CHAPEL HILL — What voters will see on the ballot about a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions is not what some lawmakers thought.
Amendment 1 on the May primary ballot asks voters to decide for or against a constitutional amendment "to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."
The bill's second sentence, which clarifies that the ban doesn't prohibit businesses from offering benefits to domestic partners, isn't included on the ballot.
State Rep. Rick Glazier, a leading House Democrat, said he didn't notice the difference, and neither did his colleagues, until days after the legislature approved the marriage referendum.
"That sentence was crucial in some legislators' minds about why they were willing to vote for it (and) pretty crucial to the business community," said Glazier, who represents Fayetteville. "To say you can have half of this constitutional amendment with half of it gone ... makes no sense whatsoever."
But Glazier suggests that some might argue to put only the first sentence in the Constitution because that's what the public decided.
House Republican Leader Paul "Skip" Stam, a leading architect of the amendment, said it won't make a difference. "The sentence is not even strictly necessary because that's the effect of the first sentence anyway," he said.
Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law expert at UNC-Chapel Hill, said it's not just semantics. It opens the amendment to further legal challenge and interpretation by the courts - and the courts would likely favor what appeared on the ballot, he said.
The ballot wording is just the latest controversy about Republican lawmakers' efforts to define marriage with a constitutional amendment that goes beyond the current law banning same-sex marriage. If approved, the constitutional provision also would prohibit civil unions and domestic partnerships, legal experts contend.
A debate between Glazier and Stam about the amendment attracted more than 200 people to UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Law on Wednesday. It followed a heated debate Monday on Charlotte public radio between Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell, a leading GOP proponent, and Alex Miller, the interim executive director of Equality NC.
At UNC-CH, Glazier used the dispute about the ballot wording to blast Republicans for rushing the bill through the legislative process, blocking public testimony and sending it to the House floor after just an hour of committee discussion.
He called it "a model how never to govern, sure to be included in every political science textbook in this country."
Stam disputed criticism of the process. "We debated it for three and a half hours on the floor," he said.
Stam, a 1975 UNC-CH law graduate, entered the forum as 20 students in the law schools ACLU chapter chanted "No on 1. No on hate. Love does not discriminate."
Jackie Azis, a third-year law student, organized the protest. "Minority rights are up to a vote, and we don't think that the majority has the right to define the minority's rights," she said.
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