North Carolina voters have turned out in large numbers to pass a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. While North Carolina law already bans same-sex marriage, the amendment means civil unions and potentially other types of domestic partnerships will no longer be recognized legally by the state. Some lawyers say the measure is vaguely worded and could impact the state’s 150,000 straight couples who live together but are unmarried. Others warn it may invalidate domestic violence protections, undercut child custody arrangements and jeopardize hospital visiting rights. "If we look at the people who sponsored this amendment, we see they have a track record not of unity, but of division," says William Robinson of the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families. [includes rush transcript]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in North Carolina, where voters turned out in large numbers to pass a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. While North Carolina law already bans same-sex marriage, the amendment means civil unions and potentially other types of domestic partnerships will no longer be recognized legally by the state. Some lawyers say the measure is vaguely worded and could impact the state’s 150,000 heterosexual couples who live together but are unmarried. Others warn it may invalidate domestic violence protections, undercut child custody arrangements and jeopardize hospital visiting rights.
The vote comes after weeks of heated debate, with supporters and opponents of the amendment funneling some $3 million into their respective campaigns. A spokeswoman for the pro-amendment group, Vote for Marriage North Carolina, argued that, quote, "We are not anti-gay, we are pro-marriage. And the point, the whole point, is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults."
Meanwhile, civil rights organizations like the NAACP strongly criticized the amendment. This is Reverend William Barber of the NAACP’s North Carolina chapter.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: We are against any law, custom, tradition or amendment that seeks to violate equal protection under the law. That is in the 14th Amendment and is in Section 1—Article 1, Section 1, of our state constitution. So, however you feel about same-sex marriage, religiously or personally or morally—you can be for or against—you should always be against division and hatred and discrimination being written into the Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday’s vote makes North Carolina the 30th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. More states will consider the issue later this year. Minnesota and Washington voters will cast ballots on a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, while Maine will vote on whether to approve same-sex marriage.
On Monday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan endorsed same-sex marriage, one day after Vice President Joe Biden said he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex couples receiving the same rights as heterosexual couples. President Obama has endorsed civil unions but stopped short of supporting same-sex marriage.
For more, we’re going now to North Carolina, where we’re joined by William Robinson, regional field director for the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families.
William Robinson, thanks so much for joining us from Greensboro. Can you tell us who is behind this amendment? Talk about the massive voter turnout, even larger than for the president in—in the presidential election in 2008.
WILLIAM ROBINSON: First of all, good morning, and thank you for having me.
Yeah, this election—this primary was a record-breaking primary. I think it’s because—the miseducation of North Carolinians is the only reason this amendment passed. And we also have built a coalition that will not allow this type of politics to move forward. And by that, I mean we had religious leaders from every Abrahamic religion—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all together fighting against this amendment, because we all see what the true issue was. This is not about morality. This is about the majority voting on the rights of the minority, and we should never stand for that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain, William Robinson, why it is that this particular piece of legislation in North Carolina went even further than comparable legislation in other states that simply ban same-sex marriage?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Yeah. The sponsors of this amendment chose to use language that has never been defined by any courts in North Carolina. That language is the words "domestic legal union," and it created a furor amongst every family law expert, and every law school in North Carolina was against this amendment, because of that, because of those words and the fact that it had never been defined and the risk that it posed to all unmarried couples. And according to the 2010 Census, it’s about 220,000, with the majority of them being heterosexual couples.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip of an ad for the amendment. Supporters and opponents funneled some $3 million into their campaigns. This is an ad put out by the pro-amendment group, Vote for Marriage North Carolina.
VOTE FOR MARRIAGE NORTH CAROLINA AD: Marriage has been one man and one woman since before North Carolina was a state. It’s what God created to give children a mother and a father. By defining marriage in the state constitution, only voters can determine what marriage means. Everyone, gay or straight, is free to live as they choose, but nobody has the right to redefine marriage. Thirty other states have voted to protect marriage. This is our turn. Vote for the marriage protection amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: William Robinson, can you talk about the forces behind the pro-amendment campaign?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Yeah. If we look at the people who sponsored this amendment, we see they have a track record not of unity, but of division. We’re talking about the same people that sponsored this amendment sponsored cutting $1.6 billion from our public school budget. They created the racial redistricting lines. They also are responsible for attack on woman health and woman choice—right to choose. These people have—do not care about morality. And if they want to protect families, they should be creating jobs. The real reason people get divorced is money, not because of someone else’s relationship.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: There’s a particular group called Return America, which was one of the main backers of this amendment. Can you say a little about the group and its founder, Dr. Baity?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Absolutely. I have a couple—first of all, I take aims with Return America. Who has America? Where do you want to return America? You want to return America to when women couldn’t vote? When black people couldn’t sit beside white people on a bus? Or maybe when black people were counted as three-fifths. We’re talking about Return America. Return it where? These are the greatest days of America. And though we have issues, I don’t see a time in history when America was more inclusive than it is now.
