A cultural tug-of-war

Published May 6, 2021

By Thomas Mills

Republicans in North Carolina are trying to put the divisive social issues that have harmed their electoral fortunes behind them–or so it seems. While Florida passed a bill preventing transgender girls from playing on female sports teams and West Virginia signed a similar bill into law, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature this week took a pass on advancing any similar bills. House Speaker Tim Moore told the Charlotte Observer, “A wise legislature does not go out looking for social issues to tap.” 

Moore may have come to that conclusion after the ruckus that HB-2 caused. The so-called “Bathroom bill” drew negative attention to the state and cost us the NBA All-star game, among other events. It also contributed to the defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory. That may have been a tough lesson, but Moore apparently learned it. Good for him.

However, the cultural divide is still wide in North Carolina. At the same time Moore was shutting down transphobic legislation, Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger was blocking legislation that would protect 14-year-olds from marrying.The initial bill would have raised the age of marriage to 18 and a compromise version would have moved it to 16, but, in the end, the age for marriage remained at 14-years-old as long as the child’s spouse is less than four years older. 

 North Carolina is only one of two states that allows 14-year-olds to marry. When I was growing up, there was saying, “Thank God for Mississippi,” meaning we could always count on Mississippi to be more backward than us. This time, it’s “Thank God for Alaska” or we would be alone in our cultural antiquity. 

The GOP’s rationale for keeping the age at fourteen is based on the anachronistic adage that a man should “make an honest woman” of his sex partner, even if that person is a child. I suspect that most 14-year-olds who either get pregnant or want to marry need help, not a husband, especially not one who is still a minor or only 18. Republicans stated that they worry a teenager might pursue an abortion if they find themselves pregnant and can’t marry the father. 

 Here’s the reality. No 14-year-old should be having a kid, whether they are married to a teenaged father or not. And if they do have the child, some responsible adult, a parent or a guardian, needs to be around to supervise the care of that child, because in today’s world, few teenagers are up to the task. We are not in the coal fields of post-war Appalachia like Loretta Lynn. 

Many, if not most, kids in their teens considering marriage or babies are really looking for ways out of bad home situations. A 14-year-old hooked up with an 18-year-old is as likely to be in an abusive situation as a family situation. Conservatives who want to believe that they are helping 14-year-olds maintain some sort of honor or encouraging family values are doing neither. Instead, they are endorsing children having babies and tacitly encouraging the continuation of cycles that keep families impoverished. 

Social and cultural issues will continue to divide North Carolinians, despite efforts to put them to rest. Moore may have shut down one controversy that would have brought negative attention to state, but Berger kept another one alive. We’re a state in a tug-of-war over our future. With companies like Apple moving here, we appear to be on the cutting edge of modernity. However, the newcomers who arrive with more cosmopolitan perspectives will find themselves surprised at the provincial values still dominant in parts of North Carolina. And those that hold those values will recoil at people who look, talk, and act differently trying to undermine their way of life.