By AMANDA GREENE
Wilmington Faith and Values
The North Carolina primary vote on May 8, which will include a marriage amendment referendum, may be four months away. But faith-based advocacy groups on both sides of the issue are already mobilizing campaigns.
North Carolina is currently the only Southern state without a constitutional marriage amendment. Same-sex marriage has been illegal in the state since 1996. Minnesota also has a marriage amendment planned for a vote in November.
The full text of the amendment to Article 14 Section 6 in the N.C. Constitution would read: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
Faith groups for the amendment make a biblical argument for marriage between one man and one woman and say, without a permanent amendment, judges can change the law in favor of same-sex marriages.
Faith groups against it either say this is a civil rights and not a religious issue or say they are morally opposed to placing language into the state’s constitution that discriminates against a minority.
A January poll about support for the amendment through Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling said 56 percent of those asked supported the amendment while 36 percent would vote against it. Ten percent were undecided.
Both N.C. Catholic dioceses have issued statements urging the state’s more than 390,000 Catholics to vote for the marriage amendment. Bishop Peter Jugis, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, released a video in January where he speaks about the church’s teachings on marriage.
And Raleigh Catholic Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge will release a video with his take this week, according to diocesan spokesman Frank Morock.
“We ask you, no matter what position you currently hold about the definition of marriage, to become informed about our church’s teaching, to be respectful in all discussions about this important issue and to vote,” wrote both bishops in a Jan. 29 joint letter to the state’s Catholics. “We pray that you will see our position as a principled one based on eternal and divine truth and that you will vote on May 8 for protecting traditional marriage in North Carolina.”
Starting in February, Catholic churches across the state started including links to videos and websites inside their Sunday bulletins to learn more about what the church says about marriage.
Vote For Marriage NC has an entire page of its website devoted to printable campaign materials. It encourages people to host house parties for their church and community about the amendment.
The leader of Vote for Marriage NC, Tami Fitzgerald, says the early February overturning of Prop 8 in California is a lesson for North Carolina voters.
“The proposed amendment protects North Carolina from being in the same position as California by not granting any legal recognition of same-sex relationships, which could be overturned by an equal protection argument,” she said. “Every day that goes by is another day when a judge can decide to substitute his values for those of North Carolinians. We need the marriage protection amendment to prevent that.”
On the other side of the issue, the 196th Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina approved a resolution opposing the amendment on Jan. 21.
The N.C. Council of Churches usually stays neutral on politicized arguments that divide its membership, said executive director George Reed. (Both dioceses are Council members.)
Not this time.
“We have a policy statement in terms that this is discriminatory, and it’s inappropriate to put language like that into our state’s constitution,” Reed said. “I have great respect for the dioceses, and I know they come to their position by their faith.”
Though some black churches have publicly joined the Vote for Marriage NC effort, the North Carolina NAACP, which includes thousands of African American pastors statewide, decided to oppose the amendment.
In Wilmington, New Hanover County NAACP chapter president Deborah Maxwell said she had not heard much about the amendment from local black churches.
“It’s already illegal so why put it on the ballot?” she said. “People need to be educated that this is just being put up as a divisive political measure. It’s not about marriage but more about the vote.”
This debate has divided churches throughout the state for many years. In 2007, the State Baptist Convention tried to oust churches within its ranks that supported the idea of same-sex unions.
Some non-religious lobbying groups, such as Protect All NC Families, have their own faith wing to coordinate church support, offering congregational get-out-the-vote tool kits. Faith outreach director Ryan Rowe said the amendment could have unintended consequences for benefits and domestic violence protections for heterosexual unmarried couples.
“No God I know would condone hurting people like this,” he said. “When you restrict the definition of a domestic legal union, that harms the children and partners of unmarried families.” According to the 2010 U.S. Census, North Carolina had about 222,000 unmarried couples and only 22,000 of those were identified as gay or lesbian.
A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student composed the play “N.C. Amendment One, The Musical” including some religious arguments.
Faith leaders in Shelby, N.C. held a rally against the amendment with speakers from across the state in early February.
In Wilmington, members of gay rights groups and clergy from St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church plan to meet with City Council officials on Monday to urge them to pass a resolution against the amendment.
Though he’s a pastor, the Rev. John McLaughlin said he believes the issue is more civil than religious.
“I don’t think it’s based in religion. The issue is whether or not we want hate and bigotry inside our state constitution,” said the pastor of St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church. “Do we deny people basic rights who have committed to love each other and raise a family and care for each other in a civil way?”