Opponents of the marriage amendment vowed Wednesday to salvage their goals from the wreckage of the overwhelming defeat they suffered the day before.
Angry and frustrated, organizers of the opposition campaign vowed to use the momentum from a coalition of groups that fought the amendment to continue to push for legal protection. Activists in Durham and Wilson kicked off a seven-day protest across the state by sending gay couples to apply for marriage licenses.
All the while, amendment opponents are refusing to accept that the 61-39 percent loss reflects how people in North Carolina feel about the issue. They blame confusion sown by amendment supporters and the lack of time to mount a successful campaign.
The single factor that hurt us was one that we had no control over, and that was time, Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality N.C., said at a news conference at the LGBT Center of Raleigh. It was incredibly challenging in a state the size of North Carolina to reach that many people in a matter of months.
Campbell said amendment supporters were able to convince and confuse enough voters on Election Day with their deceptive messaging and misleading campaign. Some polls did reflect voter confusion in recent months.
But a relieved Tami Fitzgerald, whose Vote for Marriage N.C. spearheaded the successful campaign, discounted the criticism.
I think the vast majority of the people in this state believe marriage is between one man and one woman, as weve been saying all along, Fitzgerald said. The campaigns had plenty of time to get their message out. If there was any deception going on it was coming from their side, talking about everything but what the amendment was about.
The amendment to the state constitution, which says opposite-sex marriage is the only domestic union that has legal recognition, passed by a wide margin, yet only 21 percent of North Carolinas registered voters cast ballots in favor of it.
The next step
Opponents response to the loss was to announce at the news conference in Raleigh that they will hold a series of town hall meetings around the state to develop strategy, establish legal clinics to advise gay couples on how to protect themselves from fallout from the amendment, and work to defeat state legislators who put the issue on the ballot.
House Majority Leader Paul Skip Stam of Apex was singled out for special recognition as the key author of the amendment.
We are tired of politicians building their political careers on our backs, said Caitlin Breedlove of the gay advocacy group Southerners on New Ground. We are real people, not platforms. One of the architects of this amendment is up for re-election in November. His name is Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam. We call on justice-minded people in this state to vote him out.
Also at the news conference was Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the N.C. Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She echoed the wind is at our backs theme of the event but declined to answer the big question of the day: Will there be a legal challenge to the amendment?
She said its too soon to know. She said the first step will be to analyze in consultation with lawyers who handle domestic violence and employment benefit laws to figure out what the amendment does, particularly looking at its new and untested phrase domestic legal union.
Lawsuit is possible
Litigation, she acknowledged, is always a possibility.
In fact, a lawsuit from somebody is guaranteed, and most observers acknowledge questions about the amendment will ultimately be settled in appellate courts.
UNC-Chapel Hill law professor Gene Nichol said Wednesday that a challenge to the state constitution would proceed like any other lawsuit alleging that someone was harmed. The simplest challenge would come from one of the people who work for a municipality that offers domestic partner benefits, which the amendment forbids.
The easiest lawsuit would be one of those folks suing because they used to have something they are now not going to have, Nichol said. That would be a clear dollars-and-cents injury.
In December, a group of ministers and heterosexual and homosexual couples sued in Guilford County over the state law that requires marriage licenses, arguing that violates the U.S. Constitutions separation of church and state. Nichol said it would now be possible to challenge both the state law prohibiting same-sex marriage and the new constitutional amendment in a single lawsuit.
Couples denied licenses
On Wednesday in Durham, two lesbian couples applied for, and were denied, marriage licenses, and a third was told North Carolina could not record their Massachusetts certificate of marriage.
Their applications, at the Durham County Register of Deeds office, was part of a statewide demonstration called We Do, organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality in Asheville.
The group wants same-sex marriage recognized nationally, under federal law, said campaign director Jasmine Beach-Ferrera.
The couples who applied for marriage licenses in Durham were Joyce Heflin and Michele Sager, Barb Goldstein and Ann Willoughby. Meg Coward and Sara Schwartz Sax asked to have their Massachusetts marriage certificate recorded but were told that the Register of Deeds could not record a license from outside North Carolina.
People were real kind, Coward said afterward.
The statewide demonstration began Wednesday morning in Wilson and continues Thursday in Winston-Salem. There, Beach-Ferrera said, supporters plan a sit-in demonstration to protest prohibitions against same-sex marriage, with the expectation of being arrested.
There comes a time when you cant be subject to these laws any longer, she said to a crowd of about 60 supporters who marched with the couples from St. Philips Episcopal Church in downtown Durham to the Register of Deeds office, then back after the applications were turned down.
After Winston-Salem, the We Do license applications and demonstrations continue Friday in Bakersville, Marshall and Asheville; May 14 in Asheboro and May 15 in Charlotte.
Other fallout from Tuesdays vote:
• Two online petitions began drawing thousands of supporters. One of them demands the immediate repeal of the amendment. By noon, it had generated about 67,000 signatures from across the nation. The goal is 1 million.
The second effort is titled Move the National Convention OUT of North Carolina. It asks the Democratic National Convention Committee to drop Charlotte as the site of Septembers party confab in protest to the amendments passage. It has about 17,500 signatures at noon Wednesday. The petition would not have any affect on the amendment in North Carolina. A formal petition requires written signatures of North Carolina voters.
• State party Democrats also used the vote to launch a broader attack on Republicans, particularly on GOP gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory. Democratic ad man Frank Eaton turned the camera on himself for a post-amendment pep talk.
This is not the time to stop fighting this war and the hateful, small-minded politicians who brought it to us, Eaton says in the video posted online. November thats the battle in front of us. Identify the bad guys. Organize against them. Eliminate them at the polls.
Staff writer John Frank contributed.