WASHINGTON -- North Carolina residents will vote whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage in May 2012, after the state Senate approved legislation placing the measure on the ballot on Tuesday.
The amendment would bar legal recognition of any union besides marriage between one man and one woman, including civil unions and domestic partnerships for gay and straight couples.
Local business leader Martin Eakes was at the capitol in Raleigh on Tuesday trying to argue against the amendment.
"This was one of the worst days that I've ever seen in my home state, and I've seen some pretty bad days over the past 25 years," Eakes said of the vote to advance the amendment.
Republican leaders in the state legislature elected not to allow any public comment, which enabled them to fast-track the legislation to a vote and passage only 24 hours after it was first introduced. The state House of Representatives passed the same bill on Monday.
The bill passed by a 30-16 vote in the state Senate, in which Republicans hold a 31-19 majority.
Constitutional amendments do not require action by the governor, which means Gov. Bev Perdue (D) has no veto power, and the amendment will now go before voters in the 2012 primary election.
"This is deeply disappointing and hurtful to thousands of North Carolina same-sex couples who simply want to be able to care for each other and their families, as all families do," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in a statement.
Same-sex marriage is already outlawed in the state. The amendment would block challenges to that ban on constitutional grounds.
Indeed, during floor debate, several Republicans said a constitutional amendment was needed to prevent "activist judges" from overturning the marriage ban. High courts in other states have ruled that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.
"Moms and dads are not interchangeable,” said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. James Forrester (R-Gaston), during floor debate. “Two dads don't make a mom. Two moms don’t make a dad. Children need both a father and a mother.”
But the law could have unintended consequences for many unmarried couples, both gay and straight.
Maxine Eichner, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and some of her colleagues prepared a report on the proposed amendment in June that outlined potential problems. Even with the revisions made in the last week, Eichner said in an email, the amendment could still interfere with existing child custody and visitation rights and invalidate trusts, wills and end-of-life directives in favor of an unmarried partner, no matter the genders of the unmarried pair.
"The Amendment still has the potential to invalidate domestic violence protections for members of unmarried couples, as an Ohio court did with even narrower language in its state’s marriage amendment," Eichner warned.
Further, the North Carolina amendment would invalidate domestic partner benefits now offered by several municipalities.
That effect on unwed couples, combined with the anticipated campaign to sway voters on the amendment, led several state business leaders -- including Eakes -- to hold a press conference at the state capitol Tuesday just prior to the vote.
Mitchell Gold, CEO and co-founder of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, and Bob Page, CEO and founder of Replacements Ltd, argued that the inevitable campaign urging voters to pass the constitutional amendment would have a detrimental effect on children who may just be learning they're gay. Gold and Page said the atmosphere churned up by the campaign would also discourage businesses from relocating to the state.
"This amendment is a black eye. What's bad about this for business is it's sickening. ... It is sickening that they would put kids' lives on the line for their political ambitions," Gold said.
Eakes, who is CEO of Self-Help Credit Union and the Center for Responsible Lending, said that while he is not a spokesman for Bank of America, he has served on the company's advisory council and could attest that the North Carolina-based bank has some 25,000 gay staff members.
"If you want to figure out a way to push Bank of America to move its headquarters from Charlotte to New York, pass this amendment," Eakes said.
Republican lawmakers, repeating a tactic from the House debate on Monday, pushed back against the idea of a business impact by citing a report from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. GOP legislators said nine of the 10 states with the strongest economies prohibited same-sex unions, according to the report.
State Sen. Dan Soucek (R-Watauga) said the bottom 10 in the report all have laws that "deteriorate natural marriage."
However, at least 76 local CEOs signed a letter urging a rejection of the marriage amendment. And polling shows a majority of the North Carolina public opposes the bill.