In my home state of NC, we are called upon to vote for or against Amendment 1, or NC Senate Bill 514, which is called “An Act to Amend the Constitution to Provide That Marriage Between One Man and One Woman is the Only Domestic Legal Union That Shall Be Valid or Recognized in This State.” This wording would exclude civil unions as well as marriage. North Carolina is currently the ONLY southern state that does not have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions. Gay marriage is, however, already prohibited by state law.

Current NC law states “Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina.” Amendment One would effectively supersede this law to exclude civil unions. Everything from child custody rights to hospital visitation and inheritance rights would be affected by this discriminatory amendment that would have serious repercussions for heterosexual couples as well as homosexual ones. Many are concerned that this amendment could make it harder to enforce laws against domestic violence, as has been seen in Ohio, where a similar law was passed in 2004.

Ohio courts have so far ruled against perpetrators of domestic violence who have used the amendment as a defense, which proponents of the NC law have pointed to in defense of the restrictive wording of Amendment One. There are differences between the two laws, however, which could spell disaster for thousands of residents of NC who are part of a civil union or are unmarried domestic partners. In a single decade, the number of unmarried couples who live together has increased by 55% in North Carolina. Only 12% of those couples are homosexual. A University of North Carolina School of Law paper that studied the possible ramifications of the amendment states that the amendment could restrict protections for all unmarried couples and effectively eliminate insurance coverage currently offered to domestic partners of some local government employees. The paper highlights some other situations that could be adversely affected, as shown by cases in other states:

  • Invalidate domestic violence protections for all unmarried partners.
  • Undercut existing child custody and visitation law that is designed to protect the best interests of children.
  • Prohibit the the right to determine the disposition of a deceased partner’s remains.
  • Prohibit the right to visit a partner in the hospital in the event of a medical emergency.
  • Prohibit the right to make emergency medical or financial decisions for a partner if the partner is incapacitated.
  • Invalidate trusts, wills, and end-of-life directives by one partner in favor of the other.
Supporters of the amendment scoff at the notion that these interpretations could be made from the wording of the amendment, but such legal challenges have been made in other states where similar amendments have been passed. If the intent is simply to discriminate against same-sex partners, the wording should be changed to reflect that intent. Legal experts cannot and do not deny that such challenges will occur, which will cost taxpayers millions and potentially abrogate the civil rights of thousands of NC residents.
Sen. James Forrester, a Gaston County Republican, sponsored the bill and has clearly stated that his intent is to prevent liberal judges from overturning existing state law banning same-sex marriages. He has been crusading for the amendment for over a decade, but the bill went nowhere until Republicans gained control of the legislature. Other politicians express the desire to exclude gay Americans from moving to the state. “The purpose is not just to prevent Massachusetts people coming down,” says Mecklenburg County commissioner Bill James. “It’s also to put a big letter of shame on the behavior. We don’t want them here. We don’t want them marrying. If you’re going to do it in San Francisco, it’s your own business.”
In 2010, North Carolina passed a law prohibiting a second parent adoption of a child. If the legal parent of child dies, his or her domestic partner of the same sex, who has raised the child as their own, cannot make legal decisions for the child. The child could conceivably be taken from the remaining parent, based on the law. Amendment One will go a step further and disallow medical coverage insurance of the child by the non-legal parent, since even the domestic union of a couple will be illegal.

Although North Carolina is a historically conservative state, passage of the amendment is not necessarily a done deal. A majority of NC voters, who voted for President Obama in 2008, support some sort of legal protection and recognition of gay couples, though most do not support gay marriage. Libertarians, civil rights organizations, gay rights groups, and other groups are concerned about the impact of the amendment. Interestingly, although the NAACP has spoken out against the proposed amendment, a majority of African American voters in NC support the ban, which has led many NC Democrats to cross party lines in support of Amendment One. When people are informed of the potential consequences of the law, however, support wanes. Some voters mistakenly understand the amendment to be a protection of marriage equality. Protect ALL NC Families has aired several ads to educate voters about the issue, which has helped dramatically reduce the number of supporters of  the amendment, according to a recent poll:

Only 54% of voters in the state planning to support it, while 40% are opposed. This is the lowest level of support PPP has found in monthly
polling of the amendment since last October. When PPP first polled on it six months ago 61% supported it with only 34% opposed, so its current 14 point lead has been cut almost in half from the 27 point advantage it started out with.

There is some reason to think a huge upset in two weeks is within the realm of possibility. 53% of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, with only 44% opposed to any recognition for same sex couples. The proposed amendment would ban both gay marriage and civil unions, but voters continue to be confused about that. Just 36% correctly identify that it would ban both while 26% think it bans only gay marriage, 10% think it actually legalizes gay marriage, and 27% admit that they don’t know what it does.

When voters are informed that the proposed amendment would preclude both marriage and civil unions for gay couples only 38% continue to support it with 46% in opposition. Voters obviously will be more tuned into the amendment debate over the final two weeks of the campaign than they have been to date, particularly as the against side’s tv ads hit the air, and it seems quite possible that as voters become more and more informed about the amendment they will continue to move more and more against it.

The main movement over the last month has been with Democratic voters. Previously they were almost evenly divided on the amendment but now they’re moving against it with only 38% still in support and 56% opposed. A big part of that is a shift among black voters. They still support it by a 51/39 margin, but that’s well down from 61/30 on our poll a month ago.

“Passage of the marriage amendment is looking like less and less of a sure thing,” said Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling. “The more voters learn about it the less inclined they are to support it.”

Religious communities are divided on the issue, though many have spoken out against the proposed amendment:

This proposed amendment is about codifying bigotry and discrimination into the Constitution of our state.  Religious objections to a lifestyle is not the same as legalized persecution of our own citizens. We all have a right to our own opinions about homosexuality, but we should not have the right to assign gay Americans a second-class status based solely upon their sexual orientation. I sincerely hope that voters will turn out on May 8 to defeat this loathsome amendment. Thirty states across the nation have successfully inserted legalized discrimination into their constitutions. Our state has bucked the trend in the past. Let’s show the country that NC residents are not all ignorant bigots like this kid and provide an example of tolerance and equality in the South.

**UPDATE: The wife of the NC state senator Peter Brunstetter, Jodie Brunstetter, reportedly told a poll worker “The reason my husband my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce.” According to Chad Nance, of Yes! Weekly, he has a video of the conversation, but it has not yet been released. If true, this adds yet another layer of bigotry to this odious amendment.

3 thoughts on “NC Amendment One: Showdown for Civil Rights in the South

  1. Don’t feel like NC is the only state. The backwards state I’m from (Alabama) is just as closed-minded. This is the state that not too long ago, took off it’s books that it was illegal to have a interracial marriage. That’s why I left the state and haven’t look back since. I hate closed minded people!!!!

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