by Fred Guttman
JTA News and Features
Since the May 8 vote to approve North Carolina's Amendment One referendum, which constitutionally bars the state from recognizing as legal any marriage other than that of a man to a woman, we understand that our march toward justice for all citizens of North Carolina, for all God's children, is incomplete.
In Judaism, a heshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) helps us clarify how we go forward.
Our campaign against Amendment One made significant inroads in mobilizing the support and energy of the state's African American community.
The fight joined many committed people who worked to create a "coalition for goodness and justice."
Nonetheless, the defeat was far worse than expected. The amendment passed by a whopping 21 percentage points even though polls had predicted a 10-point victory.
So what exactly went wrong?
One poll indicated that people would vote against the amendment if it were shown to harm families and children. Reliance on this information became the campaign's strategy.
But basing a campaign on such information was a major tactical error, and several in the anti-amendment coalition tried to point this out. For two weeks prior to the referendum, amendment supporters ran an effective campaign countering Eichner's arguments.
The "don't harm families" approach also was reflected in the name of the major organization against the amendment - "Protect NC Families." The name does not say what the organization stands for and is close in name to "Focus on the Family," a national organization that opposes recognition of gay marriage.
I'm also not sure that those who came from out of state to help defeat Amendment One understood the people of North Carolina. They were well meaning, but now move on to another battleground. Their record on defeating these amendments is 33 losses and one victory. Is not a strategy change warranted?
Amendment One passed overwhelmingly because of the opposition's inability to reframe the debate from marriage and on to civil rights. Months ago some of us warned that many North Carolinians who opposed same-sex marriages would vote against the amendment if they thought it was discriminatory and denied equal protection as guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.
The unexpectedly high margin of defeat tells us that basing the campaign on potential harms to families was a tactical error.
A related step that Amendment One opponents should have taken was to emphasize and publicize the pronouncements of prominent conservatives and libertarians who opposed the measure. They generally based their opposition on the same civil rights argument regarding violating the 14th Amendment's guarantees of equal protection.
Finally, the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 52 percent of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Yet a significant number are afraid that legalizing same-sex marriage would force their clergy to officiate at such marriages. Consequently, they oppose same-sex marriage laws. Once people learned that no law could ever be passed that would require a faith community or clergy member to perform such a ceremony - that would be unconstitutional - support for the legalization of same-sex marriages increased to 58 percent.
Would this amendment have passed if the campaign been managed differently? No one can be sure.
Our next step, aside from various legal challenges, should be to convene focus groups of those who opposed Amendment One. We have to ask the serious questions and plan a new strategy.
Rabbi Fred Guttman is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, N.C.