On May 8, North Carolina voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to amend the state constitution. Though proponents of Amendment One claim that it is intended to define marriage to be between one man and one woman, the amendment doesn’t actually say that. The amendment actually says that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” The phrase “only domestic legal union” is the key phrase here, and that phrase makes the impact of the amendment far broader than simply defining marriage to be between one man and one woman.
Educating voters about the far-reaching consequences of Amendment One is of critical importance for opponents of the amendment. Polls have shown that voters are confused about the effect of Amendment One. The very fact that the amendment is confusing should be reason enough to vote against adding it to our state constitution, but the confusion is also allowing proponents to continue misinforming the public about the harmful consequences of this amendment. Polls also show that the more voters learn about the effects of Amendment One, the more likely they are to oppose the amendment. With that in mind, here is a quick summary of what the Amendment will do, could do, and will not do:
1. Amendment One will ban all civil unions and domestic partnerships. By reserving legal recognition for heterosexual marriage alone, Amendment One removes all legal status for civil unions and domestic partnerships. What many voters don’t know is that this applies to opposite-sex couples as well. If this amendment passes, there will be no legal recognition for any domestic relationship outside of marriage, same-sex or opposite-sex.
2. Amendment One will strip municipal employees of health benefits for domestic partners. Because the amendment says that domestic partnerships have no legal status in North Carolina, cities and counties (including Durham, Mecklenburg, and Orange counties) that currently offer health benefits to domestic partners – gay and straight – will no longer be allowed to do so.
3. Amendment One will hurt North Carolina’s economy. Numerous corporations and business leaders have spoken out against Amendment One because it will hurt their ability to recruit the best and the brightest to come work in North Carolina. When top talent goes elsewhere to find better benefits and more tolerant laws, North Carolina’s economy suffers.
4. Amendment One could prevent application of domestic violence laws to unmarried batterers, allowing abusers to get off scot-free simply because they aren’t married. This is not an exaggeration – it happened in Ohio, where voters passed a similarly broad amendment in 2004, before the state’s Supreme Court stepped in.
5. Amendment One could prevent private employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples. The amendment attempts to sidestep this consequence by including a clause protecting private contracts. However, that clause does not require courts to honor such contracts, and it does not explain how a domestic partnership that has no legal status should be handled by courts.
6. Amendment One could interfere with child custody arrangements and hospital visitation rights for same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples. Because the phrase “only domestic legal union” has no precedent in North Carolina law, there is no telling how broadly courts will interpret it.
7. Finally, a vote against Amendment One is not a vote for same-sex marriage. The defeat of Amendment One will not legalize same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Though many of us hope to see marriage equality in this state in the future, same-sex marriage is currently illegal under N.C.G.S. § 51-1.2. A vote against Amendment One is nothing more or less than a vote against adding a destructive, overly broad, and discriminatory restriction into our state’s foundational document.
When the collateral consequences of Amendment One are examined closely, it becomes clear that even voters who oppose same-sex marriage should oppose Amendment One. There are too many unknowns, and the idea of placing an amendment of uncertain reach and uncertain meaning into our constitution should give every voter pause.
Amendment supporters claim that none of these consequences will occur, but legal experts have acknowledged Amendment One’s reach is indeterminate and could be astonishingly broad. I encourage every North Carolina voter to get informed, look at the consequences, and vote against Amendment One.
General Resources on Amendment One: