RALEIGH, N.C. — A national group touring the country to show support for traditional marriage rallied outside the State Capitol on Tuesday, calling on North Carolina to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
A few dozen people gathered for the presentation by the National Organization for Marriage, which is holding more than 20 events across much of the country during a bus tour to oppose gay marriage.
Meanwhile, a larger crowd supporting gay rights held a counter-demonstration across the street.
Arguments in the gay marriage debate have intensified since a federal judge last week struck down California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages.
Six states have legalized gay marriage, while 28 have amended their state constitutions to restrict marriage to unions between one man and one woman.
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that hasn’t approved a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages. A state law on the books since 1871 forbids the practice, but Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said the law is open to interpretation by courts.
Brown said North Carolina voters should be given the chance to vote on an amendment that state judges would have to uphold.
"We need to put marriage outside the realm of what the courts can overturn," he said during the rally.
Paige Fitzgerald, who recently got engaged to her boyfriend of a year and a half, said she supports traditional marriage.
"Marriage is defined as a man and a woman, and that's the only way it's defined," Fitzgerald said. "If you look it up in the dictionary, that's how it's defined – not just the Bible."
As Brown spoke, people attending the Freedom to Marry rally nearby shouted, "Get your hate out of our state." Attendees said they want equal rights for homosexuals, including the option to marry.
"It's time to bring an injustice to an end," Ron Danley said.
Kristin Nagy brought her 2-year-old son, Tevin, to the rally backing gay marriage, and her mother drove more than five hours from South Carolina to support her.
"I just want to be equal. I just don't want Tevin to grow up and hear that his mommies are second-class citizens," Nagy said.
"If my daughter loves another woman, I'm happy she found someone to love and that loves her back," said Nagy's mother, Pamela Petruschke.
North Carolina lawmakers said they favored keeping the existing state ban on gay marriage – a position that pleased neither side in the debate.
"The constitution should only be amended to address situations where laws alone do not suffice," Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight said. "The constitution was created as a guiding document to provide government with principles by which laws should be passed. It is not a document to be used for making law."