Southern Comfort: Why The South Ain’t So ‘Backwards’ Anymore



The Times, They Are a-Changin’  -Rand Paul


Actually, Rand Paul or his staff didn’t write that.  Those are actually the words of Robert Allen Zimmerman, or, as we have come to know him, Bob Dylan.  The song became a 60’s anthem for the inevitable winds of change that occur throughout human history and the circumstances which create these new environments.  Dylan foresaw that America of the early 1960s was on the precipice of a momentous social change and that the issue of equality would be the central issue of that time period.


Flash forward fifty years and we again are at a turning point with social issues in this country.


This past week, ten southern senators broke party ranks and voted on record in support of ENDA, a piece of legislation outlawing LGBT discrimination in the workplace.  Two of them, Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch, had originally voted against the bill when it came up in 1996.  Of the ten senators, only one, Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, might see even a little bit of political backlash for his vote.  Toomey comes from a blue state, but his region tends to be the more socially conservative area of Pennsylvania.  Even so, it seems like by the time his re-election comes up, his constituents will not consider his vote as the do-or-die issue on which they base his entire campaign.


With the momentum building in Washington to force a vote from the House, the House’s own de-facto leader, Senator Rafael Cruz was off setting the seeds for his 2016 presidential bid.  With a resounding victory for Chris Christie in New Jersey this week, Cruz opted to make headlines of his own by heading down to the early primary state of South Carolina to attend the South Carolina Renewal Project, an event put on by a Columbia, South Carolina Christian group.  Also speaking to this group was South Carolina senator Tim Scott, giving the Christian ministers and pastors not one but two sitting U.S. Senators coming in and expressing their political views.  Now, before we jump to conclusions, remember that churches do not in any way encourage or discourage their congregations from voting for or against a political candidate as that would be illegal.  Wink, wink.


Now, on the surface this event would appear to be nothing more than ongoing proof of how backwards the south is and how they seem to pander time and time again to the religious wackos.  I mean, South Carolina voted for Newt Gingrich of all people in their 2012 primary.  However, as a good friend confided in me this week, him and his peers in South Carolina were undeniably upset that Cruz would bring himself and his backwards views to give the appearance of religious intolerance  to his home state.  As my friend so eloquently stated, “Educated folks can have faith but not be sheep concerning our LGBT friends and the issues that face them”.


And you know what?  He’s absolutely correct.


In May of 2012, progressive hearts broke when North Carolina vote to legally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The overall vote of 61% to 39% did not give progressive tar heels much hope.  However, looking closely at the vote we can see trends that the mainstream media ignored.  Of the eight counties that voted against the amendment, many of them came from well-educated areas such as Wake County (Raleigh), Buncombe County (Ashville), Durham County (home of Duke University) and Orange County (home of UNC).  Although it may seem a pyrrhic victory, the seeds had been planted for future battles.  Millennials in the state were not simply downtrodden, they were genuinely pissed off that their state had sunk to a level where it would codify discrimination in its very own state constitution.


amendment one

(image from

Lost in the shuffle of the changin’ times is the ever-evolving demographics that are taking hold in our southern states.  On the surface just like in North Carolina, it seems like the other red states in the deep south are lost causes.  Yet, as we begin to thoroughly analyze the poll data, we begin to see the southern population, including those that identify themselves as religious, as being more and more accepting of the LGBT community.  This past week alone, we saw extremist Ken Cuccinelli go down in the purple state of Virginia in what should have been a Republican victory against a very flawed Democratic opponent.  We also saw Tea Party favorite and homophobe Dean Young lose out in a run-off election in Alabama of all places.  When a person’s anti-LGBT views lose him a congressional seat in Alabama, then you know we’ve reached a turning point in the fight of LGBT equality.


Going forward, progressives need to delve into the untapped reserve that is the tolerant, religious population of the south.  Yes, there will be those out there who fly their Confederate flags and clamor for the south to rise again.  They’re beyond hope.  The population that is not beyond hope is the exact demographic that my friend makes up:  College-educated, religious, and in favor of LGBT equality.  They are a population who don’t see eye to eye with the extreme religious element of their areas and often get lost in the shuffle.  However, they are an intelligent portion of the population whose faith and human decency cannot be overlooked.  They bring to the table a wide variety of views and life experiences but share the belief that all people of this Earth, regardless of who they love, should be treated decently and fairly.


Those aren’t red or blue values.  Those are simple human values.





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