Greensboro, NC -- Chances are, you've been angry or confused at some point about Amendment One, the Marriage Amendment, about how it's being covered, the ads on TV, and about who's saying what.
The ballot reads "constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."
If Amendment One is approved, North Carolina will join 30 other states with marriage defining amendments. The first were passed back in 1998, in Hawaii and Alaska.
Dr. John Dinan, a political science professor from Wake Forest University joined us Friday for WFMY News 2 at 6.
The professor was not talking for or against this issue. He came to talk about the history of marriage amendments and what has happened in other states.
WFMY: There is already a law in NC banning gay marriage. What's different about the Amendment?
Dr. Dinan: The amendment would have two main effects. One, it would prevent a future state court from requiring legalization of same-sex marriage or civil unions. Courts in four states have interpreted their state constitutions as requiring same-sex marriage to be legalized. This amendment would prevent a state court in North Carolina from issuing a similar decision. Second, it would prevent a future state legislature from legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions. In a handful of other states, most recently Maryland and Washington, state legislatures have legalized same-sex marriage. And some other states have legalized same-sex civil unions only. If this North Carolina amendment passes, the North Carolina legislature would be prevented from following these other states.
WFMY: How do marriage amendments evolve?
Dr. Dinan: 30 states have passed marriage amendments to their state constitutions. Hawaii and Alaska were the first to pass marriage amendments to their constitutions -- in 1998, at a time when courts in those states appeared poised to legalize same-sex marriage. And so the intent was to prevent this outcome. But most of the 30 states passed their amendments from 2004-2008, after the Massachusetts supreme court became the first to require legalization of same-sex marriage in that state. Most of the amendments were passed in other states as a way of preventing a similar court ruling in other states.
WFMY: Have marriage amendments been this contentious in other states?
Dr. Dinan: They have generated a lot of debate. In some states these amendments passed by wide margins, sometimes more than 80 percent support as in neighboring Tennessee. But in other states the margins have been much narrower -- for instance neighboring Virginia passed its amendment with 57 percent support. And in one state -- Arizona -- opponents were even able to defeat a marriage amendment, in 2006, the one defeat so far around the country, though supporters returned two years later and secured passage of a reworded amendment.
WFMY: Have any other amendments in the US related to defining marriage raised questions about insurance benefits and domestic violence protections the way ours has.
Dr: Dinan: The wording of the 30 other state marriage amendments varies. In some of these states, the amendment only bars legalization of same-sex marriage, and this hasn't led to much debate afterward. But in 19 states, the amendments go further and ban not only same-sex marriage, but also civil unions and other arrangements. In a few states these broader amendments did raise questions about domestic violence protections, though the highest court in each of these states held that domestic violence protections are not affected by the marriage amendment. And in a few states these broader amendments raised questions about insurance benefits for public employees, and these state courts held that public domestic partnership benefits were barred by the marriage amendment, and so this is the one likely effect of the North Carolina amendment: to make it more difficult for municipalities to offer domestic partnership benefits in the way that some currently do.
WFMY: How does this amendment break down generationally/demographically? Is this an amendment pushed for by an older population whereas younger generations feel differently, or does age not matter in this?
Dr: Dinan: Polling in North Carolina and in other states has shown clear divisions on this question, with older residents the most supportive of the marriage amendment and opposed to same-sex marriage and younger residents the most opposed to the marriage amendment and supportive of same-sex marriage. There are other differences, in that African-Americans are generally more supportive of marriage amendments than the general population.
WFMY: What's next if the amendment passes?
Dr: Dinan: The main change would be that local governments that currently provide domestic partnerships would no longer be able to operate them in the way that they currently do. They could still provide domestic partnership benefits, but they would have to be designed differently than they are now, to comply with the amendment's language.
WFMY: What's next if the amendment doesn't pass?
Dr: Dinan: There would be no change in the current situation where same-sex marriage is prohibited by statute in North Carolina.