On Tuesday, North Carolina voters will decide an issue that has not only divided church groups and neighbors, but has brought individuals to doubt themselves.
Amendment One would add a clause to the state Constitution defining marriage as a union between a single man and a single woman. The ballot reads: “Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” Voters will check “for” or “against.”
Proponents cite religious beliefs for support of the amendment, which will solidify the existing North Carolina law banning same-sex marriage.
“I firmly believe that the Biblical standard for marriage is a man and a woman,” said the Rev. Dr. Thomas Marshall, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Laurinburg. “The problem is, with the law, that any judge can overturn it to affect the entire state. The amendment will leave things as they are, but it would take it out of the hands of a single judge and put it back in the hands of the people to overturn it.”
Some religious opponents of the amendment say that religion has no place in the debate regarding the legality of same-sex unions.
“I would say it’s a much more civil rights issue than it is a Biblical issue - we have this thing called separation of church and state,” said the Rev. Dr. Neal Carter, pastor of Laurinburg Presbyterian Church. “Just because Scripture or the church has certain perspectives, that doesn’t meant that everyone in the state will have those same ideas.”
More than 120 religious organizations and leaders in North Carolina have signed a petition with the pro-amendment Vote For Marriage NC,. Twenty-two county boards of commissioners, Scotland County’s not among them, have also signed the petition. More than 400 North Carolina religious leaders have signed a petition against the amendment with Protect All NC Families.
The amendment has commanded attention throughout the country, with opponents including Gov. Bev Perdue, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, the state chapter of the NAACP and President Barack Obama.
State Rep. Garland Pierce, pastor of Laurinburg’s Bright Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, said that the passage of the amendment will most likely result in a number of legal suits.
“If it passes, there will be legal challenges to the bill, that’s what I’m hearing,” he said.
Public Policy Polling numbers show statewide support of the amendment at 55 percent, down from 61 percent in October. According to the poll, only about 40 percent of voters know that the amendment bans gay marriage and civil unions.
The amendment’s opponents cite unforeseen consequences, including children of single parents losing health benefits and a narrowing of the definition of domestic violence. A group of law professors at the University of North Carolina argued in a November research paper that the amendment would restrict protections for all unmarried couples, both heterosexual and homosexual. According to the report, Amendment One would invalidate domestic violence protections for all unmarried couples; undercut existing child custody and visitation laws; and prevent the state from granting protections to couples, including the right to make emergency medical and end-of-life decisions.
No such restrictions are explicitly mentioned in the amendment’s full text, however.
“Unfortunately, what’s on the ballot isn’t the complete amendment, so there’s a lot of misinformation out there about it,” said Marshall. “The fears that are there about how it’s going to affect children and existing health care. The second sentence in the amendment says that this has nothing to do with private parties and contracts and things like that.”
Pierce, who voted for North Carolina citizens to have the opportunity to vote on Amendment One, said that it is difficult to be sure what the exact ramifications of the amendment will be.
“People talk about the grace of God and that God is forgiving, but with the amendment, that could be seen as discriminating against other men and women,” said Pierce. “I’m not a legal scholar, so I can’t really say what the bill will do to nontraditional families.”
Many voters have become befuddled by the amendment’s implications.
“The church seems to be somewhat split on the amendment - some of my colleagues feel one way, some feel the other,” Pierce said. “Most people believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, that’s true, but all of the other things that go along with it split people’s opinions.
Carter encouraged voters, rather than blindly following a religious leader, to search their own values and beliefs when deciding which way to vote on Amendment One.
“I haven’t talked about it at church - I tend not to talk about issues like this,” Carter said. “The congregation, I trust, will allow their conscience and their understanding of their faith and the world around them to lead them. I think it’s going to pass overwhelmingly, but it doesn’t make us more or less Christian either way.”