Lawmakers in the North Carolina House have passed a bill to let voters decide whether to add an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. 75 legislators voted in favor of the bill, after three and a half hours of debate.
Less than an hour after House lawmakers passed the bill yesterday evening, nearly three hundred people opposed to it held a vigil across the street from the General Assembly. Alex Miller is the interim director of Equality North Carolina, a gay rights group. He told the crowd to come back today for a rally at lunchtime.
Alex Miller: "We will be there tomorrow, to either celebrate a victory in the North Carolina Senate, if they choose to stand on the side of equality, tolerance and fairness. "
But Miller says if the Senate chooses to pass the bill, opponents of the measure should be ready to get to work.
Miller: "Then we will begin the ballot initiative campaign, to defeat this divisive, hurtful amendment, on the ballot whenever they should put it there. And win or lose, we will do it together and we will move North Carolina forward no matter what."
Other speakers at the vigil included pastors, Duke professor Tim Tyson, and country music star Chely Wright. People in the crowd held up neon-colored glow sticks, including Alison Maxwell who came with her same-sex partner of six years. She says she understands why some lawmakers want to add an amendment to the state's constitution even though state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Alison Maxwell: "It's a fear of people that are different, not like themselves. They don't like that. They have a law in place. They're afraid that a liberal judge is going to overturn that and overrule on that and they feel like they need this constitutional amendment."
Maxwell says she'll do her best to fight the measure. But supporters of the proposed amendment want to make banning same-sex unions as foolproof as possible. Earlier this year, a federal judge in California upheld a ruling that struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. That's what conservative groups here are trying to prevent. Earlier in the day yesterday, supporters of the marriage amendment held their own rally complete with live music for several hundred people.
Mark Creech: "Some underestimate the significance of this debate, saying lawmakers shouldn't be focused on this question."
Mark Creech heads the conservative Christian Action League of North Carolina.
Mark Creech: "But instead should be concentrating on dealing with hurricane damage, the need for jobs, and our sluggish economy. But I respectfully contend that there is no issue for the North Carolina General Assembly or the public to consider now or later, that is of greater gravity than how marriage will ultimately be defined among us."
As Creech spoke, members of the audience lifted hand lettered signs and clapped their hands. Trey Baldwin was one of them.
Trey Baldwin: "Pretty much once you start redefining marriage, there's no end to where it'll stop. And pretty much it'll be nothing like it is since the beginning of human history."
Baldwin says he's thrilled that the Defense of Marriage act has finally made it to the legislative floor. This comes after years of effort by one of the bill's main sponsors, Republican Senator James Forrester. Inside the General Assembly, supporters of the proposed amendment say the measure makes sense. Republican Representative Nelson Dollar is from Cary.
Nelson Dollar: "What we are doing with this legislation is we are simply saying that it is time for the citizens of the state of North Carolina to be able to join with the same right that has been exercised all across this country to be able to weigh in on this issue."
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure later today. If three-fifths of state Senators approve it, it will go on the primary ballot in May of next year. A simple majority of primary voters would add the amendment to the state constitution.