In North Carolina, turnout for the May 8 primary was higher than expected (34 percent)—resulting in an overwhelming victory for anti-gay forces with the passage of Amendment One by a margin of 61 to 39 percent. North Carolina now becomes the 30th state to have discrimination written into its state constitution.
Apparently many big LGBT donors expected Amendment One to pass in the deeply religious Southern state and stayed out of the fight. But Democratic pollster Celinda Lake argued that if voters knew that the initiative would only recognize heterosexual marriage as a legal relationship—banning civil unions and domestic partnerships with unintended consequences for women and children—there was a chance Amendment One could be defeated. Media consulting pro Chad Griffin was there to help, and the campaign raised more than $2 million. But voters only saw the measure’s intent to ban marriage rights for same-sex couples, something already prohibited by state law, and grasped the Bible-thumping message—pushed by former Prop. 8 guru and Amendment One campaign manager Frank Schubert—that marriage is an institution from God and must not be “redefined.”
At their victory celebration, Vote For Marriage’s Tami Fitzgerald told the crowd, “We are not anti-gay; we are pro-marriage. And the whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”
But for the Protect All North Carolina Families coalition—with “validators” such as Gov. Beverly Perdue, former President Bill Clinton and a number of Republicans who said the measure went too far—the measure was an extreme challenge to civil rights.
“The voters of North Carolina were led to vote on a trick amendment that now places hate discrimination and division in our constitution, an amendment that violates the fundamental protections of equal protection under the law and sets up the precedent of majorities voting on the rights on minorities,” said North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber.
“Just as they have done in many other states, these organizations [such as the National Organization for Marriage] injected millions of dollars of funding into a messaging campaign that framed the Amendment as a fight to protect ‘family,’ never admitting that it stood to endanger families, children and individuals across our state,” said campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy.
In a celebratory email, NOM’s Brian Brown announced a new project—“Stand for Marriage America”—to raise money for the fights ahead in Minnesota, Maine, Maryland and Washington State. “In Maryland and Washington, we are just days away from critical signature-gathering deadlines. And our opponents always have seemingly limitless resources to pour into these state battles,” Brown wrote. “Over the past several months, NOM was able to contribute $425,000 to the North Carolina campaign. But the simple reality is that we can’t match that level of financial support in four states this November. And the stakes just got even higher with President Obama’s announcement today that he publicly supports same-sex marriage.”
The day after the loss, Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, launched the “We Do” campaign, in which 40 LGBT couples, backed by families, friends and pro-equality elected officials, will seek marriage licenses in eight North Carolina communities and risk arrest to underscore the unjust law.
On the anti-gay side, 24 hours after passage, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James asked county staff about stripping health coverage from domestic partners of gay county employees. “Now that Amendment One has passed, it obviously is illegal to offer this benefit, as there is now only one ‘domestic legal union’ recognized in the state,” James wrote in an email to other commissioners and county leaders, Pam Spaulding reported at her important blog Pam’s House Blend.
Spaulding, who serves as Information Technology Manager at Duke University Press in Durham, was devastated by the loss and found it difficult to celebrate Obama’s historic support for marriage equality—announced the day after the measure passed.
“The equality movement will celebrate—as it should—and move on; it will be easy to forget how hard we fought without the president’s help here. They expect the outflow of gay money to his campaign will now accelerate. We’re left to pick up the pieces until the feds/courts help us here in North Carolina,” Spaulding wrote. “Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, we also experienced the devastation of the passage of Proposition 8 in California. I felt the hurt here in North Carolina even though it did not directly affect me, but not once did I say (or even think, for that matter) to tell people grieving in the Golden State to buck up and dance in the streets over the election of the first black president,” she said, reacting to pressure to “move on.”
Spaulding credited a commentator with an insight that serves as a warning to campaigns in the next four battlegrounds: “[T]he anti-gays had lots of motivation to turn out,” as did the “pro-equality crowd,” she wrote. However, “people who don’t oppose legal recognition of some kind for same-sex couples, but aren’t particularly moved by the issue, simply didn’t find any underlying personal motivation to go to the polls. That’s the core problem—getting quasi-supportive people to care enough to vote.”