This November, we have been given the choice of whether or not we’re going to change the Tennessee constitution to define marriage as being an “historical institution between one man and one woman.” Or, at least, that’s what it seems to be on the surface. But what is it really? It’s discrimination, pure and simple. But is it right for Tennessee?

Marisa Richmond of the Tennessee Equality Project’s Vote No on 1 campaign spent some time with us here in Clarksville to discuss the coming election, and specifically, the proposed amendment to the state’s constitution. Richmond has met with groups in all of the major cities to help with the finer points of organizing a grass-roots effort to turn the tide in the onslaught against gay and lesbian families nationwide.

Her initial claims were staggering. “We are clearly within striking distance of winning,” she said. After eighteen states have overwhelmingly passed similar amendments, equality-minded activist have seen a difference in opinions in polls across the state and nationwide. She explained that the Zogby poll indicates that a majority of democrats, young voters, and African-Americans do not support changing the constitution.

“This is the first time we’ve seen these kind of numbers in any state,” she said. “And it’s not even September yet.” The polls in addition with endorsements from The Tennessean and The Chattanooga Times have given a boost to all of us who are equality-minded. She pointed out that Governor Bredesen said that the “no” vote would be no more than five or ten percent. She also said with a broad smile, “We’ve already tripled that estimate.”

As I listened, I realized that we have a real chance to turn back the tide of hate and ignorance that we’ve seen against gay and lesbian families across the country. Richmond said that South Dakota is already showing clear signs of being able to defeat their proposed anti-gay amendment, and a victory was possible in another state. “But,” she said, “if we were to win Tennessee, a southern state, it would send shock waves throughout the whole country.”

She’s right. Nothing would send such a clear message than to have Tennessee voters reject this unfair constitutional amendment that would actually remove rights that are already in place. “What rights?” you might ask. Let’s be clear. The United States Constitution guarantees equal protection for all citizens under the law. Conservatives have seen this as well, which is why they’re using this as a wedge issue and are using gay and lesbian families as cannon fodder.

The reality is that their rhetoric about “activist judges” and “militant homosexual activists” is nothing more than language that’s used to incite raw emotion that will drive voters to the polls. As much as I encourage people to vote, it’s regrettable that so many for the amendment without understanding how much it will affect their families—it will do much more than “keep them gay people from marrying.” It will create an entire group of second-class citizens and even promote one religious view over another.

But it does not have to happen that way. As I said, we have a real chance to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘thus far and no more.’ In fact, a group of sixteen religious leaders in Memphis have joined a growing number of clergy from many faith traditions across the state to oppose the amendment. “Although we have differing opinions on rights for same-sex couples,” they said, “we believe the Tennessee Marriage Amendment reflects a fundamental disregard for individual civil rights and ignores differences among our state’s many religious traditions. It should be rejected.”

The good news is that it CAN be rejected. But we need your help to do it. If you believe that this amendment would enshrine discrimination into the state’s constitution, then contact the Vote No on 1 campaign today. Their website is http://votenoon1tn.com. There’s plenty more you can do. And yes, it CAN make a difference:

  • If you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender… be out. The more that your friends and family members see that we are, in fact, the people they’ll be voting against, it just might give them pause.
  • If you’re straight and have GLBT friends and family members, talk with them. Ask them how they feel about this amendment.
  • Better yet, talk with the rest of your family and friends that aren’t gay. Tell them why you’re going to vote “no.”
  • Yard signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts and other materials are available from the Vote No on 1 campaign. Display them prominently.

But what if you’re undecided? According to polls, as many as ten percent of the people who will vote have not yet decided on how they stand on this issue. And you know what? That’s okay. You don’t have to make a decision. There’s just a couple of points to consider:

  • A “no” vote isn’t a vote for “gay rights.” It’s simply a vote to not change the constitution. Quite simply, you don’t have to be pro-gay to understand that this amendment is a bad idea.
  • If you’re still undecided, then vote for the Governor and then abstain on the Amendment vote. It might actually help us out a little.

Let me explain about the undecided strategy. Tennessee’s Constitution requires any amendment’s “yes” vote to be 50% of the total number of votes cast in the Governor’s race. For example, if 1,400,000 total votes are cast for Governor, then the “yes” votes for the amendment must be 700,001 or higher. So even if the percentage is 75% to 25%, if that 75% number isn’t greater than 700,001, it doesn’t pass. So, being undecided isn’t a bad thing at all.

Recently, a co-worker of mine said to me, “David, I’ve been undecided on the gay marriage issue for a while,” she said. “I’m not undecided anymore.” I asked her what changed her mind. She said that her daughter who lives in California had a friend whose partner died before his time. He was forbidden from his own partner’s funeral because the family did not approve of their relationship—discarded as if he were a piece of junk mail. “I’m firmly on your side now,” she told me.

It’s stories like this one that will make a difference. More and more, people realize that the “gay marriage” debate is nothing more than a distraction from more critical issues in our state and country. It’s a great and tragic irony that while the TennCare debacle continues its meltdown, one of the hottest issues is whether or not my partner and I can be legally married.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. Better still, it’s a rainbow.

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