Amid Delawareans moving forward, Hawaiians shut out of the progressive movement, NH and VT struggling to do what is right and good (in order to BE right and good), in terms of legislative battles for equality of marriage, non-discrimination in work place and housing, I read Pam's House Blend blog entry from the day of action in NC, with hat tip to towleroad.com for posting it. I was not surprised by the awkwardness of some of our African American brothers and sisters who know discrimination as well as any other minority group in America, and read this entry:
Our last stop was the most challenging one of the day -- a member of the black legislative caucus who supports the marriage amendment, Rep. Earline W. Parmon (D-Forsyth). She is a supporter of the Healthy Youth Act, and I believe she is in favor of the bullying bill. But on marriage -- her story was all too familiar. Our group of black LGBTs was standing right there as the questions were delivered by her constituents in the group (who happened to be white). The conversation was quite uncomfortable, but respectful.
Why is she in favor of the marriage amendment?
1) Because it's a "personal issue" for her. Her constituent pointed out that she is in the office because the voters in her district sent her to the General Assembly to represent them, not her personal feelings about legislation. That led the lawmaker to move on to the next reason...
2) "I'm a minister." She made it clear that she didn't want to have to disclose this bit of business, but since #1 didn't work out very well, this was the next hurdle to put up. I thought I was going to erupt. Thankfully I was at the back of the group near the door. The constituent, to her credit, challenged her on the issue of church-state separation, but Rep. Parmon wouldn't budge. Trying to have a reality-based conversation with someone who feels so strongly that there is no line between the two is like hitting a wall.
One of the black LGBTs with the group, in order to try to connect by humanizing the issue, told the story of friends of hers, a lesbian couple raising a child. One of the mothers is dying of a chronic illness, and in North Carolina there's nothing to legally protect them as a unit -- any will drawn up can be challenged by a homophobic family member, custody could be in jeopardy, and obviously there are myriad issues that are in play because of the lack of any kind of legal recognition.
Rep. Parmon was visibly moved by this story, but you could tell it left her in a quandry. That led to explanation #3.
3) " I'm not against anyone, one to one". She said this several times, as if to suggest that she's only protecting marriage by favoring the amendment, but is sympathetic to the concerns raised by the story of the lesbian couple. It's the classic "I'm really not a bigot" defense. No one wants to have that label placed upon them. Unfortunately that led Rep. Parmon to ramble into territory that was perilously close to civil unions without saying those words specifically. The problem, even if she only supports some limited legal recognition, is that the marriage amendment she supports says:
Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."That means no civil unions, no domestic partnerships, nada. It's written so broadly that even private company benefits offered to "same-sex spousal equivalents" could be jeopardized. If Rep. Parmon supports some kind of way for that lesbian couple to protect their family unit if one passes away, she's negating any possible solution by supporting the amendment.
I passed forward an information sheet with the language of the bill on it so that she knew that we knew that none of the above reasons were adequate defenses for adding discrimination into our state constitution. The fact sheet was left on Rep. Parmon's desk.
Afterwards we all commented how hurtful it was to be rendered "less-than" to our faces by this respected lawmaker, who, if she stepped into a time machine that took her only a few generations back in time, couldn't marry a person of the same race (because blacks were property, not full citizens), let alone someone of another race -- and the bible was used to justify that. She looked at the people in her office in the eye and said that she "respects you as a person", but would, without any guilt, vote to ensure you aren't equal in the eyes of the law. It was painful, just painful.
We've much work to do in educating people generally, and those in religious communities specifically.
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I am currently trying to get a pre-existing group of clergy folks who are LGBTQ supportive together in NC to start addressing the educational component of how modern LGBTQ folks are, at least for the Jewish and Christian community, part of the body of believers...and equally so.