North Carolina voters will decide in May whether to effectively ban same-sex marriages in the state constitution, now that both chambers of the Republican-dominated General Assembly have passed a bill allowing the measure to be put on the ballot.
The state Senate on Tuesday passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 30-16, with the minimum three-fifths votes needed to pass such an amendment. The House passed the same bill a day earlier by a vote of 75-42.
The move sets up a vote in May 2012 that could end North Carolina's status as the only state in the Southeast without such a constitutional marriage amendment.
Tuesday's debate covered many familiar arguments, with Republicans defending the historical definition of marriage and the need for both a father and a mother in a family, while Democrats lamented the loss of "progressive" thinking about gays in their state.
This bill "is about preservation, not discrimination," said Republican state Sen. James Forrester, who noted that he couldn't get a hearing for his DOMA bill in the seven previous times he introduced it when Democrats were in the majority.
Putting the definition of marriage before North Carolina's 6 million voters is "the right thing to do," Mr. Forrester said.
The "natural family" is the "time-tested building block of society," said state Sen. Dan Soucek, another Republican supporter of the bill.
"Why are we doing this?" countered state Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird, secretary of the Democratic Caucus. Republican leaders talk about promoting jobs, but "this is a very business-unfriendly bill," she said.
Other Democratic lawmakers said the bill was "terribly misguided," caused pain to the gay residents of North Carolina and would depress economic prospects for the state.
The DOMA bill would amend the North Carolina constitution to say that marriage is between one man and one woman and "is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state." It also says that private parties are not prohibited from entering into contracts with each other, signaling to employers that they can offer benefits to gay couples.
In 2010, Republican lawmakers took control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years. In their comments for DOMA, they said that while a state law already says only one man and one woman can marry, the constitutional amendment was needed to prevent "activist" judges from permitting recognition of same-sex marriage.
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