North Carolina Lawmakers Approve Revised Anti-Gay Measure
The North Carolina Senate on Tuesday, Sept. 13, approved an anti-gay ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution in a way that not only places legal marriage out of reach for gay and lesbian families, but denies them domestic partnerships and civil unions as well.
The 30-16 vote came after the House rushed to approve the same measure by a 75-42 margin late on Monday, Sept. 12.
"This legislative battle may be lost, but the fight goes on," said Alex Miller, interim executive director of Equality North Carolina. "While the proponents of this harmful, divisive, shameful legislation may have succeeded in throwing up a temporary barrier against the inevitable tide of acceptance and equality, our struggle continues and the campaign to defeat this amendment at the ballot box begins today."
"At a time when all North Carolina families are worrying about job losses and cuts in education, it is unconscionable that the legislature add additional stress to a segment of those families," added Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
State law already denies same-sex couples marriage equality, but proponents of the ballot measure say that unless voters approve the ban, married couples from other states could roil North Carolina’s legal system.
Thirty states have put the rights of same-sex families to popular vote and in every case voters have approved the anti-gay measures. If approved, North Carolina’s amendment would rank as one of the most gay-unfriendly in the nation.
The measure hurtled through the state House, according to a Sept. 12 Q Notes article. It will now appear on the May 2012 ballot.
The initiative was originally scheduled to go before voters in the Nov. 2012, but lawmakers changed the date in response to accusations that they were playing on anti-gay animus in order to boost conservative turnout in the presidential election.
"What we’re trying to do is respect the concerns of some who felt like this was purely politically-motivated," Speaker of the House Thom Tillis told the press at a media conference. "I decided, consulting with a number of people, and we decided that this was the most acceptable form. It was a discussion that involved both chambers. There are some members who were inclined to support the bill and did feel like political considerations were an issue that might cause them not to vote for something they would otherwise support."
Critics lambasted what they said was an overly accelerated process in approving the measure, but proponents argued that it was essential to get the measure before voters.
"Things have changed in Iowa, California, New York, D.C. and Massachusetts," said House Majority Leader Paul Stam. "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?"
Stam did not say why it was necessary for the anti-gay amendment also to deny same-sex couples lesser forms of legal recognition. Democratic lawmakers expressed concern over the way the issue was being handled.
"This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the State of North Carolina," state Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat and former Speaker of the House, told his colleagues. "It ought not to be done this way and ought to be given a fair hearing. We have people in the audience, experts on constitutional interpretation. They are not allowed to speak."
Hackney went on to add, "There are so many unanswered questions about this that we don’t have time to go into here at this meeting."
Other Democratic lawmakers denounced what they said was the measure’s unfair and discriminatory nature.
"This is all about someone is different, therefore you will be treated different," declared Democratic Rep. Marcus Brandon. "If you have a problem in your marriage, then it’s probably something you’re doing not what someone else is doing. I can think of a lot of sins in the Bible that affects marriage more than what a homosexual does any day of the week."
Brandon also asked his colleagues to give some thought to the bitter and divisive campaign that is likely to rock the state as proponents and foes of the anti-gay measure battle it out over the next year and a half. Historically, proponents of such measures have cast aspersions on gay families and made wild claims to the effect that children would be "turned gay" unless same-sex families were locked out of legal recognition, rights, and protections.
"What is a little child like after $10 million of ads that sound just like [the anti-gay rhetoric] I heard today?" Brandon queried. "What does that do to your constituents?"
Research indicates that gay and lesbian families in states where campaigns have raged to pass such amendments have been more likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those in states where such divisive campaigns have not been waged.
"To the folks in the LGBT community, I do apologize for the General Assembly and the way we have operated," added Brandon.
Passage in the state Senate is seen as likely, given that Republicans dominate both chambers of the state government. Democrats fended off attempts to amend the state constitution for a decade, while all the other states in the region saw voters approve similar anti-gay amendments.
Local business leaders opposed the measure, warning that in tough economic times the state could not afford to alienate businesses that might otherwise locate in North Carolina, bringing jobs and money with them.
Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who hails from North Carolina, wrote "An Open Letter to the North Carolina General Assembly" in which he related his concerns and recalled his own youth as a gay man growing up in an anti-gay environment, Care2.com reported on Sept. 12.
"Companies like Facebook, Google and Apple are the future of our global economy," wrote Hughes. "But the proposed anti-gay constitutional amendment signals to these and other major employers, as well as their mobile, educated employees, that North Carolina does not welcome the diverse workforce that any state needs to compete in the international marketplace."
