Thoughts on Amendment One

Open letter from Joe Chestnut:

What happened in North Carolina's Primary really saddens me. 

The people of North Carolina, the state I grew up in and still call home, have passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly between one man and one woman, and having marriage as the only union recognized by the state.

The amendment discriminates against not only the gay population of the state, but also against single mothers, and civil unions.  Though I am confident that the amendment will be found unconstitutional, and eventually overturned, what really bothers me about the passage of this amendment is how it reflects on North Carolina as a state and the people who, like me, call this state home.

North Carolina isn't about hatred, bigotry, and discrimination; it's about sweet tea, front porch swings, and caring about your neighbors.  As a North Carolinian I can attest that the people who live here are genuine, caring individuals.  When I walk down the street of my rural home town, I don't see bigots, I don't see hateful people, and I don't see people who think of gays as second class citizens.  I see people that have formed a loving community.  I know that as I walk down the street, I'm passing people who care about me, and care about the rest of the community.

Here's an excerpt from my graduation speech about encountering people on the street in Ocracoke:
"I recognize and know them, they recognize and know me.  When I have a conversation with them I know that the 'Hi. How are you?'  isn't just a mechanical response as it is with most people; it's a real question.  They care."

This is truly how I feel about not just my community, but the state of North Carolina and The South in general.  Yet, as loving and as caring as I know my community is, my county voted largely in favor of the amendment.

This leaves me puzzled; why would a group of people, who I know are a truly goodhearted and caring, vote to approve such a hateful amendment? 

Honestly, I'm angry, I admit it.  I am anything but pleased that this amendment is passing.  But at the same time I know that yelling at those who voted for it, and professing hatred towards them in any other way isn't going to help.  Also know that you cannot blame all Republicans, or all Christians, for the passage of this amendment.  As the victims of stereotyping, the gay community should know that this isn't fair, or truthful.  I'm a Republican.  I voted against.  I know Christians who voted against. 

Hatred isn't the answer; if anything hatred will only add fuel to the fire, further dividing a state that I know is better than this.

The only logical explanation I have for the passage of this amendment is that the people of our state were not well informed.  While this certainly wasn't a good thing leading into the election, we can now at least identify the problem.  Anger isn't the answer, hatred isn't the answer, and argument isn't the answer.   Education is the answer.

Education comes in many forms.  It isn't limited to you lecturing.   If a person voted for the amendment because they do not believe that gays should have equal marriage rights, you aren't going to make much progress by getting into an argument with them.  Instead, know that you can change minds in other ways.  Show them that gays are people too, who deserve the same rights as everyone else.  Members of the gay community, show them this, lead by example.  Change minds not by turning into a hateful, argumentative person, but as a member of a community no different than anyone else in that community. I honestly think that you will fail in changing minds by preaching, yelling, or arguing with them.

Be an active member of the community you are in, don't be afraid to be who you are.  It's a lot easier for someone to vote for discrimination of a type of person if they don't know them.  Don't shun people who voted for the amendment, this will only galvanize their ignorance; they need to see who their vote will harm.  Be the change you want to see in people.  Lead by example.  Explain to your peers why you believe that gays should have every right that straights have, rights that everyone deserves to have. 

If there is one thing that Amendment One has taught me, it is that North Carolina, while it may be a state with some hate in it now, is moving forward.  The weeks leading up to the election, all of my social networking sites were filled with posts against the amendment.  Everywhere I looked, I saw college-aged voters opposing an amendment that was promoting discrimination in a state that they loved.  I truly think that as a state, North Carolina is moving in the right direction; it might not show it now, but I've seen it in my friends and my peers. 

I believe this Amendment will be ruled unconstitutional and will be overturned.  I believe that the people who voted against this amendment will not give up.  I know that I won't give up.  Share your stories, be proud of who you are, and above all, don't give into hate.  Be a positive voice in a struggle for equal rights in one of the greatest states in the Union.  I won't give up because I believe that I, as well as my friends, deserve equal rights.  And I trust that the rest of the people who voted against this amendment will not give up. 

Let the passage of the Amendment motivate you, not bring you down.  Think of the progress that the Vote Against movement made, not of what it failed to do.  Be positive, be an educational force, and show the rest of the country and the world why North Carolina is still one of the best places in the world.  Show that the people of this state are better than this, and will not tolerate bigotry.

Joe Chestnut

Joe is a 2011 graduate of Ocracoke School and a freshman at George Washington University.

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