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Marriage amendment, governor's race top NC primary

Posted May 7, 2012 7:06 a.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2012 11:40 p.m. EDT

— Campaigning ends Tuesday as North Carolina voters head to the polls to nominate candidates for governor and other statewide and legislative seats and decide whether to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

The item on the ballot drawing the most attention is the proposed amendment that states "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized" in North Carolina.

The amendment helped drive a strong turnout of more than half a million for early and absentee voting, which ended Saturday afternoon, according to the State Board of Elections. That's about 8 percent of the more than 6 million voters registered statewide.

Polls will be open 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Amendment opponents say it might lead public employers to drop health insurance for unmarried couples with children, weaken domestic violence laws and discourage businesses from coming to North Carolina. Backers say those claims are misleading and that the amendment is necessary to prevent courts from ordering North Carolina to recognize gay marriage in the future.

Pastors and religious leaders from 75 churches across eastern North Carolina rallied in support of the amendment at the North Raleigh Hilton Monday morning.

"We're not being discriminatory. If (amendment foes) claim anyone is being discriminatory, they're claiming that God is," said Rev. C.J. Bordeaux of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham. "We didn't make the rules; God did. We're just trying to abide by what the Lord has taught us."

Opponents held a get-out-the-vote effort Saturday at the OutRaleigh gay pride festival, which brought 10,000 people to Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, and another rally against the amendment was held in Greensboro.

More than 100 ministers have signed a pledge opposing the amendment.

"A state constitution should never be amended to take rights away from a minority. Instead, constitutions should always be about expanding human rights," said a statement by the Minister's Conference of Winston-Salem & Vicinity.

"The real issue in this amendment is not marriage. The real issue is that this amendment's going to hurt people. It's going to do harm, and that, as a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, trumps everything else," said Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.

Curry said the amendment goes far beyond an existing state law that already outlaws same-sex marriage, and like other opponents, including family law professors from various North Carolina law schools, he said it will lead to unintended consequences for others.

"I believe that people of faith and goodwill would not want that to happen, no matter what they think about marriage. This is a humanitarian issue," he said.

Rev. Patrick Wooden of Raleigh's Upper Room Church said shifting the focus of the amendment away from marriage is a scare tactic.

"I pray that the people – the good citizens of this great state – will not fall prey to the dirty tactics of those who would like to demagogue this issue," Wooden said.

A recent WRAL News poll suggests that the amendment will pass: 57 percent of likely voters surveyed said they would vote for it, while 37 percent were against it.

Candidates fight for attention

The amendment has sucked the political air from races on the primary ballot, including the Democratic and Republican contests for governor and seats in Congress.

The top two Democratic candidates for governor – Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge – have come out against the amendment. The likely Republican nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, supports the amendment but has been relatively quiet on the issue.

A WRAL News poll conducted last week had Dalton leading Etheridge 32 to 23 percent, with nearly a third of voters undecided. McCrory garnered 63 percent support from likely Republican primary voters in the same poll.

In a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling, Etheridge had cut into Dalton's lead, 34 to 29 percent, and only 24 percent of likely Democratic voters remained undecided.

"Whom we nominate (Tuesday) will determine our chances in November," Etheridge said Monday. "You've got to carry eastern North Carolina to win if you're a Democrat. ... I can relate to the people from the east because I'm from the east."

Dalton disagrees with Etheridge's assumption.

"All you have to do is go to the lieutenant governor's race (in 2008) and see the strength by which I won eastern North Carolina," he said. "I am the candidate that has a record of using creativity and innovation, as I did with early colleges, as I have done with technology that can move us forward."

The candidates, the debates, even the ads were tame and cordial in the Democratic race until Dalton's campaign recently sent out a mailer attacking Etheridge's congressional voting record.

"Tell a half-truth, it's a whole lie," Etheridge said. "I do think he should apologize."

Dalton said he stands by the mailer and has no plans to apologize.

"Those trade votes (in Congress were important) because jobs are so important to North Carolina," he said. "Where did the jobs go? They went offshore because of that bill where he was only one of a handful of Democrats that voted with the Bush administration."

The General Assembly redrew voting maps for congressional and legislative districts last year, forcing even veteran candidates to introduce themselves to voters who weren't in their districts previously.

Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who beat Etheridge in 2010, lost Johnston County from her district but picked up much of Chatham County. Portions of Durham, Orange Granville and Person counties are now represented by longtime Congressman Howard Coble in the 6th District.

The 13th District in Wake County has been represented by Congressman Brad Miller for the past decade. He was drawn out of the district and chose not to seek re-election, and Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble and former U.S. Attorney George Holding have been waging an intense battle for the Republican nomination in the new district, while 2010 nominee Bill Randall has run a low-key campaign.