By Ed Mullen, Executive Director of Equality Ohio
After a string of marriage equality victories in New York, Maryland and Washington, voters in North Carolina today passed Amendment One, which writes relationship recognition discrimination into the North Carolina Constitution. At last check, the Amendment was on its way to passage at 60% to 40% according to preliminary numbers.
Amendment One is deceptively simple, saying: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” This amendment bans same-sex marriage (which is already invalid under North Carolina law), but it does so much more. By saying that marriage between one man and one woman is the only valid “domestic union”, it prohibits civil unions, domestic partnerships, and any other form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Legal experts also say that the unintended consequences include limitations on domestic violence protections for cohabitating couples, straight or gay, as well as limitations on insurance benefits for children and partners in unmarried families.
Polling in advance of the vote showed 55% support for the amendment and 40% opposition. If the amendment were written simply to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, only 34% of those polled would have opposed the amendment and it would have passed easily. However, if people were educated on all of the consequences of the amendment, they opposed it by a 61% to 37% margin. The efforts to educate voters was apparently unsuccessful, in part because it is a daunting task and in part because opponents of marriage equality were circulating the opposite message.
The North Carolina result is very disappointing in the wake of national polling showing support for marriage equality eclipsing opposition. However, much of the public opinion polling does not screen for likely voters. Supporters of marriage equality are statistically less likely to vote; older voters who oppose marriage equality in greatest numbers are the most reliable voters. In addition, support for marriage equality in voting consistently underperforms polling. Two reasons have been found: first, some opponents of marriage equality are unwilling to admit their position to pollsters because they don’t want to appear anti-gay; and second, opponents of marriage equality follow a campaign strategy that includes extensive negative campaigning in the weeks leading up to the vote. So to pass marriage equality through the ballot box, these phenomena need to be understood and countered. National experts suggest that strong polling of 53-54% in support of marriage equality will be needed to pass marriage equality through the ballot box in any given state (though it has never been done).
The North Carolina effort had some important successes. If it is possible to “lose forward”, the marriage equality supporters, including Equality North Carolina, laid the groundwork to do so. They received significant support in opposing the amendment by the state and national NAACP. In the wake of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, many commentators (without statistical support) blamed religious African-Americans who turned out to vote for Barack Obama, so the active and vocal support of the African-American community is significant. In addition, business leaders and some prominent Republicans opposed the amendment. Moving forward, these relationships will be important to passing non-discrimination laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and ultimately overturning the amendment.
In addition, the campaign engaged in public education to tell stories of our families so that people throughout North Carolina are beginning to understand that families of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are built on love, just as their families however defined. Many of the videos and ads made for the campaign went viral on social media, having an impact beyond North Carolina’s borders. The campaign took a long view that will serve the LGBT community in North Carolina well in the long term.
A constitutional amendment similar to Amendment One passed in Ohio in 2004 by a vote of 62% to 38%, and 29 states across the country currently have constitutional amendments that prohibit same-sex marriages and other recognition of same-sex couples to one extent or another. Twelve additional states ban same-sex marriage by statute alone.
Arizona in 2006 became the only state to vote against a constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriages and civil unions. But in 2008, Arizona voted for a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, leaving the door open for civil unions or other recognition for same-sex couples, but Arizona does not currently have any form of relationship recognition under state law. Voters in Minnesota will vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage this November. No state has yet overturned a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage or other relationship recognition, though Oregon has been working for several years to lay the groundwork to do so soon.
Seven states currently recognize same-sex marriages, with recognition coming from either the courts or legislature. Two other states, Washington and Maryland, have passed marriage equality laws through the legislature, but they are subject to potential voter referendums in November. No state has ever passed a marriage equality law by popular vote, though Maine is poised to be the first state in November 2012.
On the issue of marriage equality and other civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, we are becoming more and more divided as a nation. As some states and regions of the country move forward with laws protecting against bullying and harassment; laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations; laws permitting second parent adoption; and, relationship recognition laws, other states and regions are being left behind, stagnant in many ways. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are coming out and staying put where they live more than in the past, whether that be in conservative states or rural areas. As a national community, we need to figure out how to move forward without leaving so many people behind.
Here in Ohio, we continue to work for full equality for the LGBT community. Despite many successes on the local level throughout the state (traditionally conservative Cincinnati just elected an openly gay councilmember and passed domestic partner benefits for city workers), we are far behind much of the country in any objective measure (support for marriage equality polled at 38% in October 2011). Equality Ohio is a relatively young organization compared to our sister organizations in other states. We take to heart the lessons of today’s vote in North Carolina as much as we do the victories elsewhere. We commend those in North Carolina and around the country who participated in the effort to oppose Amendment One, and we look forward to the day -- sure to come -- when we achieve full social and legal equality, including marriage equality, for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ohio and throughout the country.
What does the North Carolina Vote on 'Amendment One' Mean?
By Ed Mullen, Executive Director of Equality Ohio