State House lawmakers voted 75-42 today to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions.
The three-hour debate, largely dominated by the measure's opponents, was passionate and emotional.
Gay and lesbian people "are yours and my friends, relatives, pastors, coworkers, church and temple members, sons and daughters, nieces, nephews, granddaughters and grandsons," pleaded Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe. "Why would we use the constitution to take away the basic human rights of our family members, loved ones and colleagues?”
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, told the House her sister is in a longtime same-sex relationship and is raising a daughter. “I don’t know why anyone in this chamber thinks they can tell her she can’t marry the love of her life,” Harrison said, her voice breaking.
Other Democrats argued that banning the recognition of any domestic union apart from heterosexual marriage could interfere with the rights of unwed heterosexual couples as well as their same-sex counterparts. They argued the measure could interfere with domestic violence laws, trusts and wills, adoptions and custody agreements, even domestic partner and Medicaid benefits.
And others said the amendment would set off a "culture war" that would embarrass the state on the national stage, discouraging job creation from companies with gay and lesbian owners, managers, and employees. "We’re saying don’t bring your job to NC, don’t bring your investment to NC. We don’t want it unless you passed our test," said Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham. "You need not apply to bring jobs to NC."
Republican supporters said none of those claims are true. Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, argued that businesses don't decide where to locate based on gay marriage laws. And Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, insisted a clause in the amendment protects "contracts" between "private parties," which would cover domestic partner benefits businesses might choose to offer. (Municipal benefits, however, would be ended by the bill, if offered on the basis of a romantic relationship. Both Chapel Hill and Durham offer such benefits to LGBT employees.)
Stam could not say whether NC's existing ban on same-sex marriages has ever been challenged. But he said a constitutional amendment is needed because of challenges that have happened in other states. "It would be very possible for a judge in NC, so disposed, to decide that same-sex marriage has been in our constitution all along. We cannot upset the settled expectations of our people about what marriage is and what it’s not," Stam said.
Stam says the measure will also ban civil unions. “What this is saying is, no matter what you call it, if it’s an intimate relationship connected with the family, the only relationship that’s recognized in NC is that of one man and one woman.”
Opponents of the measure say the rights of a minority should never be put to a popular vote. For example, they argued, what if NC had allowed white citizens to vote on interracial marriage? But supporters of the ban reject the comparison of gay marriage with civil rights.
"There are occasions when decisions are bigger than the 170 people who serve in the House or the Senate," said Folwell. "The way we deal with controversial issues is that we vote on them. No one is trying to politicize this."
The final House vote on the amendment was 75-42. 65 Republicans and 10 Democrats voted for the measure: the Democrats were Reps. Pierce, Floyd, Graham, Brisson, Hill, Owens, Crawford, Goodman, Spear, and McGuirt. The rest of the Democrats voted against it, and two Republicans opted not to vote.
The measure now goes to the Senate. If it can get thirty votes there, it goes to the polls next May. The governor does not have veto power over constitutional amendments.