Marriage between a man and a woman will now be the only legally recognized domestic union in North Carolina after voters Tuesday overwhelmingly passed Amendment One, a change to the state’s constitution that could take effect as early as next week. North Carolina now becomes the 30th state to adopt a same-sex marriage ban.
With all precincts reporting, 61 percent of voters supported the amendment, while 39 percent were opposed.
After earning approval by the Republican-controlled general assembly last fall, the stage was set for a battle over same-sex marriage in the only southern state without such a ban. But while supporters of the amendment emphasized so-called traditional family values, opponents to the measure sought to make the campaign about anything but same-sex marriage, which was already banned under a 1996 state statute. Instead, the anti-amendment contingent argued that, in precluding legal recognition for civil unions and domestic partnerships, Amendment One would carry negative implications on both gay and straight unmarried couples. The first two television ads sponsored by the Coalition to Protect NC Families, the organization that led the opposition campaign, and released last month emphasized the amendment’s potential impact on recipients of domestic violence protections and domestic partnership benefits. Same-sex marriage wasn’t mentioned in either spot. Paul Guequierre, spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect NC Families, told TPM that the campaign stands by the strategy, even in defeat.
“The coalition did what they could to reach out to everyday North Carolinians,” Guequierre said. “This campaign was about a lot of things, and there’s no question that LGBT rights were an issue, but I think there were other issues that were important to address as well.”
In truth, there was never much doubt that voters would pass Amendment One, save for a brief moment last month when support for the measure seemed to be waning. Polls routinely showed robust support for the amendment ever since it was approved by lawmakers in Raleigh — even if voters didn’t necessarily understand what its ultimate passage would mean. The Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), which gauged public opinion on Amendment One since October, consistently found that large percentages of North Carolina voters were ill-informed of the proposal’s actual consequences. Many perceived the amendment to be a simple same-sex marriage ban, while some even thought it would legalize gay marriage. Those misconceptions vexed the opposition’s efforts up until Election Day. PPP’s research often concluded that those who understood Amendment One were significantly less likely to support the measure.
Some legal experts decried the sweeping nature of the amendment, pointing to a 2004 Ohio law that was similar in its scope. The Ohio law also denied legal recognition for all civil unions, causing legal ambiguity in the years that followed. Between 2005 and 2007, Ohio’s courts heard cases wherein some defense attorneys successfully argued that domestic violence protections could not apply to unmarried couples under the 2004 law. In 2007, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that those protections cover unmarried couples as well.
Despite the predictable outcome of Tuesday’s vote, the amendment generated considerable national attention. Partly due to the reduced interest in the Republican presidential primary and partly due to same-sex marriage being thrust into the spotlight after remarks by Vice President Joe Biden earlier this week, the vote on Amendment One became one of Tuesday’s marquee contests. Rev. Billy Graham, a native of North Carolina, sponsored full-page advertisements in newspapers throughout the state last weekend urging voters to pass the amendment. Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, recorded a robocall to express opposition to Amendment One. For much of Tuesday, topics related to Amendment One were trending on Twitter in the United States.
The passage of the amendment comes at a time when gay marriage appears to be gaining mainstream acceptance. A Gallup poll released Tuesday found that 50 percent of Americans believe that marriage involving same-sex couples should be awarded the same legal recognition as traditional marriage. That represents only the second time in the history of Gallup’s tracking that at least half of the country has signaled support for same-sex marriage (it happened for the first time last year). In fact, state house Speaker Thom Tillis (R), a supporter of the amendment, even told a student group at North Carolina State University in March that he predicts that the measure will be repealed within 20 years.
Guiquierre said he agrees with Tillis and that the Coalition to Protect NC Families will now “look at all legal options and political options to overturn this amendment.”
“The next step is to address the harms or potential harms it will cause North Carolina families,” Guiquierre said. “I think this is a temporary setback to the equality movement. Whether it’s in five, ten or 20 years, it’s going to get repealed.”
Vote For Marriage NC, the organization that powered the pro-amendment campaign, did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.