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“Too Far”: Experts, Conservatives Condemn North Carolina’s Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment

May 02, 2012 9:36 am ET

Early voting has already begun for North Carolina’s Amendment One, a constitutional amendment which would prohibit state recognition of any domestic legal union other than a marriage between a man and a woman. Legal, medical, and business experts from across the political spectrum have condemned the language of the amendment for being too broad, potentially endangering a wide range of important domestic legal agreements. Even a number of conservative activists and Republican politicians have voiced their opposition to Amendment One, calling it “unnecessary” and “unwise.”

Legal Experts

Family Law Professors: Amendment “Threatens Harm To A Broad Range Of North Carolina Families.” According to a statement posted by Protect All NC Families, law professors from every law school in North Carolina have agreed that Amendment One poses an unnecessary threat to families:

We are family law professors who teach at every law school in the state of North Carolina. We speak on behalf of ourselves, rather than our institutions. Based on our professional expertise, the language of the proposed North Carolina amendment is vague and untested, and threatens harms to a broad range of North Carolina families. The amendment is phrased more broadly than most similar amendments in other states, and would therefore likely be construed by courts more broadly than in other states.

The amendment would certainly ban same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, and would very likely ban the domestic partnership health insurance benefits that a number of municipalities and counties currently offer to same- and opposite-sex unmarried couples.

It also threatens a range of other protections for unmarried partners and their children, including domestic violence protections and child custody law. We are aware that some law professors at Campbell Law School think otherwise. In our view, this disagreement simply underscores the fact that Amendment One is vaguely worded and that it is not possible to know how broadly it will eventually be construed. [Protect All NC Families, 4/22/12, emphasis added]

UNC Law Professors: Impact Of Amendment One “Could Be Extensive And Severe.” In a November 2011 brief published in opposition to Amendment One, four law professors from the University of North Carolina School of Law wrote:

If approved by North Carolina voters, the proposed Amendment’s impact on North Carolina citizens and on the state could be extensive and severe. The Amendment does not simply ensure that judges cannot overturn North Carolina’s existing prohibitions against same-sex marriage, as supporters claim. It would also bar civil unions and other protections for unmarried couples, including the domestic partnership benefits that several municipalities currently offer to their unmarried public employees.  More than that, the vague and untested language of the Amendment could be interpreted to prohibit the government from recognizing a broad spectrum of legal rights and protections for all unmarried couples – whether straight or same-sex. The Amendment could invalidate domestic violence protections for unmarried couples; undermine current custody and visitation laws constructed in the best interest of children; and prevent courts from enforcing end-of-life arrangements, such as wills, trusts and powers of attorney executed by unmarried couples. [UNC Amendment One Brief, 11/8/11]

NC Attorney General Roy Cooper: Amendment One Is “Unclear, Unwise, And Unnecessary.” On April 25, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he would be voting against Amendment One, writing:

I am writing you today to let you know I am voting against Amendment One in next month's primary elections on May 8th. I believe it is unclear, unwise and unnecessary. Amending our constitution demands careful deliberation along with precise language - both are missing here.  Amendment One's lack of clarity will also result in a significant amount of litigation on many issues which will be decided by courts for years to come. This should be avoided. Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Attorney General and letting me share my thoughts with you about this issue. [Roy Cooper statement, 4/25/12]

Conservative And Republican Activists

Anti-Equality Activists: Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment One Goes “Too Far.” In an April 11 op-ed for North Carolina’s News & Observer, anti-equality activists David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt criticized Amendment One, writing:

One of us (David), reared in Mississippi, has for more than two decades directed a think tank, the Institute for American Values, that aims to strengthen marriage and reduce divorce and unwed childbearing. In 2010, he served as an expert court witness in California’s widely followed “Proposition 8” marriage case.

The other (Elizabeth) grew up in North Carolina and has for a decade directed the Center for Marriage and Families at the same institute. She has made her case against same sex marriage in national opinion pieces, book chapters and reports. We believe that marriage is a uniquely important institution that unites mothers and fathers to their children.

But as marriage advocates, we oppose the state marriage amendment now being debated in North Carolina. We hope that when North Carolinians go to the polls on May 8 they will defeat this measure. Let us explain.

The proposed 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.” That’s a big mouthful, and it goes well beyond the issue of same-sex marriage.

