Editorial: Something's missing here
North Carolinians may be divided over the issue of gay marriage, but they would agree on one thing: When voters go to the polls next May to consider a constitutional amendment that would prohibit such marriages, they should know exactly what they’re voting on.
But that may not be the case.
The proposed amendment was approved in the Legislature only after the addition of language designed to allow private companies to keep offering insurance and other benefits to employees in domestic partnerships. But as it stands now, the News & Observer of Raleigh reports, that second part of the amendment apparently won’t be included on the ballot. The additional clause wasn’t a mere afterthought. It was needed to gain the votes of some Democrats whose votes were crucial to passage, especially in the Senate, as well as to attempt to assuage concerns that the legislation may infringe on the domestic partner benefits extended by an increasing number of businesses.
House Republican Leader Skip Stam, a chief proponent of the amendment, dismissed concerns about putting only partial wording of the amendment on the ballot. He says the ballot will fully explain the legislation’s intent.
“The sentence is not even strictly necessary because that’s the effect of the first sentence,” he told the News & Observer.
Here’s what that second sentence says: “This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
Is this really a non-issue, as Stam suggests, or could it have legal ramifications?
Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law expert at UNC-Chapel Hill, says that failing to put the second part on the ballot could jeopardize that provision if the amendment becomes law. That would open up yet another arena of uncertainty, along with questions that already exist about the legislation’s impact on municipalities and other government entities that offer domestic partner benefits .
“That sentence was crucial in some legislators’ minds about why they were willing to vote for it and pretty crucial to the business community,” according to state Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat who opposes the amendment.
Putting only a partial amendment on the ballot will further muddy an issue already fraught with legal questions. Changing the state constitution is a momentous step, one that should be taken only with full awareness of where the path will lead. The primary is months away. In the interests of transparency and clarity, legislative leaders need to rethink this decision and put the full text of the amendment on the ballot.