- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2012

Opponents of North Carolina’s marriage amendment are aiming to pull out a surprise victory Tuesday, while supporters are fighting to ensure that their state joins the rest of the South in saying that only marriages between one man and one woman are legally valid.

Recent polls indicate that the constitutional marriage amendment is likely to pass, albeit by smaller-than-expected margins.

However, Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, thinks the amendment, which opponents are attacking as extreme for also barring civil unions, will be defeated, as happened in November to the Mississippi “personhood” amendment. Voters unexpectedly rejected the Mississippi amendment, 58 percent to 42 percent.

The Mississippi amendment was “an extreme, overly broad amendment, just like we have here. And going into Election Day, [Mississippi amendment opponents] thought they were going to lose by 10 points. And they had a huge upset that day,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Key primary races for Democratic gubernatorial and legislative candidates mean more get-out-the-vote efforts of likely amendment opponents, Mr. Kennedy said, and in early voting, “we have seen almost double the turnout we were expecting.”

“So in my opinion, I think the groundwork is definitely laid for there to be a big upset on Tuesday,” he said, adding that thousands of volunteers are on hand to knock on doors and call prospective voters.

Tami Fitzgerald, chairman of Vote for Marriage NC and executive director of NC Values Coalition, said her groups and their allies are heartened by polls showing the amendment will pass, but they planned a full schedule of ads, rallies, news conferences and “Marriage Sunday” events.

“We have worked hard to make sure that voters weren’t distracted by the deceptive messages that the other side has put out,” she said Friday. “We know that polls don’t necessarily equate to voter turnout. So, especially in a primary, you definitely have to be worried about voters turning out to vote.”

Still, Ms. Fitzgerald liked what she saw in the high levels of early voter turnout, too. “I think the energy looks like it’s behind the Republican turnout,” she said.

The North Carolina constitutional amendment would make “marriage between one man and one woman” the “only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”

While it would prevent the state from recognizing civil unions and domestic partnerships, the amendment clarifies that it would “not prohibit” businesses and other private parties from entering into agreements establishing personal rights, responsibilities or benefits with unmarried people, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said, adding that courts will decide disputes relating to such contracts.

Recent polls indicate likely approval of the amendment. On Thursday, a Civitas Institute poll of 800 likely voters said Democrats supported the amendment, 48 percent to 44 percent, while Republicans supported it, 78 percent to 15 percent.

On May 1, Public Policy Polling found that 55 percent of 982 likely voters supported the amendment, while 41 percent opposed it and 4 percent were “not sure.”

An all-out media campaign was still under way, with amendment opponents having $2.3 million to spend compared with $1.2 million amassed by supporters.

Amendment opponents — including the Human Rights Campaign’s political action committee for North Carolina, family law professors, mental health professionals, social workers and gay-friendly religious institutions — say it is unfair to constitutionally deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Also, the measure, which they refer to as Amendment 1, will even strip away established benefits for unmarried couples, such as domestic violence protections and health care benefits.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, warned that “ultraconservative forces” created the amendment to “place hate and discrimination and division into the very heart of our constitution.”

“The reality is gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina,” Mr. Barber said. “Vote against this trick Amendment 1.”

Amendment supporters counter that, after years of legislative gridlock, voters finally have the chance to add North Carolina to 31 other states — including all states in the South — that limit marriage to only heterosexual couples.

Even legendary Christian leader Billy Graham offered a rare political endorsement of the amendment.

“At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage,” Mr. Graham said in full-page newspaper ads placed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“The Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman. I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote FOR the marriage amendment on Tuesday, May 8. God bless you as you vote,” he said.

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