Guest Post – All Aboard for North Carolina

This post is courtesy of John R. “Buddy” Wester, a well-respected Charlotte attorney who is a recent past President of the North Carolina Bar Association.  Buddy has been a faithful supporter of access to justice for those in need and has many professional honors and awards.  Here, Buddy takes us on a metaphoric ride in opposition to the marriage amendment.  Buckle up. It’s good stuff.

I was born and raised in North Carolina, and I received my elementary and high school education in the public schools of this state before going to college in Chapel Hill.

Throughout those years, I learned about our state’s history.  I am proud of almost all of that history, especially the times when North Carolina took a truly independent stand, even amid controversy and harsh opposition.  The US Constitution was adopted by a majority of the states in 1787, but was not ratified by our state until November 1789—because we would not ratify it until the Bill of Rights was made part of the Constitution.

In the 1920’s there was a strong movement to outlaw the teaching of evolution in the public schools of our state.  I believe every state in the Southeast and many other states had made it a crime to teach evolution. A young representative from Burke County, Sam Ervin, spoke forcefully against this proposed law in our General Assembly, observing that North Carolina should not follow the lead of states whose leaders refused to accept basic scientific knowledge.  One of his memorable phrases was: “if this law goes onto the books in North Carolina, it would serve no good purpose except to absolve monkeys of their responsibility for the human race.”

There have been many other forks in the road of our state’s history.  I am proud that, even though we were slower than I wish we had been to extend the equal protection of the law for African -Americans, our state did not have to call out the National Guard to integrate our public schools and colleges.  I’m proud that we had, for the most part, a peaceful and orderly coming to terms with the compelling right that equal opportunity in education and public accommodations was integral to our basic citizenship.

Here we are again.  The states surrounding us, and many others, have put into their constitutions measures that will say that marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that will be valid or recognized in those states.

The vote on May 8 will put North Carolina either into that column or into one that is worthy of its tradition, its heritage, and the better angels of its citizens’ nature.

There are clear, practical, present-day realities that I hope we will pay attention to as we evaluate this amendment. 

Others will marshal the statistics on the subject of how the amendment would affect the business climate of our state, but let me urge special attention here. If you look at the employment policies of the 10 largest employers in Charlotte, you will find in each one of them a specific, unmistakable expression that the employer will not allow discrimination in any manner against an employee on account of sexual orientation.  A good many speak of the positive good that arises from diversity across the spectrum of our differences.

Let’s keep that in mind, please let’s do so, as we evaluate this amendment—-especially as we think of the employers from other states, from other countries around the globe, who are now evaluating North Carolina as a place to bring their facilities, build their next plant, ask their employees to move. Our state needs jobs, and we need to remove roadblocks to those jobs rather than put up new ones.

May I close with a metaphor that’s been on my mind in recent days.  I have been thinking of my life in this state as a train that I boarded at my birth, and that all of my fellow North Carolinians are riding with me. I think of it as the North Carolina Citizens’ Train.

Depending on when we board and our choices in life, we move among the various cars on this train, and often we move together– we move to the elementary school car, the high school car, we move to various employment cars, to cars of worship, and so on. Of course we all have the right to enter those cars as citizens of this state.

There is also a marriage car on this citizens’ train.  Suppose, as we were about to go into that car as we had gone into all the others, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. The announcement said that, based on a vote, those about to be named could not go there–could not go into the marriage car.

Not many names were called when the announcement came, but every person on the list was a citizen of North Carolina.  Every person was someone’s son or daughter. Most every person was someone’s brother or sister, aunt or uncle, or beloved friend.  The reason given to exclude them was that those named were homosexual. That was the only reason.  No matter what else those citizens might be, no matter what they have accomplished, they cannot go into the marriage car.  

Could this train be worthy of the name North Carolina Citizens

North Carolina is better than this.  Its people deserve better than this.  I hope we will stand on May 8 for better than this.

Please vote against this amendment.

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