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WRAL News poll: Marriage amendment poised for passage

Posted May 1, 2012 12:08 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2012 7:31 p.m. EDT

— A proposed amendment to the North Carolina constitution to define marriage in the state appears likely to pass, according to a new WRAL News poll.

SurveyUSA polled 1,127 likely voters between last Thursday and Monday and found that sizable numbers still favor some type of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The amendment calls for the state to not recognize any domestic arrangements other than marriage between a man and a woman. Fifty-seven percent of those polled support the proposal, while 37 percent oppose it.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Most demographic groups favor the amendment, including men and women, young and old, black and white, poor and affluent. The only groups where opposition to the amendment leads are Democrats, independents and people who identify themselves as liberal.

When people were asked if same-sex couples should have any sort of legal recognition, however, the majority favored some recognition, such as domestic partner benefits or civil unions. Only 39 percent of respondents said they oppose all legal recognition, according to the poll.

Meanwhile, both sides of the issue continued to lobby for support Tuesday, focusing on claims that passage of the referendum would weaken domestic violence protections.

With a week until the state primary, amendment backers called those claims "misinformation" and "scare tactics."

"This amendment will have no impact on domestic violence prosecutions, and the citizens of this state should not be deceived into thinking otherwise," said Phil Berger Jr., Rockingham County's District Attorney and the son of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

"What (amendment opponents are) doing is they're using scare tactics and a parade of horribles in an effort to get voters to decide something or to make a decision on something other than the facts," the younger Berger said.

He appeared with a handful of other current and former court officials at a news conference organized by House Majority Leader Paul Stam's office. Several of the officials said there was "no chance" that domestic violence protections would be eroded by the amendment.

The Coalition to Protect All NC Families has aired two television ads in recent weeks that unmarried couples of all genders stood to lose domestic violence protections if the marriage amendment passes. The group has cited legal commentary from law professors across the state as well as Amily McCool, a Wake County prosecutor who specializes in domestic violence cases.

McCool, who is featured in one of the ads, said Tuesday that the amendment is worded ambiguously by proposing that marriage between a man and a woman would be "the only domestic legal union" recognized in the state.

"That phrase, domestic legal union, it has never been defined in North Carolina statutes. It has never been defined by North Carolina courts," she said.

State domestic violence laws apply to "a spouse or former spouse or a person with whom the defendant lives or has lived as if married," McCool said, adding that unmarried people could argue that the amendment bans the state from recognizing any abuse charges they face as domestic violence.

"Those statutes that give additional protection to unmarried couples could be argued to be unconstitutional and found unconstitutional, leaving those victims without that protection," she said.

That happened in Ohio, she said, noting that it took three years before the Ohio Supreme Court clarified the issue.

Jeff Hunt, the district attorney for Henderson, Polk and Transylvania counties in western North Carolina, said the confusion over the issue points out the need for the amendment.

"The very fact that somebody can do the legal analysis, in quotes, to arrive at that conclusion points up the muddled thinking that is at the very base of the need to have this constitutional amendment passed," Hunt said.