For one thing, it means that North Carolina could not, now or ever, take any step or devise any policy to extend legal recognition and protection to same-sex couples. No domestic partnership laws. No civil unions. Nothing.

That’s mighty cold. If you disdain gay and lesbian persons, and don’t care whether they and their families remain permanently outside of the protection of our laws, such a policy might be your cup of tea. But it’s not our view, and we doubt that it’s the view of most North Carolinians.

If you want to create a backlash against mother-father marriage – if you want to convince people that the real agenda of marriage advocates is not protecting marriage, but ignoring and ostracizing gay people – then this amendment might be to your liking. But we believe that the cause of marriage is hurt, not helped, by gratuitously linking it to the cause of never under any circumstances helping gay and lesbian couples. [News & Observer4/11/12, emphasis added]

John Locke Foundation President: Amendment Is “Unwise And Unfair.” John Hood, president of the conservative think tank The John Locke Foundation, has argued against Amendment One, writing:

I think amending North Carolina’s constitution to forbid gay and lesbian couples from receiving any future legal recognition, including civil unions, is unwise and unfair. In my opinion the real threat to marriage is not the prospect of gay people getting hitched. It is the reality of straight people too quickly resorting to divorce, or never getting hitched in the first place. [Carolina Journal Online3/26/12]

Former NC Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr: Amendment Is “Probably Not A Provision That Ought To Be In” The Constitution. Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, a conservative, has questioned the necessity of Amendment One:

Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, the former executive director of the conservative North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, said the fate of such an amendment may end up out of the hands of voters and legislators.

“My sense is that the federal courts will ultimately resolve this,” he said.

Orr, a Republican, also questioned the need for the amendment.

“Any provision that has to be put into the ‘miscellaneous’ section of the constitution immediately raises questions about whether it should be in the state constitution,” he said. “It’s probably not a provision that ought to be in.” [Charlotte Observer3/28/12]

Republican Lawyer Russsell Robinson: Amendment Is “Completely Unnecessary,” “Very Bad.” In a YouTube video produced for Protect NC Families, Republican lawyer Russell Robinson – who is the grandson of the North Carolina constitution’s lead drafter – denounced the amendment, saying:

ROBINSON: The amendment is completely unnecessary. Same-sex marriage is now prohibited in North Carolina. The amendment also is very poorly worded. It’s worded in a way that is bound to invite litigation, to make litigation necessary.

[...]

ROBINSON: This amendment could disrupt parent-child obligations, parent-support obligations, so it could really create havoc in family law. I think the amendment is very bad and I really devoutly hope that this state will reject that Amendment when they vote on May the 8th. [Protect NC Families video, 3/20/12]

GOProud Co-Founder Chris Barron: “No Reason” To End Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage With Amendment. In a column written for Pam’s House Blend, GOProud co-founder and conservative activist Chris Barron criticized Amendment One for shutting down public debate over the issue of marriage:

Amendment 1 not only bans gay marriage, it is also so broadly written that it bans civil unions, domestic partnerships and threatens to outlaw any benefits offered to same-sex couples. While I support marriage equality, I understand that the country is still debating this issue, and that different states are coming to different conclusions and that will continue. This debate is healthy, and reflects the best our democracy has to offer. There is simply no reason to end this debate for all time with a Constitutional amendment. [Pam’s House Blend, 4/30/12]

Republican Politicians

Former GOP Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot: Amendment Won’t Stand The Test Of Time. According to the Charlotte Observer:

Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, once the Republican nominee for governor, said Wednesday that he opposes the proposed marriage amendment to the state’s constitution.

[...]

“My reaction, was, ‘My gosh, the legislature wants us to put something in the constitution that the leader of our party – the speaker of the House – doesn’t think will stand the test of time for more than a decade,’ ” Vinroot told the Observer. “I can’t imagine amending the constitution for something he believes is that tenuous.”[Charlotte Observer3/28/12]

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers: Marriage Amendment Shouldn’t Include Ban On Civil Unions. According to North Carolina’s News & Observer, Republican and Tea Party activist Rep. Renee Ellmers opposes Amendment One because the measure would also prohibit civil unions for same-sex couples:

U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers says that she opposes same-sex marriages but that she intends to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment banning them that will be on the North Carolina ballot in May because it would also ban civil unions.

[...]

