Lawmakers back bills that would put item banning gay marriage on 2012 ballot

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY ó All three state lawmakers who represent Rowan County support placing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the 2012 ballot.
The General Assembly plans to consider one of two similar bills containing the amendment in a short session starting Monday.
N.C. Reps. Fred Steen and Harry Warren are listed as co-sponsors of the House bill. N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock is co-sponsoring the Senate bill.
The three Republicans say that while same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, an ěactivist judgeî could strike down the state statute that bans it.
ěThe reason it needs to be a constitutional amendment is basically because of the threat of legislation being done from the judiciary side,î Steen said. ěThatís as simple as I can make it.î
To be placed on the ballot, a constitutional amendment must pass with a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. That takes 72 votes in the House and 30 in the Senate.
The House bill has 66 representatives listed as sponsors and co-sponsors, and six of them are Democrats. All 23 legislators sponsoring or co-sponsoring a similar Senate bill are Republicans.
Steen and Brock both said theyíve been co-sponsoring bills like this for as long as theyíve been in Raleigh, because they believe marriage should be between one man and one woman.
State law defines a valid marriage as one ěcreated by the consent of a male and female person,î and a 1996 state law says same-sex marriages sanctioned in other states are invalid in North Carolina.
Warren said his goal is to give voters a choice to define marriage more permanently in the state constitution.
ěWhat Iím supporting is giving the right to make a decision to the people of North Carolina,î Warren said. ěI donít look at supporting the bill as stating my preference one way or the other.î
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that has not passed a marriage amendment. Nationwide, 30 states have defined marriage in their constitutions.
The House billís proposed constitutional amendment would read, ěMarriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. No other relationship shall be recognized as a valid marriage by the State.î
The amendment proposed in the Senate bill is broader, banning civil unions as well as same-sex marriage.
It would read, ěMarriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.î
Warren said he has some concerns about the scope of the Senate bill and whether ěunionî could apply to business partnerships or other legal agreements.
Brock said the amendment wouldnít affect private contracts like a power of attorney or domestic partner benefits offered by private employers.
But Rod Goins, board member of Equality North Carolina, said it could be interpreted that way. He said several businesses have told the organization they would be concerned about locating in North Carolina if its constitution banned gay marriage.
Brock said he hasnít found any data showing that states which pass marriage amendments have worse business environments than states that donít.
Republican leaders have noted that out of the 10 best states for business as ranked by Forbes, eight have a constitutional marriage amendment.
Goins also said he doesnít think any court in the state would strike down the law on this issue in the near future.
ěItís not about preventing gay marriage,î Goins said. ěGay marriage is already not allowed. Itís simply about writing discrimination into the constitution.î
An Elon University poll in February found more than half of North Carolina residents supported some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples. Gay marriage opponents, however, point to surveys showing more than 70 percent like the amendment.
ěI donít think you should ever leave the rights of a minority up to a vote of the majority,î Goins said. ěThatís just not the purpose of the national or state constitution.î
Goins said he thinks the amendment would send a strong message to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people: ěYou are not welcome in North Carolina.î
Brock said he invites people in his district to contact him in Raleigh and let him know how they feel. Once the amendment goes to the ballot, though, itís up to voters themselves.
ěIf they think itís such a bad idea, they need to go out and try to inform and tell their neighbors and friends that this is a bad deal, and then vote against it,î Brock said. ěBut I think overwhelming support of the amendment is shown by the polls weíve looked at and the people who have emailed me and called me. Weíll see in 2012.î
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
How to contact yourlegislators
Rowan County
Rep. Fred Steen
Mailing address: N.C. House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 305 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Rep. Harry Warren
Mailing address: N.C. House of Representatives, 300 N. Salisbury St., Room 533 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925
Sen. Andrew Brock
Mailing address: N.C. Senate, 300 N. Salisbury St, Room 623 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925