The five Democrats vying to be the next governor or lieutenant governor are unanimous on one issue: In the May 8 primary, Amendment 1 should be defeated. But they differ on why.
Just two years ago, very few Democrats would have supported civil unions. Now three Dems—gubernatorial candidate Bob Etheridge and lieutenant governor candidates, state Sen. Eric Mansfield and former state Rep. Linda Coleman—have stated their support for them, thus taking a middle ground on the question of recognizing or discriminating against same-sex couples.
Etheridge's support for civil unions is new. He revealed his position on the issue this week in response to the questions about his stance posed by the Indy. "If elected governor, I would support civil unions and would sign such legislation into law," he replied. Etheridge previously had pronounced Amendment 1 as "unneeded."
If passed, Amendment 1 would constitutionally bar the General Assembly from legalizing not just same-sex marriages but also civil unions or any other "domestic legal partnership" that isn't a marriage between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina; the amendment would codify it in the state constitution.
Since Coleman and Mansfield had already gone on the record about civil unions, this week we asked the Democratic gubernatorial candidates two questions: Do they oppose Amendment 1 because it's unnecessary given that state law already discriminates against same-sex couples? Or do they oppose it because they'd like to see the law changed? For example, by recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions they could make the law less discriminatory—or eliminate discrimination altogether.
The two other candidates for governor, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison of Caswell County, who do not favor civil unions, did not answer the question directly, choosing instead to couch their opposition in political terms: that the amendment is part of a Republican political agenda and a distraction from more important issues.
Dalton said the amendment "is designed to divide us when we need to be coming together to tackle the many challenges our state faces." He said Amendment 1 would hurt job recruitment and retention efforts and, because it's so broadly written, would also undermine health care benefits for children and "committed couples" who currently have them.
"It's deeply disturbing that this legislature spent so much time and effort on an issue that doesn't create one job or help educate one person," Dalton said.
As for Faison, he said: "We have a statute that defines marriage. The Republicans ran a social agenda to drive out a conservative vote, and Amendment 1 is part of that strategy." The constitution should be changed, he said, only "with great reflection, not as a political agenda.
"The statute we have is unchallenged," Faison added. "I support all families and fight against discrimination in our laws and regulations."
On the Republican side, gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory is pro-Amendment 1. In fact, the only prominent Republican in the state to oppose it is U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, who defeated Etheridge two years ago and is running for re-election for the first time. Ellmers also said the amendment would go too far by banning civil unions as well as same-sex marriages.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriages. Eleven others have sanctioned either:
The five Democratic candidates last week put their opposition to Amendment 1 on video messages issued by the Coalition to Protect NC Families, an anti-Amendment campaign organization.
"These North Carolina leaders may be on the campaign trail, but they have made it very clear that there is one thing you don't politicize: people's basic protections," said Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager for the coalition. "As North Carolina leaders, they understand the importance of standing up against broadly worded and unnecessary legislation that hurts North Carolina's families, women and children. We ask that North Carolinians join them at the polls and heed their call to vote against on May 8."
The coalition announced this week that its fundraising efforts have surpassed the $1 million mark, with a goal of raising $2 million more by May 8. Expect to see mailers and TV ads telling Democratic primary voters especially that their party's leaders are united against Amendment 1—and so is Ellmers.
The coalition scored a major coup when President Obama joined the opposition two weeks ago. Gov. Bev Perdue and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan are other leading Democrats are the anti-Amendment 1 side.
Perdue set the tone for the Democratic opposition early on, saying the amendment would be bad for business because it would cause talented LGBT folks to be less willing to come here for jobs.
Coleman of Wake County was the first to say that her opposition stems as well from a desire to see civil unions legalized. She took that position in a conference call with reporters on March 12.
Mansfield, who represents Cumberland County, is a regular at coalition telephone banks. He followed suit last week in an online question-and-answer on the BlueNC.org blog.
"I am against Amendment 1 for a variety of reasons," Mansfield posted in answer to a question.
"It will have unintended consequences and will keep many N.C. families from having health insurance and basic protections that are currently provided," he continued. "It will negatively impact our job growth; currently a large number of companies allow benefits for domestic partnerships, and this law will make us weaker in our ability to attract new talent and companies to our state.
"Finally, this state should not discriminate against its citizens!" Mansfield wrote. "As an ordained Baptist minister, I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman. However, the state should be moving towards civil unions."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Etheridge: I would support civil unions."