Published: Sep 18, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Sep 16, 2011 10:02 PM
About 10 years ago this newspaper ran a story looking back at a little-known but significant chapter in the struggle for civil rights in Chapel Hill.
The episode involved an 8-year-old black boy who signed up to play in the local youth baseball league. At the time - 1962 - the league was whites-only. The league commissioner instructed the boy's coach to remove the boy from the team.
He refused. So the commissioner told the head of the minor league division to remove the boy.
He, too, refused - whereupon the commissioner disbanded the league. Outraged parents and other residents promptly formed a new, integrated youth league in Chapel Hill.
In researching the story, we found and interviewed the former coach and minor division official. Then we called the former commissioner.
"I'm not going to touch that with a 20-foot pole," he said. Click.
What brings this story to mind is last week's vote in the General Assembly to write discrimination into the state consitution, in the form of an amendment that would deny gay men and women the right to marry.
Those who are pushing this shameful proposal are, like that baseball official and so many others half a century ago, trying to hold back the great tide of history.
They will lose that battle. They may win the referendum on the ballot next May, but in the end, like those who tried to hold back the flood of civil rights 50 years ago, they will lose.
Attitudes toward race that were once widely accepted are now rightly recognized as so unjust, so cruel, so self-evidently wrong
, that they can no longer be voiced in public.
The same will happen regarding sexual orientation. The day will come when the more thoughtful of those who support this amendment will look back on their position and won't want to touch it with a 20-foot pole.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," said Dr. Martin Luther King.
He was right. But here's the important thing: The arc of the moral universe doesn't bend of its own volition; it bends because we bend it. It bends because bold, committed people put their shoulders against it and push.
It's easy to be discouraged by the vote of last week. But let this setback be a call to action.
This issue has special resonance here in Orange County. Chapel Hill was home to North Carolina's first openly gay elected official, Carrboro to the state's first openly gay mayor. We've led the way in offering domestic partner benefits, and in knocking down the barriers of prejudice.
But as we saw last week, there's a long way to go. Time to get busy.
Aaron Nelson, the head of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, recently argued that the proposed amendment would hurt business and slow economic recovery.
That's a sound argument, and it may help sway public and political opinion. But there's a more profound and lasting force at work, as well, the one Dr. King had in mind.
In 10 years - or 20 or 50 - society will look back on the injustice being turned on gay North Carolinians and will say, as we now say of the injustice once turned on black ones, "How could we have been so wrong?"
That day can't come soon enough. How long it takes depends on how hard we're willing to work for it.
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