LAS VEGAS, Nev., May 9, 2012 — A proposed amendment to North Carolina’s constitution outlawing same-sex marriages passed overwhelmingly in a statewide vote.
With all counties reporting last night, North Carolina Amendment One passed with 61% of North Carolina voters in favor. The result has many people concerned. Not the least of these would be President Obama and his campaign team.
The political significance of the North Carolina vote was made especially acute by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments last week, in which he warmly supported the right of same-sex couples to marry. This stood in stark contrast to Obama’s evolving silence on the subject. Obama has said in the past that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples, but does not believe that marriage is a civil right.
The heavy vote in favor of Amendment One puts Obama in a difficult position going into an election season in which his dominance is not assured. Coming out solidly in favor of same-sex marriage rights may cost him heavily in socially conservative states like North Carolina, and the payoff in votes gained from marriage-rights supporters is unlikely to offset the votes that would be lost.
Obama’s support for civil unions puts him on record in opposition to one potential outcome of the amendment. Amendment One goes beyond outlawing same-sex marriage, which was already illegal in the state. The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” This potentially jeopardizes the legality of civil unions and other domestic partnerships.
The amendment’s broad language throws a host of legal issues into question, issues that stretch far beyond the realm of merely banning same-sex marriage. Legal experts have debated whether the amendment will affect unmarried heterosexual couples as well. The potential ramifications include the nullification of domestic violence protection orders for unmarried women, as well as eliminating the domestic partner benefit programs offered in certain cities and counties statewide. While supporting same-sex marriage might result in net electoral losses, opposition to this amendment might still be crafted to appeal to moderate voters, who might find these ramifications obnoxious evidence of a “war on women.”
Unanswered questions about the true impact that North Carolina Amendment One will have on a laundry list of issues has led many to conclude that there will be extensive litigation in response to its passage. The amendment’s restriction of marriage to only heterosexual couples presents a question of constitutional rights in itself. This issue touches on protections provided by the U.S. Constitution, not just the North Carolina state constitution, hence the amendement could be reviewed by the federal courts.
North Carolina now becomes the 30th state with a statute or constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. Prior to the passage of Amendment One, North Carolina had been the only state in the South that did not have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
UPDATE (May 9, 2012): President Obama announced today his support of same-sex marriage. Increasing pressure from his party, as well as the spotlight thrown on his position by Vice President Biden, may have forced him to hasten the pace of his evolution on the topic. There will be political costs - while black voters won’t rush to Romney, Obama’s decision won’t help fire them up for his re-election. He carried North Carolina in 2008, a task that is now more difficult than it was.
The political pressures were becoming irresistable, however, and Obama had been teasing his base about a move in this direction for years. Just last October he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “But I think that there’s no doubt that as I see friends, families, children of gay couples who are thriving, you know, that has an impact on how I think about these issues.” Obama would undoubtedly have preferred to put off reaching today’s conclusion until after November, but the chatter started by Biden’s remarks had grown too loud to ignore.
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