Missing voices (on left) in North Carolina vote

The general consensus in the press this morning was that the North Carolina marriage amendment vote was all about religion. This is certainly the theme that emerges in some of the stories and photographs featured in The Politico email round-up.

LOCAL COVERAGE HIGLIGHTS RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS AS AMENDMENT ONE PASSES: The lead centerpiece photo on the front of the Raleigh News and Observer is an African-American pastor cheering the returns showing a ban on gay marriage over the sub-headline: "State to become 31st to Constitutionally forbid same-sex marriage": http://bit.ly/JvJ9v9. The lead image on the front of the Shelby Star is a Baptist pastor holding a sign supporting the ban as cars drive by under the headline "Voters say 'I do'": http://bit.ly/L9UtOX. The Wilmington Star-News headline is "Marriage defined" with a photo of a Methodist Church sign in front of a polling place that says "A true marriage is male and female and God": http://bit.ly/Jd98ft. The two-column banner headline in the Fayetteville Observer is "Amendment One sails to easy passage" with pictures of cheering religious women: http://bit.ly/IKptHx.

United Methodists? Yes, in the Bible Belt there were even United Methodist congregations that backed the amendment. That said, I would think the odds are good that this was either an African-American congregation, a heavily evangelical congregation or "both/and."

Which brings us to the wrap-up that ran in The Charlotte Observer, the state's most powerful newsroom. Starting with the lede, the Observer's editorial team did a good job of jumping right on the big idea that this was a vote that crossed all kinds of political, racial and cultural lines -- in large part because of religion. Here's the top of the story:

Riding a Bible-influenced coalition that cut across political and racial lines, the marriage amendment stormed to approval Tuesday, making North Carolina the latest state to put stronger legal barricades before same-sex unions.

With 90 percent of the counties reporting, the constitutional amendment to make marriage between a man and a woman the “only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized,” won resoundingly, 61 percent to 39 percent.

It goes into effect Jan. 1. North Carolina has had a law banning same-sex marriages for 16 years. Turnout, fueled largely by the marriage debate, was the largest for a primary in decades, election officials said.

The story, as you would expect, contains quite a few religious voices and that's one of its strengths, kind of.

However, speaking as the former religion-beat guy at the Observer, back in the early-to-mid '80s, I thought the voices featured in this report were a bit too predictable. In particular, the story didn't do enough to show the variety of voices on the religious left that opposed this amendment. Charlotte is a very complex town, when it comes to religion and this story was, on religion, a bit too simple.

The first person quoted, naturally enough in the Bible Belt, was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, a leader in the drive to pass the amendment. No surprise there. A few paragraphs later, readers heard from leaders on the other side of the church aisle.

The Rev. Robin Tanner of Charlotte, a leader in the effort to defeat the amendment, looked beyond Tuesday’s loss.

“Hope lives on in this place we all call home,” the pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church said in a prepared statement. “Hope is our promised companion, and equality for all our promised land.”

Added the Rev. Murdoch Smith, pastor of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church: “The goal is not destroyed, just delayed for the moment.”

Now, raise your cyper-hands if you are surprised that the local Unitarians and (most of the) Episcopalians opposed the amendment.

What was I looking for? The story does a great job of showing how this issue divided people in unpredictable ways in terms of politics -- quoting Republicans who opposed the amendment and Democrats who supported it. But things became much more predictable when the focus was on religion.

For example, I know from experience that Charlotte has many powerful, powerful "moderate" Baptist churches in which this amendment would have inspired fierce debates. There are even Baptist churches (my wife and I sort of got run out of one long ago) that can, on matters theological, accurately be described as "liberal."

This is also a city and region in which the entire alphabet soup of Presbyterian life (PCUSA, PCA, EPC, ARPC, OPC, etc., etc.) is represented. When I moved to Charlotte in 1982, it was the only Southern city in which there were more Presbyterians than Baptists. Many of these churches would have been opposed the amendment, while many others would have been in favor.

And then there are the previously mentioned divides within United Methodism in the Carolinas.

Please know that I realize that the Observer team did not -- on election night -- have the time and space to dedicate an entire story to the role of religion in this vote. The odds are quite good, I would imagine, that precisely that kind of story will hit the newspaper's front page on Sunday. Nevertheless, I think that, in this case, the newspaper left readers with the impression that this vote came down to, well, Billy Graham and the Baptists vs. the Unitarians and Episcopalians.

That's too simplistic, especially on the religious left. The situation on the ground was much more complex than that and the story needed a few more voices -- especially in terms of capturing the divisions among Baptists and Presbyterians.

For example, consider this quote toward the end of the story:

Charlotte area voters didn’t necessarily follow party affiliations in taking sides on the amendment.

At the Forest Hill Church precinct in south Charlotte, Democrat Don Hawley, 57, voted in favor. “I don’t know that we need to start protecting another class of citizens,” he said.

Mary Settlemyre, 49, a Republican, voted no. “My understanding of the Republican Party is it’s limited in your personal life,” she said. “That (intrudes) in the parts of your personal life they need not be in.”

That "Forest Hill Church" precinct reference brought back some memories for me. I would predict that this is the church formerly known as Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, a large congregation that left the oldline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) way back in the mid-1980s. And what were the issues way back then that led to the church's departure from the PCUSA? Let's just say that, when push came to legal shove, there were three of them and many GetReligion readers would consider them very old news.

Meanwhile, here's hoping that the Observer team -- after talking to the usual suspects -- dedicates some coverage to some of the less obvious voices on the left side of the Charlotte scene, especially the Baptists, and also on the right side, especially the various brands of Presbyterians and those United Methodist folks, too.

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