North Carolina Passes Constitutional Ban on Marriage Equality

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com May 08 2012 8:41 PM ET

Though a stinging loss, the measure's passage was largely expected, as polling in recent days showed a sizeable lead for amendment supporters. According to incomplete returns, voters supported Amendment One by more than 20 points, with 61% in favor and 39% opposed.

North Carolina becomes the 30th state to approve a constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples. The state of 9.7 million residents already had a law barring gay marriage, but it was the only remaining Southern state that had not gone a step further in passing a constitutional amendment.

“The passage of Amendment One is a heartbreaking loss for families in North Carolina, but will not stop us in the march toward full equality,” Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese, who leaves his position next month, said Tuesday. “As the country continues to move in the direction of marriage equality, our opponents have cynically interrupted the important conversations taking place which lead to increased understanding and acceptance.”

Tuesday's loss comes only a few months before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where the party will renominate President Obama for the November election, a contest that is all-but-certain to be against presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

In March, the Obama campaign released a statement against Amendment One, based on the president's opposition to “divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples," a talking point first employed by then-candidate Obama's opposition to California's Proposition 8 nearly four years ago. National focus had turned to the state over the past several days as Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed their support for marriage equality and advocates continued to press President Barack Obama to explain his “evolving” position.

The Coalition to Protect All Families NC, which worked to defeat the amendment, had nonetheless expressed hope heading into Tuesday. Early voting predicted high turnout and increased participation of voters who tend to be less conservative than those who typically vote in primary elections.

The coalition ran a campaign marked by diverse and bipartisan support from business leaders, clergy members, and elected officials. The NAACP provided key support including $500,000 for an ad buy. Over the weekend, former President Bill Clinton released a robocall that reached 500,000 voters.

More than $2.5 million was raised by the coalition, with contributions from over 11,000 individual donors, most of them from North Carolina. By comparison, the Vote For Marriage NC coalition raised around $1.4 million, with most of the donations coming from groups.

Jeremy Kennedy, Protect All Families NC's campaign manager, expressed his overriding emotion as “proud” in a telephone interview with The Advocate about three hours before the polls closed. “You can’t put this conversation back in a box,” he said. “The eyes of the nation have been on us, and we’ve given the people of North Carolina hope.”

Opponents based their campaign around the “unintended consequences” for the children of parents in domestic partnerships, and the protections for domestic violence survivors who are not in marriage relationships with their abusers.

That message was poorly communicated by North Carolina press, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which slammed local media in a Tuesday evening statement.

"North Carolina's media failed to educate its audience about the potential far-reaching consequences of this amendment, and as a result, polls show as many as 60% of voters didn't know the extent of what they were voting on," GLAAD president Herndon Graddick said. "While today’s vote is devastating to those families who will lose vital protections, we are encouraged by a steady rise in support for equality across the country.”

Meanwhile, proponents of the measure celebrated their victory Tuesday night at a Raleigh rally complete with wedding cake. “We are not anti-gay — we are pro-marriage,” Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote for Marriage NC, said at the rally, the New York Times reports. “And the point, the whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”

On Wednesday, Lambda Legal warned of the amendment's repercussions as predicted by its opponents in the campaign. "Be Warned: We have seen time and again how antigay forces use these measures first to denigrate lesbian and gay couples and their children, and then to attempt to deny these families a range of basic protections that have nothing to do with marriage—but we will fight these efforts until the day we erase marriage discrimination from the laws of North Carolina," Lambda marriage project director Camilla Taylor said.

Reporting by Neal Broverman and Julie Bolcer