By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Next spring Tar Heel voters will get a chance to put into the State Constitution what N.C. lawmakers affirmed via statute 15 years ago — marriage is between one man and one woman.
With votes in the House (75-42) and Senate (30-16) this past week following Monday’s marriage rally and hours of debate that ranged from emotional to inane, Senate Bill 514 “Defense of Marriage” was approved. The votes marked the end of a nearly 10-year battle to get the measure to the floor.
“Every year that the legislation was put forward, the leaders in both chambers would not even allow it to be heard,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. But this year, with new leadership, he said those in the fight to protect traditional marriage knew they had hope.
Still, it was no easy victory. And in many ways, the battle has just begun as those on both sides of the issue prepare campaigns to garner a majority of the electorate to pass the constitutional referendum to be held during the first primary, which is expected to be in May of 2012.
No doubt the public will see some of the same arguments heard on the House and Senate floors where proponents of the measure explained that even though North Carolina defines marriage as between a man and a woman in its statutes, without this definition in its Constitution, the state is vulnerable to some court ruling that would foist same-sex marriage on the state, just as has happened in several other states.
“This bill is about democracy, letting the people of North Carolina, not judges, set public policy,” longtime sponsor James Forrester (R-Gaston) told fellow senators. “Do we want to trust our state’s 6 million voters or leave this to activist judges to define it?”
He said the Marriage Protection Act is about preservation, not discrimination, as it will help preserve the right of parents to transfer core values about sexuality and family to their children.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) said that since 2004 several additional states have legalized same-sex marriage, most notably New York, and that many who marry there, like more than a few Northerners, will wind up moving south and settling in North Carolina.
“They will bring with them their same-sex marriage,” Stam said, including any subsequent legal issues, from divorce to potential child custody challenges, none of which the Tar Heel state is prepared to deal with. He said the constitutional amendment, should it pass, would simply say that no matter what you call it — marriage, domestic legal union, civil union — the only one valid or recognized union within our state borders is that between a man and a woman.
In response to concerns that the amendment could interfere with benefits companies choose to offer the domestic partners of their employees, Stam told the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House, which took up the bill first on Monday that a second line in was added to the bill to clarify that it “does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party.”
He said it would prevent state or local governments from providing benefits based solely on same-sex relationships.
To make the bill more palatable to the minority party, some of whom had claimed it was a ploy to draw conservative voters to the polls for the General Election, sponsors moved the vote from November to the May primary, a change which the Rev. Creech said gained the amendment as many as 10 votes in the House.
Still Minority Leader Joe Hackney (D-Orange) challenged not only the wording of the bill and the speed with which it was handled, but also claimed it would interfere with domestic violence laws and might even effect trusts and wills of unmarried partners. Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) told members of the House it “threatens to alter the family law landscape.” And Grier Martin (D-Wake) said it flies in the face of the dissolution of the military’s “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy. Many Democrats opposed to the bill claimed it would prevent the state from attracting new businesses or keeping “creative class” employees.
Some said the amendment was unnecessary or unworthy of lawmakers’ attention, especially while unemployment is high and Eastern North Carolina is dealing with damage from Hurricane Irene. Others called it discriminatory and likened it to the Civil Rights struggle and even the Holocaust.
Oddly enough, Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake) seemed to use the opportunity to cast dispersion on those lawmakers older than her.
“The next generation doesn’t view this the way you do. The next generation is more open, more loving, more tolerant, more caring. I frankly trust the next generation more than I trust my elders,” she told fellow House members. “I teach the next generation, and they are facing hardships going into the workforce and going into life that you, my friends, never did.”
Rep. Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) assured fellow lawmakers that the amendment would take no rights away from businesses and that rankings show 9 out of 10 of the states with the best economic health are those which protect marriage in their Constitutions.
He challenged them to push the power away from themselves and back to the people reminding them that “there are occasions when decisions are bigger than the 170 members of this Legislature.” He said amid all the talk about relationships, lawmakers should concentrate most on their relationship with the people they have been hired to represent and allow them to vote.
After repeated claims on the House floor that the Majority party had promised to make the session about jobs but was now spending valuable time on a social issue, Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) reminded colleagues that the General Assembly had passed a budget ahead of the July 1 deadline, despite the governor’s objections, and enacted a tax cut putting over a billion dollars back into the hands of working families. Similarly, Stam reminded the minority party that even considering two trips back to Raleigh to deal with redistricting and now Constitutional amendments that the General Assembly had still been in session 15 fewer days than the last session, led by Democrats.
Many of the bill’s proponents, apparently confident in its passage, kept silent during debates on both the House and Senate floors, but at last, it appeared two lawmakers from Nash County each felt compelled to speak up.
“I’ve been married for 17 years now and it never occurred to me that my belief in traditional marriage — my belief that our society has generally conceded and shared for hundreds of years and, predating the foundation of this country, for thousands of years — that defending marriage between a man and a woman was somehow akin to Nazi Germany, that somehow this is akin to crazy racial amendments put forward in the 50s?” Republican E.S. (Buck) Newton told fellow Senators. “Let’s get real, everybody in this room knows what this is about.”
“Let’s not pretend that this has something to do with business,” he added. “We had the law on the books. All these employers that have been cited (as opposed), all their employees, they haven’t fled N.C.; they haven’t run to Massachusetts. This amendment, if it passed, the vote of the public will not change that.”
Newton said one purpose of the state Constitution is to protect the people from the tyranny of the Legislature and from judicial fiat, “judges somewhere else politically appointed that decide that they are going to impose their will on society about what marriage shall be. That’s what this amendment is about.”
He said he wished there were no need for the amendment, but that, “our society has turned itself on its head and we have so many crazy judges and so many crazy lawyers (and I am a lawyer) that would challenge this fundamental bedrock of our society.”
Also from Nash County, Rep. Jeff Collins (R) called for opponents of the bill, many of whom made long and eloquent speeches, to try to use some measure of logic in their arguments.
“I’ve heard several speakers say that we are taking away rights from our citizens and then in the very next breath say that we don’t need this amendment because our state law prohibits same-sex marriage already, which is illogical to state both of those things,” Collins pointed out. “How can we be taking away rights if the rights are not there and are already prohibited?”
He also called out Rep. Larry Womble’s (D-Forsyth) outrageous comparison of the bill to the state’s becoming a “peeping tom” into people’s bedrooms.
“The other inanity I heard is that this is a ‘transient issue of social policy’ and that we are running against the tide of social history,” Collins continued, quoting Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg). “I can’t think of anything that is less transient than marriage, and it has always been defined, as far as I’ve been able to tell, basically the same way throughout human history.”
“If we are going to change something that has worked for thousands of years the burden of proof should be on those who want to change it,” he concluded.
Countering many bill opponents who said their constituents insisted they could care less about the Marriage Amendment, Collins said more than a few folks in his county believe it is important.
Rev. Creech said he could not agree more.
“If we fail to protect marriage, we’re talking about it significantly affecting the future of our children and our children’s children. If traditional marriage fails, then over time the country itself will fail,” he said. “It is imperative that we understand that this is truly a critical moment in our history.”