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N.C. legislature approves gay marriage ballot question for 2012

By |2011-09-08T09:00:00-04:00September 8th, 2011|Uncategorized|

By Gary D. Robertson

RALEIGH– North Carolina state lawmakers voted to give social conservatives their decade-old wish to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot designed to make clear that marriage is between one man and one woman in the state. North Carolina citizens can vote on it in May 2012 – on the exact same date as a Republican primary.
Ten House Democrats voted Monday with nearly all Republicans in favoring of putting on May’s primary ballot a question that would make marriage the only domestic legal union recognized in this state. The bill passed 75-42 — above the 72 needed for any constitutional change. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate 30-16 on Tuesday.
Although 30 states have gay marriage bans in their constitutions, North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without such a marriage limit there. State law already defines marriage between a man and a woman, but amendment supporters argue traditional marriage would be better protected against potential legal challenges by same-sex couples married in six other states and the District of Columbia.
“The question is, are we going to let the people decide, or judicial decisions based on the Supreme Court decisions of a half-dozen other states?” House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said during a floor debate that lasted more than three hours.
Republican legislative leaders said they move up the proposed referendum by six months as a way to try to bring on board more undecided legislators. It’s also designed to immunize the GOP from criticisms that having it on the ballot in November 2012 as initially sought was designed to boost turnout among conservative Christians and others opposed to gay marriage.
North Carolina is expected to be a battleground state next year. President Barack Obama won the state’s electoral votes in 2008 by only 13,000 votes and North Carolina is hosting the Democratic National Convention. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue also faces a tough re-election fight next year.
“I think what we’re trying to do is respect some who thought this (amendment) was solely a political consideration,” House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said at a news conference, adding that the bill is “about putting a question to the people.”
Opponents in the House who spoke — nearly all of them Democrats — said the referendum didn’t matter. They said it was an awful idea that would discourage businesses from coming to North Carolina because executives would view the state as unwelcoming to gay and lesbian employees. Others likened the question to instituting previous constitutional restrictions in North Carolina that once barred interracial marriage. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said approving this proposal would run counter to changing attitudes about same-sex relationships.
“Once again we seek to marginalize a group of individuals who only want equality and the same basic human rights afforded to every citizen of this state,” said Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe. “Why do we insist on repeating history?”
Still, Republican leaders managed to bring along nearly 20 percent of the House Democrats to support the measure. Rep. Charles Graham, D-Robeson, said he was satisfied with his yes vote after speaking to local residents, many of whom are conservative Christians.
“I had to listen to my constituents,” said Graham, in his first term. “I’m satisfied with my vote.”
Several hundred amendment supporters rallied Monday on the mall behind the Legislative Building, with religious leaders both black and white urging lawmakers to let the people vote on the gay marriage question after several years in which Democrats in charge of the Legislature blocked votes. Things have changed now that Republicans took control of the House and Senate simultaneously for the first time in 140 years.
“This piece of legislation has been held up and we haven’t had the chance to vote on it,” the Rev. Patrick Wooden of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh told the crowd. “This state has to protect God’s holy institution as it is currently defined in state law.”
Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, the Legislature’s only openly gay member, told colleagues that Christians should be compassionate toward everyone, not judgmental.
“It’s not the spirit of Jesus,” he said. “It’s not even close.”
Opponents, meanwhile, brought to the Legislature nearly 50,000 postcards urging lawmakers to stop the amendment and scheduled vigils Monday night and their own rally Tuesday.
“I was disappointed that so many legislators regardless of party chose to discriminate (against people) who pose no threat other than wanting to live their lives with honesty, openness and with dignity,” Alex Miller with the gay rights group Equality North Carolina said after the vote.
A House committee approved the measure earlier Monday without taking any public comments, angering lawmakers and activists.
“This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the state of North Carolina,” House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange. “It ought not to be done this way. There ought to be a fair hearing.”
Some law professors say the proposal could invalidate domestic violence laws, cause uncertainty with child custody decisions and wills and cancel out domestic partner benefits already instituted by a handful of local governments in the state.
“We are going to be enacting language into the constitution that no one knows what it means and could hurt citizens of this state and that will take years of needless litigation to resolve the meaning,” said Maxine Eichner, a law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.
The referendum would be held on May 8, 2012. A majority of citizens would have to agree for it to be put in the constitution.

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.