The North Carolina Senate on Tuesday passed a measure that if approved by voters would write an existing statutory ban on same-sex marriage into the state’s constitution.
On Monday, ten Democrats voted with nearly all House Republicans to pass the amendment in a 75-42 vote. Tuesday’s Senate vote came down to a 30-16 majority, over the three fifths needed to send the question to the voters in a May 8, 2012, referendum.
State Senator Dan Soucek, a Republican and sponsor of the amendment, said it was necessary to protect marriage between a man and a woman as the “time-tested building block of society.”
Senator Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat, said the amendment was about the oppression of gay people.
“What we are doing here is making a situation that is difficult for many people much, much worse,” she said.
The action by lawmakers was both praised and panned. Several hundred gay rights advocates protested the amendment at a noon rally outside the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is said to have expressed disappointment that the Legislature is “wasting time” with the marriage amendment, however the governor is not capable of vetoing this measure due to the procedural rules surrounding constitutional amendments.
LGBT rights advocates warned that the measure is unnecessarily divisive, and indeed the marriage amendment seems to have brought out some ugliness and also touched on some old but still exposed wounds:
State Rep. Marcus Brandon, R-Guilford, the only openly gay state lawmaker, told his fellow lawmakers that people yelled “abomination” at him as he walked through the capitol building that afternoon, and said he was told he was “going to hell.”
State Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, a black lawmaker, took the floor and shared that the U.S. constitution “still says I am three-fifths of a person.” Michaux said on the floor that he was attempting to highlight how hard it would be to remove the discriminatory language in the future.
The May referendum was a Republican concession to secure Democrat votes in the Housed who didn’t want the November elections to be affected by the conservative draw of the marriage amendment.
This, however, may have given those opposed to gay marriage a slight advantage when the measure goes to the ballot.
Social conservatives might have a slight advantage in getting out their voters because the referendum will have the same date as the Republican Party’s presidential primary.
“Politically scheming to put such a cruel and discriminatory measure on a low-turnout Republican presidential primary ballot is a sham designed to circumvent the majority of North Carolina voters, who polls say, oppose this amendment and the injury it will inflict not just on families, but the state,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry.
Holding the vote in May also means that by the time the Democrats arrive in September (with the world’s media in tow) for their national party convention, the state could be reeling from the effect of a vote on civil rights.
Recent polls have suggested that a majority of North Carolinians are against the marriage amendment, seeing it as unnecessary and discriminatory because it would appear to invalidate all chance of civil unions and domestic partnership rights — indeed, one lawyer has warned that the ban could upset an entire plethora of state partnership rights and perhaps even disturb domestic violence legislation. That said, how people poll prior to a ballot and how they choose to vote when it comes to actual voting day are two different things and same-sex marriage has never won at the ballot, though the margin by which it has lost had narrowed significantly when advocates lost in Maine in 2009. Maine of course is now preparing to put the issue before voters again with a renewed confidence that it will pass.
North Carolina’s prospects, as the only Southern state not to have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, seem less assured but advocates of LGBT rights and wider equality advocates feel there is still a fight to be had and that fair minded North Carolinians will do the right thing.