September 12th, 2011
08:42 PM ET

N.C. House votes to put constitutional same-sex marriage ban on ballot

[Updated at 8:42 p.m. ET] The North Carolina House voted Monday to put on the 2012 ballot a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state, a spokesman for the House speaker said.

The bill, which the House approved 76-41, now goes to the Senate. Three-fifths of the House's 120 members - 72 - were required for the bill to pass.

If the measure passes in the entire Legislature and is approved by voters during the primary in May, North Carolina would become the final state in the Southeast to add a constitutional amendment regarding same-sex marriage.

"This amendment pushes the power away from us and pushes the decision to the people of North Carolina," state Rep. Dale Folwell, a Republican from Winston-Salem and the speaker pro tem, said.

Proponents of the measure said they felt it was important that the amendment be added so that it would protect the state's policy on gay marriage. North Carolina currently has a ban on same-sex marriage, but legislators are seeking to protect that ban by chiseling it into their constitution.

The bill came to the House floor Monday after a House committee passed it by a voice vote earlier in the day. Many Democrats who opposed the measure argued that Republicans, who are in the majority in the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, were trying to push the amendment through quickly without allowing for a real debate or public comment. Republicans argued that the content of the proposed amendment has long been known, even if the specific wording was not.

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Susan Fisher, a Democrat from Asheville, questioned why legislators were asking for such swift movement on the issue.

"I think it's somewhat ironic that we would be asked to debate or have this bill in front of us for immediate consideration," she said. "I don't think you ever consider an amendment to the state constitution immediately, yet here we are."

Jordan Shaw, communications director for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, told CNN that he did not believe there was a requirement to have a public debate on the issue.

"But I would point out the very nature of this measure would be for the people to vote on it," he said. "It is hard to have a more democratic process than to put it up to the voters."

The amendment would add the following language to the constitution:

"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."

Fisher argued that regardless of the semantics and arguments about the proposed amendment, she felt there were large problems with it overall.

"What happens with this amendment is once again we seek to marginalize a group of individuals who only want equality and the same basic rights afforded to every citizen of this state," she said.

She questioned why some legislators insist on repeating what she described as bad lessons from their state's history.

"I remember a recent session where we went to great lengths, and necessary ones I believe, to issue an apology to African-American citizens for injustices," she said. "What I think is about to happen here is another instance where in the not-too- distant future we will be apologizing again for unfair and harmful discriminatory practices."

Fisher urged her colleagues to make North Carolina "the first of the Southern states to appropriately say, 'No this goes too far."

"Show the compassion and the ability to listen that was asked of us earlier today in our opening prayer and say no to this horrible step backward for North Carolina," she said.

Folwell, the speaker pro tem, argued the push for the bill was not about politics or opinions but about the power of the people.

"We're asking something currently in the statute book and allowing (North Carolina voters) to put it in (the state's constitution)."

Folwell argued that the amendment is not about defining relationships or even discussing what qualifies as a relationship.

"This vote today is about the relationship you have with the people who put you here," he said.

Folwell said the vote comes down to simply allowing the people to have control of their own constitution.

"Today, history is going to talk about the strength, the strength of this chamber, to realize that some decisions are simply bigger than we are and they belong to the people of North Carolina," he said.

After the measure passed a House committee earlier Monday, Democrats argued Republicans were sneakily trying to ram the bill through the Legislature.

North Carolina Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat, said he only received a copy of the bill right before the committee meeting. The bill has words that "carry great meaning," he said, yet there has been no debate or opportunity for public comment.

"This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the state of North Carolina," he said, saying such a serious issue deserved a fair hearing.

"It is not worthy of this Legislature," he said of the bill in its current form.

House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican, told committee members he felt it was imperative they move to adopt the amendment.

"Things have changed in Iowa, California, New York, D.C. and Massachusetts," Stam said. "We have now states with significant populations that are allowing same-sex marriages to be legitimized and entered into. The question then becomes, what happens when they come to North Carolina seeking divorce or equitable distribution?"

North Carolina Rep. Paul Luebke, a Democrat, said while he understood that Republicans want to move on the issue, he felt it was "reprehensible," given such a high level of public interest, that the public would not have the chance to comment.

"Whether you (are) for this amendment or against it, it is a travesty we are not debating the measure" properly, Luebke said.

Luebke added that by pushing the proposed amendment along without the right process, the Legislature was wrongly moving to "specifically prohibit one group of citizens" without letting them have a say.

Calling it a step backward for the state, Luebke said if nothing else, debate should be considered because of the impact the move could have on the economy. He referred to major corporations that were founded by people from North Carolina who opposed the bill, including Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who wrote an open letter about his concerns regarding the bill.

WRAL: How we found out about N.C. bill debate

"People from these companies do not understand discrimination against gay and lesbian people," he said. "They would look at North Carolina and say, 'Why is North Carolina going down this direction?' "

"I think this a terrible mistake," he added.

Folwell said the amendment would have "zero impact on private employees and whether they choose to offer same-sex benefits to their employees."

CNN's Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

soundoff (756 Responses)
  1. NVT in NC

    This is an excellent way to legislate hate and intolerance. Remind anyone when the races couldn't mix either?

    September 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Atheist

    Is it some kind of surprise that this would be happening in NC? wasn't so long ago that they tried to keep a different minority from having the same rights as whites...this is just another minority to try and oppress using their screwed up biblical reasoning....hell, I'm from the Northeast (lived in the south for 13 years) and still have to listen to the ignorant "Yankee" thing because I don't accept everything at face value or what my "mamma and daddy" taught me to believe..this is some scary backwards thinking going on...and here is an analogy for all of those sheep who worship jesus and his dad every sunday...imagine everyone wears a blue shirt...then a few people have this desire to wear a red shirt...they begin to be ridiculed, threatened both verbally and physically, ostracized by the majority, and then maybe assaulted and even killed...because they are wearing a red shirt instead of a blue you think for a minute that they might make a conscious decision to change back to a blue shirt?...Maybe...?...or maybe we could just give them electric shock treatment or religious training to cure them of their need to wear a red shirt....

    September 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    North Carolina native and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes did just that.... and took a multi-billion dollar industry to California instead of North Carolina. How ya like them apples?

    September 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mack

    A wise decision by the legislature to give power to the people and insulate the citizenry from the tyranny of activist judges who try to use their bench to dictate social policy. GO VOTERS OF NC!

    September 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Amunaka

    How did the vote go in NC on interracial marriage back in 1967 ..was NC for or against it ...

    September 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Amber

    Really? An entire article, and that's the best ammo you have against the Liberal population....

    September 15, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tim Anderson

    Genuinely challenging thank you, There's no doubt that your current subscribers would probably want a whole lot more posts such as this carry on the excellent content.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Carrie

    September 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Julie J

    I'm ashamed of my state right now. ASHAMED. If and when this issue comes up for voting, I will be over 8 hrs away, but I can damn well guarantee that I will be driving my ass all the way back to vote against it. I can't stand this ignorance. I'm a Christian, but I despise people who try to force their beliefs on others through legal measures. Don't like gay marriage? Don't get one. Same as abortion. I hate it. I would never get one and I wouldn't support someone trying to get one. But I would NEVER EVER EVER support legally taking away a woman's right to make that choice for herself. It is not the government's right to take away all these choices and freedom! I'm disgusted.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
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