Amendment wording, redistricting may confuse voters

Voters on marriage will likely find a quandary

mgarfield@newsobserver.com, snagem@newsobserver.comMay 6, 2012 

  • Amendment language “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. 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.” Official explanation of the amendment The Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission’s official explanation of the proposed amendment: “A current North Carolina law enacted in 1996 says that marriages between individuals of the same sex are not valid in North Carolina. This amendment would make that concept part of the North Carolina Constitution. If this amendment is passed by the voters, then under state law it can only be changed by another vote of the people. “The term ‘domestic legal union’ used in the amendment is not defined in North Carolina law. There is debate among legal experts about how this proposed constitutional amendment may impact North Carolina law as it relates to unmarried couples of same or opposite sex and same sex couples legally married in another state, particularly in regard to employment-related benefits for domestic partners; domestic violence laws; child custody and visitation rights; and end-of-life arrangements. The courts will ultimately make those decisions. “The amendment also says that private parties may still enter into contracts creating rights enforceable against each other. This means that unmarried persons, businesses and other private parties may be able to enter into agreements establishing personal rights, responsibilities, or benefits as to each other. The courts will decide the extent to which such contracts can be enforced.”

North Carolinians have rushed to the polls this year in record numbers, spurred by sharply divided sentiments over a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But all the interest comes with a potential twist. Many voters on Tuesday may be confused by wording of the amendment question – as well as changes caused by sweeping redistricting since the last statewide election.

The latest tallies show a half-million people have voted early, exceeding even the huge jump in voting for the 2008 Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In interviews Sunday across Wake County, supporters and opponents showed they can agree on at least one thing: Wherever you stand, the wording of Amendment One can leave you feeling puzzled.

Linda Plummer of Garner said she supports defining marriage as between one man and one woman. But Plummer also admits she was caught off-guard by the language on the ballot when she took part in early voting. “You got to read it thoroughly to make sure you vote for the right one,” she said.

The amendment question asks voters whether the state constitution should say “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some confusion,” said Pam Williams, 49, of Knightdale. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Williams said she logged onto news websites to study up on the amendment. She knew it defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But she questions whether others have done the same kind of research about possible repercussions, including changes in benefits to domestic partners in same-sex and heterosexual relationships.

Williams said the whole thing is also confusing because gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina.

Early voting sites accepted 490,540 ballots, about 4 percent more than the number cast in the 2008 primary, according to an analysis by Democracy North Carolina.

An additional 16,600 absentee ballots had been received by Saturday, bringing the total early votes cast to more than 500,000.

Democrats and Republicans nearly matched each other in overall turnout – 8.2 percent of registered Democrats and 8.3 percent of registered Republicans used one-stop early voting.

Josh Baldwin stood with a group of eight demonstrators outside the state Capitol on Sunday afternoon. All held handmade signs to protest the amendment.

“It’s kind of thought of as the gay amendment,” Baldwin said. “But it affects all partnerships. It’s something you don’t really get just by reading the ballot.”

The wording doesn’t convey the impact, said Anna Geisler, a 27-year-old receptionist from Raleigh who helped organize the gathering through Facebook and social media.

“There’s a whole second half that isn’t mentioned – how this amendment is going to affect domestic partnerships,” he said. “It doesn’t make it seem as harmful as it could be.”

Once ahead by 27 points, the latest results released last week by Public Policy Polling show the measure still passing, but the lead is down to 14 points.

Bonita Brewington, 39, of Knightdale, said she didn’t know the details of Amendment One but plans to vote in favor of it because she believes a marriage should be limited to a man and a woman.

“Being a Christian, I believe it should be the only union,” she said.

The state’s rural counties have posted big turnout numbers in early voting.

The nine counties with the biggest percent increase in early voting over the 2008 primary are Mitchell, Alexander, Stokes, Davie, Gaston, Randolph, Caldwell, Burke and Ashe.

All are considered strong Republican counties.

Another layer of confusion could come from the new Republican-drawn maps for North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts.

Redistricting created 14 new, open seats in the state House. Another 16 seats are coming open through departures.

In the Senate, redistricting created six new districts. Two other seats are coming open because of retirements.

Staff writer J.N. Miller

contributed to this report

Garfield: 919-836-4952

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