North Carolina Considers Constitutionally Banning Same-Sex Marriage

Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, but last month, the state's Republican-controlled legislature put a proposal to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage on a May 8, 2012, primary ballot. Some Democrats say the proposal is simply redundant and politicians should be focused on the economy, but gay rights groups claim it poses a dangerous legal threat to the rights of same-sex and other unmarried couples in the state.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the ballot initiative could pose a public relations dilemma for Democrats and President Obama. The president has shifted his position on the issue in the past and told reporters that states should be left to decide on same-sex marriage. Obama won North Carolina, a key battleground state, by a narrow margin in 2008.

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, has already avoided taking a firm stance in support of gay rights. In an October 7 statement, Perdue said the amendment could “harm our state's business climate.”

“I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman: That's why I voted for the law in 1996 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and that's why I continue to support that law today,” Perdue said. “But I'm going to vote against the amendment because I cannot in good conscience look an unemployed man or woman in the eye and tell them that this amendment is more important than finding them a job.”

The editorial board of the Charlotte Observer, which had asked Perdue to reveal her stance on the proposed amendment, lashed out at the governor, calling her response “namby-pamby” and scolding her for refusing to stand up for gay and lesbian citizens.

Gay rights group Equality North Carolina says the proposed amendment could damage more than the North Carolina economy. The amendment would strip several cities of the ability to provide benefits to tens of thousands of public employees in domestic partnerships. The amendment would also ban civil unions, which polls show most North Carolinians support.

Equality North Carolina calls the amendments language “vague and untested” and could be used to invalidate domestic violence protections; child custody and visitation rights; and even trusts, wills and end-of-life directives. The broad language could also have “dire consequences” for the rights of unmarried straight couples and their children.

Thirty states have language in their constitutions that make same-sex marriage illegal, and North Carolina is the only state in the southeast without a constitutional ban.

A September 7 poll shows most North Carolinians are still opposed to gay marriage, but are not eager to jump on the constitutional bandwagon, and the amendment would be struck down by a 55 to 33 percent margin. Sixty-one percent of voters polled said gay marriage should be illegal, but 54 percent said they either support civil unions or full marriage rights for same-sex couples, according to Public Policy Polling.