Her spokesman, Tom Doheny, confirmed that she planned to vote against the constitutional ban that was adopted by the legislature in September because it is too broadly drawn.

"Congresswoman Ellmers has always believed that marriage is a sacred institution and is defined as the union between one man and one woman," Doheny wrote in an email. "That is why she has and will continue to protect and defend marriage at the federal level.

"When asked about civil unions, which are different than marriage, she said that she finds nothing wrong with people being granted them but at the same time, it is currently a state issue and up to the voters to decide," Doheny said.

"As a voter, she would vote against a piece of legislation that would add a ban on civil unions to the protection of marriage since they are two different issues and should be dealt with separately," he said. [News & Observer10/2/11]

Republican Chairman Of Equality NC: Anti-Gay Republicans “Are Really Fighting History.” Dan Gurley, Republican chairman of the board of directors of Equality North Carolina, has been a vocal opponent of Amendment One:

But other Republicans disagree, including Dan Gurley, chairman of the board of directors of Equality North Carolina, one of the main groups working against the amendment.

"Republicans who oppose equality really are fighting history, and they're going to get left behind," he says. "My concern as a Republican is that if our party does not adapt to the changing times, that we're going to get left behind." [NPR, 4/26/12]

Business Leaders

Business Leaders: Amendment Will Hurts Efforts To Recruit Businesses, Talent. According to News 14 Carolina:

Executives across North Carolina are speaking out against the proposed constitutional amendment on next week's ballot.

They claim it will hurt the state's chances to reel in new business. 

"The biggest thing that will hurt us is a perception issue, that North Carolina is a backwater town," said James Avery, CEO of Adzerk, a Durham-based startup. 

Avery and dozens of other Triangle CEOs signed an online petition saying the marriage amendment would hurt efforts to recruit top businesses, talent and investors to North Carolina. 

"So instead of getting new talent here, we're going to lose talent because they're going to move to other places," he said. [News 14 Carolina, 4/30/12, emphasis added]

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers: We’ll Think About The Amendment “The Same Way We Think About The Jim Crow Laws.” During an April 13 business breakfast, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers spoke out against North Carolina’s anti-gay marriage amendment, saying:

"Our state today is known as a state that's inclusive. And any bill that we pass that basically says that we're not inclusive, we don't treat people fairly ... We live in an era now where 50 percent of the people who get married get divorced. We live in an era with (these) statistics: There are so many single households today - more than ever before in the history of our country.

"And I believe that when you pass an amendment like that, you're sending a message to the world about what kind of community this is: We're not inclusive, we don't have equal standards for all people with different points of view. You don't have to believe in them, but you have to be open to them.

[...]

If this amendment passes, we're going to look back 20 years from now, or 10 years from now, and we're going to think about that amendment the same way we think about the Jim Crow laws that were passed in this state many, many years ago.

"This is the 21st century. We're competing with people around the world. We've got to be inclusive and open." [Charlotte Observer4/13/12, emphasis added]

Bank Of America Technology Chief: Amendment Could Have “A Disastrous Effect On Our Ability To Attract Talent” To North Carolina. In a March 29 video posted to Protect NC Families’ YouTube account, Bank of America Technology Chief Cathy Bessant condemned Amendment One:

“We’re in a war with other states across the country who would love to have the jobs that we have today,” said Catherine Bessant, global technology and operations executive at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender, in a video posted to YouTube this month. “Amendment One has the potential to have a disastrous effect on our ability to attract talent and keep talent in the state of North Carolina.” [Daily Herald4/1/12]

Medical Organizations

NC Medical Organizations: Amendment Would Have Negative Impacts On Children, North Carolina Families. During an April 15 press conference at the North Carolina General Assembly, representatives from a number of medical organizations expressed opposition to Amendment One:

At a press conference held Wednesday, April 25, at the North Carolina General Assembly, representatives from the North Carolina Pediatric Society joined with colleagues from the North Carolina Psychological Association, the North Carolina Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter and the Carolinas Chapter of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in opposing Amendment One, the proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution that would ban relationship recognitions and threaten protections for the state’s unmarried couples.

Speaking for the North Carolina Pediatric Society, past president Peter Morris, M.D., said he worries if the amendment were to pass, "families of all types will find themselves with stresses, toxic stresses, that will affect their lives and that will affect their children's lives. The North Carolina Pediatric Society opposes the ratification of Amendment One."

