Campaign to reject NC gay marriage vote begins
Posted January 18, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. — Opponents of a gay marriage ban on statewide ballots in May said their campaign starting Wednesday to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment aims at persuading voters the change would have broad consequences beyond discriminating against same-sex couples.
Representatives of the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families talked about their campaign to have supporters engage in 1 million one-on-one conversations with families and friends about the amendment, which needs approval from a majority of votes cast to enter the state constitution.
The coalition also will begin Jan. 27 a series of events across the state to discuss with the public the harm the amendment would cause if approved. They said it would prevent state-sanctioned civil unions and domestic partnerships besides placing in the constitution what is already state law — that traditional marriage is the only kind recognized.
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that doesn't limit marriage to a man and a woman in its constitution. Thirty states have similar constitutional restrictions but gay marriage is now legalized in six states and the District of Columbia. That has led activists on both sides of the issue to see the scheduled May 8 primary vote as one that could influence other states.
Coalition campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy said at the campaign's statewide launch event the umbrella group represents all kinds of people from different kinds of family relationships, not just gays and lesbians.
"Our coalition is built to protect all of those families from those very real harms," Kennedy said at the Legislative Building news conference, standing in front of civil rights advocates, ministers, gay rights activists and others.
Speakers offered many ways the amendment could harm gay and straight couples, married or unmarried. They said it could weaken or eliminate child custody and visitation rights and domestic violence protection laws, discourage businesses from expanding or setting up shop in North Carolina because of an unwelcoming environment for gays, and end benefits to partners of local government employees.
"There are so many everyday forms of discrimination that we endure when we are a same-sex couple, and to get by I've just learned to put it out of mind," said Sherri Zann Rosenthal, an assistant Durham city attorney whose same-sex partner could lose health benefits if the amendment were approved.
Rosenthal, who was at the event on her own behalf, said she's less able to ignore bias now that a proposed amendment "might sweep away the small bits of fairness that have been extended to us" and make her a "perpetual second-class citizen."
"The beauty of a constitution is that it protects the rights of everyone, not just certain categories of people in certain groups. It's supposed to protect all of us," said Stacey Poston, who recently got engaged to her partner of 13 years and plans to marry in another state.
"The amendment is really writing discrimination into our constitution," she said. "It's not necessary. It's overkill. We already can't get married in North Carolina."
Amendment backers say opponents are exaggerating the effects of the amendment, which supporters successfully got the Legislature last September to put on the ballot this spring.
Civil unions and domestic partnerships already are illegal in North Carolina, and cities and counties could still be able to create methods to give partners of employee benefits if they chose, said Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the Vote FOR Marriage NC Referendum Committee.
"The other side is trying to overplay the issue. The amendment is about defining marriage as between a man and a woman in the constitution," Fitzgerald said, adding that "the public can understand it and see through all of this other rhetoric on the other side."
The amendment, she said, has nothing to do with benefits and said it isn't about unfairness or inequality.
"It has everything to do with defining in our constitution an institution that has a historical and longstanding definition. It isn't intended to be discriminatory but to strengthen the current law," she said.
Amendment supporters have said the additional constitutional protection will make it harder for a legal challenge by same-sex couples from other states who want their marriages to be recognized.
The amendment passed the General Assembly after it was bottled up for years when Democrats controlled the Legislature. The Republicans gained a majority in both chambers for the first time in 140 years after the 2010 elections.
What the gay marriage opponents fail to see is society is more pluralistic today, and that love between two men or two women and the families they care for are just as worthy of protecting those families based on heterosexual couples, news conference speakers said.
"It wasn't long ago when race determined who you could marry, and so what is seen in one generation as tradition becomes to be understood in future generations as oppressive," Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland , said at the launch.
"The constitution holds equality out as an ideal. This amendment if it passes would say we are just kidding," he said. "The divisiveness and irrationality and intolerance and fear that are at the heart of this amendment cannot be allowed to succeed."
Both groups have hired staff workers as the competing campaigns begin to take off. Fitzgerald said the Voter FOR Marriage NC committee will release more details in the coming weeks about their campaign, which will include reaching out to churches statewide and civic groups.