Uncertainty for North Carolina same-sex couples after gay marriage vote
By Stephanie Siek, CNN
Heather McIver and her partner, Suzanne Lowe, have a new item at the top of their to-do list, now that North Carolina voters have approved an amendment making marriage between a man and a woman the only legally recognized relationship in the state.
They need to meet with their lawyer to see what they can do to ensure their rights as a same-sex couple and mothers of two children.
“I’m really disappointed in North Carolina, because I had this idea that we were the progressive Southern state, that of all the Southern states we wouldn’t let this happen,” said McIver. “As overwhelming as the loss was, it really was a reality check for me. I feel like we’ve lived up to the Southern reputation of being ignorant bigots.”
With all 100 counties reporting, 61.05% of 2.1 million voters approved Amendment One, and 38.95% voted against it, according to the State Board of Elections. About 34% of registered voters went to the polls. North Carolina is now the 31st state to enact an amendment banning same-sex marriage.
McIver and her family were featured in a photo project that highlighted the commitments between same-sex partners living in North Carolina. When In America interviewed her in April, the situations she feared most, if the amendment passed, involved what rights Lowe would have if McIver were to pass away or become incapacitated.
Those are the matters they want to consult with their lawyer about on Wednesday. McIver said she’s also concerned about the message the amendment sends to their children.
“I think that it sucks that both my kids have to grow up feeling like their family isn’t legitimate,” McIver said.
Pam Spaulding (who was also featured in the photo project) doesn’t expect her daily life with her wife, Kate, to change much in the aftermath of the vote — their 2004 marriage in Canada wasn’t recognized before and won’t be recognized after.
But Spaulding, who used her platform as a gay rights activist and blogger to oppose Amendment One, knows that many other couples — both straight and gay — won’t be as lucky. As an example, she cites people who get insurance coverage through their partners’ municipal or state employment, because the lack of legal recognition for their relationship throws their eligibility into doubt.
North Carolina already has a law banning gay marriage, but supporters of the amendment say adding a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage protects the ban from being struck down in the courts. Amendment One also invalidates civil unions and domestic partnerships, regardless of whether they are same-sex or not.
The debate over Amendment One is one that threw the changing demographics of North Carolina into sharp relief.
“This state has long exhibited two parallel trends of political thought,” said Ferrel Guillory, head of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Program on Public Life. “There’s this modernist, progressive element to North Carolina, which is expressed in its major universities, in its development of the modern economy, the Research Triangle. There’s this movement to modernize in North Carolina that’s been going on in the postwar era. But the overlay is a stream of cultural conservatism.”
Urban counties were more likely to have a majority of votes against the amendment than rural ones. In Mecklenburg County, home to the state’s largest city, Charlotte, 54% came out against the amendment. In Durham County, the vote was 69.7% against. In the three other counties housing the state’s largest cities, one had a majority voting against, and in the other two, voters approved the amendment by single-digit margins.
Guillory said the issue divided the religious and black communities in the state. While conservative Christian churches and the state’s Catholic bishops have been adamant voices in favor of the amendment, more mainline churches have been in staunch opposition.
Guillory said that a dividing line could also be seen among black voters, some of whom voted for the amendment on the basis of their religious belief that same-sex marriage is wrong, and others who voted against because they believe that the amendment flies in the face of biblical teachings about love and forgiveness, and could have unintended negative consequences for African-American families in which the parents are not together.
The head of North Carolina’s NAACP Chapter, the Rev. William Barber, had spoken out against the amendment, and Spaulding said that his support and that of dozens of other black clergy who opposed Amendment One made a difference.
“The coalitions that were built around this battle were unprecedented in terms of working with faith communities, communities of color, in terms of educating voters about the amendment,” said Spaulding, who is African-American. “There was unprecedented support on the anti-amendment side from the black community and the black faith community.”
Spaulding said that the anti-amendment campaign did not have enough time to educate potential voters about the ways it could harm straight couples and people in civil unions.
“That particular messaging only happened in the last week and a half, whereas the early voting started earlier than that,” Spaulding said. “That was a missed opportunity. … We didn’t have time to make inroads in places that were on the fence.”