Obama’s North Carolina campaign throws gays ‘under the bus’

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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North Carolina’s gay community has been “thrown under the bus” to help President Barack Obama win the critical state in November 2012, local gay activists told TheDC.

On Tuesday, the state Senate set a May date — not a November date — for a ballot to decide whether marriage should be defined in the state’s constitution as a union of one man and one woman, thereby barring gays from being allowed to marry.

The 30-to-16 compromise vote kept the ballot far removed from Obama’s November election, but also scheduled it for a Republican primary in May when many conservatives — but few liberals — are likely to vote, said Democratic state Rep. Marcus Brandon, the only gay state legislator.

“The Democrats would not vote for it to be in the November election, but they would vote for it in May, and that’s how the compromise was set” to disadvantage gays, said Brandon. “They just threw them right under the bus,” he said, as Obama landed in the state for a two-stop campaign-style tour.

Obama “does not want to go into North Carolina — a swing state he captured in 2008 —to talk about marriage,” said Heather Cronk, the D.C. representative for GetEQUAL, which opposed the amendment. “He thinks he can’t win on that … [but] it seems unbelievable that the Democratic Party in North Carolina, the Democratic National Committee and the president would all roll over at the same time and stack the deck against us.”

Advocates of rights for gays say they could have defeated the amendment in November, but they see little chance of winning in May. “We had a very good chance of being the first state to defeat [a marriage amendment] on the ballot if we voted in November,” Brandon said. (RELATED: Wealthy donors reel as Obama plans tax hike on charitable donations)

In turn, a November victory could have had an impact on the judgement of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is likely to decide a pending lawsuit that challenges the right of state voters to set their own marriage rules. “I think it would have definitely helped to say ‘In a southern state known for divisiveness, we have fervently defeated that measure,’” said Brandon. “That,” he added, “would have been extremely powerful” in a court case.

Voters in 30 states have already passed ballot measures defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and barring same-sex marriage and polygamy. (RELATED: Obama for America launches website to shoot down GOP attacks)

The White House released a statement after the state vote that touted the president’s support for other goals sought by gay advocacy groups, but which also equivocated about the amendment. “The President … has called for repeal of the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ [a federal law defining marriage for the federal government, but] has also said that the states should determine for themselves how best to uphold the rights of their own citizens,” said the statement.

“While the President does not weigh in on every single action taken by legislative bodies in our country, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. .. [and] believes strongly in stopping laws designed to take rights away,” the statement continued.

In 2008, Obama won the state — and its 15 electoral college votes — by only 13,000 votes. Since then, GOP legislators have won both the state House and Senate for the first time since just after the Civil War, unemployment has spiked above 10 percent and the state’s Democratic governor, Bev Perdue, trails her GOP rival more than year before the Nov. 2012 gubernatorial race.

To help win the state in 2012, the Obama campaign team will hold the Democratic convention in Charlotte next September. It is also working closely with state and local candidates, including Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and Wake County Commissioner Ervin Portman.

GOP social-conservatives have pushed for the marriage-amendment for eight years, said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. The amendment, he said, “was moved [to May] simply because there were complaints from Democrats about it being on the ballot in November, and the Republican leadership made the decision to accommodate the request from the Democrats who wanted to move it.”

The amendment is needed to stop judges from redefining marriage, Brooks said. “Marriage is the natural and fundamental union of a man and woman which creates a family and is primarily for raising children,” he said. “It is the best place for children to be raised, and all the social research shows… it is the gold standard.”

However, Cronk said the gay advocacy movement will continue to fight against the amendment, and to spur Obama until he fully supports gays. “The White House is looking at everything they do from a conventionally political point of view — don’t rock the boat, find the middle way where possible — [but] Obama’s popularity keeps going down, and he’s bringing other people down with him,” she said.

“What progressives wants is for him to show backbone… to get some courage,” because that will spur the base, including gays, feminists and environmentalists, she said, adding that her group will continue public protests until Obama champions their cause. “This president does not like to be embarrassed,” she observed.

Obama needs the base, but he’s more worried the economy will weaken his support among swing-voters, said Pam Spaulding, a North Carolina blogger and lesbian activist. “It makes it worse for the base to see our issues ignored for political gain,” she added. “I understand the politics, but I don’t like it.”

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