With a crowd of voters rallying outside of the North Carolina General Assembly on Monday the House voted to approve a proposed amendment (Senate Bill 514) to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage as well as ban the recognition of any civil union.
Before sending the proposed amendment to the Senate, Republicans modified the bill to put the referendum on the ballot during the 2012 May primary instead of the November election.
The bill was then sent back to the Senate, where it was originally filed on April 5, and was approved by the majority after the third reading of the bill in the Senate.
Phil Berger, President Pro Tem of the Senate said, “There is one thing that I don’t think anyone can disagree with. If we don’t go ahead and address this issue now, it will continue to come up.” He continued, “It’s a shame we have come to this point, it is a crying shame.” Berger concluded his speech in support of the bill by saying, “It is time to let the people of this state decide.”
By passing the bill, supporters rallied that the general public will be able to vote on the amendment and decide for themselves whether or not they want to change the constitution.
After more than three hours of deliberation, 10 House Democrats joined the mostly Republican support of the amendment in a 75-42 vote, giving the bill’s supporters the three-fifths majority it needed to be passed to the Senate. The Senate debated for more than an hour before passing the the bill in a 30-16 vote in favor of the amendment.
The rather lengthy debate is attributed to bill supporters who argued that voters should be able to decide if the state’s constitution needs to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Although same-sex marriage is not currently permitted in the state, North Carolina is the only Southeastern state without an actual written constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The amendment proposal was endorsed by Republicans to ensure that the law passed in 1996, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, cannot be overturned regardless of judicial activism. North Carolina lawmakers feared that because six states have altered their state constitutions to allow same-sex marriage, without a clear definition of the law, it could be subject to future legislative debate. Supporters urged that the bill be approved to prevent radical legislatures from being to define marriage in the future, but instead voting on it now and giving voters the opportunity to define it themselves.
House and Senate members in opposition of the bill countered that the proposed constitutional change would be discriminatory toward gay and lesbian couples. Democrats quickly spoke out against the bill. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said, “Most of us have gay neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members. Know that if you vote for this amendment, you will cause them pain.” Stein related his opposition of the bill to the current state of the economy. “With the state of our economy, we do not have the luxury to make anyone feel unwelcome. We need those jobs,” Stein said.
On Monday, the only openly gay House member, Rep. Marcus Brandon, referred to the proposal as being “hurtful.”
“We’ve put discrimination in our constitution before and if you vote for this amendment ... you will be doing it against the tide of history and against future generations,” Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, said.