I might begin my opposition to Amendment One by saying that it is badly written law which will harm many individuals and families in unintended ways, be tied up in the courts for years and cause needless suffering and expense. I could say that it builds discrimination into the foundational legal document of our state. These things would be true.
But I write as a Baptist minister to defend something dear: the separation of church and state and religious liberty. Sometimes moral conflict is not between good and evil but between competing moral goods. You could frame this debate as between one moral good, the support of traditional marriage and family, and another moral good, the extending of dignity, rights and equal protection under the law to all people.
The question is which moral good should be encoded as the law of the land? And this is where the struggle in the American Soul comes in. It is a struggle over 300 years old. The Puritan ideal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was that America was the New Israel, that we were a city set on a hill, to use John Winthrops words. Therefore, the church and state should work hand-in-hand to set into law the religious and moral code of its people. It was a form of theocracy led by the religious and political leaders of the dominant religion of the land.
Roger Williams, the beginner of the Baptist movement in America, was banished from the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 and founded Rhode Island as the first colony of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In its charter all were welcomed, Papists, Jews, Protestants and Turks. It was the first experiment in religious liberty and led to the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution which protected religious freedom and separated church and state.
The tension in the American Soul is still with us: between those who would like to establish the United States as a Christian nation, operating under the rules of a dominant religious majority, and those who want our nation to be a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people, which gives to the full citizenship religious and non-religious, evangelical and secular, liberal and conservative the responsibility of deciding which moral values best serve all the citizens and should be encoded as law.
We should remember in the Amendment One debate the long and tortuous path of our nation to declare inter-racial marriage a protected civil right. For 300 years we declared illegal one form of inter-racial marriage or another: white/black, white/Asian, white/Hindu, white/Hispanic, white/Native American, etc.
It was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court in Loving vs. Virginia declared interracial marriage as a basic civil right, and protected under the 14th Amendment. Our feelings have changed dramatically about interracial marriage since that time. The law led the way. Then our experience began to change our prejudice.
N.C. was almost the last (11th) of the original 13 colonies to adopt the U.S. Constitution because it demanded that a Bill of Rights accompany the Constitution. N.C. has long championed individual rights. I hope this spirit will prevail on May 8.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. Let us not be among the indifferent as this vote approaches.