On May 8, 2012, North Carolina passed an amendment to the state constitution decreeing “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” The controversial measure passed with 61 percent of the vote just one day before President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage.
To understand the implications of the passage of Amendment One, WCJ spoke with Christopher Cooper, Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Carolina University.
WCJ: What might be some of the unintended consequences of the amendment’s passage?
Cooper: “This has made a name for North Carolina on the national scene, for good or for bad. I think obviously a lot of folks think this is a good thing. The majority of North Carolinians, at least the ones who voted, spoke out and said it was a good thing, but there’s still a sizable minority of people that don’t think that, and there are some folks that are claiming that this might kind of hurt the business climate of the state of North Carolina, or maybe hurt our ability to recruit businesses in the future. There are clearly millions of people who are going to feel disenfranchised by this amendment. It makes sense to me that, given a choice of where to relocate, they would choose to relocate to a state that’s more hospitable.”
WCJ: What are the options now for opponents of Amendment One?
Cooper: “To try to declare this unconstitutional at the federal level, which has never happened. This kind of thing has never gotten all the way to the Supreme Court for that kind of a decision. Also it can be taken back to the people again for another vote, and I think that’s the more likely of the two scenarios. We know that young people are much more likely to support gay rights and gay marriage than older people, so as the electorate ages, you would expect that the odds of repealing this would go up over time. We actually saw the opposite of that happen in Arizona. Arizona actually voted kind of a pro-gay marriage thing and then they went back and then voted against it. To have this be another constitutional amendment, it’s going to have to go back to the people.”
WCJ: What effects could this have on the November election?
Cooper: “Probably not a huge amount. I think people in this state don’t support gay marriage, by and large; so the more it’s talked about, the worse it is for Obama. If you’re a politician, you want the political dialogue and the debate to be on issues where you agree with the public and the public agrees with you, so this is pretty clearly a place where Obama is a little out of step with the state of North Carolina. I think to whatever degree it continues to be talked about will be a little bit worse for Obama in North Carolina.”
WCJ also spoke with people in the community to learn their thoughts about the passage of Amendment One. Here are their comments.
Ernie Jamison, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Sylva, N.C.
“We’re very happy about it. We believe that it confirmed the definition of marriage that God has given to us in his word, and as firm Bible believers and people that try to follow the commandments of God, we’re very pleased about it.”
Ann Fletchall, geography lecturer at Western Carolina University
“I guess I expected it would pass but I am disappointed that it did. I definitely think marriage should be an equal opportunity for everyone.”
Laura Ernst, academic advisor at OneStop, Western Carolina University
“I’m not really sure what to think entirely. Part of me can understand both sides. I don’t agree with the gay-lesbian-transgender lifestyle, but at the same time, I’m not really sure entirely what the purpose of the bill was. It just seems like it’s really coming down to money when I hear things about it. When it gets down to the rights, it seems like a lot of what I read is that it’s going to affect health care plans, tax benefits and things like that. So I feel like part of the fight is about what people believe in and they’re getting really caught up in the morals of it, but I’m not so sure that’s it’s really a moral fight. I’m a little conflicted about what the bill was really intended for because gay and lesbian marriages are already illegal, so the bill hasn’t changed it. I don’t think they’ve lost any rights because they didn’t have the right to get married. It just seems like it’s really affecting monetary things like taxes and health care as far as I can see, so in that sense it’s not really fair, but I’m still pretty conflicted about it.”
Blair Tormey, geology lecturer at Western Carolina University
“I’m not happy about it. I’m a live-and-let-live type of person. In the end, I think it sets things back.”
Colin Whitfield, new WCU graduate, engaged to marry his girlfriend, Casey Harwood, on June 23, 2012
“I don’t think it’s a North Carolina thing. People were uneducated about the law to begin with. They just thought ‘Oh, I’m voting against gay marriage.’ No, you’re voting against a lot more. It is direct government involvement in our lives. I don’t think the group that’s against gay marriage is really that large, but they just want to tell everybody else how to live their lives. That’s not freedom.”
Bruce Turnbull of Marble, N.C.
“No one’s stopping anyone from having a relationship, living together, sharing their lives together. The only thing that’s really missing is the official marriage license, but there’s really nothing to stop anyone from living that way. I don’t believe that their civil rights are violated in terms of job benefits and things like that. There could be certain issues there. That might be important, if by being married certain benefits which should be rightfully theirs are there as well.”
Related story: Amendment One passes, Jackson County no longer dry