September 13, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
N.C. Legislature sends marriage amendment to voters

The North Carolina Legislature gave its final approval on Tuesday to an amendment that would make a ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution — sending the measure to the ballot in May 2012.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina State Senate passed the amendment by a vote of 30-16. The State House on Monday approved the measure by 75-42. A three-fifths vote was required in each chamber for passage.

Language in the measure moves the ballot date for the amendment from November 2012 to May 2012 — at the same time as the Republican presidential primary is taking place in the state. A majority vote among the electorate is required to make the amendment part of the state constitution.

Alex Miller, interim executive for Equality North Carolina, said the battle in the Legislature may be lost, but “the fight goes on.”

“While the proponents of this harmful, divisive, shameful legislation may have succeeded in throwing up a temporary barrier against the inevitable tide of acceptance and equality, our struggle continues and the campaign to defeat this amendment at the ballot box begins today,” Miller said.

State law in North Carolina already prohibits same-sex marriage, but the measure would make the ban part of the state constitution. If approved by voters, the State Legislature would be unable to legalize same-sex marriage and state courts wouldn’t be able rule in favor of same-sex marriage if the statutory ban were challenged in court.

The measure states that opposite-sex marriage is the “only domestic legal union” in North Carolina, although the amendment allows certain contractual rights between “private parties.” Opponents of this amendment say this language is unclear and could also prohibit civil unions or domestic partnerships in North Carolina.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, spoke out against the amendment and its potential to harm same-sex couples.

“At a time when all North Carolina families are worrying about job losses and cuts in education, it is unconscionable that the legislature add additional stress to a segment of those families,” Solmonese said. “Neighbors are no longer willing to be pitted against one another over these issues. When ballots are cast in May 2012, we are confident North Carolinians will not be persuaded to limit the rights of their friends and family to such a degree.”

The measure is one of two marriage amendments that some voters are set to face in 2012. The Minnesota electorate will also vote on an amendment banning same-sex marriage in November 2012.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, called the legislative approval amendment in North Carolina “a tremendous blow to loving, committed same-sex couples” in the state.

“To try to preempt the conversations taking place across North Carolina about same-sex couples and why marriage matters by cementing discrimination into the constitution is unfair and wrong,” Solomon said. “And politically scheming to put such a cruel and discriminatory measure on a low-turnout Republican presidential primary ballot is a sham designed to circumvent the majority of North Carolina voters, who polls say, oppose this amendment and the injury it will inflict not just on families, but the state.”

Matt Comer of GOQnotes has a report on the debate that ensued in the Senate prior to the approval of the amendment.

According to GOQnotes, primary sponsor Sen. James Forrester said the amendment was intended to defend the “an institution in our society based upon the complementary male and female loin.”

“Moms and dads are not interchangeable,” Forrester was quoted as saying. “Two dads don’t make a mom. Two moms don’t make a dad. Children need both a father and a mother.”

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who represents Asheville in the Senate, reportedly took aim at Forrester for previous comments made in a Gaston Gazette article. Forrester was quoted saying Asheville is “a cesspool of sin.”

“I’ve served with Sen. Forrester since he got here and I’ve always considered him a gentleman and a scholar,” Nesbitt was quoted as saying. “I appreciate my service with him and he drags this bill up and the next thing I’m reading is that he’s declared my community a cesspool of sin. I tell you what, mountain people are getting a little tired of people sitting down here throwing darts at them.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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