RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina House of Representatives voted Monday to put a ban on same-sex marriage before voters next year. After 3 1/2 hours of debate, 75 legislators voted in favor of the bill which would ask voters to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Several Democrats joined the Republican majority in backing the bill. Voters could see it on the ballot during the May primary election.
Opponents in the House said it didn't matter the date of the referendum — they said it was an awful idea that would send the state backward and likened the question to instituting Jim Crow restrictions that prevented interracial marriage. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said approving this proposal would run counter to changing attitudes about same-sex relationships.
"We've put discrimination in our constitution before and if you vote for this amendment ... you will be doing it against the tide of history and against future generations," Ross said.
Before the action moved inside, hundreds of social conservatives rallied on Halifax Mall to urge legislators to back the bill. Same-sex marriage advocates planned a candlelight vigil Monday night and a counterprotest Tuesday on Raleigh's Bicentennial Mall.
"It hurts me personally. It makes me angry. I don't think there's a need for it," said Lisa Mayer, who attended the candlelight vigil.
Rep. Marcus Brandon, the only openly gay lawmaker in the state House of Representatives, said the vote was "hurtful."
"I don't think people will ever understand how personal that is for you to be called an abomination," Brandon said.
State law already bans same-sex marriage, and opponents of a constitutional amendment contend that it is unnecessary. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without such a provision in its constitution.
Amendment supporters argue putting it in the constitution would help the state against challenges from same-sex couples married in the six states that allow the unions.
Supporters of same-sex marriage rights have defined the issue in civil rights terms. Advocacy group Equality NC delivered more than 50,000 postcards to the legislative offices Monday, hoping to convince lawmakers that their constituents oppose the move and see it as discriminatory.
Alex Miller, interim director of Equality NC, said putting the measure on the ballot would be inherently unfair. "You do not put the rights of a minority group up for a majority vote."
Anthony Pugliese, a gay man who moved to North Carolina with his partner and two daughters, said, "Anything that affects or limits the rights of one group over another is definitely something I consider civil rights."
Crystal Amanchukwu, a supporter of the ban, failed to see the connection. "What we have gone through as a black people is because of our biology, because of our race. And the other action is because of behavior, because of personal choices," she said.
Robert Williams agreed. "For them (homosexuals) to say that it is a choice, it's not a choice. They are not born that way," Williams said.
"I don't think the state should sanction something I consider perversion," added Cindy Lassiter.