News: CJ Exclusives

Marriage Amendment Collects Big Margin, National Attention

Supporters say social issues matter; opponents vow to continue fight

North Carolina’s lopsided vote backing a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman is a national body blow to Democrats and signals that social issues are very much part of the political landscape this year, supporters of Amendment One say.

Voters approved the measure 61-39 percent in Tuesday’s primary election. The campaign drew national attention. Each side generated financial support and grass-roots activity from an array of individuals and organizations.

“I think it’s significant that this is taking place in a state which is known as a battleground state in terms of the presidential election,” said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, which conducted robocalls to conservative voters and provided guidance to amendment supporters.

“I think the passage of this amendment will be somewhat of an embarrassment to the Democratic Party as they hold their convention” in Charlotte Sept. 3-6, Sprigg said.

The amendment’s opponents say their battle is just beginning. “History is not going to look at us as failures because of the loss of this election. History will judge us on the decency of our actions, and there’s no decency in this amendment,” said Will Robinson, regional field director with the Durham-based Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families.

“I would have wanted there not to be discrimination codified into North Carolina’s constitution,” Robinson said. “The people who sponsored this amendment better be prepared for the fight of their life when it’s time to defend their seats.”

Like Robinson, Susan Feit, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad, preferred to focus on the creation of a “social justice” movement rather than defeat at the ballot box.

“Creating a sea change in people’s thinking does not happen overnight, or even over a few short months. We may have lost this vote, but we have moved the needle significantly,” said Feit, whose organization put up a Facebook page and put out yard signs, held rallies with interfaith groups, hosted news conferences, and placed newspaper ads.

“In a time of such intense partisan politics and divisiveness in North Carolina and across the country,” Feit said, “thousands of people have been mobilized and engaged in building a more just community, work that doesn’t stop on May 8. In our book, that’s a win.”

In the months leading to the vote, interest and activity mounted.

“We have processed 11 referendum committees related to Amendment One and we’ve had in excess of 40 reports of individual expenditures either for or against the amendment,” said Don Wright, general counsel of the North Carolina Board of Elections.

As the ground game expanded in efforts to build a large voting bloc in favor of the amendment, marquee names such as Rev. Billy Graham added their clout.

Former President Bill Clinton was used in robocall messages opposing the amendment. President Obama opposed the amendment while remaining noncommittal about same-sex marriage. Vice President Joe Biden and Cabinet members in recent days offered their support for gay marriage.

“We’ve had a lot of rallies across the state with churches, pastors and political organizations,” said Tami L. Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition and chairwoman of Vote for Marriage NC, a pro-amendment referendum committee.

“We’ve had great enthusiasm, especially outside of Raleigh and Charlotte,” Fitzgerald said. “Voters across the state firmly believe marriage is between one man and one woman, and they are very enthusiastic about keeping it that way.”

Vote for Marriage NC operated a website, social media, and produced videos for 6,000 churches across the state, Fitzgerald said. The Family Research Council and Heritage Action for America conducted voter registration drives with a Values Voter bus tour.

The referendum committee’s executive board participated in rallies and get-out-the-vote drives. It comprised representatives from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the Christian Action League, a network of African American churches, and the National Organization for Marriage.

The efforts were costly.

“The other side had raised about $2.3 million. Our side raised $1.2 million” as of last Monday’s campaign finance filing, Fitzgerald said.

Robinson said the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families had 120-plus partners. One was the NAACP, which was energetically opposed the amendment around the state.

“We had tons of every type of rally that you can think of,” Robinson said. “Voter education, march to the polls, prayer vigils, candlelight vigils.”

But in the end, Sprigg said, “I’m really not surprised at the margin” of approval in making North Carolina one of about 30 states in the nation and the last one in the South to approve a constitutional marriage amendment. North Carolina’s vote was consistent with referendums elsewhere, he said.

Minnesota has a marriage amendment vote later this year and “We’re hoping that other states will be advancing marriage amendments in coming years,” Sprigg said. “If there’s a more conservative Congress next year perhaps there will be a chance of passing a federal amendment as well.”

Dan Way is a contributor to Carolina Journal.