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Did anti-gay lawmakers bite off more than they can chew?

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It's a long time between now and May 2012, when North Carolinians will vote on the proposed anti-same sex marriage amendment. Conventional political "wisdom" says the amendment has a good chance of passage, but a few recent developments make me wonder if the gay haters may have bitten off more than they can chew.

First, the anti-gay marriage folks probably can't count on conservative unanimity in May. It had to be a shock when Tea Party darling U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn, N.C., told a law school audience that she would vote against the anti-gay marriage amendment because she believes it is "too broadly drawn." The amendment would not only ban gay marriages, it would also outlaw civil unions and domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples, two things that many libertarian-leaning Republicans do not oppose.

And then there's famously conservative country singer Toby Keith, known for his post-9/11, pro-war song "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." Keith, who performed in Charlotte this past weekend, told a CMT interviewer last week that he's against efforts to stop gay marriage. "Somebody's sexual preference: it's like, who cares?" said Keith. You won't find a better example of the growing acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream America, which is something I bet North Carolina GOP lawmakers didn't think of when planning the amendment.

And then there's the latest non-partisan poll of North Carolinians from the Elon University pollsters, which is widely considered more "scientific," or less partisan, than some others. The Elon poll showed that 56 percent of N.C. residents are against the proposed constitutional amendment, while 34 percent oppose any recognition for same-sex couples, down from 44 percent in 2009; and 29 percent support civil unions or partnerships, but not full marriage rights.

There's also a more immediate, practical reason to have hope for defeating the gay-haters: the Democratic National Committee is leaning toward pumping money into our state's anti-amendment campaign, according to ThinkProgress and DNC chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Considering the Dems are holding their convention in Charlotte, it's not likely that they would leave their N.C. supporters hanging. Along with funds from national and statewide gay rights groups, the anti-amendment forces should be able to match the money that will soon be spent on anti-gay hate ads.

I wouldn't be surprised, however, if the biggest obstacle facing the anti-gay forces will be the amendment's biggest supporters in the General Assembly. Specifically, Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam and state Sen. James Forrester of Gaston County, both of whom come across as hicks in suits, better equipped for Mayberry than Raleigh. One good, long look at those two by Carolinians actually living in the modern world and the amendment is as good as defeated.

We've written before about Stam and his love of making irrational claims, such as same-sex marriage leading to the legalization of incest and polygamy and the destruction of marriage itself; but if you think Stam's archaic views are bad, get a load of Jim Forrester, aka the Ole Timey Sunday School Marm. The driving force behind the anti-same sex amendment, he is also a medical doctor, albeit one who's been lambasted lately for lying about his medical career in his online resume. The Marm claims to be a member and Fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine, an associate Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, and a member of the American Medical Association; none of those claims are true. Three decades ago he was at the American College of Preventive Medicine, but his membership lapsed, and now the group has asked Forrester to take down references to the group on his website. All those mistakes were inadvertent, says Forrester. Right. The line between making inadvertent mistakes and being a liar can be defined this way: if you admit "mistakes" and still haven't taken down the phony credentials a full week after being called on them, that's lying.

Forrester's bogus bragging is troubling enough, but The Marm's willingness to spread his homophobic fears publicly can make for an astonishing experience. This is the guy who calls Asheville "a cesspool of sin" because, I suppose, it's more gay-friendly than Gaston County. He's the one who falsely claimed that the lifespan of gays was shorter than those of heterosexuals. There are admittedly plenty of North Carolinians who share at least some of Stam and The Marm's medieval views of gays, but this simply isn't the solidly right-wing state it once was, the GOP's expectations notwithstanding. It's going to be a hard-fought battle for the soul of North Carolina, and for our image as the most progressive of Southern states. Right now, I'm glad that May 2012 is still a long way off.

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