State Politics

Amendment One gay-marriage ban turns 5 – unenforceable, but still in NC constitution

Monday marked five years since North Carolina voters approved a referendum to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Same-sex weddings have been legal since a federal court ruling in October 2014, but there’s been no effort to update the constitution.

Known as Amendment One, the final section of the constitution still says “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” About 61 percent of voters approved the amendment on May 8, 2012.

“I think it’s a reminder of how much progress we have made and how much we have left yet to make,” said Chris Sgro, leader of the LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina, which fought against Amendment One.

Sgro said the short life of Amendment One is a positive sign as LGBT advocates fight other laws they view as discriminatory, including House Bill 2 and the compromise law that replaced it this year. Local governments in the state are banned from passing nondiscrimination ordinances that include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity until 2020.

May 8, he said, “should be a date that provides hope to the LGBT community as we face bad bills like HB2 and HB 142 (the HB2 replacement). The moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice even if it takes some time.”

Several conservative Christian organizations lobbied hard to pass Amendment One, including the N.C. Values Coalition, Family Policy Council and Christian Action League. None of them responded to requests for comment about the five-year anniversary Monday.

Last month, a group of four Republican House legislators sought to resurrect the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Their bill argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling was “null and void” because it’s “clear that laws concerning marriage are for each state to establish and maintain severally and independently.”

That bill drew national attention until House Speaker Tim Moore issued a statement saying he wouldn’t allow the legislation to move forward. “There are strong constitutional concerns with this legislation given that the U.S. Supreme Court has firmly ruled on the issue,” Moore said.

Amendment One is among several outdated provisions in the state constitution. Repealing parts of the constitution requires a ballot referendum, and House legislators recently voted to hold a 2018 referendum on repealing an 1899 literacy requirement for voters.

That section of the constitution, designed to disenfranchise African-American voters, was struck down by federal law in the 1960s. The bill calling a referendum is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Rep. Ken Goodman, a Rockingham Democrat, said the legislature should also look at repealing Amendment One.

“We should remove it; it doesn’t do anything for the state,” he said. “People that believe in it can’t enforce it.”

Goodman, known as a moderate, was among 10 House Democrats who voted with Republicans to put Amendment One on the ballot in 2014. He said he didn’t like the proposal but voted yes in an effort to avoid a November referendum, when the issue could have hurt President Barack Obama’s re-election changes.

Goodman said the amendment was popular in his socially conservative, rural district along the South Carolina border, but it would pass by a narrower margin there if the vote took place today.

“People are beginning to accept it as the way things are,” he said. “People have discovered that nobody’s heterosexual marriage has been damaged by it.”

Sgro also supports removing Amendment One from the constitution. “We shouldn’t keep bad and discriminatory laws on the books in North Carolina,” he said.

But he says a symbolic repeal isn’t the top priority for Equality NC. The group’s goals include a statewide nondiscrimination law protecting LGBT people.

“Those are the most pressing battles,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter