A North Carolina bill to allow voters a chance to define marriage in their state constitution goes to the state Senate on Tuesday, after passing the state House.
The 75-42 vote followed a lengthy debate, dominated by opponents of the amendment.
If it passes, it will go on the May 2012 ballot.
North Carolina is the only Southeastern state without voter-approved language in the state constitution that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, a Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, led off Monday’s debate by noting that one of the first laws in the state was that marriage was between a man and a woman.
This amendment needs to go before the voters because they need to decide what is marriage, not judges in courts, said Mr. Stam. Iowa, he added, once had a law like North Carolina’s that said marriage was only between a man and a woman, but the Iowa Supreme Court struck it down and allowed gay marriage. “Folks, we are in the same situation,” he said.
“People want to vote” on this definition of marriage, said Speaker Pro Tempore Dale R. Folwell, another Republican supporter.
But for most of three hours, Democratic members decried the amendment, calling it “unconscionable,” “extreme” and reminiscent of the state’s discrimination against blacks.
This “contemptible” bill “takes our state backwards” in terms of respecting people, said state Rep. Deborah K. Ross. This bill “is not God, not even close,” said openly gay Rep. Marcus Brandon.
The amendment now goes to the state Senate, where three-fifths of that chamber must pass it if it is to go to voters. The governor cannot veto the bill.
The amendment, which was passed by a House committee earlier on Monday, says that marriage between one man and one woman “is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” It clarifies that it does not prohibit private parties from entering into contracts.
The amendment called for a vote in May 2012, when primary elections are held, rather than the general election in November 2012. This was done to “remove politics” from the issue, House Speaker Thom Tillis told a news conference.
Republicans took control of both chambers in 2010 for the first time since 1896, freeing them to take action on a “defense of marriage” amendment.
Equality North Carolina, which supports gay marriage, brought nearly 50,000 postcards opposing the amendment to lawmakers Monday.
At a press conference last week, a group of black pastors, including the Rev. Johnny Hunter of Fayetteville, said that marriage was a divine relationship between a man and a woman, and that gay-rights groups had hijacked the civil rights movement for their own “immoral” purposes.