North Carolina Votes to Ban Gay Marriage
On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, North Carolina voted to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. This amendment, called Amendment One, to the state constitution makes a marriage between a man and a woman the only union recognized by the state. With this amendment, North Carolina becomes the 30th state to officially ban same-sex marriage. Advocates on both sides of the issue spend a total of $3 million on their respective campaigns.
Legislature Passes Bill, Lets Voters Decide
Following the 2010 elections, Republicans controlled both chambers of the state’s Congress for the first time in 140 years. In 2011, the both the House and senate approved Amendment One, putting it on the ballot for voters to decide. Prior to the passage of this amendment, North Carolina was the only state in the South without a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Approximately 61 percent of North Carolina voters supported the amendment while only 39 percent voted against it. Supporters of the amendment included the Reverend Billy Graham and the Family Research Council. These supporters argued that the amendment provides extra protection for marriage, adding an important layer of protection from activist judges and lawsuits from same-sex couples seeking marriage equality. The amendment’s opponents, on the other hand, feared that its passage would dismantle legal protections available to unmarried couples.
North Carolina Marriage Laws
In order for a marriage to be valid in North Carolina, there must be a ceremony and a certificate of marriage. North Carolina does not recognize common law marriages, regardless of how long a couple has publicly identified themselves as man and wife.
Although illegal in some states, North Carolina allows first cousins to marry. First cousins are defined as the children of two siblings. Therefore, first cousins share the same grandparents. North Carolina does not allow double first cousins to marry. It is the only state that specifically prohibits marriage between double first cousins, who share both sets of grandparents.
Same-sex marriage was already illegal in North Carolina before this constitutional amendment was passed. This statute, which was enacted in 1996, states that marriages between same-sex partners are not valid in North Carolina. Although same-sex marriage was not recognized, the law did not prohibit domestic partnerships.
Unmarried Straight Couples May Lose Protections
Not only does this amendment ban same-sex marriage, it may also end the legal recognition of domestic partnerships formed by unmarried straight couples. The language of the amendment is unclear, stating that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” However, “domestic legal union” is not a term that is used in North Carolina law. Because it is currently undefined under the law, the language may have an impact on unmarried straight couples as well. Opponents of Amendment One are concerned that it may prohibit an unmarried person from filing a domestic abuse case against a significant other, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.
Some North Carolina cities and counties recognize domestic partnerships that are available to both gay and straight partners. These domestic partnerships extend health benefits to employees and their domestic partners. It is unclear if Amendment One will affect these benefits.
North Carolina Marriage Laws: What the State Constitution says…
§ 51‑1.2. Marriages between persons of the same gender not valid.
Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina.