Two Republican leaders in the North Carolina legislature said Tuesday they will push for passage of a marriage referendum, which, if passed by voters in 2012, would make their state the final one in the Southeast to define marriage in the state constitution as the union of a man and a woman.
“Does the decision about defining marriage … belong in this building, or does it belong with the people of North Carolina, for them to decide?” state House Speaker Pro Tempore Dale R. Folwell asked at a news conference in the North Carolina General Assembly. “It’s time that we put this decision to the people of this state.”
A constitutional amendment is needed because courts are turning equal-rights protections “into a same-sex marriage entitlement,” said House Majority Leader Paul Stam.
The state Defense of Marriage Act would not block private domestic benefits for gay couples, they said, adding that the bill likely will pass if there is not “interference” from Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who once voted for a similar law.
North Carolina lawmakers convene Sept. 12 for a brief session. Three-fifths of members in both chambers must pass a constitutional amendment before it can go to voters.
In 2010, Republicans won majorities in both chambers for the first time since 1896.
Equality North Carolina, a gay-rights group, is planning a series of vigils and rallies to oppose the legislation, which they say is bigoted, will nullify domestic-partnership benefits, and will prohibit civil unions.
A group called North Carolina Values Coalition has organized to push for the amendment.
The strategy to add marriage amendments to a state constitution emerged in the mid-1990s after a Hawaii court ruled the state could not deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.
Since 1998, voters in 30 states have changed their constitutions to clarify to courts that only man-woman couples can marry. In addition, in Maine, people went to the polls to repeal a law that would have permitted gay marriage.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in six states and the District have enacted gay marriage, in some cases by court order.
Ten states, including some with constitutional marriage amendments, have enacted civil unions or domestic partnership laws. These are: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.
But North Carolina is one of a few states that have not yet had a full debate on a marriage amendment.
In Minnesota, voters will decide whether to pass their amendment in November 2012. Indiana lawmakers have passed a marriage amendment but must pass it again before it can go to voters. California’s marriage amendment, Proposition 8, is in effect but is being challenged in federal court.
Five states - Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming - have either had relatively short debates or no debate on a marriage amendment.