Current Date: Sat, 07 Dec 2013 00:26:40 -0500
The debate regarding same-sex marriage will be a major item on the agenda of the N.C. General Assembly, which will return to Raleigh next week.
Two proposed amendments to the state constitution aim to place a ban on gay marriage.
And Maxine Eichner, professor in the UNC School of Law, said the amendments aren’t garnering the attention they should. Eichner was one of three people who participated in the “Equality Matters: Same-Sex Marriage and the N.C. Constitution,” a panel discussion held Thursday night.
The discussion was hosted by the Program in Sexuality Studies and was the first in a series of events the program plans to hold this year to discuss marriage equality and the proposed constitutional amendments, said Christopher Putney, the program’s interim director.
The panel also included Barbara Fedders, clinical assistant professor in the School of Law, and Holning Lau, associate professor in the law school.
The discussion was three-fold, aiming to inform people about the provisions of the amendment, the impact it could have if passed, and the validity of claims commonly used in the same-sex marriage debate.
Sophomore Lauren Scanlan said she didn’t realize how much a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage could affect her as a heterosexual.
“I have two gay dads, and now I realize that, yes, this definitely could affect me,” Scanlan said. “I wanted to be informed about what I could do to stop this,” she said.
Currently, a North Carolina statute recognizes marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman and does not require the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
“Changing the constitution is a huge deal because it is almost permanent,” Eichner said.
Eichner said the House bill would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. However, it would not ban civil unions or domestic partnerships, she added.
The Senate bill is a much harsher proposal, Eichner said. It would recognize a marriage between a man and a woman as the only legal domestic union, preventing the recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships entirely.
For Fedders, a constitutional ban on gay marriage could hit closer to home than for many others. Fedders had to go to Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legally recognized, to marry her partner in 2005. Her marriage is not legally recognized in North Carolina.
Fedders said the impact of a constitutional gay marriage ban could be far-reaching, and would impact the ability of same-sex couples to receive domestic partnership benefits.
Chapel Hill and Carrboro both offer domestic partnership benefits to municipal employees, Fedders said.
If the constitution is amended, both municipalities and private companies could be forced to stop offering these benefits, Fedders said.
“A ban could send the message of intolerance,” she said. “It could prevent companies from recruiting talented employees because they are perceived as intolerant or discriminatory,” she added.
Lau said there is evidence that ballot initiative campaigns can entrench sexual orientation-based stigmas in society in ways that harm gay men, lesbians and even their family members.
Sophomore Mae-Lyn Leonard said she strongly opposes a ban on gay marriage and attended the panel to become better informed to discuss the proposed amendments with others.
“I want to arm myself to fight this,” Leonard said.
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