CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the end, I was surprised by the margin but not the outcome of the vote. An amendment that says “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state” passed 61 to 39 percent in North Carolina on Tuesday. Somehow, I thought it would be closer.
In the end, the robocalls from popular former President Bill Clinton and the statement urging a “no” vote from the current one, who won the state in 2008, didn’t make a difference. The list of cities – from Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh and Durham – that thought the amendment was a bad idea with broad language that went too far could not outweigh the traditional voters who thought a barrier to judges and legislators, one that goes beyond the current state ban on gay marriage, was a legal and moral necessity.
Reacting to the outcome, Cameron French, N.C. press secretary for Obama for America, said in a statement: “The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. 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.”
The feeling the day after is determination and a vow to fight on from one side and elation from the other, with speculation on what comes next. How will the amendment, which goes into effect the first of next year, affect insurance for families, inheritance and other legal issues? Will the North Carolina cities and towns with domestic partnership benefits in place be left alone or be forced to adjust? Will there be challenges to domestic violence laws, as there were in Ohio after a similar measure was passed?
And if marriage between one man and one woman is the only valid domestic legal union, what happens to the heterosexuals who make up the majority of unmarried couples, some with children, but do not marry?
My colleague Michelle Bernard quotes N.C. House Majority Leader Paul Stam(R) on his views that the amendment, which he supported, would indeed invalidate all civil unions and domestic partnerships, whether “opposite-sex” or “same-sex.” That’s what Dwayne A. Walker, pastor at Charlotte’s Little Rock AME Zion Church, called “unintended consequences” when he told me before the vote that while he agrees with his church’s stand against same-sex marriage he did not approve of the amendment.
Before the vote, longtime Charlotte leaders and philanthropists Sally and Russell Robinson in a video urged a “no” vote on the amendment. Attorney Russell Robinson – whose grandfather, state Supreme Court Justice William B. Rodman, was principal author of the 1868 N.C. Constitution – said the amendment was “very poorly worded,” is “bound to invite litigation” and would disrupt family relationships, such as that between parent and child, “not defined by contract.”
Amendment supporters and other attorneys dismiss those qualms as irrelevant scare tactics used to gain support for same-sex marriage, and pointed out the laws in other states that are working without interference from court challenges.
For now, North Carolina has asserted itself as a place that’s hard to figure out. By November, after the Democrats hold their September convention in Charlotte and after both Democratic and Republican campaign machines gear up in a battle for the state’s 15 electoral votes, the presidential contest might still be close.
It was the GOP majority voted into control of the state legislature in 2010 that put the marriage amendment on the ballot, well after other Southeast states had passed theirs. No poll ever showed the amendment losing, though the margin of victory tightened when respondents knew it covered civil unions.
Tuesday’s result shakes the image of North Carolina as a progressive Southern state, with a Democratic African American mayor in Charlotte, big though troubled banks and financial centers, and the elite universities situated in the doctorate-rich Research Triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. On those streets, it was difficult to find a “vote yes” yard sign.
Not so in other parts of this Bible belt. While one coalition of faith groups did join the effort to defeat the amendment, others, such as the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant congregations, worked hard to pass it. The prominent Graham family worked for it, with Franklin Graham recording a message and his well-respected father, the Rev. Billy Graham, 93 and ill, strongly supporting the measure in full-page newspaper ads across the state.
Though outside groups helped forces to defeat Amendment One take the lead in the money race, “the pro side could have not spent a single dollar, and they would have still won by double digits,” Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh told the Charlotte Observer.
Someone who would not tell me how he decided explained his belief that many of the voters who came out probably didn’t make up their minds until the last minute. It was a tough decision, and if voting “no” felt too much like favoring same-sex marriage, he said, no explanation of the measure’s fuzzy legal wording could ever convince.
At a community forum last week, one of many in North Carolina that tried to make sense of the amendment before the vote, the goal was “Moving Forward Together: Deliberating the Implications of Amendment One.” The free discussion was sponsored by five Charlotte-area universities and the Foundation for the Carolinas.
Before the meeting, Michael Marsicano, president of the foundation, told me that panelists would speak to the legal, cultural and economic possibilities of the proposed amendment. He didn’t want to sway votes, he said, because “good people on both sides have deeply held beliefs.”
Marsicano told me he wanted to focus on the facts, and drain the excess of emotion from the discussion, something that may be impossible to do on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3