Gay marriage ban foes see new hope

lbonner@newsobserver.comJanuary 27, 2012 

Opponents of the proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions say they got a boost Thursday with Gov. Bev Perdue's decision not to seek a second term.

With Perdue out, there's likely to be a primary for governor that draws more Democrats to the polls May 8.

"It absolutely helps our chances," said Alex Miller, co-chairman of the campaign to defeat the amendment. "This announcement changes the dynamic in a profound way - more than any other factor could have."

Amendment supporters, however, downplayed the news. Similar amendments have passed in every state where the questions have gone to voters.

Francis De Luca, president of the conservative policy organization Civitas, anticipates the result in North Carolina will be the same, even with a Democratic primary .

According to a Civitas poll, Democrats support a constitutional ban by 58 percent to 34 percent. A bigger Democratic turnout would mean more African-Americans casting ballots, he said, and African-Americans are more likely to support the ban than any other ethnic group.

A Democratic primary is "a mixed blessing for anti-marriage people," De Luca said. "The only group that opposes it are self-described liberals that make up a very small part of the voting public."

Tami Fitzgerald, whose organization supports the amendment, said she welcomed a Democratic primary.

"The more that turn out on May 8, the better," said Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition. "Thousands of churches are organizing."

The most liberal and conservative voters are more likely to vote in their party primaries. Raising the turnout of progressive voters "gives a real opportunity in what is going to be a low turnout election" for opponents to defeat the amendment, said Roger Hartley, an associate political science professor at Western Carolina University.

'Positive for our side'

The early work of amendment foes has included voter turnout and education. Jeremy Kennedy, manager of the campaign working to defeat the amendment, said that effort will intensify. The Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families is working to get the word out that the amendment is not just about same-sex marriage but would also affect unmarried heterosexual couples, he said.

A bigger Democratic turnout "is a positive for our side," Kennedy said, but the campaign is also looking for Republican and unaffiliated voters' support.

"There are a lot of people who are misinformed about what the amendment does," he said.

Tom Jensen, pollster for the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, said polls show that voters are becoming more wary of the amendment, with the margin between support and opposition narrowing over time.

According to PPP, 57 percent of North Carolinians support gay marriage or civil unions, while 40 percent oppose any kind of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

A Democratic primary for governor would allow amendment opponents to shift time and money away from get-out-the vote efforts because political campaigns will be doing that work, Jensen said. That leaves more resources for anti-amendment forces to put toward their message, he said.

Amendment opponents, including Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat, had denounced the legislature for putting the question on the primary ballot. His reasoning: Republicans drawn to the polls by a GOP presidential primary would widen the amendment's winning margin.

Brandon said amendment opponents are still the underdogs, but a governor's race on the Democratic ballot would make a difference.

"It's a little bit of a game changer," said Brandon, the only openly gay member of the state legislature. "It definitely favors our side."

Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed.

Bonner: 919-829-4821