Groups are fanning the flames of conflict — by accident and by design.
As North Carolinians head to the polls next week to vote on the fate of a state constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage and civil unions, the controversial measure can already claim at least one clear winner: The National Organization for Marriage. Exposed in March as seeking to drive a wedge between African-Americans and gay rights groups, the conservative group has found North Carolina — which is 21 percent black — a fertile playing field for its divide and conquer tactics.
Armed with both NOM money and strategic know-how, state level groups such as Vote FOR Marriage NC have deftly deployed the race debate to court black clergy and voters in their attempt to ensure that North Carolina is no longer the only Southern state whose constitution does not bar same-sex marriage. Passed by the legislature in September 2011 as “An Act to Amend the Constitution to Provide That Marriage Between One Man and One Woman is the Only Domestic Legal Union That Shall Be Valid or Recognized in This State,” the measure goes before voters for ratification on May 8 as Amendment 1.
“Our efforts have certainly involved a broad coalition of individuals and organizations, including African-American pastors,” said Rachel Lee, a spokesperson for Vote FOR Marriage NC. Although pro-equality forces have mounted an aggressive fight against the amendment, NOM’s cynical blend of rhetoric and religion has successfully placed ethnicity — as much as equality — at the heart of the pro-Amendment 1 campaign.
“NOM has injected race into this conversation as an explicit strategy to drive a wedge between blacks and gays,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, the nation’s leading marriage equality advocacy group. “Anti-gay forces have deliberately funneled money into North Carolina [African-American] churches to enlist their leaders as messengers of their agenda.”
Anchoring the push are pro-Amendment 1 black clerics from North Carolina and around the nation with strong ties to NOM, such as Maryland’s Bishop Harry R. Jackson, who’s also leading the