WASHINGTON -- A constitutional ban on same-sex marriage moved a step closer to becoming a reality on Monday in North Carolina. The state House of Representatives approved legislation to put the issue on the ballot in May 2012, just five hours after the bill was put before the members of the state legislature.
After a series of last-minute procedural changes by House Republicans, the chamber passed the amendment by a 75-42 vote, without any input from the public. Eight Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the measure. It now heads to the GOP-controlled state Senate.
There is already a law banning same-sex marriage in North Carolina. But state GOP leaders, including House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam, were worried a court could find the law unconstitutional. Therefore, they pushed to amend the state's constitution to be in synch with the law.
Stam also said he's worried that New Yorkers who have legally wed in their state may move to North Carolina.
"They're going to bring with them their same-sex marriages and they're going to want to get divorced and have child custody issues ... and we're not equipped to handle them," Stam said on the House floor.
A series of procedural maneuvers by the Republican majority ensured public comment was not included in the debate Monday, and committee members had to vote on a brand-new version of the bill less than an hour after seeing it for the first time.
The location of the committee meeting room and the chamber selected to debate the bill first were both changed from the original schedule. The proposed constitutional amendment wasn't made public until later in the afternoon, while the House was already debating the bill.
The proposed ballot date for when the amendment would be put to a vote was also changed to the May 2012 primary election rather than the November 2012 general election. Democrats had charged that Republicans wanted the amendment on the general election to boost conservative voter turnout, and Stam said this move would eliminate that criticism.
House Rules Chairman Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) chose not to allow public comment on the measure, despite many people reportedly showing up to speak on the issue.
During the debate, Democrats repeatedly decried the amendment as a distraction from creating jobs and helping the struggling economy. Others asked why they were debating what is already outlawed in statute, while still others shared emotional, personal stories about why they did not want discrimination written into the state's constitution.
State Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the only openly gay state lawmaker, told his fellow lawmakers that people yelled "abomination" at him as he walked through the capitol building that afternoon, and said he was told he was "going to hell."
State Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham), a black lawmaker, had an exchange with Stam on the floor in which he pointed out that the U.S. constitution "still says I am three-fifths of a person." Michaux said on the floor that he was attempting to highlight how hard it would be to remove the discriminatory language in the future.
At one point, state Rep. Jennifer Weiss (D-Wake) called out Stam for eating popcorn during the debate "while other's rights are stripped away."
One Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Glen Bradley (Youngsville), stood and spoke in opposition to the amendment, even offering his own amendment -- which eventually failed -- that would have removed the government from having any role defining marriage of any couple. He eventually said he would vote for the amendment to go to the ballot, even though he was "ashamed" of the legislative body.
Besides Bradley, only a few lawmakers spoke in support of the proposed constitutional amendment, while at least a dozen spoke in opposition. The Republicans said they simply wanted to put the final decision to the people.
Eight separate candlelight vigils were planned around the state of North Carolina on Monday at 7 p.m., and gay rights activists plan to rally at the North Carolina statehouse at noon on Tuesday. Almost 50,000 hand-signed postcards in opposition to the amendment were delivered to the statehouse Monday morning as well.
A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found a majority of North Carolinians oppose the constitutional amendment.
CORRECTION: This story previously stated that Tim Moore is a Republican representative for Farwell. He is a representative for Cleveland County. It also stated Marcus Brandon is a Republican, he is a Democrat.