Race to the Ballot kicks off at Western Carolina

Western Carolina University’s UNITY took part in a statewide campaign on Jan. 27 to fight a proposed amendment that would make marriage between a man and woman the only recognized union.

The campaign, Race To The Ballot, kicked off last Friday on WCU’s campus. The Race is a five-week commitment by Protect NC Families’ Communications Director Jen Jones to run 322 miles across the state to raise awareness about the proposed amendment, which will be on the May 8 primary ballot.

Jones and her team will be stopping at numerous college campuses, businesses and churches along the way to educate and rally to stop the amendment that will be on the May ballot.

“I’m not a runner. If a tri-athlete were to do this, no one would watch,” Jones said. “This is so people will pay attention.”

Jones pointed out that the people of North Carolina have a common enemy with this amendment.

“This legislation is going to hurt all couples, straight or gay, including their children, because it’s trying to penalize people for not falling into a traditional marriage category,” she said.

Jones mentioned senior citizens who choose not to remarry after a spouse has died as an example. The amendment would limit or restrict hospital visitation, organ donation and remains dispersion rights from their partner simply because their union would not be recognized by the state.

The amendment could also be tied to abuse. Jones referred to a piece of similar legislation passed in Ohio in 2004, stating that traditional marriage was the only recognized union. Batterers who were put in prison for domestic violence used the amendment to get out of jail. Their defense was that they were in a domestic partnership and they beat their girlfriend or boyfriend, not spouse. It took legislators two years to overturn it and during that time 27 batterers were walking free with simple assault charges.

“A big part of this is about misinformation. One side is apt about protecting the name of marriage, but gays can’t get married in North Carolina anyway,” Jones said. “This is a direct attack on any couple or family that does not fit into a certain category. Even if you don’t feel the same as we do about marriage equality in the gay community, you should still vote against this amendment, because it affects everyone.”

The event on campus Friday began with a flash mob that caught the attention of numerous news outlets. A local drag queen donned as Lady Gaga marched to the fountain area lip-syncing the Gaga hit “Born This Way,” while members of UNITY danced around her.

Afterward, the day was primarily devoted to education and registration. Throughout the day, voter registration centers were scattered around campus. Members of UNITY offered free pizza and candy to passerby students and told them about the amendment.

“The amendment needs to be stopped, because ­­– at a basic human level – everyone deserves a chance to be happy,” said Megan Bailey, vice president of UNITY. “The amendment not only hurts anyone who would like a civil union or common law marriage, but it puts people at a risk of abuse. It’s not just about marriage. It’s more than that.”

The reward for registering to vote was a dance party at Cat’s Den Friday night that lasted until 1 a.m. UNITY decorated the facility, provided refreshments and hosted a drag show. Students who registered to vote or were already registered and had their voter identification card did not have to pay admission.

Zackery Reedy is UNITY’s president and the WCU student ambassador to Equality NC. According to Reedy, they registered 205 people to vote and had 167 people sign a pledge stating they would not vote for the amendment to pass.

“We had such a good turnout,” Reedy said. “All the work everyone has done has really paid off. I’m so proud. This has turned out better than I could have ever imagined.”

UNITY isn’t stopping with Friday’s events. Reedy said that they are going to have more events every month until the voting in May. They will continue to educate on what Friday sparked.

“We have the resources to get rid of this discrimination,” Reedy said.