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Just the Facts on North Carolina's Marriage Amendment

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This piece was written with Chuck Small

Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire. So far this year, the bumpy road to marriage equality has played out in four states, with wins in three, and an unsurprising veto in the Garden State by Republican Governor Chris Christie.

Next up, North Carolina's voters head to the polls on May 8 to vote on Amendment One, a constitutional instrument that would bring the Tar Heel State in line with all its Southern neighbors in codifying discrimination against not only its LGBT citizens but all its residents. As in other states where this battle has raged of late, the vitriol has been high, opinions are voiced as fact, and efforts to obfuscate the impact of the Amendment widespread. This perfect storm was in evidence recently when The News & Observer of Raleigh published an op-ed titled "The Case for the Marriage Amendment" by John Long, a software engineer.

The public outcry to Long's op-ed was overwhelming, leading the paper to publish letters on its blog that same day. Repeatedly, the letters highlighted the "misinformation," "falsehoods," and "assortment of illogical and factually mistaken elements." This troubled us, too -- the blurring of the line between fact and opinion, but also between fact and fiction, which is why we think it's important to clarify what Amendment One is, and what it is not.

While we certainly hope that North Carolinians will reject Amendment One, we also hope, regardless of their position, that voters will make their decisions based on facts, with fiction kept in its proper place: novels.

Assertion 1: "For most of my lifetime, gay marriage was never a consideration. Neither was it a consideration for all but the last few decades of human history."

Fact: That may be Long's perspective as a presumably heterosexual male, but history tells us otherwise. For example, the late Yale historian John Boswell (The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe) found examples of same-sex unions performed by the Catholic Church prior to the 1400s, which is simply to say historical precedent exists and that civilization did not end. In fact, it flourished.

Assertion 2: "The very definition of marriage has always been 'one man, one woman and their children,' with emphasis on the children."

Fact: Students and scholars of history, other cultures, or other faith traditions conclude otherwise. Ancient Israelites supported a man's having several wives. The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster's Dictionary now include same-sex unions in their definitions of marriage. Our definitions of marriage have evolved over centuries and likely will continue to do so.

Assertion 3: "The reason for marriage has always been children."

Fact: Wasn't it Tina Turner who said, "What's love got to do with it?" Indeed, we marry for all kinds of reasons: financial reasons, to get away from our parents, for immigration purposes, because a woman is unexpectedly pregnant, or, of course, to purposefully start families. To this point, the nonpartisan Brookings Institute reported in 2010, "Married couples with children accounted for just over one in five U.S. households in 2008, about half their share in 1970." Perhaps the better question is, "What do kids have to do with it?"

Assertion 4: "[S]ame-sex couples simply do not provide the right foundation for raising children. Studies have shown that children do best when both a (female) mother and (male) father are present."

Fact: Every major professional medical association, from the American Psychological Association to the Child Welfare League of America, supports the notion that children raised by lesbians and gay men differ in no significant way from those raised by heterosexuals. Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld noted in 2010 that "in 45 empirical studies of outcomes of children of same-sex couples ... none found statistically significant disadvantages for children raised by gay and lesbian parents compared with other children."

Assertion 5: "[S]ame-sex marriage would not strengthen marriage but weaken it. Increased rates of infidelity and divorce have weakened marriage in the last half of the 20th century, and the prospects aren't looking very rosy. ... Extending marriage to same-sex couples would only increase and accelerate the weakening trend in marriage today."

Fact: Yes, it's true that the institution of marriage in is trouble. But Holning Lau, associate professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill, found in his research that Massachusetts' data on annual divorce and marriage rates showed no difference in the four years before and the four years after same-sex marriage became legal in that state. He also presents data from Europe concluding that "there is no association between legal recognition of same-sex unions and fluctuations in rates of marriage, divorce, and non-marital births." The bottom line: you can't blame the gays -- or same-sex unions -- for our collective marriage woes.

Assertion 6: "It is important to note that, should traditional marriage be upheld in North Carolina, no one's rights will be curtailed."

Fact: In a report titled "Potential Legal Impact of the Proposed Domestic Legal Union Amendment to the North Carolina Constitution," UNC law professor Maxine Eichner explained that the vagueness of the phrase that marriage would be the "only domestic legal union" allows for interpretations that would endanger numerous benefits that gay and straight couples receive from domestic partnerships. These include domestic violence protections or child custody and visitation rights. We'd hate to see anyone's rights curtailed, least of all those of families and kids.

The May 8 vote isn't a thumbs-up, thumbs-down determination on whether same-sex couples will have the right to marry. North Carolina already has a law that restricts marriage to one man and one woman. John Long and other proponents of the amendment's passage are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, but voters should reject spurious and baseless arguments. With the outcome of the May 8 vote potentially harming the civil rights of all North Carolinians, we trust that informed voters will make decisions rooted in fact and, when in doubt, ask for sources and citations.

Steven Petrow, a former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, is the author of The New Gay Wedding and lives in Chapel Hill.

Chuck Small, a former N&O editor, is now an editor and school counselor who lives in Raleigh.

This op-ed was originally published on Advocate.com.