LUMBERTON — North Carolina voters on Tuesday will take a side in the debate over a marriage amendment that has pitted brother against sister, neighbor against neighbor and church against church.
Amendment One would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as being between a single man and a single woman. The ballots reads: “Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” Voters will check for or against.
Debate over the amendment has gained momentum as Election Day nears. Proponents says the amendment is needed to protect the sanctity of marriage against rogue judges who might not adhere to state law barring gay marriage, while opponents say the amendment could take insurance from children while also making it more difficult to prosecute some domestic violence.
The Robesonian was flooded with letters about the amendment, and the newspaper’s comments section at robesonian.com has also been popular with those wanting to share an opinion.
Katharine Royal is a pastor at Diversity in Faith in Fayetteville, which hosts a weekly Bible study in Lumberton. She calls Amendment One “strongly unnecessary” since same-sex marriage is banned by law in the state.
“There are a lot of people under the misconception that all this is about is making marriage between one man and woman and outlawing gay marriage,” she said. “… My biggest issue with it is that it’s being really misrepresented as just being an issue of gay marriage when it’s actually going to affect a whole lot more people than that.”
Royal is one of more than 400 religious leaders in North Carolina who have signed a petition against the amendment with Protect All NC Families.
The amendment has garnered nationwide attention, and Gov. Bev Perdue, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, the state chapter of the NAACP and President Barack Obama have all weighed in against it. Cooper has said it could clog the courts and put people at risk for violence.
More than 120 religious organizations and leaders in North Carolina, including East Lumberton Baptist Church, have signed a petition with the pro-amendment Vote For Marriage NC,. Twenty-two county boards of commissioners have also signed the petition. While the Robeson County Board of Commissioners does not appear on the list, the board adopted a resolution last month supporting the amendment. The county Republican Party adopted a similar resolution.
Signs of support for the amendment are visible throughout Robeson County, including at Trinity Holiness Church on Fayetteville Road and Life Line Church of God on N.C. 41, which posted messages on their marquees urging people to vote for the amendment.
“We take the stand that the Bible takes on marriage as being between one man and one woman,” said Rev. Tim Williford, senior pastor at Trinity Holiness. “We go back to Genesis, when God created a man and a woman and he brought them together. That was really the very first union that he blessed and brought about.”
Public Policy Polling numbers show statewide support of the amendment at 55 percent, down from 61 percent in October. According to the poll, only about 40 percent of voters know that the amendment bans gay marriage and civil unions.
Royal believes voters don’t understand of the scope of the amendment.
“I think this has just been presented as, ‘Do you think gay relationships should be recognized — yes or no?’” she said. “… That’s not at all what this amendment’s going to do. I think it’s been pushed through under false pretenses.”
Williford says it depends on the individual voter and “how much digging they do.”
“For the most part, I think the most important thing about the amendment is protecting marriage, and I think that’s pretty much what everybody understands,” he said.
Opponents of the amendment, say it has unseen consequences. A group of law professors at the University of North Carolina argued in a research paper published in November that the amendment would restrict protections for all unmarried couples — heterosexual and homosexual. According to the report, Amendment One would invalidate domestic violence protections for all unmarried couples; undercut existing child custody and visitation laws; and prevent the state from granting protections to couples, including the right to make emergency medical and end-of-life decisions.
Williford says no it won’t.
“I’ve also heard people mention that it would take away health care from our children,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s the case at all. All we’re trying to do with this amendment is protect marriage. We’re not trying to bash gays, we’re not trying to tell them not to do what they want to do; we’re just protecting marriage. It is what it is. … That’s all I’m supporting with this amendment is that fact.”
Supporters and opponents of Amendment One held conferences this week to discuss the potential effects of the proposal on North Carolina’s domestic violence laws, each side sticking to its guns on how the amendment will — or won’t —affect domestic violence protections for unmarried people.
Williford said he sees potential problems if the amendment fails.
“As a pastor, it would get to the point where I would feel pressured to conduct same-sex marriages in our church,” he said. “I’m an optimistic person. I would hope that it wouldn’t lead to time in prison or anything like that, but it might could lead to that someday if we were to decline to do a same-sex marriage or if I was to get up and preach against homosexuality to my congregation. I believe it might lead to the point where I could have my credentials stripped from me and possibly even spend time in prison.”
Williford said he has not preached specifically in support of the amendment. Royal also said she had not preached in opposition, but her church has partnered with others in protest.
She is not optimistic.
“I honestly don’t feel like we’ve been able to reach enough people,” she said. “There is still the conception that all this is gonna do is make gay marriage illegal, and people don’t seem to realize that gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, so that’s pointless.”