North Carolina, where marriage is strictly between a man, a woman and his pregnant mistress.
Cheap John Edwards jokes aside, Tuesday's lopsided 61% vote in North Carolina for an amendment banning same-sex marriage is sort of a mixed bag for equal rights proponents. It is, even by Southern standards, a remarkably mean-spirited initiative that not only prevents committed same-sex couples from getting married but that may outlaw domestic partnerships and take away a host of rights from unmarried couples (those issues will be hashed out in court for years to come). Yet it does seem to have helped smoke President Obama out of his hole on gay rights -- in an interview Wednesday with ABC News, he finally said he was unequivocally in favor of same-sex marriage. That's long overdue, and though politically risky, it's an important nod to Obama's base.
Obama is already disliked by religious conservatives, and his latest move won't make him any more friends in that community. But lack of leadership from the White House may only have encouraged initiatives like North Carolina's. Obama retains his influence among African Americans, for example, and it's likely that black churchgoers helped push the destructive Amendment One over the top.
Obama likes to compare himself to Abraham Lincoln, and in some ways his waffling over gay marriage is similar to Lincoln's waffling over emancipation. The comparison obviously has its limits -- marriage restrictions are hardly akin to slavery, and there is no civil war brewing over gay rights. But there is a war of ideas raging between those who seek to impose Christian values over everyone and those who still believe in separation of church and state -- and more than the battles over abortion or school prayer or other such issues, gay marriage is at the heart of the struggle, at least at this stage of history. That was never clearer than when the Rev. Billy Graham placed an ad in 14 North Carolina newspapers in the run-up to the vote on Amendment One, which read in part:
"At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage.... The Bible is clear -- God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote."
God's definition of marriage as interpreted by Graham, of course, is hardly relevant when it comes to establishing the state's definition of marriage, since state laws apply to people who don't accept Graham's spiritual views. The appropriate place to air such views is in church, and churches are fully within their rights to marry only those people who are in relationships they find acceptable. That's not good enough in North Carolina or the 28 other states that have approved same-sex marriage bans.
This is going to continue until people of conscience put a stop to it by asserting that tyranny of the majority is wrong, that courthouses aren't and shouldn't be churches, and that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are rights guaranteed to all Americans. Even gay ones.