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New bills in state legislature seek to constitutionally define marriage

Graphic: New bills in state legislature seek to constitutionally define marriage (Cece Pascual)

North Carolina might be one step closer to becoming the final Southern state to ban same-sex marriage in its constitution if legislation at the General Assembly receives bipartisan support.

Same-sex marriage is currently illegal in N.C., but some lawmakers say activist judges or future legislatures could overturn the law.

Bills in both the N.C. Senate and House of Representatives, known as the Defense of Marriage Acts, propose a constitutional amendment that would permanently define marriage in the state as between one man and one woman.

Rep. Glen Bradley, R–Franklin, is the only Republican in the House opposed to the bill. Bradley said in an e-mail that he objects to the bill as an unwarranted intrusion by the state into a religious matter.

“It is continuing the practice of taking subjects which belong solely under the dominion of God via the authority of the church, and placing them into the hands of an essentially godless state government,” he said.

Bradley said he is in the process of polling residents in his district and will vote according to the will of his constituents despite his opposition.

Republican legislators say they hope to pass the bills this session, which would enable voters to approve the amendment with a simple majority on the November 2012 ballot.

The proposed amendment requires a three-fifths vote of approval in both houses to be placed on the ballot, meaning the measure requires bipartisan support in the House to pass. The bill could pass in the Senate with the exclusive support of Republicans.

The issue has already sparked heated debate among both pro- and anti-amendment groups that hope to persuade legislators in anticipation of the floor votes.

Return America, a Christian organization that opposes same-sex marriage, held a rally last week at the Halifax Mall behind the state legislature in Raleigh in order to demonstrate their support for the amendment.

Ron Baity, president of Return America and pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said the state should defend the religious definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

But Jen Jones, communications director for Equality N.C., said that an amendment would ultimately create a status of second-class citizens in the state.

“As it’s titled in the legislature, it’s called marriage defense, but we certainly do not believe it’s defending anyone’s marriage,” she said. “We see it as discriminatory legislation.”

Jeff DeLuca, co-president of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance at UNC, said he believes students would oppose the amendment if it reached the ballot.

DeLuca said GLBTSA plans to have rallies against the bill in the future to advocate for marriage equality, the group’s top priority.

“Gay couples lack very basic benefits that straight couples take for granted,” he said.

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