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Sunday January 29th

In wake of Amendment One, opinions shift nationwide in favor of gay marriage

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrated in four states on election night — but advocates in North Carolina acknowledged a long road ahead for their efforts.

During May’s primary election, North Carolina voted 61 percent in favor of Amendment One, a constitutional referendum that bans gay marriage.

Same-sex marriage votes
  • On election night, residents in Maine, Maryland and Washington voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Maine’s initiative signaled the first time a state’s voters had been directly asked to legalize same-sex marriage, rather than prohibit it.
  • Minnesota voters also struck down a proposed same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution on election night. Minnesota became the first of 31 states to reject a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot since 1998.
  • In May, North Carolina voted in favor of Amendment One, a constitutional referendum that banned gay marriage. The “yes” vote of 61 percent was the lowest affirmative vote ever received by a same-sex marriage ban in a southern state.

Maine, Maryland and Washington voted last week to legalize gay marriage, and Minnesota struck down a similar proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

These votes mark a reversal of a nationwide trend against same-sex marriage — since 1998, 30 states, including North Carolina, have voted to uphold traditional marriage in their state constitutions.

John Michael Watkins, who graduated from UNC last spring and worked as a field organizer for Maryland’s marriage equality campaign, said he was thrilled to be a part of the ballot success — the first of many nationwide, he expects.

“This is something substantive,” he said. “It’s a real legislative victory.”

Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality N.C. — which led a statewide campaign against Amendment One — said the outlook for legalizing gay marriage in other states is positive, despite North Carolina’s recent vote.

“This is a really strong indicator of where the country is going,” he said.

And Chapel Hill Town Council member Lee Storrow said that, as public opinion shifts, people are starting to realize that gay marriage doesn’t pose a threat to traditional marriage.

“Even (Amendment One) supporters have acknowledged that it’s a generational issue that conservatives are not going to win,” he said.

But Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, a group that supports traditional marriage, said she doesn’t think the opinion of four states constitutes a nationwide trend toward legalizing gay marriage.

“The people of North Carolina spoke very clearly six months ago about what they think marriage is — between a man and a woman,” she said.

Legalizing gay marriage in North Carolina would be a long and difficult process, said Maxine Eichner, a UNC law professor.

Even if Amendment One were to be removed from N.C.’s constitution, a state law that outlaws gay marriage remains in place, she noted.

Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to take up a case against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage between a man and a woman.

But Eichner said even if the Supreme Court ruled the act to be unconstitutional, North Carolina’s law wouldn’t change.

“There’s nothing in the current case that says states would have to accept marriages from other states,” she said.

Despite the uphill battle ahead, Campbell said, Equality N.C. is looking forward to working with incoming members of the N.C. General Assembly on issues like marriage equality.

Republicans have retained control of both the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate after the Nov. 6 election.

“This provides us with an opportunity to see if there are any moderates in the new class (of legislators),” he said.

“Then we can evaluate how best to move forward.”

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