N.C. House OKs amendment banning gay marriage

Would be on ballot in May; measure now moves to Senate

Staff writerSeptember 13, 2011 

  • North Carolina has a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. How would a constitutional amendment change the law?

    Current law defines "a valid and sufficient marriage" as the union of a "male and female person." The language in the constitutional amendment says, "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state." The extra wording in the amendment makes it farther-reaching, critics say, banning domestic partnerships and civil unions.

    We have a law. Why do supporters want an amendment?

    The major difference between the current law and the amendment is its permanence. A law is open to interpretation by judges and amendable by future lawmakers. A constitutional prohibition is much harder to change.

    Have other states passed similar constitutional amendments?

    Voters in 30 states where a traditional marriage definition has been proposed for the state constitution have approved it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Would a constitutional amendment affect benefits that some companies provide to partners of gay workers?

    The wording is crafted to ease concerns that the amendment would prohibit businesses from offering benefits to domestic partners. However, employees of municipalities and other government entities - including Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Orange County, Mecklenburg County and Asheville - could still lose those benefits with the new wording.

    It says, "This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."

    Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and one of the bill's sponsors, said municipalities would still be able to offer benefits to people who live together as long as benefits are extended for reasons other than intimate relationships.

  • Ten Democrats broke party ranks to support the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

    The amendment needed a three-fifths majority to pass, or 72 votes. That means four Democrats made the difference. The Democrats: William Brisson of Dublin, Jim Crawford of Oxford, Ellmer Floyd of Fayetteville, Ken Goodman of Rockingham, Charles Graham of Lumberton, Dewey Hill of Lake Waccamaw, Frank McGuirt of Wingate, Bill Owens of Elizabeth City, Garland Pierce of Wagram and Tim Spear of Creswell.

    The extra Democratic support was needed to counter Republicans who missed the vote.

    Two GOP lawmakers did not vote: Glen Bradley of Youngsville and Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville. Republican Craig Horn of Weddington had an excused absence.

    Staff writer John Frank

The House voted 75-42 Monday to let voters decide whether a ban on same-sex marriage should be written into the state constitution, starting North Carolina on a track to join a majority of states with similar prohibitions.

Bill supporters decided to put the question on the May primary ballot next year rather than the November 2012 general election ballot, ensuring the proposal would win support from enough Democrats to clear the 72 House-vote hurdle for proposed constitutional changes.

The move alleviated concerns among Democrats who support the amendment that Republicans were pushing the question to boost turnout from social conservatives for next year's presidential election. At least one Democrat, Rep. Jim Crawford of Oxford, said moving the vote to May was crucial to winning his support. Ten Democrats and 65 Republicans voted for the amendment.

But the May vote also makes it more likely that the amendment will win overwhelming approval, said one Democrat who opposed it, because Republicans will be drawn to the polls by the GOP presidential primary.

The issue now moves to the state Senate, which is expected to debate the amendment today. It is not certain that the Senate has the votes to pass it. The House and Senate must approve the proposal by three-fifths votes, but a simple majority of primary election votes would be needed to write the ban into the Constitution.

The state has a law defining marriage as a heterosexual union, but the amendment's supporters say changing social tides will make it likely that gay couples married in New York will move to North Carolina and seek legal rights.

"They're going to bring with them their same-sex marriages," said Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and House majority leader. "They're going to want to get divorced" and have custody issues decided, he said. "We're not equipped to handle that."

'A transient issue'

Opponents said the amendment is an attempt to hold back change and force future generations to live with a discriminatory constitutional clause they don't support.

"This is a transient issue of public policy and it has no place in the Constitution of North Carolina," said Rep. Joe Hackney, the House Minority Leader and an Orange County Democrat.

The proposed ban has divided religious leaders, triggered long and emotional debates about what God wants, and engaged national gay rights and social conservative advocacy groups.

Opponents said the amendment will lead to more bullying of gay youth and drive some to suicide, and invalidate domestic violence protections for unmarried couples. Business leaders said it would discourage companies from coming to the state. On Monday, 76 CEOs from around the state signed an open letter to lawmakers asking them to halt the effort.

The bill's supporters "are responsible for every job, every company, every tax dollar and every tourist dollar as well as every life that this amendment will certainly cost us," said Alex Miller, interim executive director of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina.

Lobbying efforts

Equality N.C., which campaigned intensively to keep the proposal off the ballot, delivered boxes filled with 50,000 post cards opposing the bill to legislators Monday morning.

About an hour later, several hundred people attended a pro-amendment rally that was punctuated with chants of "Let the people vote. Let the people vote."

Sandra Polin of Raleigh, a member of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ, handed out stickers.

"It's important for the voters themselves to have an opportunity to decide whether they want to honor God in the definition of marriage," she said.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat who is gay, said he heard someone shouting "abomination" through a loudspeaker, and it reminded him of the struggles of his youth.

He said God wants people to be compassionate.

"It's just this type of judging and this spirit of judging that makes it hard for people to accept Christ," Brandon said. "This is not the spirit of Jesus. Not even close."

The debate took an unusual turn when Rep. Glen Bradley of Youngsville, a Republican with a wide Libertarian streak, argued that state involvement in marriages usurped God's authority.

"If we care about the institution of marriage in North Carolina," he said, "we must move to remove authority of man over the dominion of God and not stake our claim even deeper than it is."

Bradley offered a change that would have asked voters to prohibit state licensing of all marriages in addition to the same-sex marriage ban. His amendment failed.

He ended up supporting the bill in a preliminary vote, but did not participate in the final vote. His Twitter feed said he left the chamber in disgust.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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