Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina voters elected to change the state constitution on Tuesday, prohibiting any union outside of a marriage between a man and a woman from being recognized in the state.
The marriage amendment captured 61 percent of the vote in unofficial results.
David McLennan, political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh, said some of the wide margin could be attributable to confusion over the amendment.
"About 10 percent of the people polled across the last two months thought that voting for the amendment was voting for gay marriage," McLennan said. "I'm not saying that makes up all the difference. Twenty-two points is a pretty wide margin."
The amendment split the state in recent months, as many churches urged their congregations to back what they called God's definition of marriage. Amendment opponents predicted that the measure would bring a number of unintended consequences, such as weakening domestic violence protections and costing some families health coverage.
Opponents also said North Carolina couldn't afford to write discrimination into its constitution, noting many companies recognize employees' same-sex relationships.
"We are not anti-gay. We are pro-marriage," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of Vote For Marriage NC. told cheering supporters in Raleigh. "The whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of adults.”
House Majority Leader Paul Stam helped shepherd the amendment through the General Assembly last year, and he predicted that it would withstand any court challenge.
"The courts are open; people can sue," said Stam, R-Wake. "But this is a state constitutional amendment. You cannot claim a constitutional amendment violates the state constitution or a statute.”
As amendment supporters celebrated by cutting into a wedding cake topped by images of a married man and woman, Fitzgerald said North Carolina has blazed a trail for other states have similar votes scheduled for November.
"Your efforts send a loud message to the country – we will not allow marriage to be redefined," she told supporters.
Meanwhile, amendment foes gathered across town in a somber recognition of their efforts.
"While we're disappointed in tonight's vote," said Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for Protect All NC Families, "it galvanized and mobilized people across this country in ways we never knew imaginable."
"It's OK to grieve, but I want us to leave with a sense of pride," Kennedy said.
Jill Hinton said she thinks it's unfair that her gay son has fewer rights than her other three children simply because of his sexual orientation.
"It's just disappointing to live in a state that – I love North Carolina, born and raised here – but live in a state that's willing to take people's rights away," Hinton said.
Although many black churches came out in favor of the amendment, the state chapter of the NAACP worked to defeat it. North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber criticized the measure's passage.
"The voters of North Carolina were led to vote on a trick amendment that now places hate discrimination and division in our constitution, an amendment that violates the fundamental protections of equal protection under the law and sets up the precedent of majorities voting on the rights on minorities," Barber said in a statement.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, who backed the amendment, said in a statement that he now is praying that the divisions caused by the amendment can be healed and the state move forward together.