As expected, high-ranking Republican legislators are pushing a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, which they and their conservative supporters have sought to pass for years.
What wasn't expected is that state Rep. Marcus Brandon, a Guilford County Democrat who led a press conference at the Legislature Tuesday against the discriminatory proposal, would publicly discuss growing up gay and Christian.
Most people don't know what it's like to be "that kid" in church when the pastor says gays are going to hell and the congregation responds "amen," said Brandon, a first-term lawmaker.
Conservative legislators predict success this year for the Defense of Marriage Act. "It will get done this year," House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, promised a crowd of more than 2,000 people on the Halifax Mall.
If the bill passes, voters would be asked in November 2012 whether to amend the state constitution to say: "Marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. No other relationship shall be recognized as a valid marriage by the State."
State law already bans same-sex marriages, but amendment proponents warn that North Carolina must "protect marriage" with a constitutional amendment, as other Southern states have done. To fail in that would unwind the fabric of society, supporters said Tuesday.
State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, whose appropriations co-chairmanship makes him a key member of the House leadership, said he expects the Defense of Marriage Act will pass with 78 votes in the House. Gillespie, R-McDowell, predicted a similar margin in the Senate—enough to get over the three-fifths hump required for constitutional amendments.
Gillespie also said the speaker's office has promised a floor vote on the amendment, which Democrats blocked for years despite Republican attempts to bring up the issue. State Sen. Andrew Brock, a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said he expects the Senate to take up the measure, too.
However, the LGBT community and its allies see the amendment as codifying discrimination in the state's most important document. It would, among other restrictions, prevent loving partners unable to prove kinship from visiting each other in the hospital.
And just as the rallying anti-gay contingent relied on religion to explain their positions Tuesday, the 20 or so ministers, legislators and activists who spoke against the amendment also quoted from scripture to support their stance.
"Jesus was a compassionate person, and Jesus would not be having a rally outside right now," Brandon said.
After the press conference, Brandon said most people who know him realize he's gay. His sexuality didn't come up during his campaign because it wasn't relevant, he said.
Black ministers who joined Brandon Tuesday drew parallels between the proposed amendment and defunct laws that wouldn't allow slaves to marry or interracial couples to wed.
Rev. Stephen Shoemaker, of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, said gay love has the same "sacred dignity" as straight. "I stand as a biblical Christian," Shoemaker said. "Unwilling to hand the Bible over to those who use the Bible to condemn homosexuality. The Bible, Hebrew and Christian, does not condemn homosexuality, but rather sexual behaviors which are exploitative or demeaning."
Pro-amendment ralliers disagreed. Ron Baity, the Winston-Salem pastor behind Return America, which organized Tuesday's rally, said gay people "don't want to face the truth of the scriptures."
However, at the press conference, Amy Laura Hall, a Methodist elder and Duke University professor, called on those working for Defense of Marriage Act to "trust your own neighbor" and "risk real conversation" about sexuality.
"Faith requires us to trust one another a bit more than we are generally inclined to do," Hall said. "Are we being distracted by fear? Are some forces in our state trying to divide us up? Are their messages working on your best, or your worst, spiritual impulses? Don't let those selling fear on the cheap buy your heart."