NC Senate passes amendment to define marriage

RALEIGH — “Why don’t we vote on your marriage?” read one of many red, white and blue signs held by rainbow-clad protestors outside the N.C. General Assembly Tuesday.

Hundreds gathered outside the state legislature as the N.C. Senate voted on the same-sex marriage ban the House approved Monday.

In the end, it took a mere two days for the N.C. General Assembly to pass an amendment saying marriage is only between a man and a woman. Now the state will have to wait until May to vote on writing that into the state constitution.

The Defense of Marriage amendment passed as expected through the N.C. Senate with a 30 to 16 vote, meeting the three-fifths requirement for a constitutional amendment to pass.

“We all know how this vote is going to play out,” Sen. E.S. Newton, R-Nash, said during the debate.

He said the amendment should pass so marriage can be defined by the people, not the courts. Opponents of the bill said rights of the minority should not be put to a vote by the majority.

Newton said the amendment was not a political ploy to mobilize conservative voters for the May primary, as many opponents accused. The referendum was moved from November 2012 elections to the primaries to gain support from some House Democrats.

But opponents said having the public vote in the primary still could work in Republicans’ favor.

“The very conservative voters will come out in May, and the people who feel this is a big mistake will come out in November, when it’s already too late,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

Kinnaird was one of many Democrats who complained about the legislation’s procedure. She said it was too quick and void of debate and public input.

“It violated every political procedure known to North Carolina,” she said. “This is a major change in our constitution, and that deserves a full and open airing-out.”

Several Republican legislators said the procedure was not unusual, saying the other amendment considered this year was passed even more quickly.

Ron Baity, a pastor and the president of Return America, said many people have been waiting for this since Sen. James Forrester, R-Gaston, first introduced it in 2004.

Several gay rights organizations are already planning ways to encourage people to vote against what they call the anti-gay marriage amendment.

The LGBTQ Center at UNC will focus on educating the public about its potential impact — which could be dramatic, said Terri Phoenix, the center’s director.

If passed, the amendment will ensure that same-sex marriage and civil unions will not be recognized in the state.

But the broad language could also prevent domestic partnerships from being recognized, whether they are same-sex or not, said Maxine Eichner, a law professor at UNC who focuses on sexuality law.

Eichner sent a letter to all 170 legislators outlining the amendment’s potential implications.

North Carolina’s legislation is one of the broadest in the country, she said. Couples in domestic partnerships could lose hospital and prison visitation rights, health insurance and tax benefits, domestic violence protections and child custody rights.

At UNC, those couples would not be able to buy health insurance for their partners or get access to on-campus family housing, Phoenix said. The LGBTQ Center will emphasize that student impact to encourage voters.

“We’ll make a strong drive around university campuses to get people to the polls,” said Sam Parker, the director of organizing at Equality NC.

The organization held a vigil Monday night and a rally during the Senate session Tuesday, bringing religious leaders from around the state to speak to a crowd of LGBTQ-rights supporters.

But Parker said the campaign moving forward will be more about talking to the public rather than rallying. She said they would focus on the young, who tend to be more progressive, and the elderly, who lived through segregation and the civil rights movement and see parallels between the issues.

Because President Barack Obama and Gov. Bev Perdue will not have serious Democratic contenders, Democratic turnout is expected to be low. Republicans are expected to turn out to vote for their presidential candidates.

But anyone can vote on this amendment, no matter the party, said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake.

Stevens voted for the amendment, but he was undecided until he heard input from his constituents.

“I heard more public input on this issue than on any other in my nine years here,” he said. “It was pretty even on both sides. And now the voters get to decide — it’s democracy at its complete stage.”

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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