In the home stretch of the May 8 primary, a come-from-behind victory by the opponents of the anti-LGBT Amendment 1 may be within reach.
The polls, which for months showed Amendment 1 passing by a healthy margin, have tightened. The gap has closed from more than 20 percentage points to 14—at 55 to 41 percent—in the latest survey by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling.
And the lead anti-Amendment 1 organization, The Coalition to Protect NC Families, reported raising more than $2.2 million from 9,600 contributors as of a week ago, almost double the $1.2 million from 754 donors to Vote for Marriage, the main organization campaigning for Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 would change the state constitution, adding language to prohibit enactment of any law recognizing same-gender marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships. If approved, the constitutional provision would read: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."
North Carolina laws already limit marriage to one man and one woman; they also prevent the state or local governments from recognizing a same-gender marriage or civil union even if performed in another country or in one of the 17 states (along with the District of Columbia) where they are recognized.
In terms of cash on hand, the $293,000 raised by the anti-amendment coalition is more than double the $121,000 retained by the pro-amendment group, according to required reports filed this week with the N.C. Board of Elections. Cash on hand is critical to buying additional airtime on television and for organizing get out the vote drives.
For weeks, both groups have been calling registered voters to determine who's on their side. Voter drives urge identified supporters to get to the polls either for early voting, which ends Saturday, or on Election Day, May 8. History suggests that for primary elections without a marquee presidential race in a major party, voter turnout will be far less than half of those eligible to vote. Thus getting supporters to the polls becomes critical.
In a recent conference call, anti-amendment coalition leaders said they had opened seven offices statewide and were paying 22 organizers to lead their voter drive. On the pro-amendment side, organizers are counting on Sunday services at thousands of conservative churches to underline their position that "God's design" is for heterosexual marriages only. The anti-amendment coalition has pushed back hard on the subject of God's intentions, enlisting hundreds of clergy to its "Faith Leaders Against Amendment 1" roster. "As clergy and leaders in our faith traditions," their statement reads, "we are mandated by God to demonstrate and protect love in all its forms and to stand for justice for all of creation."
The opposition forces got a huge break when Mitt Romney wrapped up the Republican nomination for president prior to the North Carolina primary. Last fall, Republican leaders in the General Assembly pushed Amendment 1 onto the primary ballot in May expecting a hard-fought GOP primary for president to swell the turnout for their side. They're left now with a virtually uncontested primary for president and for governor (presumptive nominee Pat McCrory has no serious competition).
Aside from Amendment 1, the main attraction for conservative voters is the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, a contest with five little-known candidates.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bev Perdue's decision not to seek re-election means there are hard-fought primaries on the Democratic side for both governor and lieutenant governor. All four of the top Democratic candidates are strongly opposed to Amendment 1 and have stated their support for a state law recognizing same-gender civil unions, though not same-gender marriage.
One other factor that appears to be working in the opposition's favor: The amendment was worded in such a way that, if approved, it could muck up the state's domestic violence laws. That's because the amendment's sponsors didn't limit themselves to defining marriage. Rather, they set out to make heterosexual marriage the only domestic legal union that can be recognized in state law.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, took the lead in writing Amendment 1. He rejects the notion that it could have any effect on domestic violence laws. "Thirty other states have marriage amendments with domestic violence laws enforced," Stam said in a statement Monday. "North Carolina does not even require that there be a romantic or intimate relationship for the [domestic violence] statute to apply." The domestic violence statute extends to "current or former household members" regardless of their marital status, Stam added.
Eleven family-law specialists from each of the state's seven university law schools signed a statement for the coalition questioning Stam's view of Amendment 1's impact on domestic violence victims. "The language of the proposed [amendment] is vague and untested," they said, "and threatens harm to a broad range of North Carolina families ... [and] protections for unmarried partners and their children, including domestic violence protections and child custody ..."
The fact that three Campbell Law School professors agree with Stam, the 11 argued, "simply underscores the fact that Amendment One is vaguely worded, and that it is not possible to know how broadly it will eventually be construed" by judges in the state.
The anti-Amendment 1 television campaign the coalition launched last week is focused on the domestic violence issue, rather than on the central question of marriage equality, civil unions or the rights of LGBT citizens.
Two of the three TV ads aired thus far raised the prospect that if Amendment 1 is approved, victims of domestic violence may suffer unintended harm because of the language about marriage being the only domestic legal union the law can recognize. The third ad raised alarms about health insurance for the children of unmarried parents, a problem that would exist, if Amendment 1 is approved, for some local government employees covered now by domestic-partner benefits.
The millions raised by The Coalition to Protect NC Families and Vote for Marriage are only a part of what's being expended against and for Amendment 1. The coalition reported that the bulk of its contributions came from individual donors, totaling some $1.4 million. NAACP and its president, the Rev. William Barber, have launched their own statewide campaign to defeat Amendment 1. The organization said it's using radio spots, mailers and ads in African-American newspapers reminding voters why it's wrong to let the majority vote on the rights of minority groups such as LGBT citizens or African-Americans.
"We should never seek to codify or vote discrimination into the very heart and framework of our Constitution," Barber said.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The final push."