And Dr. Baity is the same gentleman that, when now-President Obama was Senator Obama running for the president—the presidency, called President Obama "the anti-Christ," and he said he was on his way to hell. So, I think if we look at the people behind this amendment and the people that support it, and then we tie that into the National—the memos that came out of the National Organization for Marriage that said that their main objective is to pit gays against black, you see who’s behind this amendment, and then—I think Dr. Barber also has mentioned it, as well, in that video that you just showed a clip of—that if you check the who, then you know why.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do think the national and the regional implications will be of this amendment being passed?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: I just think that this group, they sought to divide, but they created a serious coalition in North Carolina, one that will not allow for this amendment to stand. It’s not constitutional. Not only does it pit us against our own constitution, but it also pits North Carolina in direct odds with the federal Constitution.
AMY GOODMAN: William Robinson, the NAACP in North Carolina lobbied against Amendment One, issued a statement explaining why. They quote secret documents obtained from the National Organization for Marriage, which, according to the NAACP, reveal a strategy of divide and rule by those pushing the amendment. The document from the National Organization for Marriage reads, quote: "The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage; develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots. No politician wants to take up and push an issue that splits the base of his party. Fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop 8 is key to raising the costs of pushing gay marriage to its advocates ... find attractive young black Democrats to challenge white gay marriage advocates electorally." Can you talk about this document?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: To me, any American should feel disgusted that anybody is seeking to do anything like this. This is—this is what I’m talking about when I’m talking about race baiting, divisive politics, wedge issues. This has nothing to do with morality. If anything, it’s the opposite of morality. This is strictly political. These people care not about gay marriage. They care about one thing, and that’s securing their political strength.
AMY GOODMAN: But that issue of the black community, and especially the church community, can you talk about where black churches came down on Amendment One?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Absolutely. It’s obvious. When you see Dr. Barber and the group of gentlemen standing behind him, that’s an event that we planned here in the Triad, in Greensboro, North Carolina. And though that was not 200-plus African-American clergy, those people represent that many people. There were several groups, African-American groups, in Greensboro, in the Triad, across the state, that stood against this amendment, and they were groups of African-American clergy members.
But first of all, I want to talk about that. There has never been a consensus on the African-American voice, or there’s no one voice. There’s good people, black people and white people, on both sides of this issue. But what there is, is a strong pull or force by the opposite—the opposition, its conservative agenda, to make people think that black people are against this amendment. This amendment was not written by black clergy or black people in general. It was written by those white legislators in Raleigh.
AMY GOODMAN: Who this affects? This not only about a same-sex marriage ban, now in the Constitution unless it is challenged, but, in looking at one article, 150,000 straight couples in the state who live together but are unmarried. Can you talk about why this could possibly extend to them, how it could invalidate domestic violence protections, undercut child custody arrangements, jeopardize hospital visiting rights, William Robinson?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Yes, and it’s because—all of that is true because of the language, "domestic legal union." Because it’s never been defined, we have just put every unmarried woman in the state at risk of not having domestic violence protection. And we saw this for three years in Ohio, when they passed an amendment that was similar, but less vague. Twenty-seven people were set free of domestic violence offenses. So now we—because the only relationship that this state recognizes is a marriage between one man and one woman, and anybody that is not in a marriage or is not in a "domestic legal union," which means they cannot apply or choose to use domestic violence—they can only be charged with assault, a simple assault, or something to that nature, which is tragic, because assault charges are not designed to do what domestic violence charges are.
And as far as the right to say what happens at hospitals and with end-of-life directives, or if someone is incapacitated, to have their loved one or their partner decide what’s best for them, it’s very scaring thinking that just because someone is a blood relative, they can come in and override what that person wants. And we’ve seen it, time and time again. North Carolina usually goes with blood relatives over partners.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, William Robinson, where does this go from here? The vote was overwhelmingly for the same-sex marriage ban in the Constitution. What are groups like yours, the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families, going to do? Introduce another initiative to repeal this, or does it go to court?
WILLIAM ROBINSON: Well, I’m certain someone’s going to take it to court. As far as the coalition, I think I am unemployed as of 7:30 last night. But I don’t think this is the end of this. I think this is a—history will not judge us on the results from this election. History is going to judge on the decency of our actions, and we definitely know there’s no decency in this amendment.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, William Robinson, regional field director for the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we stay in North Carolina but head to Charlotte, where the Bank of America shareholders’ meeting is taking place, and hundreds of protesters are gathered outside. Stay with us.