May 3, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Out-of-state activists headed to N.C. to fight amendment

K. Travis Ballie (Blade photo by Michael Key)

For K. Travis Ballie, helping with the campaign against Amendment One in North Carolina represents a chance to reverse the losses on state ballot initiatives in the more than 30 states that have seen votes on marriage equality.

“I’m going down because 2012 is a very unique year, even since 2004, when we saw the greatest number of marriage amendments on the ballot, we didn’t defeat any of them,” Ballie said. “Now in 2012, we have an anti-marriage amendment on the ballot in a southern state, in North Carolina, which also happens to be one of the most important swing states in this election cycle.”

Ballie, a gay 23-year-old Silver Spring, Md., resident, said he’s personally invested in the fight against the anti-gay measure — which will come before state voters Tuesday and would make a ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution — because he has gay friends in North Carolina, including one who had a marriage ceremony in the state a few weeks ago.

“This is really her marriage on the ballot,” Ballie said. “When there are people like Hillary that are in North Carolina that are just pleading for help from activists across the country, the only moral response is to go down to North Carolina and really help defeat this amendment.”

Ballie said challenging anti-gay amendments wherever they emerge across the country is important.

“I think we’re at a point where our community understands that we need to put up a fight wherever an amendment happens, be it a Southern state, be it the Northeast, anywhere in the country,” Ballie said. “These amendments are politically feasible to be defeated and even if we lose, which we won’t, we are really orchestrating one of the largest LGBT-focused statewide campaigns in North Carolina, one of the fastest growing states in our country.”

Ballie is one of several LGBT rights supporters — coming from places like D.C., Sacramento and Chicago — who are expected to travel to North Carolina to help in the campaign against Amendment One.

Another D.C.-area resident, Bryan Oklin, a gay 28-year-old attorney, said he also intends to travel to North Carolina to participate in efforts against Amendment One, calling it a “misguided, divisive measure,” because of the negative effect it would have on LGBT families.

“It seeks to enshrine in the North Carolina state Constitution that one group of the state’s citizens deserves less civil rights than all others,” Oklin said. “It is a backwards, bigoted initiative reminiscent of a past, less tolerant period of time.”

Same-sex marriage is already barred by statute in North Carolina. Opponents say the measure would not only make that ban part of the state constitution, but also prohibit civil unions and interfere with domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities as well as threaten contractual arrangements between same-sex partners.

Adam Bink, director of online programs for the Courage Campaign and an organizer for grassroots efforts against Amendment One, said the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, the campaign against Amendment One, will have more than 100 volunteers coming from out of state either through their signup form or through the Human Rights Campaign. On top of that, Courage Campaign will bring in 15 additional supporters.

“We’ll be putting volunteers to work at phone banks, events like OutRaleigh 2012 this weekend, and going to doors to talk to voters and leave reminders to vote across college campuses and in neighborhoods,” Bink said. “They’ll be focused on one core mission: ensuring we get our supporters to the polls.”

Bink said the out-of-state efforts that helped lead to the passage of California’s Proposition 8 are a stark reminder of why outside support can be important.

“Courage Campaign members from across the country wrote in to tell us they’re going because don’t want to leave any state behind, and because they understand that Amendment 1 goes too far in hurting families across North Carolina,” Bink said. “Our members will never forget the busloads of volunteers from outside California that helped pass Prop 8. We’ve learned from that experience.”

It’s this memory of Prop 8 that is motivating Amanda Wallner, a 24-year-old lesbian from Sacramento, Calif., to travel to North Carolina. For her, the memory of the passage of Prop 8 in 2008 as a college student and the rescinding of the marriage law in Maine in 2009 — which she helped fight — both weigh heavily on her.

“The loss of the ‘No on 8′ campaign hit me really hard,” Wallner said. “When we lost, I could barely get out of bed the next day. I still get emotional sometimes when I read about it. Any opportunity that I have to apply some of the lessons that I learned during that campaign to help out other LGBT people — I’m really excited to have the opportunity.”

Wallner added that going door-to-door explaining the harm of anti-gay amendments brings the biggest gains for the LGBT movement.

“That’s one of the reasons that I love electoral campaigns so much,” Wallner said. “It gives me that opportunity to talk to people face to face, and for them to be able to put a face to the issue.”

These activists could face an uphill battle; polls have shown majority support for the amendment, though there has been a shift in momentum in recent weeks.

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the amendment is likely to pass as similar marriage amendments have in the past.

“I couldn’t guess the margin at the moment, but it is hard to see how it fails to garner a majority ‘yes’ vote,” Sabato said. “The usual patterns are emerging: Seniors are strongly in favor and young people are the least likely to back it, Democrats are opposed while Republicans support.”

Even so, the pro-LGBT side in the race has a funding advantage over proponents of the anti-gay amendment. According to media reports, the Coalition to Protect All NC Families has raised $2.3 million to date and has $294,000 in cash on hand, while Vote for Marriage NC has raised a total of $1.2 million and has $112,000 in cash on hand. The pro-LGBT side is touting that individual small donations make up the bulk of its funds, while large contributions from the Christian Action League and the National Organization for Marriage made up the other side.

Moreover, recent polling shows support for the marriage amendment is declining. Data published last week by Public Policy Polling found only 54 percent of voters in the state plan to vote for it, while 40 percent are opposed to the measure. That’s the lowest level of support for the measure that PPP has found in polling since last October.

Bink said the decline in support for the North Carolina amendment shows the pro-LGBT side is within “striking distance” of victory.

“What’s more, the same poll shows that the more North Carolinians learn what Amendment One does, the less they support it, which is why an original 27-point lead has been cut in half,” Bink said. “A supermajority of North Carolinians oppose a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships for unmarried couples of any gender, endangers domestic violence laws, and takes benefits like health insurance away from children of unmarried couples.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

3 Comments
  • Graydon Stephenson

    It is a morally responsible position to oppose same sex marriage.

    • Same sex marriage is currently illegal in NC and in this your statement on this article is already moot. The new thing that the amendment does is remove the recognition and thus the benefits from ANY partnered relationship irrelevant of the sexual orientation of one or both partners. This means that any children of such relationships could wind up being the biggest losers.

  • Michael Alexander

    It is a morally responsible position to oppose amendment 1.

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