We shouldn’t be outraged by North Carolina’s passage of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Instead, we should look at it as an opportunity -- to beat those Tarheels over the head with their own bigotry, and steal businesses and residents from them.
During the Civil Rights Era, while Mississippians burned crosses and Alabamians burned buses, Atlanta billed itself as “The City Too Busy To Hate.” As a result of its relatively peaceful integration, Atlanta became the South’s pre-eminent metropolis.
Atlanta is not too busy to hate gay people, though. In 2004, 76 percent of Georgia voters approved Constitutional Amendment 1, which specifies “[m]arriages between persons of the same sex are prohibited in this state.”
North Carolina has been more successful than most states in luring Yankees to the South. The Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill -- home to Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State universities -- is one of the most highly-educated areas in America. I’ve never seen as many hipsters per square foot than I saw in Asheville. These liberal migrants helped carry the state for President Obama in 2008.
Gov. Bev Perdue was embarrassed by the gay marriage vote, because it revealed that, beyond those happening cities, North Carolina is still Mayberry -- the state that elected Jesse Helms to the Senate five time.
“People around the country are watching us and they’re really confused, to have been such a progressive, forward-thinking, economically driven state that invested in education and that stood up for the civil rights of people, including the civil rights marches back in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s,” Perdue said. “Folks are saying, ‘What in the world is going on in North Carolina?’ We look like Mississippi.”
Approving gay marriage is not just about gays. Its sends a cultural signal that a state is open to creative outsiders. No demographic group is more supportive of gay rights than educated young people -- and no demographic group is more coveted by cities and states looking to develop their economies. Demographer Richard Florida found a correlation between a city’s tolerance for gays and its ability to attract what he calls “The Creative Class.”
Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads “non-standard people welcome here.”
Illinois doesn’t necessarily need to pass gay marriage to send this kind of message. We’ve already approved civil unions, and the gay community is so well-integrated and well-accepted into Chicago that it might as well be just another ethnic group. But when young people are trying to decide between Chicago and Chapel Hill, or Austin, or Atlanta, or Phoenix, legalizing gay marriage will let them know that Illinois is the State Too Busy To Hate.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!