PITTSBORO — Pastor Chris Gambos devoted church services on a recent Sunday to denouncing sexual sins, telling about 200 people at his New Salem Church that they must vote for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage or face God’s anger and judgment.
He invoked the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities God destroyed with fire and brimstone, as he urged the congregation to stand against an effort “to destroy marriage.”
“As a society, if we accept this, God’s judgment will come upon America,” he preached. “You have to decide which side you’re going to be on. You’re really for righteousness, or you’re really for wickedness.”
As church was ending in Pittsboro, opponents of the constitutional amendment were lining up by the dozens at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham to have their photos taken in white “Vote Against” T-shirts. Raleigh photographer Curtis Brown has invited opponents to photo shoots at college campuses, an Asheville theater, a Raleigh gym, a Greensboro church and other venues since January. He urges subjects to print or post their portraits to social media sites.
“The millennium voter is all about what’s online,” he said.
Activities for and against the constitutional amendment have drawn more attention than the primary campaigns for political offices that include races for governor. The campaigns have been working for months on their messages, but now that early voting has started and with less than three weeks until the May 8 primary, the pace and intensity are increasing as both sides work to get their voters to the polls. The opposition campaign is raising money to buy ad time. Both campaigns have contacted WRAL TV about buying time, though neither had made a purchase as of Monday.
The opposition campaign is adding part-time staff to work at college campuses, focusing on those that have early voting sites. Amendment opponents want to get students to cast ballots before they focus on finals and summer plans. The pro-amendment campaign is encouraging supporters to host house parties.
Both sides rely on the traditional strategies such as rallies, phone banks and yard signs. But each has distinctive features.
The campaign for the amendment, Vote For Marriage NC, has its power base in churches across the state. Church leaders preach for the amendment – some mention it every week. The campaign is promoting April 29 as Marriage Sunday, when it hopes congregants in its network of thousands of churches will hear pro-amendment sermons.
The campaign against the amendment also has church support, but it has also worked hard for college students’ votes and has a heavy social media presence. For example, the Protect NC Families YouTube channel has 110 videos. The Vote for Marriage channel has seven.
Though the state already has a law against same-sex marriage, proponents say they need the amendment as added reinforcement.
Gay people want to legalize same-sex marriage so they can take advantage of income tax and insurance benefits, said Evelyn Scruggs Murray, state coordinator for the N.C. Faith and Freedom Coalition. She addressed the Pittsboro church as part of its Sunday focus on the amendment.
“It comes down simply to money,” said Murray, who is not affiliated with Vote for Marriage.
The amendment would also ban civil unions, invalidate the domestic partner benefits some local governments offer to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and may poke holes in domestic violence laws.
The efforts have drawn support from people who are not working directly with the official campaigns.
Brown decided on his own to sponsor the photo tour, which attracted about 5,000 people to pose for portraits at 18 venues. He said he set up the photo shoots at locations that would draw a cross-section of communities, not just gays and lesbians, because the impact of the constitutional amendment would be broad.
Greensboro songwriter Laurelyn Dossett wrote a “vote against” song and rounded up friends to perform and record it.
The music video has more views than all but one of the official campaign videos, and Dossett said it’s being performed at rallies and by church choirs.
“I continue to hope that we can turn views into votes,” she said.
Return America, a conservative group led by Winston-Salem pastor Ron Baity, is holding a pro-amendment rally Friday on Halifax Mall in Raleigh.
Neither side is letting up as May 8 approaches.
Gambos, the Pittsboro pastor, said he knew his church members agreed with his views on marriage. He wanted to make sure they knew how important it is to vote. His sermon garnered praise from church-goers.
“It’s exactly what America needs to hear,” said Nan Gaffney, 70, of Pittsboro. “It’s too bad it’s just in the church and not in the general public.”
Gaffney said she was not against homosexuals and has gay and lesbian friends. But she does not want them to have the right to marry.
“If America doesn’t get back to God, we are going to definitely be lost,” she said.
Elizabeth Clark of Durham, who posed for Brown at Fullsteam with her husband Steve Peretti, spoke just as strongly against the amendment.
Non-traditional marriages don’t threaten hers, said Clark, a 58-year-old Durham resident. She said she wants to call her portrait “The picture of married life not threatened by other marriages.”