Rep. Paul Stam: Why Marriage Amendment is needed

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2012

 By Rep. Paul Stam
N.C. House Majority Leader
On May 8, the voters will decide whether this provision should be added to the Constitution:
“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. 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.”
Let’s look at what the amendment does and does not do. It would recognize only domestic legal unions between one man and one woman. The second sentence of the amendment makes clear that it would not prohibit private companies from entering into private contracts based on relationships chosen by the company. Private employers, for example, could continue to offer domestic partnership or civil union benefits to an employee’s same sex or opposite sex partner. But the amendment would prohibit the government from forcing a company to provide such benefit. The amendment would prohibit the government from creating “same sex marriage” by calling it something else, such as a civil union.
The meaning of “legal union” is concrete and clear in the context of family relationships. In federal law, “ ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife…” (1 U.S. Code, [0xa7]7, 1996). This definition is consistent with the long-standing definition: marriage is the “legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife” (Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th ed., 1979). The word “domestic” clarifies that other arrangements, such as business partnerships, would not be affected by this amendment.
Any benefits extended by government to a person based on a domestic legal union other than marriage would be prohibited. State government has never offered benefits to the unmarried. Nine of the 625 local governments have. These cities and counties could still extend employment benefits that benefit non-married domestic households. The extension of such benefits, however, could not be based only upon the status of a domestic relationship other than marriage. For example, a statute could allow a city employee to pick one other person of his or her choice to be the beneficiary for health insurance. Or a county ordinance could allow an employee to pick a beneficiary based on whether they live in the same household.
I have been amazed at other absurd claims made by opponents. Several continue to be repeated in ads and orchestrated letter writing campaigns by opponents. Let’s set the record straight:
1. The Marriage Amendment will not adversely affect North Carolina’s economy. A 2011 report by the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked states by economic performance between 1999 and 2009 and by economic outlook. Eight of the top 10 economically performing states have marriage amendments. None have legalized same sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships. Nine of the 10 states with the poorest economic growth have legalized same sex marriages or civil unions.
2. The Marriage Amendment will not affect the enforcement of domestic violence laws. Opponents would have you think the amendment obliterates our domestic violence law. The cases they use as authority are Ohio cases later overturned by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Marriage Amendment will have no effect on the enforcement of our domestic violence statutes. Thirty other states have marriage amendments with domestic violence laws enforced. North Carolina does not even require that there be a romantic or intimate relationship for the statute to apply. N.C.G.S. [0xa7]50B-1(b)(5) covers “current or former household members.”
3. The Marriage Amendment will not determine the custody and visitation rights of unmarried parents unless their behavior affects the child. Custody orders are based on the “parent”/child relationship. Courts base custody and visitation on the “best interest of the child.” N.C.G.S. [0xa7]50-13.2(2007) The sexual behavior of the parent is not determinative except as it affects the child.
There is a real threat to the institution of marriage. In several states same sex marriage has been imposed upon the people by courts that have engaged in tortured judicial reasoning — Massachusetts and Iowa, for example. These courts have used state constitutional provisions like ours to reverse the pro marriage policies that were in effect when the state constitution was adopted.
Now it’s happening in North Carolina. Same sex couples in Asheville went to the courthouse for two weeks last fall seeking to obtain marriage licenses. A lawsuit was filed by the register of deeds of Guilford County in December challenging our state’s marriage laws and asking the court to declare them unconstitutional because they don’t allow same-sex partners to “marry”. That case is on appeal.
The Marriage Amendment will ensure that marriage between one man and one woman will be determined by the voters and not by a handful of judges. I am voting for it.