle have used the issue to highlight their opponents moral and social failings, what often gets lost in the debate is the very real impact on individuals and families across the state, including residents of small, rural communities such as Duplin County.

For Magnolia resident Angie Dudley, a former member of both the Warsaw and Kenansville police departments, the issues surrounding the DOMA bill are all too familiar.

Dudley lives with her wife, Tracy Braswell, on what she describes as their “lesbian green acres” just outside of Kenansville. Dudley and Braswell were married in Washington D.C. in 2010, just after the city’s legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage.

“They passed it on a Wednesday and we went up there on a Friday,” remembered Dudley, “It was just crazy; there were just people everywhere. People from all over the country had flocked there.”

While they will celebrate their second wedding anniversary in April, Dudley said she and Braswell have actually been together 10 years, having met when Braswell was working in a video store in Warsaw and Dudley was a new officer with the city’s police department.

While their marriage is officially recognized in six states across the country— Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire— in their home state that union is null and void, due to North Carolina’s pre-existing law.

With that law in place, Dudley said she sees only one possible reason for the political drive behind the DOMA bill.

“Everybody who has an issue with it, it’s always a religious issue. It’s like everybody wants to shove their beliefs down everybody’s throat. There’s nothing financial to be gained. If anything there’s something financial to be lost, from what I understand, even from straight people. It seems to me there’s nothing to be gained except the religious people getting a victory”

Dudley said she sees the issue in terms of a majority intruding on the personal liberties of a minority citizenry.

“Me and Tracy are very much ‘live and let live’ people. We try to respect everybody’s views, but it seems like the people who have the most to say about it either don’t know anybody gay, or they just want to say “God this, God that.” The truth is, everybody should be allowed to live their life. I’m not out here stoning people for what they’re doing and I don’t want people stoning me for what I’m doing.

“My belief is, if the worst thing I do is because of who I love, I don’t feel like I’m going to hell for that. I just don’t.”

While the DOMA bill states that private parties are not prohibited from entering into private contracts with each other, both Dudley and Braswell said that language doesn’t address the central problem. “I feel like anybody can have a ceremony,” said Dudley, “but it doesn’t make you married. Civil unions aren’t the same; it just doesn’t feel the same. I think when you’re married, you’re married.”

 “The state doesn’t mind taking your money and making you pay taxes,” said Braswell, “but you can’t have any other rights like everyone else does.”

Dudley said most people don’t realize the significant financial incentives behind legalization of gay marriage. “It’s a huge money making thing. States where it’s legal sell the wedding weekend packages for a grand; they’ll take care of everything for you. They talk about the budget crisis, but there’s a ton of money to be made if they would allow it, with the tax filing and stuff like that. The increase in tourism would also be a huge benefit.”

For many who favor the amendment, however, economic concerns are secondary to what they see as a chance to strengthen a moral law currently under attack from secular forces.

Reverend Buster Price of Pinhook Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church in Wallace said he fully supports the amendment. “I am very pleased to hear that someone in our Legislature has decided to go ahead and etch this in stone and do something about it. My hats off to whoever introduced this bill.”

Asked whether he thought the bill should have been introduced in light of the states other pressing needs, such as a struggling economy and lack of education funding, Price stated, “I do. I personally believe the soul of our nation is at stake. I feel with marriage, as everyone has known it for millenniums (being challenged) with the gay right movement and these things, anything we can do to help is far more important than dollars and cents. When you fix the heart of the nation, all the rest of it will fall in line.”

Price said the push for gay rights is indicative of a deeper national dilemma. “We live in a society that has invited God out of everything. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear that someone wants to do something about the spiritual person and the God that backs that spiritual person.”

Like Dixon, Price said the amendment is consistent with Biblical law. “The Scripture says, in Genesis 2:18 that God saw than it’s not good for man to be alone. It also says that God made a “help meet” (counterpart) for man. Next what happened is, God said, “For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.”

Price also implied the suppression of homosexuality would be beneficial to the health of the nation’s populous. “Jerry Falwell said a few years ago that he could end the AIDS problem. He said “Okay, here’s the formula: one woman, one man, one lifetime. That will eradicate the AIDS problem.” I know there are those in this society who would disagree with that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

While such attitudes may be prevalent across the state, Dudley said, locally, she hasn’t encountered many of the negative attitudes often associated with small towns. “I’ve never had any major problems from anyone. I think it comes back to respect. If you carry yourself with respect and act like you’ve got some sense, once people get to know you they don’t really have an issue with you. It’s not like we go around telling everybody our business.”

The outcome of the amendment vote, said Dudley, will depend on which side is more motivated to turn out to vote.

“When it’s something that people feel negatively about they tend to make a point to get to the polls,” she commented. “I hope all these people who are supportive will go out and vote against it.”

Central to the argument against gay marriage, said Dudley, is the belief that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation.

“From my own personal experience, it’s not a choice. Growing up I had zero exposure to anything gay; I had a very sheltered upbringing. I didn’t even know what it meant until I was in high school. I dated guys but it just never felt right; something felt wrong.”

After graduating from high school, Dudley said she became friends with a lesbian couple and gained insight into difficult questions concerning her own sexuality. Since that time, Dudley said she has never attempted to hide part of herself that she says is as basic to an individual’s makeup as hair color or skin tone.

“I found my normal. The only choice I made was the choice to live honestly.”

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