Before yesterday, North Carolina was the last Southern state without a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Before today, I also believed North Carolina was the last Southern state to secede from the Union. I just google-checked my memory and discovered that Tennessee actually seceded a week after my home state did. There goes a youthful assurance, a little piece of why I've always loved home. (Google: killing dreams since 1998.)
The truth of the matter, though, is that what matters more than when. North Carolina did secede from the Union. North Carolina now does have a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Last night was a deja vu moment for me. I saw myself driving my high school car (a hand-me down from my grandmother), with its "Jesse Helms Doesn't Speak For Me" bumper sticker on the back. I'd found it at a little bookstore in Chapel Hill that offered a discount if you could name a historical event that happened on the year they pulled out of a hat. Any nerd like me knows that the French Revolution began in 1789, so my bumper sticker cost me practically nothing. It wasn't the only lefty bumper sticker in my high school parking lot, either. We were in the Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill after all, a dynamic region for research, universities, and industry. (The marriage amendment lost 4-to-1 in the Triangle last night, for perspective.) But back then in the 1990s, gun racks still outnumbered peace sign decals. We liked to show our stripes.
Those stripes are everywhere, if you're looking for them. The problem with making assumptions about any "red" state is that it ignores not only the pockets of blue, but the legions of people working hard to change the tide in their surroundings. There's a particular kind of state pride among those who love their state despite their state, who have a seasoned respect that's deeper and more honest than sheer boosterism. Making blanket statements about regions does so at the expense of the folks working hard there to make a difference, and it's something I take personally. Change is slow, and it starts small. Bumper stickers matter. But more than that, so do conversations on front stoops, at the neighborhood park, in churches, in the checkout line. This small, steady change is happening all over the South. It's why some of my favorite people are progressive women from Texas. It's why North Carolina voted for Obama in 2008. It's why my teenage cousin half my age just went to her junior prom in NC with her girlfriend, and no one raised an eyebrow.
That same cousin's Facebook status yesterday was "And we keep fighting... and we keep going," said with all the assurance of a seasoned community organizer. She knows that time is on her side. We all do. While headlines are made about irrational amendments being passed, my family and friends at home, some of whom are gay, are trying to go about their lives just as they did yesterday. They're talking with their neighbors, raising families, and adding value to their communities. Their hearts are hurting, but they know the clock is ticking. The bravery in their hearts is the best thing I know. The second-best is the dedication of those on the ground already trying to peel this thing back, already laying the groundwork for how progress will reassert itself.
Tick tock, North Carolina. The march of progress has never left you behind completely, and it won't now, either. You're too beautiful to be shadowed by hate, too smart to be labeled something you're not. Time will tell.