September 17, 2011

26RNS: N.C. Citizens to Get Vote on Marriage

North Carolina Citizens to
Get Vote on Marriage

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                          ©2011 Baptist Press

After years of watching their neighbor states pass constitutional amendments protecting the natural definition of marriage, North Carolinians finally will get to vote on the issue in 2012.

The North Carolina Senate made sure of that Tuesday (September 13), passing a marriage amendment, 30-16, one day after the state House passed it, 75-42. It required a three-fifths majority in each chamber but will need only a simple majority when it's on the ballot during the primary election next year, possibly in May.

"It is time for us to let the people of this state decide what they want in their constitution as far as marriage is concerned," Sen. Phil Berger, a Republican, said during floor debate. "It may pass, it may fail. But it is time for them to make that decision about their constitution."

All four states that border North Carolina passed constitutional marriage amendments in 2004 or 2006, but leaders in the then-Democratic controlled North Carolina legislature blocked an amendment from even coming to a floor vote. That changed last year when Republicans took over both chambers for the first time in more than 100 years. North Carolina is the only state in the southeast without a marriage amendment.

State polls and experience in other states, though, show the issue is far from a partisan issue and likely will get support from significant percentages in both parties. Marriage amendments have passed in Democratic-leaning states such as California, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

GOP leaders in North Carolina tried to de-politicize the issue by moving the vote from November 2012 to the 2012 primary, taking away the argument that the amendment's sole purpose was to bring out conservative voters during a presidential election.

A majority of states, 29, define marriage as between a man and a woman in their state constitutions. The amendments prevent state courts from redefining marriage to include gay couples, as has happened in Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts.

"It's the culmination of over 10 years of intensive work," Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told Baptist Press. The organization supports the amendment and works with Christian organizations, including the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. "Every year that that legislation was put forward, the leaders in both chambers would not even allow it to be heard. But when the leadership changed at the last election, we knew we had hope that we were finally going to get a hearing on it, and if we could get a hearing, that it would pass."

Still, it was "more of a fight than I anticipated," Creech said.

With 50 members in the Senate, the amendment passed by the bare minimum (30 votes) for a three-fifths majority. It needed 72 votes in the House and cleared that margin by only three votes.

To read the rest of the story, click here.