That opposition was echoed by Raleigh psychiatrist Jean Aycock, who explained that because of the amendment’s far-reaching language, potentially impacting health care and legal safeguards for all unmarried, cohabiting households, 911,186 North Carolina children could be threatened by Amendment One, according to 2010 census data. “That’s almost one million North Carolina kids who stand to be impacted by Amendment One,” said Aycock. “This is not so much an anti-gay amendment as an anti-child amendment.”

[...]

Sample remarks from today’s press conference:

“There is nothing in North Carolina’s proposed Amendment One, that will serve to protect either children or families…. children could be denied access to a parent’s health insurance, quality child care and early childhood education programs, custody agreements, domestic violence protections, and more.” - Dr. Erica Wise, M.D. President-Elect, North Carolina Psychological Association

This Amendment will undermine existing family structures and the societal protections that many of our patients depend upon, such as adoption rights, access to healthcare and insurance, and domestic violence protections. This Amendment changes no North Carolina law affecting the LGBT community – but it affects many heterosexual couples in ways that are largely unpublicized. We know many of our patients are in unmarried heterosexual partnerships that will be negatively affected by this amendment. We are particularly concerned about the children who will lose insurance benefits should this amendment pass.” – Dr. Harold Carmel, Past President, North Carolina Psychiatric Association

“This amendment not only affects our profession but the clients we serve. Domestic violence protections against unmarried women will be affected as the Amendment redefines marriage. Children in unmarried homes will be affected from not having insurance coverage to visitation rights. Seniors lose privileges such as visiting loved ones in the hospital or making critical medical decisions on behalf their loved ones. Protecting our citizens is important to ensuring a productive society and this Amendment does not protect North Carolina’s citizens.” – Tanya Roberts, MSW, Board President, National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter [Mountain Xpress4/26/12, emphasis added]

Faith Leaders

Pastors Against Amendment One: Amendment “Doesn’t Understand The Point Of Faith Or Family.” The group Pastors Against Amendment One has gathered dozens of signatures from religious leaders who oppose the anti-gay marriage amendment:

As Christians, we have a responsibility to stand for the least of these. That is why I am opposing Amendment One. The broad wording of Amendment One could strip health care from children, remove protections for battered women, and force widows to choose between survivor benefits and legal protections. An Amendment that asks us to trade the well-being of our children, battered women, and widows to supposedly protect religion and family doesn't understand the point of faith or family. [Pastors Against Amendment One, accessed 5/1/12]

Faith Leaders: Amendment One Would Cause Hard To “ALL Of God’s Children.” The group Protect All NC Families has released a statement from faith leaders opposed to Amendment One:

As clergy and leaders in our faith traditions, we are mandated by God to demonstrate and protect love in all its forms and to stand for justice for all of creation. In faithful response to this calling, we commit ourselves, along with thousands of other Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith around North Carolina, to voice our opposition to Amendment One, to witness to the harms it would cause ALL of God’s children in North Carolina and to use the gifts God has given us to defeat this amendment. [Protect All NC Families, accessed 5/1/12]

  • Protect All NC Families’ Statement Has Been Signed By Hundreds Of North Carolina Faith Leaders. [Protect All NC Families, accessed 5/1/12]

NAACP

NC NAACP Conference President: “We Should Never Seek To Codify Or Vote Discrimination” Into The Constitution. In an April 26 press release, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, wrote:

"The polls and the politicians are asking the wrong questions on this discriminatory amendment, hatched in the backrooms of the extremist, rightwing think-tanks," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. "Our message is consistent: A vote on the same sex marriage amendment has nothing to do with your personal and religious opinion on same sex marriage but everything to do with whether or not you believe discrimination should be codified and legalized constitutionally. We should never seek to codify or vote discrimination into the very heart and framework of our Constitution."

Dr. Barber continued, "The real insult to the Civil Rights Movement is that the same regressive, ultra-conservative Tea Party type folks suing to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, re-segregating and robbing our public schools of valuable resources, blocking workers' rights to organize, trying to force us all to get photo ID's to exercise our right to vote and cut back on the time and opportunities to vote, and attempting to repeal the Racial Justice Act, now somehow think the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement cannot see through their Trojan Horse trick." [NAACP, 4/26/12, emphasis added]