By Tami Fitzgerald
Christian Action League
The Christian Action League tried unsuccessfully this legislative session to convince state political leaders that protecting marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman is a serious matter that can no longer be delayed. Despite an overwhelming public desire to protect marriage in our State Constitution, the 2009 legislative session ended without the passage of a Marriage Protection Amendment. Legislative leaders refused to take action on two bills that would have allowed the people of North Carolina to vote on amending the State Constitution to include the definition of marriage.
Before the start of the 2009 legislative session, the Christian Action League participated in the formation of NC4Marriage, a statewide nonpartisan coalition of citizens, churches, ministry and denominational leaders, policy organizations, and political leaders working together for the passage of a Marriage Protection Amendment. NC4Marriage’s purpose is to conduct a collective effort to get a Marriage Protection Amendment bill passed by the General Assembly, so the people of North Carolina will have the opportunity to put the true definition of marriage (one man and one woman) in the State’s Constitution.
On the House side, House Bill 361–Defense of Marriage — was sponsored by Representatives Lewis (R-Harnett), Burris-Floyd (R-Gaston), Hill (D-Columbus), and Crawford (D-Granville) and was referred to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House and serially referred to three other committees (Judiciary I, Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform, Appropriations). Unfortunately, the measure wasn’t even given a hearing in the first committee despite the fact it was co-sponsored by 64 members of the House, which is a majority of the 120 members.
House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) met with NC4Marriage and Rev. Mark Creech on two occasions about the bill and politely listened to the group’s request for a hearing on the bill, but did nothing to schedule the bill for a hearing. The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House, Rep. Bill Owens (D-Pasquotank), acknowledged that he liked the bill but that he could not schedule it for committee action without the approval of the Speaker. Speaker Hackney’s referral of the bill to a dead-end committee and the unprecedented move of requiring it to go through four committees clearly reveal his intent that the bill will never see the light of day.
Senator Jim Forrester (R-Gaston) was the primary sponsor of SB 272—Defense of Marriage — in the Senate, with 22 co-sponsors, 5 of which were Democrats. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Ways & Means, chaired by Senator Charlie Dannelly (D-Mecklenberg), where it was never calendared for discussion or a vote.
President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight (D-Dare) met with NC4Marriage and Rev. Mark Creech once and seemed interested in the legal necessity for protecting marriage in the Constitution, but he told constituents and fellow Senators that he did not support amending the Constitution and believed North Carolina’s marriage statutes were sufficient to protect the institution.
Equality NC, the state’s largest gay and lesbian lobbying group, bragged in a recent email to supporters that: “Today’s adjournment marks the sixth year in a row that Equality NC and our legislative allies have blocked a marriage discrimination constitutional amendment. Our state remains a beacon of hope as the only Southern state that has not written anti-LGBT discrimination into our state constitution.” Clearly, the gay and lesbian activists and special interest groups are having a great deal of influence over our legislative leaders on the issue of protecting marriage. These groups have also asked their supporters in North Carolina to vacation in Maine to help defeat a Marriage Amendment that is on the ballot there next year.
NC4Marriage met monthly with coalition partners and spoke at several pastors’ conferences and organizational meetings around the State. It also held Marriage Sunday on February 22, 2009 and provided support for Return America’s Marriage Rally at the State Capitol on March 3, 2009. A statewide poll conducted in March showed that 73% of North Carolinians would likely vote for a Marriage Protection Amendment if given the opportunity and that 71% would be more likely to vote for a legislative candidate who supported a Marriage Protection Amendment.
Regardless of the proposed Amendment’s popularity, legislative leaders chose to keep the bills that would have allowed North Carolina’s citizens to vote on it bottled up in committee. Both the House and Senate leadership indicated no willingness to even allow the committees to which the bills were assigned to hold a discussion and vote on the bills, as the rules of both houses clearly require. Citizens of North Carolina can interpret such inaction in no other way than hostility toward their concern over protecting marriage.
Without a provision in our State Constitution defining marriage as the union between only a man and a woman, any court in North Carolina could redefine marriage by legalizing the union of same-sex couples. This has already been done by courts in nine other states that have ruled there is a right to same-sex marriage. Three of those decisions have been overturned by constitutional amendments (Hawaii, Alaska, and California) and three have been reversed by state supreme courts (Washington, New York, and Maryland). Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because their court decisions have not been overturned.
To date, 30 states have passed Marriage Protection Amendments that place the traditional definition of marriage in their constitutions and beyond the reach of judicial activists. Unfortunately, North Carolina is the only state in the southern United States that has not protected marriage in its State Constitution, thus making us a target for same-sex marriage.
The Marriage Protection Amendment will be a major legislative focus for the Christian Action League in the short session in 2010. If legislative leaders do not recognize that this issue is gravely important to North Carolinians, perhaps voters will express their wishes in the next election by sending legislators to Raleigh who take them seriously.