Next week North Carolinians will go to the polls to vote on a state constitutional amendment asserting that marriage is between a man and a woman only. (Of course, that's already the law here.) One might expect that this would pass easily in a southern state, but the outcome is in question for a variety of reasons. First, legal scholars say the amendment creates a host of unintended consequences on issues such as domestic violence. Ohio had these problems for years after they passed a similar amendment.
Second, and perhaps more relevant to this blog - opponents of the amendment have employed an unconventional strategy. They have used social media tools to highlight the words and actions of the amendment's most strident supporters. Two of the more popular examples of this are basic displays of typical redneckery - YouTube videos of young supporters, umm... defacing "oppose the amendment" lawn signs, either with urine or buckshot. (The internet is forever, idiots.) Another popular one is the support the amendment has received from white supremacists. But to me, the most effective example has been the audio recording from a North Carolina pastor suggesting parents should "punch" the gay out of their kids, and giving them a "special dispensation" to do exactly that. Listen for yourself.
Normally it isn't wise to promote the views of your opponents in a political campaign. But amendment one opponents are banking on it - they assert that these views are held by most amendment supporters and they are trying to show the rest of the world what they're dealing with.
I'm an opponent of the amendment for a variety of reasons - mostly because I think gay people should have the same rights as anyone else, but also because this amendment goes far beyond what proponents say. I do think, however, this is a somewhat risky strategy. Social media tools can be very effective at times, but in my experience it serves to strengthen opinion within specific communities more than persuade people beyond that community. Are the typical and perhaps undecided voters watching these videos and considering them as they come to a decision on the amendment? Maybe. But I'm completely convinced the overwhelming majority of views and shares are coming from people who are already decided and going to other people who are already decided.
Of course, this isn't the only strategic element to the campaign, and I do think opponents have done a good job garnering support from the business community and from mainstream media outlets. But in the end, we'll see if highlighting the bigotry of the old south online will help lead to a new southern ideal of equality.