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It seemed appropriate that Historian Karl Campbell (Appalachian State University, pictured top right) was the last of seven panelists to speak at “Moving Forward Together,” a public discussion on the implications of Amendment One presented by Foundation For The Carolinas* on May 2. He gave context to the upcoming May 8 vote – a constitutional amendment to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only legally recognized form of domestic union in North Carolina – by comparing it to other key democratic moments in North Carolina history that have pitted traditionalists versus modernists. While he expressed doubt that this vote would put an end to the debate on the issue, he urged both sides to fight hard, fight fair and not forget the humanness of this battle.
In fact, Wednesday night's discussion proved to be an excellent example of what a civil debate could look like, even when some participants have diametrically opposed viewpoints. Each panelist focused on a specific aspect of the proposed amendment – ranging from the legislative context of the amendment and its legal ramifications to its potential economic impact on local businesses.
While some speakers presented a neutral perspective, like Chief District Court Judge Lisa Bell, who concluded that it is impossible to say for sure what the legal ramifications of a passed amendment would be on domestic violence cases and child custody battles until such a time when the supreme court would have an opportunity to make a ruling, others were quite specific in their assessments.
"In a devilish stroke of irony -- this is impartial – ” said Russell Robinson, Esq., a caveat that drew laughter from the crowd of 100+ in McGlohon Theatre, “on its main purpose of protecting marriage," a passed amendment would expose it to an intense federal legal battle.
Dan Bishop, Esq., however, argued that there was no precedent that indicated that the proposed legislation would be more susceptible to federal legislation than in other states which have passed similar amendments.
Likewise, Ruth Samuelson, Representative and Majority Whip of the North Carolina General Assembly, explained her belief that people should have a chance to vote on this issue and that in her opinion “government has an interest in defining marriage as between a man and a woman” because it provides the best environment for raising children.
In the business realm, Carol Swartz, professor of Economics at UNC Charlotte, suggested that while the vote matters to each of us, the consequences of passing or rejecting the amendment probably would have minimal implications on North Carolina's workforce and competitiveness. She said that businesses are often more “forward-thinking” than this amendment suggests and that more than half of the Fortune 500 companies already offer benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.
In fact, according to Historian Campbell, North Carolina is most often described historically as being “progressive” despite the fact that the major issues decided democratically in the state during the last hundred years or so – Prohibition, women's suffrage, teaching Darwinism in the schools, and school integration – have usually but not always been initially won by the traditionalists. However, he said that history shows they are seldom successful in the long-run.
His parting words – “Here's hoping for a brighter tomorrow” – suggested that even with such divisive issues in front of us, North Carolinians could and would be moving forward together.
*This discussion was presented by the Robinson Center for Civic Leadership at Foundation For The Carolinas, and hosted by Davidson College, Johnson & Wales University, Johnson C. Smith University, Queens University and UNC Charlotte.
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