Ben Church and other opponents of a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage voice their opposition at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., on March 15.
Ben Church and other opponents of a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage voice their opposition at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., on March 15. Takaaki Iwabu/AP
North Carolina is the only Southern state without a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But that could change next month.
On May 8, voters will decide whether to change the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, as well as civil unions and domestic partnerships. Leading Republican lawmakers think it's one of the most important issues facing voters.
But some conservatives worry that the measure goes too far.
John Hood runs a well-known conservative think tank in Raleigh. His views aren't usually adopted by liberal groups, but the other day, an anti-amendment volunteer handed Hood a fluorescent-colored flyer to read.
"It says that some North Carolina conservatives like John Hood of the John Locke Foundation say the amendment is too extreme. They say its wording harms the rights of too many people. Well, it's an accurate quote," he says, adding with a laugh: "I'm not used to being accurately quoted!"
Hood, a registered independent, thinks lawmakers wasted their time bringing the amendment before voters. A state law already bans same-sex marriage. He says he understands some conservatives want to provide an additional safeguard for traditional marriage with an amendment.
"But then there's a group of people that I would be in the camp of who do care about marriage as an issue, but simply don't think the possibility that other people will get married is a threat," he says. "It seems to me that the real threat to marriage [is] straight people getting divorced or never getting married in the first place."
Jennifer Cockrham, a nurse from Walkertown, N.C., holds her hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance during a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage Friday in Raleigh.
Jennifer Cockrham, a nurse from Walkertown, N.C., holds her hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance during a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage Friday in Raleigh. Allen Breed/AP
Support For The Amendment
Hood isn't the only conservative to speak out against the measure. Many prominent Republicans across the state have, too. A survey from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-based firm, shows 54 percent of North Carolinians support the amendment, though the margin has narrowed.
Republican legislative leaders say the numbers show voters do not support same-sex marriage.
"That is not a good environment to raise children," says Paul Stam, the measure's biggest champion. "It doesn't mean that every child raised in that environment will have trouble."
Stam, the majority leader in the North Carolina House of Representatives, believes children born outside traditional marriages face great social and economic hurdles. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children with gay and lesbian parents do not differ developmentally or emotionally from children with heterosexual parents.
Stam knows his stance may alienate some voters. "It probably will push away 1 or 2 percent," he says. "On the other hand, it probably will gather more than that from Democrats and independents. So to the extent that there's a reordering, it doesn't hurt our party."
But other Republicans disagree, including Dan Gurley, chairman of the board of directors of Equality North Carolina, one of the main groups working against the amendment.
"Republicans who oppose equality really are fighting history, and they're going to get left behind," he says. "My concern as a Republican is that if our party does not adapt to the changing times, that we're going to get left behind."
Gurley, who is gay, is a former field director for the Republican National Committee who says his sexual orientation held back his career in GOP politics. He has stayed in the party because he wants to help change it.
But he is up against voters like Howard Gum, a divorce attorney who describes himself as a conservative with a libertarian streak.
"The marriage institution, the value the law places on it with family, is so deeply ingrained in our culture and our society that I just think it needs to be preserved intact," Gum says.
Gum doesn't think same-sex unions threaten traditional marriage. But he believes one of the main purposes of marriage is for a man and a woman to have children. That's why he plans to vote for the amendment.