The North Carolina House has approved a plan, 75-42, that would allow citizens to vote on whether to add an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. The proposal now goes to the N.C. Senate, where it is expected to win the three-fifths majority approval it needs to put the issue on the May 2012 primary ballot.
North Carolina already bans same-sex marriage, but it is the only state in the South that has yet to make the ban part of its constitution, Reuters reports. For the first time in 140 years, both the state House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, and Republicans have led the effort to insert an amendment and become the 31st state to prohibit same-sex marriage in its constitution.
The amendment reads: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."
According to the Raleigh News & Observer:
The wording is crafted to ease concerns that the amendment would prohibit businesses from offering benefits to domestic partners. However, employees of municipalities and other government entities – including Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Orange County, Mecklenburg County and Asheville – could lose those benefits with the new wording.
The House vote followed a floor debate that lasted more than three hours on Monday afternoon.
Opponents implied that inserting the amendment would be akin to introducing the Jim Crow restrictions that prevented interracial marriage, The Associated Press reports. "We've put discrimination in our constitution before and if you vote for this amendment…you will be doing it against the tide of history and against future generations," said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.
Supporters said they were merely turning the matter over to the citizens of North Carolina. "The question is, are we going to let the people decide, or judicial decisions based on the Supreme Court decisions of a half-dozen other states?" House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, said, the AP reports.
Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh, N.C., polling firm that has done surveys for Democrats, released a poll last week that found 61 percent of North Carolinians say gay marriage should remain illegal, but 55 percent would vote against a constitutional amendment, the Christian Science Monitor reports.