North Carolina Lawmakers Approve Revised Anti-Gay Measure
The North Carolina Senate on Tuesday, Sept. 13, approved an anti-gay ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution in a way that not only places legal marriage out of reach for gay and lesbian families, but denies them domestic partnerships and civil unions as well.
The 30-16 vote came after the House rushed to approve the same measure by a 75-42 margin late on Monday, Sept. 12.
"This legislative battle may be lost, but the fight goes on," said Alex Miller, interim executive director of Equality North Carolina. "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."
"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," added Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
State law already denies same-sex couples marriage equality, but proponents of the ballot measure say that unless voters approve the ban, married couples from other states could roil North Carolina’s legal system.
Thirty states have put the rights of same-sex families to popular vote and in every case voters have approved the anti-gay measures. If approved, North Carolina’s amendment would rank as one of the most gay-unfriendly in the nation.
The measure hurtled through the state House, according to a Sept. 12 Q Notes article. It will now appear on the May 2012 ballot.
The initiative was originally scheduled to go before voters in the Nov. 2012, but lawmakers changed the date in response to accusations that they were playing on anti-gay animus in order to boost conservative turnout in the presidential election.
"What we’re trying to do is respect the concerns of some who felt like this was purely politically-motivated," Speaker of the House Thom Tillis told the press at a media conference. "I decided, consulting with a number of people, and we decided that this was the most acceptable form. It was a discussion that involved both chambers. There are some members who were inclined to support the bill and did feel like political considerations were an issue that might cause them not to vote for something they would otherwise support."
Critics lambasted what they said was an overly accelerated process in approving the measure, but proponents argued that it was essential to get the measure before voters.
"Things have changed in Iowa, California, New York, D.C. and Massachusetts," said House Majority Leader Paul Stam. "We have now states with significant populations that are allowing same-sex marriages to be legitimized and entered into. The question then becomes what happens when they come to North Carolina seeking divorce or equitable distribution?"
Stam did not say why it was necessary for the anti-gay amendment also to deny same-sex couples lesser forms of legal recognition. Democratic lawmakers expressed concern over the way the issue was being handled.
"This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the State of North Carolina," state Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat and former Speaker of the House, told his colleagues. "It ought not to be done this way and ought to be given a fair hearing. We have people in the audience, experts on constitutional interpretation. They are not allowed to speak."
Hackney went on to add, "There are so many unanswered questions about this that we don’t have time to go into here at this meeting."
Other Democratic lawmakers denounced what they said was the measure’s unfair and discriminatory nature.
"This is all about someone is different, therefore you will be treated different," declared Democratic Rep. Marcus Brandon. "If you have a problem in your marriage, then it’s probably something you’re doing not what someone else is doing. I can think of a lot of sins in the Bible that affects marriage more than what a homosexual does any day of the week."
Brandon also asked his colleagues to give some thought to the bitter and divisive campaign that is likely to rock the state as proponents and foes of the anti-gay measure battle it out over the next year and a half. Historically, proponents of such measures have cast aspersions on gay families and made wild claims to the effect that children would be "turned gay" unless same-sex families were locked out of legal recognition, rights, and protections.
"What is a little child like after $10 million of ads that sound just like [the anti-gay rhetoric] I heard today?" Brandon queried. "What does that do to your constituents?"
Research indicates that gay and lesbian families in states where campaigns have raged to pass such amendments have been more likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those in states where such divisive campaigns have not been waged.
"To the folks in the LGBT community, I do apologize for the General Assembly and the way we have operated," added Brandon.
Passage in the state Senate is seen as likely, given that Republicans dominate both chambers of the state government. Democrats fended off attempts to amend the state constitution for a decade, while all the other states in the region saw voters approve similar anti-gay amendments.
Local business leaders opposed the measure, warning that in tough economic times the state could not afford to alienate businesses that might otherwise locate in North Carolina, bringing jobs and money with them.
Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who hails from North Carolina, wrote "An Open Letter to the North Carolina General Assembly" in which he related his concerns and recalled his own youth as a gay man growing up in an anti-gay environment, Care2.com reported on Sept. 12.
"Companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are the future of our global economy," wrote Hughes. "But the proposed anti-gay constitutional amendment signals to these and other major employers, as well as their mobile, educated employees, that North Carolina does not welcome the diverse workforce that any state needs to compete in the international marketplace."
"In short, this amendment is bad for business, bad for the perception of my home state on the national stage, and a far cry from job-creating legislation that North Carolina lawmakers should be focused on," Hughes added.