North Carolina Legislature Places Restrictive Anti-LGBT Amendment on Ballot
September 13, 2011 by Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director
Today, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the May 2012 ballot by a vote of 30 to 16, following last night’s vote by the House of 75 to 42.
The bill, as passed, moves the ballot date for the amendment from November 2012 to May 2012. Republicans argued the decision to move the date was to “remove politics” from the issue. However, the May ballot will disproportionately draw republicans, who are less supportive of same-sex couples than democrats and independents, due to what is likely to be a contentious republican presidential primary.
Equally distressing, the proposed amendment contains damaging language defining opposite-sex marriage as the state’s “only domestic legal union.” This vague language will likely have the effect of prohibiting the state from providing civil unions or domestic partnerships to any couples, including elderly opposite–sex couples seeking protections without risking access to social security. While the ballot language also adds, “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,” couples are unable to contract for many of the vital protections provided under marriage and other relationship recognition laws such as access to health insurance, right to state survivor benefits, and join ownership of property in its entirety. In addition, contracts regarding rights such as the power to make health care decisions can be challenged by family members. Contracts cannot adequately provide for couples who want to be in a marriage or domestic partnership.
A poll conducted by Elon in 2011 shows 57 percent of North Carolinians support marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships in North Carolina. Only 35 percent oppose any legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples. In addition, a compilation of polls shows that support for marriage equality in North Carolina has increased approximately fifteen percent in the past five years.
Currently, 29 states have constitutional amendments prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples. However, only 18 states, fewer than a quarter, include language that implicates other forms of relationship recognition such as domestic partnerships and civil unions. North Carolina’s proposed amendment is among the most restrictive in the country. A similar constitutional amendment in Michigan has been interpreted by the courts to not only prohibit civil unions and domestic partnerships, but also to prohibit state universities and agencies from offering health care benefits to domestic partners. In addition, these amendments affect both joint and second parent adoption, potentially leaving a child without access to the non-biological parent upon the death of the biological parent.