RALEIGH — Both sides of the proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage have begun ramping up their campaigns in what is expected to be an expensive and bitter fight from now until the May 8 referendum.
On Wednesday, the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families - a newly renamed group of more than 80 gay, business, clergy, domestic violence, disability and civil rights advocates - held a news conference with about two dozen representatives to kick off statewide events.
But more telling is the financial report the coalition recently filed with the state, showing it has already raised more than $200,000 since it formed in November. And that's just the beginning.
"I foresee a multimillion-dollar campaign," Jeremy Kennedy, the group's campaign manager, said after the news conference. "We've just scratched the surface."
About $30,000 of that amount is from about 450 individual donors giving $50 to $100, nearly all of them from North Carolina. But some outside groups also are getting involved: The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign has written a check for $20,000 and sent staffers to work in North Carolina. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, based in Boston, has contributed $2,500.
The anti-amendment campaign also will be able to draw on a wide array of North Carolina businesses that lined up last year to try to talk the General Assembly out of putting the measure on the ballot, saying it would discourage employers and employees from moving here. One of those businesses, Replacements Ltd., a Greensboro-based company that is the largest retailer of tableware in the world, has already chipped in $100,000.
The coalition has spent the money on bringing to the state Kennedy, a veteran political strategist from Maine; on a Beverly Hills consulting firm; on a national fundraising consultant and one from Raleigh, and for an extensive statewide poll by a D.C. company.
The coalition unveiled a new website - www .protectncfamilies .org - on Wednesday as part of its campaign launch. The site, designed for $5,500, is meant to be the beginning of a volunteer network, spurred by its "One Million Conversations" initiative.
Kennedy said the group has been hiring field staff and that next week an office will open in the Charlotte area, followed later by offices in Durham, Asheville and Greensboro. One member of the group plans to draw attention to the campaign by running across the state trailed by other coalition members.
"This is one of the most aggressive and exciting campaigns I've seen put together," Kennedy said, referring to coalition plans to engage churches, colleges and communities.
The proposed amendment, written by the Republican-led General Assembly, says that the only valid domestic union North Carolina recognizes is marriage between one man and one woman. State law already defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, but supporters say a constitutional amendment would ensure that it stays that way. Opponents worry that it prohibits future efforts to allow civil unions and that domestic partner benefits offered by some cities and counties would be lost.
'You'll hear more'
Supporters say they, too, are working toward the May referendum.
"Our campaign is not far behind, and you'll hear more in the next week," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition. "We'll have our website up and totally launched. We have been hiring campaign workers. We have a plan for reaching out to every church in North Carolina and civic groups that agree with us."
Supporters' campaign organization, Vote FOR Marriage N.C., has not yet released its most recent financial report. Fitzgerald declined to say how much money it had received because it's still in flux.
Records filed when the group was formed in November show the N.C. Values Coalition contributed $1,000. Fitzgerald said the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage and other groups are helping to pass the amendment.
The thrust of Wednesday's news conference was to emphasize the diversity of opponents. A representative of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence said her group has a "strong concern" that the amendment would undermine whom the law defines as a domestic violence victim.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville, read a long list of contracts, benefits and other areas that could be vulnerable if the amendment passes. "No government can outlaw or create a second class of human relationships," Glazier said.
But Fitzgerald dismissed those concerns. "It's all a lot of rhetoric on their part," she said. "It's not backed up by any legal precedent."