North Carolina voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to add a measure banning gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships to the state's constitution, in addition to the state's statutory prohibition against recognition of same-sex marriage.
The text of the amendment reads, "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state." The state legislature passed the measure last September, placing it on the ballot. North Carolina is the only southern state not to have a gay marriage ban in its constitution.
The amendment could have legal consequences going beyond its intended goal to ban same-sex marriage. The Huffington Post's Lila Shapiro reported that the amendment could change how courts deal with child custody issues, visitation rights and end-of-life arrangements for same-sex couples. It also could weaken protections for unmarried victims of domestic violence, as happened in Ohio before the state's Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that unwed victims were covered. State Sen. Daniel Soucek (R) acknowledged this potential problem but said he would lead the charge if there's "unintentional harm."
The measure appears headed for passage. A Public Policy Polling survey showed the measure passing by a 55-41 margin among likely voters. A poll by the conservative Civitas Institute showed the proposition winning by a 16-point margin.
However, PPP found that the more voters know about the amendment, the less likely they are to support it. When told that the amendment would ban both gay marriage and civil unions, 38 percent said that they would vote for it and 46 percent that they would not.
Rural areas support the amendment by larger margins than urban ones. The Charlotte Observer noted that in rural areas, homemade signs share space along with official ones.
The amendment is also drawing the attention of national figures, with Rev. Billy Graham, former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama all taking sides.
"Watching the moral decline of our country causes me great concern," said Graham, who is 93 and lives in North Carolina. "I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and must be protected."
Clinton, on the other hand, recorded a robo-call in opposition to the amendment. "If it passes, it won’t change North Carolina’s law on marriage. What it will change is North Carolina’s ability to keep good businesses, attract new jobs and attract and keep talented entrepreneurs," he says on the call, going out to a half-million voters.
Through a North Carolina campaign spokesperson, Obama announced in March that he did not support the initiative, citing his long opposition to "divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples." The statement was later replicated verbatim to announce his opposition to a Minnesota amendment to ban gay marriage. Obama has said that his views on gay marriage are still "evolving."
The president did not mention the North Carolina amendment on April 23 in Chapel Hill, N.C., in a campaign speech urging the extension of student loan interest rates. Obama narrowly won the state in 2008, becoming the first Democrat to win it since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The state remains a battleground in 2012, and Charlotte will host the Democratic convention in September.
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney does not appear to have taken a position on the amendment, and his campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for clarification on his position.
The measure struck two opponents of same-sex marriage as going too far. David Blankenhorn, who served as an expert witness in favor of California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, and Elizabeth Marquardt, who has also publicly advocated against gay marriage, wrote an op-ed in the News & Observer last month opposing the initiative on the grounds that it would never allow legal recognition for gay couples less than marriage.
"If you disdain gay and lesbian persons, and don’t care whether they and their families remain permanently outside of the protection of our laws, such a policy might be your cup of tea. But it’s not our view, and we doubt that it’s the view of most North Carolinians," they wrote.
However, looking at polls, the measure looks like it will succeed.