Voters in North Carolina on Tuesday approved a sweeping anti-gay amendment that made a ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution in addition to jeopardizing other rights for gay couples.
The Associated Press called the race in the favor of the anti-gay measure, known as Amendment One, shortly after 9 p.m. Polls closed at 7:30 p.m.
According to early results, 61 percent of voters in North Carolina voted in favor of the amendment while 39 percent voted against it. Amendment One found majority support in the vast majority of counties, although a few counties voted to reject the measure: Wake, Chatham, Durham, Orange, Watauga, Mecklenburg and Buncombe.
Same-sex marriage is already barred by statute in North Carolina. But the amendment not only makes that ban part of the state constitution, it prohibits civil unions, interferes with domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities and threatens contractual arrangements between same-sex partners. The amendment’s restrictions on domestic partner benefits will likely be contested in court.
The vote on the amendment took place on the same day as the North Carolina primary, but the measure drew more attention than the presidential race because Mitt Romney has already become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
National LGBT groups expressed disappointment with the passage of the amendment. The vote makes North Carolina the 30th state with a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, expressed disappointment, but characterized the vote as a temporary setback.
“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,” Solmonese said. “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.”
According to HRC, the organization spent just over $500,000 in the effort against Amendment One in three ways: HRC North Carolina PAC has funneled about $240,000 to the campaign; HRC itself gave about $60,000 in cash; and the group contributed about $200,000 in in-kind expenditures that was mostly staff time.
The Obama campaign also weighed in after the passage of the amendment with a statement from an official in North Carolina.
Cameron French, North Carolina press secretary for Obama for America, said the president is “disappointed” by the passage of Amendment One.
“The president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples,” French said. “He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it. President Obama has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples and is disappointed in the passage of this amendment. On a federal level, he has ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended key benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.”
Several other national LGBT groups made no direct contributions to the campaign. Freedom to Marry made no donations to the campaign as it directed $3 million in funds to battles in other states: Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Washington.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, emphasized his organization’s contributions to efforts to block the amendment from coming to the ballot.
“Freedom to Marry contributed to the effort to block the amendment in the legislature and offered messaging strategy and research to the campaign,” Wolfson said. “We also sent several alerts to our supporters urging them to donate directly to the campaign, even as we are deeply engaged in the lift to win ballot battles in three other states, are working to override the veto in New Jersey, and successfully led the fight to hold the freedom to marry in New Hampshire.”
Gill Action Fund also made no direct contributions, according to the most recent campaign disclosure records. The organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prior to the vote, former President Bill Clinton recorded a robocall urging North Carolina residents to oppose Amendment One. According to the campaign against Amendment One, the Clinton robocall went out to 500,000 likely voters in North Carolina.
“If it passes, it won’t change North Carolina’s law on marriage,” Clinton says on the call. “What it will change is North Carolina’s ability to keep good businesses, attract new jobs, and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs. If it passes, your ability to keep those businesses, get those jobs, and get those talented entrepreneurs will be weakened. And losing even one job to Amendment One is too big of a risk.”
On the other side, evangelist Rev. Billy Graham came out in favor of the anti-gay measure and delivered a statement that was set to run in 14 North Carolina newspapers last weekend.
“At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,” Graham says. “The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment.”
Graham continues, “Watching the moral decline of our country causes me great concern. I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and must be protected.”
The level of involvement of President Obama and the Democratic National Committee has drawn mixed reaction from LGBT activists.
The DNC didn’t make a donation to the campaign against Amendment One, even though the campaign asked for funds to combat the anti-gay measure and the DNC previously made a $25,000 contribution to the fight against California’s Proposition 8 in 2008.
The Obama campaign issued a statement earlier in the month saying the president opposes divisive and discriminatory measures and “does not support” Amendment One. According to the campaign against Amendment One, that statement was the goal that organizers had sought from Obama.
But many LGBT advocates asked Obama to denounce the measure himself publicly and were disappointed that he made no mention of the measure in a speech to college students on April 24 in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Pam Spaulding, a lesbian blogger for Pam’s House Blend, expressed disappointment in the president’s failure to speak out against Amendment One publicly in an email to the Washington Blade following the speech.
“This president hasn’t exactly been known to be bold about weighing in on the Amendment; after all, his statement against Amendment One came from a NC spokesperson, not from the man himself,” Spaulding said. “It was no surprise, given the administration’s predilection for succumbing to political homophobia, or fear that being outspoken in speeches or on camera regarding LGBT issues — even on a subject he has a clear position on, such as opposing discriminatory ballot initiatives like this — usually rules the day.”
A campaign mailing dated May 7 makes no mention of Amendment One — even though it came out the day before the measure came before voters — as it called on followers to show support for Obama.
“The primary is a great opportunity to come out, meet other supporters in your area, and make your voice heard,” the mailing states. “And even though we already know that President Obama will be our nominee, it’s important that we let him know we’re standing with him, now and in November.”