BOONE, N.C. – When North Carolina’s House Speaker Thom Tillis visited Appalachian State University on Monday for a Student Government Association-sponsored town hall event, he faced questions from crowds composed mostly of students and local residents, criticizing Republican majority decisions, including adding the anti-LGBT amendment to the May ballot.
In response to questions of how the amendment, which would write discrimination into our state’s founding document, would in any way defend the constitutional mandate of “liberty and justice for all,” the Republican leader admitted he has difficulty with the amendment to the “extent to which government imposes its will on personal lives.”
According to the political blog, WataugaWatch, Tillis admitted he has “a personal difficulty with [that] constitutional amendment because I don’t believe government should be telling us what to do…”.
Others in the Boone audience used the platform to denounce the discriminatory measure altogether, including one audience member who called the amendment simply “shameful.” She continued, “Loving people should have the same rights as I do, a heterosexual person and an ordained minister.”
To which Speaker Tillis responded, “This is not an issue that I completely disregard some of the arguments you make.”
Speaker Tillis isn’t the first high-profile Republican to admit discomfort with the impact of the anti-LGBT amendment on the ballot in May 2012.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, North Carolina’s ultra-conservative Tea Party congresswoman, opened the floodgates for conservative opposition this proposed legislation that would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer, “Ellmers a conservative Republican, was asked her opinion on the Defense of Marriage amendment during an appearance last week at Campbell University, and her answer might have surprised some listeners …. her spokesman, Tom Doheny, confirmed that she planned to vote against the constitutional ban that was adopted by the legislature in September because it is too broadly drawn.”
Doheny told the paper “As a voter, she would vote against a piece of legislation that would add a ban on civil unions to the protection of marriage since they are two different issues and should be dealt with separately.”
Similar sentiments were echoed in the bipartisan legislative effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” including support by North Carolina’s Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who, in a surprising about-face, joined with fellow Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) in voting for the repeal.
Burr became one of eight Republicans to stand with Democrats in backing the DADT repeal, explaining “Given the generational transition that has taken place in our nation, I feel that this policy is outdated and repeal is inevitable.” Burr added, “[M]y conclusion is that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the right thing to do.”
With a single vote, Burr joined a bipartisan effort to pave the way for LGBT soldiers in his home state, and beyond, to serve their country openly, and, as the senior Republican legislator representing North Carolina, helped set the stage for other conservative politicians like Ellmers, and state voters alike, to take similar, bipartisan stands against anti-LGBT legislation.
These political positions against anti-LGBT correspond with constituent opposition to this type of discriminatory legislation. An Elon University poll released last week revealed a majority (56%) of North Carolina residents oppose a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriages.
The poll also showed a strong majority (62%) of North Carolinians support marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, revealing a dramatic 9% increase in public support for marriage equality in only two years. Perhaps most striking is that support for full marriage rights increased by 5% since February, marking a whopping 12 percentage-point increase in support since 2009.
“These concerns about the anti-LGBT amendment from conservative leaders like Speaker Tillis and Congresswoman Ellmers make it clear that the fight against this discriminatory measure transcends party lines and political affiliations,” said Stuart Campbell, Equality NC’s executive director.
“It’s clear that this legislation is not a conservative measure, but rather an extreme, overreaching act that seeks to allow state government to define what makes a family in North Carolina. As a result, we’re asking voters from all parties to vote against this gross intrusion in the private lives of their fellow North Carolinians.”