Race + Politics: Amendment One And Race-Baiting

By Arturo R. García

Today, voters in North Carolina will go to the polls to decide whether Amendment One–which would define marriage in the state constitution as being only between a cis man and a cis woman, and  outlaw same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships–will become law. But the wife of a state senator has already been reportedly caught trying to use racial anxieties as a call to arms to support the bill.

The story started to unfold last week, when freelance journalist Chad Nance recorded the wife of state Sen. Peter Brunstetter talking to poll workers in Winston-Salem, as Pam Spaulding noted:

Nance said he recorded a conversation with the woman, whose name is Jodie Brunstetter, on video, and that she confirmed that she used the term “Caucasian” in a discussion about the marriage amendment, but insisted that otherwise her comments had been taken out of context by other poll workers.

… Nance paraphrased the remarks, as told to him by those who were present: “During the conversation, Ms. Brunstetter said her husband was the architect of Amendment 1, and one of the reasons he wrote it was to protect the Caucasian race. She said Caucasians or whites created this country. We wrote the Constitution. This is about protecting the Constitution. There already is a law on the books against same-sex marriage, but this protects the Constitution from activist judges.”

The story comes just over a month after the Human Rights Coalition unearthed an internal report from the National Organization of Marriage detailing how to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks.”

Peter Brunstetter later told Think Progress his wife “does not think like that” and had gotten flustered by someone asking her questions.

“My wife is one of the sweetest, most genuine people you will ever meet,” he said. “Her convictions on the marriage amendment are spiritual in nature, not racial. The individual in question had been quite abusive and intimidating. The Amendment is not racially motivated, is quite simple and straightforward and, in fact, is widely supported in many areas of the African American community.”

Brunstetter might be overstating that assessment. On Monday, Rev. William Barber, the president of the state chapter of the NAACP, denounced the amendment in a sermon to his congregation at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Greensboro. As The Raw Story’s Andrew Jones reported, Barber is one of 100 church leaders opposing Amendment One:

“I tried to find somewhere where the Lord discriminated against people, even if he didn’t agree with them,” Barber said. “And I found out that God gives every human being certain constitutional rights, that can’t nobody revoke. You know, those rights that just come with being a human. You know, like the one that says that allows to sun to shine on the just and unjust.”

“God gives everybody constitutional rights, to air, and sun, and rain and existence. So your motivation to the polls should be, ‘How dare some human being tried to give folks less rights than God himself? How dare us take our puny little human document and try to write something, an appalling human document, that’s less than God, who made us, does?’ That ought to be your motivation.”

The state chapter also sent out a press release opposing the bill:

The real insult to the Civil Rights Movement is that the same regressive, ultra-conservative Tea Party type folks suing to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, re-segregating and robbing our public schools of valuable resources, blocking workers’ rights to organize, trying to force us all to get photo ID’s to exercise our right to vote and cut back on the time and opportunities to vote, and attempting to repeal the Racial Justice Act, now somehow think the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement cannot see through their Trojan Horse trick.

And now this — the allegation of a blatant reference to a twisted race-based rationale for Amendment One being written in the first place. North Carolinians must reject this ultra-conservative, regressive and mean spirited agenda. We must be better than this as a state and as a people who make glowing claims to our belief in justice and fairness for all. We must vote AGAINST discrimination, division and hate in our Constitution. We must vote AGAINST Amendment One.

So who is supporting Amendment One? According to The New Civil Rights Movement…neo-Nazis. And several other outlets picked up on an endorsement of the bill by the Rev. Billy Graham. But what’s more troubling is a March 29 article cited by Religion Dispatches: while 58 percent of state voters support Amendment One, only 31 percent of them know that it outlaws both gay marriage and civil unions. As Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen writes:

When voters are informed that the amendment bans both gay marriage and civil unions their tune changes quite a bit. Only 41% of voters say they’ll support it knowing that, while 42% are opposed. So despite the large current lead for the amendment, there is some hope for those trying to defeat it. It’s just going to take a lot of education and effort over the final six weeks to make sure voters really understand exactly what they’re voting on.

The effort appears to have driven more voters to action, regardless of position: MSNBC reported Monday that 508,000 absentee ballots have already been cast–a new state record, besting the 2008 Democratic party primary contest between Barack Obama and Hilary Rodham Clinton.