For Shana Carignan and Megan Parker Carignan, the passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina would mean much more than a dashed dream of walking down the aisle.
The Greensboro, N.C., couple faces the prospect of losing crucial domestic partner benefits they need to care for Jax, a four-year-old special needs child they adopted, as well as for Mary, a special needs elderly woman they’ve taken care of for about seven years.
Shana said “a lot of things are at stake” if Amendment 1 passes because her custody of Jax could be jeopardized if something should happen to Megan, who legally adopted the child.
“There’s a good chance that I would not be in custody of him,” Shana said. “Even if we were to draw up guardianship papers, they’re saying that there’s risk that this amendment would null and void it and that he would probably go back into the foster care system in Texas.”
Noting Jax has special needs, Shana said she doesn’t believe many other families would be able to care for the child should he be sent back to Texas.
Moreover, Amendment 1 would also cause problems if Shana were injured or died because Jax wouldn’t receive any benefits as a result that would be afforded to children under the care of their biological parents.
Also at stake is the couple’s home. The house in which the two reside is currently in Megan’s name. Even though both have contributed income toward the household, Shana could lose the home if something should happen to Megan.
“Even if she put me in her will, there’s a good chance that the courts would not give me anything that we worked toward together because we’re not married and because we’re not blood related,” Shana said.
At first blush, the result of the vote on the anti-gay amendment may seem neutral because same-sex marriage is already prohibited by statute in North Carolina. If Amendment 1 passes on May 8, same-sex couples won’t be able to marry. If Amendment 1 fails on May 8, same-sex couples won’t be able to marry.
But the sweeping measure would not only enshrine in the state constitution a ban on their ability to marry, but would take away domestic partner health benefits and make contractual agreements questionable at best.
The amendment reads, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Opponents of the measure say anyone who falls outside of this definition could potentially be harmed by the amendment.
Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, emphasized that Amendment 1 would have “far-reaching, negative consequences” that would go beyond a ban on same-sex marriage if it were passed.
“If the national industries pushing Amendment One intended to simply codify existing state laws banning same-sex marriage, they’ve made an egregious mistake, and in doing so impacted our state’s most vulnerable North Carolina families,” Kennedy said. “In addition to banning civil unions and domestic partnerships, Amendment One’s broad language could take health care away from children, put domestic violence laws in jeopardy, force seniors to choose between their hard-earned benefits and legal protections, and, in doing so, threaten all unmarried couples in North Carolina.”
Both Shana, 29, a fundraiser a local HIV non-profit, and Megan, 33, a caregiver for individuals with special needs, expressed frustration over the prospects of losing the benefits they need to protect their family if North Carolina voters approve Amendment 1 next month.
Shana said she’s “appalled” that her rights that many other couples may take for granted will come up to a vote. The couple had a commitment ceremony two years ago, but haven’t been legally married.
“I work a job, I pay my taxes, I have been raising a family,” Shana said. “We’re raising a family that’s non traditional that maybe a lot of people wouldn’t choose, or wouldn’t want to put in the amount of work that we put into our family because of the circumstances involving the disabilities. It’s already hard for us, and to make it that much harder is hurtful and just shocking.”
Megan echoed the sentiments expressed by her partner.
“We work so hard and I think if you look at our character, we just try so hard to be the best people and citizens that we can be,” Meghan said. “I love where I’m from so much, and just to think that there’s a potential that the state constitution could be amended to exclude me from so many things is frustrating and disheartening.”
Another couple that resides in Durham, N.C., Libby and Melissa Hodges, also expressed frustration over Amendment 1 because its passage would mean they would lose their domestic partner benefits. Both work as city planners and have a four-year-old daughter.
Libby, 32, said she receives domestic partner benefits from her job because that’s the most inexpensive way to care for Melissa, 33, and their daughter, but these benefits would become unavailable if Amendment 1 passes.
“Currently, the city I work for has domestic partner benefits and I cover [our daughter] under that insurance,” Libby said. “If the amendment passes, there stands to be a very good chance that she’ll not be able to covered under my insurance any longer.”
The couple also expressed concern about the consequences in the event the two decided to split. Melissa, the biological mother of their daughter, would have no obligation to provide visitation rights, nor would Libby have any obligation to provide any care.
“I see the signs out for the amendment,” Melissa said. “I feel like it’s just an act of meanness. I don’t see where it benefits anyone; it’s just trying to strike out and hurt me more. Related to my relationship I have very few rights as it is, and they’re striking out to take the few that we have away.”
A survey by Public Policy Polling last month revealed 58 percent of likely voters intend to vote for the amendment, while 38 percent were planning a “no” vote.
However, supporters don’t seem to fully understand the bill’s potential consequences. For example, 51 percent said they support some kind of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples — either marriage or a civil union — yet 34 percent of that same group still intend to vote for the amendment.