RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, but not much is expected to change immediately.
That's because North Carolina law already banned gay marriage. The amendment voters passed Tuesday night by about 61 percent of voters effectively will seal the door on same-sex marriages and potentially have other effects farther down the road.
"Same-sex marriage was illegal today; it's illegal tomorrow," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University who writes an annual review of state constitutional amendments. "There were no same-sex civil unions recognized in North Carolina today. Those will not be recognized tomorrow. The bottom line is there's not a lot of change because of this amendment."
The amendment likely would affect issues other than gay marriage the most because the "marriage-plus" amendment approved in North Carolina prohibits not only same-sex marriage, but also same-sex civil unions. Nineteen states have such amendments, Dinan said.
For example, a handful of local governments provide benefits to employees who are involved in same-sex relationships. In Michigan, the state's highest court ruled that an amendment did affect those benefits, Dinan said. But in North Carolina, officials in Durham and Orange counties have said they don't expect to have to eliminate those benefits because of the amendment, he said.
Opponents had said they feared the law could affect domestic violence protections, some of which refer to people who live together. Dinan said he doubted that would happen, although Ohio had a three-year court fight over the issue before the Supreme Court ruled the laws weren't affected.
Some voters who opposed the amendment weren't that concerned with the practical effects of the amendment, but more with how it makes North Carolina look.
The amendment was unnecessary, said Sam Stone, 70, of Raleigh, who voted against it, along with his wife, Virginia, 66.
"Doing this amendment makes it seem more mean-spirited," he said Tuesday as he went to the polls.
Shane Colwell, who's studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said the amendment clarified the definition of marriage.
"I'm a born-again Christian, and I just believe the Bible is clear that marriage is for one man and one woman," he said. "It doesn't mean that anybody's less equal than anybody else. I just think that marriage is one man and one woman."
In the final days before the vote, members of President Barack Obama's cabinet expressed support for gay marriage and former President Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to oppose the amendment.
Supporters of the amendment responded with marches, television ads and speeches. The Rev. Billy Graham, 93, was featured in full-page newspaper ads backing the amendment.
President Obama was disappointed that the amendment passed, said Cameron French, spokesman for the Obama campaign in North Carolina.
"The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples," French said. "He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it."
North Carolina is the 30th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Six states - all in the Northeast except Iowa - and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages. In addition, two other states have laws that are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.
Both sides said the hard-fought battle had brought new voters who will be active in other issues.
"I think we've built a huge coalition across North Carolina of people who believe godly values," said Tami Fitzgerald, head of the pro-amendment group, Vote FOR Marriage NC. "And I believe that speaks well for people in our state who have somewhat been a silent majority in the past and I think you can expect them to be very active in the future, especially when they see the impact of their grassroots efforts."
But even the state House Speaker, who supported the amendment, expressed reservations about how long it would survive. Speaker Thom Tillis said he expects the amendment to be reversed within 20 years as today's young adults age.
While legislators can easily undo a state law, it's much harder to reverse a constitutional amendment, Dinan said. The latter requires a three-fifths vote in both legislative houses, then voter approval.
"One can't rule that out," he said. "But it's become more difficult to make that change now."
The campaign manager for the group that opposed the amendment said the nation watched North Carolina on Tuesday night, wondering how the anti-forces came through.
"I am happy to say that we are stronger for it; we are better for it; our voices are louder now," said Jeremy Kennedy of Protect All NC Families. "We have courage like we never had before, and we have strength to continue on. We said all along in this campaign that when we wake up on the day after Election Day that we want to be able to say that we left no stone unturned, that we left nothing on the table."
And their fight will continue. On Wednesday, same-sex couples will ask for marriage licenses in Wilson and Durham, the start of a week-long campaign called "We Do" protesting their inability to wed.
Below, a look at how politicians, gay rights groups and others weighed in on the measure's passage:
"The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples. "He believes the North Carolina measure singles out and discriminates against committed gay and lesbian couples, which is why he did not support it. President Obama has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight couples and is disappointed in the passage of this amendment. On a federal level, he has ended the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended key benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees."
"The passage of Amendment One in North Carolina is very disappointing. It unfairly singles out gay and lesbian Americans and is discriminatory. I'm proud that President Obama opposed Amendment One, as he has long believed that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and legal protections that straight couples already enjoy. "While the passage of tonight's amendment is disappointing, it does not erase the incredible progress that gay and lesbian couples have made under the President's leadership. From putting an end to the legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts and endorsing legislation to repeal it, to making sure that same-sex couples have equal hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights and extending key benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees, we have taken great strides forward. "The choice is clear. The President has fought on behalf of LGBT Americans while Mitt Romney has supported inequality and discrimination. Romney has said we should write discrimination and inequality into the Constitution, and he has funded efforts in states that have adopted marriage equality to roll back these rights. On this and so many other issues, Romney, like Amendment One, would take us in the wrong direction."
"As momentum for the freedom to marry continues to grow in the rest of the nation, today's vote is a painful reminder of what happens when a preemptive ballot-measure is stampeded through before people have had enough time to take in real conversations about who gay families are and why marriage matters to them. This amendment is a last gasp of discrimination that will cause real harm to families, communities, and businesses in North Carolina, but says little about the prospects for a better outcome in battles to come in states where there has been greater visibility for loving and committed couples and those who get to know them. And even in North Carolina, the long-term effect of this nasty attack will be to spur more conversations and open more hearts, helping more people rise to fairness and support for the freedom to marry."
"We applaud North Carolina voters for joining voters in 31 other states upholding the historic and natural definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. "At every opportunity, the American people have demonstrated a deep appreciation for the unique benefits that marriage between a man and a woman brings to families and society. They recognize that marriage is the only kind of union that results in natural procreation and keeps a mother and father together to raise the children produced by their union."
"North Carolina has wandered into treacherous terrain with Amendment One. For all the talk of bolstering families, this measure shamefully shoves them into harm's way. "Blocking loving couples from forming legal unions like domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriage flies in the face of family values. Indeed, Amendment One defies what it means to be a family today. Many North Carolinians, including seniors, single women and children, could be placed in peril because the shrinking definition of family excludes them. Some might even be denied life-saving services like domestic violence protections. This is a brutal step backward for relationship recognition in North Carolina. "We thank all the voters who rejected Amendment One. We stand in solidarity with them and the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families as they build on this effort to make North Carolina welcoming and safe for all."
"Tonight's results are an unfortunate reminder that the fight for Civil Rights in our state is not yet over. Writing discrimination into our Constitution is wrong. The State Constitution exists to protect the rights of our citizens- not to take them away. Despite this setback, north Carolina Democrats will continue to fight for all of our citizens."