"In short, this amendment is bad for business, bad for the perception of my home state on the national stage, and a far cry from job-creating legislation that North Carolina lawmakers should be focused on," Hughes added.
Business, Civic Leaders Object
"But the negative business impact is far from the only harm of this amendment. Growing up in a conservative atmosphere in Hickory, North Carolina, I felt first-hand the stigma of being different in a Southern state’s a feeling that made it clear to me that I was not welcome in North Carolina.
"The proposed discriminatory legislation will only perpetuate this stigma for a new generation of creative, talented youth, uninterested in second-class citizenship in a state they call home," Hughes went on to caution. "Gay and lesbian North Carolinians work hard, contribute to society, and want to protect their families like everyone else. Their families deserve the same respect and the same treatment as everyone else, and they should not be exposed to the derogatory and harmful anti-gay rhetoric that inevitability accompanies these kinds of campaigns. North Carolina deserves better than that.
"The next Facebook or Apple or Google could be created by another North Carolinian," noted Hughes. "Be mindful of how you treat them and their families."
"Hughes, as part of his effort to defeat the amendment, also pledged to donate $10, up to the amount of $10,000, for every new person who ’liked’ Equality North Carolina on Facebook," Care2.com reported. "Within hours of making this announcement, the group reached its goal of 10,000 new supporters and the donation promise was fulfilled."
Care2.com also noted that North Carolina respondents polled unfavorably toward an amendment that denied same-sex families any form of legal recognition whatsoever, even though they said that marriage should be reserved as an exclusive special right for heterosexuals.
Another "Open Letter," dated Sept. 11, 2011, was signed by officials from a number of cities and towns around North Carolina, including the mayors of Chapel Hill and Durham, and the mayor pro tem of Asheville, Equality North Carolina announced in a Sept. 11 posting at their their website.
"This legislation represents a threat to North Carolina’s ability to recruit the diverse workforce needed to compete in a global economy, will strip public employees of domestic partner benefits while also hindering benefits in the private sector, and perpetuates a divisive social agenda that is unwelcoming and not reflective of our state," warned the leaders of North Carolina’s major cities, all of which offer domestic partnership benefits to the families of gay and lesbian municipalities.
"It is our firm belief that as a North Carolina legislator, you have an obligation to keep our state’s constitution a document that protects the rights and freedoms of North Carolina’s of citizens, and do everything in your power to defeat this discriminatory legislation," the letter continued.
"In addition to threatening basic protections for same-gender couples broadly, the anti-gay amendment, strips domestic partner benefits already recognized by several cities and counties in the state including: Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Greensboro, Asheville, Orange County, Durham County, and Mecklenburg County," added the open letter.
"In Chapel Hill domestic partnerships allow Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employees, and their families access to important protections such as health care and compensated sick leave to care for family members."
The letter went on to note that a majority of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partnership benefits to their gay and lesbian employees.
"Turning the clock back on equality will have a very real impact on North Carolina’s economy and our ability to compete in the international marketplace," warned the letter’s authors. "When companies search for locations they consider all aspects of a community; smart companies know LGBT Americans are not only part of America, but that their talent is essential to its future."
The concerns of business and municipal leaders seemed to register to some degree with North Carolina’s GOP lawmakers, who said that revised language in the bill would allow corporations to engage in contracts with their employees that included family benefits.
"Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said in an interview the new language is intended to show ’what this amendment is about is same-sex marriage ... the specific things that have motivated the sponsors. It’s not about private contractual relationships from private companies to private individuals,’ " a Sept. 11 Associated Press article said.
But experts warned that protecting such private contractual rights while curtailing the civil rights of a specific class of citizens would do little to entice companies to go to North Carolina.
The University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill’s Holning Lau "said the revised amendment would still hamper the ability of private employers in North Carolina to attract and retain workers in creative fields who "prefer to work and live in places that embrace diversity and are inclusive of gays and lesbians," the AP reported.
Moreover, the proposed amendment’s "new language still threatens local governments’ domestic partner benefits and registries, statewide domestic violence protections and possibly child custody and visitation laws," Lau told the AP.
A similar dismissal of business concerns was evident last May in Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam ignored the state’s business community and signed a bill -- after hours and with no fanfare -- that banned municipalities from implementing their own GLBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinances. The bill was a response to the city of Nashville having adopted such policies.
Haslam’s action drew pointed criticism from LGBT activists.
"Discrimination should have no place in the Volunteer State and the Chamber’s opposition to this law sent a strong signal that corporations are on the leading edge of positive change," said Solmonese. "In contrast, Governor Haslam has put discrimination ahead of the state’s values and even business interests by signing this horrible legislation."
Michael K. Lavers contributed to this report.