On a dark day for N.C., Amendment 1 passes | Election Results | Indy Week

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On a dark day for N.C., Amendment 1 passes


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Her eyes twinkled and she didn't give up even when it was clear that the chances of defeating Amendment 1 were slim. Leading a brigade of volunteers who shepherded several hundred folks from the pro-LGBT OutRaleigh festival on Fayetteville Street to a nearby early-voting site Saturday morning, Tracy Hollister was determined to maximize the "Vote Against" total. "I think it will be close," Hollister said hopefully. "If it is, we'll know that we made a difference."

Besides, she added, her face bathed in a smile as she considered the thousands gathered for OutRaleigh, "it's a gay-friendly and family-friendly crowd. So it's an easy ask."

And if the amendment passed despite their efforts? For Hollister, a lesbian who resigned her paid job as a research analyst four weeks ago to plunge full-time into the work of being an LGBT rights activist, the campaign would go on, win or lose. After all, even if Amendment 1 went down to defeat, anti-gay state statutes would persist, as would the anti-gay attitudes they reflect.

"We've experienced some ugly behavior that has been hurtful to LGBT families and our allies," Hollister said. "I attribute it to religion-based misunderstandings. I'm not going to call them religious principles, because God is about love and what Jesus said about treating your neighbor as you want to be treated. It doesn't say unless your neighbor is gay."

She smiled again. She was proud of the anti-amendment campaign, she said, calling it "clean, polite and respectful" in the face of the other side stealing their "Vote Against" signs, or even—as one knucklehead in Kannapolis did while his video camera captured it—shooting holes in them with a gun.

This day, except for a single angry guy on the sidewalk ranting about Satan, Hollister's work was fun. Fighting to expand people's rights, instead of restricting them, was fun.

Jimmy Creech was smiling too, as he almost always does. A former Methodist minister who was defrocked for marrying gay couples in the '90s, Creech held forth in a booth at OutRaleigh with his wife, Chris Weedy, signing copies of his book, Adam's Gift. It's the autobiography of a young North Carolina preacher who became—after a closeted gay man gave Creech the gift of sharing what it means to be afraid because you're gay—one of the nation's leading LGBT advocates.

Creech, as much as anyone, understood that the Amendment 1 vote, though he surely hoped to win it, was only a chapter in the ongoing struggle for equal rights, one he's certain will succeed before too many more years have passed.

"I think we have a chance," Creech said. "Either way, I think we've had a healthy public discourse on the issue. And if [the amendment] passes, it will only assure that on our side we work that much harder to bring equal rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

As the Indy went to press Tuesday night, Amendment 1 was passing by a margin of 61-38 percent, though with 63 percent of the precincts reporting. The outcome is disappointing given that opponents raised more than $2.5 million trying to defeat it. Their campaign cut only slightly into the deficit they faced after Republican majorities in the General Assembly voted to put the amendment to referendum last fall. Back then, Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Raleigh firm, showed the amendment favored by a 61-34 percent margin.

The amendment puts this language into the North Carolina Constitution: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

State law already limits marriage to a man and a woman, and it bars recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states or countries where they're legal.

The effect of the amendment is not to change those laws. Rather, it is to prevent the General Assembly from changing them.

Thus, as long as the amendment remains part of the constitution, any law recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships—if designed to give same-sex couples a legal status akin to heterosexual marriage—will be prohibited, along with same-sex marriage itself.

Short of the voters repealing Amendment 1, the only way same-sex unions will be legal in North Carolina is if the U.S. Supreme Court declares that they be under the U.S. Constitution's requirement that all states accord every citizen the equal protection of their laws.

In an odd twist, N.C. House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, the leading legislative proponent of Amendment 1, disclosed last week that he personally wanted a less restrictive amendment put on the ballot, one presumably limited to banning same-sex marriages; but he was "overruled" by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian anti-gay organization.

Stam told the Fayetteville Observer that the ADF's legal experts convinced him the amendment should also bar other, marriage-like partnerships. "If they're not married, don't claim the benefits of marriage," Stam said.

Stam's revelation served as a reminder that Amendment 1, after Stam unveiled its wording last September, was approved by the House the same day and by the Senate a day later without so much as a hearing by any committee in either chamber.

Stranger still, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, ostensibly Stam's superior, predicted that if the voters approved Amendment 1, it would remain in the constitution only a few years before future voters repealed it. The reason, Tillis said, is that while older voters hew to a narrow definition of marriage, younger voters are more tolerant and accepting of gay couples.

Indeed, PPP pollsters advised that, if the voters this time understood that Amendment 1 did not simply ban gay marriage but also civil unions, they'd reject it. In their final poll, PPP said mendment 1's solid margin became a five-point deficit when voters were told it prohibited civil unions. Unfortunately, PPP's Tom Jensen said, more than half didn't know that.

The anti-Amendment 1 campaign chose not to emphasize the point about civil unions in its advertising, however. Instead, the Coalition to Protect All NC Families raised alarms about "unintended harms" that could be caused by the language making heterosexual marriage "the only domestic legal union" valid in the state.

That phrase, the coalition said, could put unmarried victims of domestic violence in jeopardy if judges stopped enforcing protective orders. It could also prevent public-sector employers from extending insurance benefits to unmarried couples, gay or straight.

Whether a different campaign might've done better is impossible to know. The coalition said it tested various messages with voters before settling on its strategy of emphasizing "unintended harms" to children and women.

The unintended-harms message did not appear to move many voters, however, perhaps because it was far from obvious why—or even whether—such harms would result.

On the other side, the pro-Amendment 1 forces had a very simple message. It was that the amendment would place in the constitution what was already law—no change—and moreover, what was law was, in their view, the will of God. The Vote for Marriage NC ads all featured the Bible.

Against that message about God's intentions, Amendment 1's opponents were saddled with political leaders—mostly Democrats, but a few Republicans as well—who warned against putting discrimination in the constitution but could not bring themselves to advocate for non-discrimination in the form of equal rights for LGBT people.

Thus, for example, in the week before the vote, former President Bill Clinton recorded a robocall against Amendment 1. But Clinton wasn't urging voters to approve gay marriage or civil unions. Rather, he was reminding them that both were illegal in North Carolina already. "So the real effect of the [amendment] is not to keep the traditional definition of marriage," Clinton said. "You've already done that."

You've already done that? That's not exactly a strong argument against doing it again—but this time the majority of voters have done it with constitutional protection.

This article appeared in print with the headline "In a word, disgraceful."


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