RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) -- Less than two weeks before voters in North Carolina go to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, the main group opposing it essentially has acknowledged it will win only by changing the subject from marriage -- a tactic that has been tried before in other states, with little success.
The amendment is still favored to pass, but it's no longer a guarantee, and an April 20-22 survey by Public Policy Polling -- a reputable pollster on the issue that uses the exact ballot language -- had the amendment winning only 54-40 percent among likely voters. That's a closer margin than the 58-38 spread in March and the 61-34 percent difference last year.
Election Day is May 8, although North Carolina voters already are participating in early voting.
If passed, North Carolina would become the 30th state defining marriage in a state constitution as between a man and a woman -- and preventing state courts from legalizing gay "marriage," as happened in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. North Carolina is the only state in the South without such an amendment.
But the primary opposition group, known as the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, is trying to prevent the Tar Heel State from being added to that list, and it has launched two televisions ads that avoid the issue of gay "marriage" altogether.
In one 30-second ad, a mother is seen talking about the proposed marriage amendment as her young daughter is seen playing on a playground. The mother says: "Amendment one would take away my daughter's health insurance, and that's extremely unfair." In another 30-second ad, a woman claims that the protection order a judge put in place against an ex-boyfriend who beat her would be voided if the amendment passes. The woman says: "Amendment one could take away my protection order just because we were not married to each other."
The coalition group is trying a diversion strategy that has been tried in other states and, in nearly every instance, has failed. North Carolina's proposed amendment reads: "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State." The coalition is arguing that the amendment's prohibition of any "domestic legal union" similar to marriage would have a wide-ranging negative impact. Amendment supporters say that specific language simply is aimed at prohibiting a court from legalizing same-sex civil unions, which have been used in states such as New Hampshire and Vermont as a stepping stone to legalizing gay "marriage."
Rachel Lee, communications director Vote FOR Marriage NC, the main group supporting the amendment, said the commercials' charges are false. Vote FOR Marriage NC released a 30-second ad Thursday (April 26) rejecting the charges and urging voters not to "be confused by misleading ads."
"They know that North Carolinians support preserving marriage between a man and a woman, and they're bringing up these distraction arguments that are based on falsehoods," Lee told Baptist Press. "They're backed by no legal precedent whatsoever. This amendment will not strip away health care benefits from anyone. It will not alter our current broadly defined domestic violence statutes which protect a variety of qualifying persons. A person does not have to be married in order to be protected under our domestic violence statute."
In fact, Idaho has a marriage amendment with language identical to North Carolina's proposed amendment and has had no issue. All total, 19 of the 29 states with marriage amendments have language similar to North Carolina's prohibiting the legalization of civil unions or their equivalent.
The commercial featuring the young girl does not mention that her mother, whose name is Melissa, is a lesbian and her partner works for the city of Durham. Melissa and her daughter receive health coverage through the city. But even that situation might not be impacted by the amendment, say three Campbell University law professors who wrote a 16-page paper analyzing the issue.
"Even if the proposed Amendment passes, same-sex partners still may be able to receive health insurance benefits from public employers," the paper, co-signed by professors Lynn R. Buzzard, William A. Woodruff and E. Gregory Wallace, reads. Campbell University is located in Buies Creek, N.C.
The amendment prohibits "only same-sex marriages and other legal statuses resembling marriage," the professors wrote, and the charges that it will have a widespread negative impact have "little support in the Amendment's language or context, or in court decisions from North Carolina or other states." The "plain language" of the amendment impacts only "domestic unions" and not "domestic relationships," the professors say.
Amendment supporters are being outspent 2-to-1 or even 3-to-1 in some markets, Lee said, but their TV ads have a unique Bible Belt flavor that could resonate. With scenes of couples and families on the screen, a narrator in their first TV ad, released April 24, says, "Marriage has been one man and one woman since before North Carolina was a state. It's what God created to give children a mother and a father." The narrator adds, "Everyone, gay or straight, is free to live as they choose, but nobody has the right to redefine marriage." As she finishes that sentence, an image of the Bible is shown. It's the type of advertisement that could get voters in the state motivated to vote. In their second ad, the one that reacts to the controversial charges, the narrator says, "The marriage protection amendment does one thing: It protects marriage as the union of one man and one woman, just as God designed it."
"The threat to marriage is real, and we're going up against activists who want to change our culture here in North Carolina," Lee said. "It's a clash of values going on, and we as Christians need to stand strong on this. We could lose if we don't have the support of our base."
They also could lose if they continue to be outspent by a wide margin. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, sent out an email to supporters Tuesday (April 24) warning of an "Urgent Need In North Carolina" and saying that amendment supporters have "had to cut their advertising budget by two-thirds simply because they don't have the money" to run ads.
Said Lee, "Opponents are pouring efforts and resources into our state, because they see this as a chance to change public opinion."
Hundreds of pastors across the state are expected to participate Sunday (April 29) in what is being billed as "Marriage Sunday," a time where pastors will reference the amendment, encourage members to support it and show a video recorded by Vote FOR Marriage NC (http://www.voteformarriagenc.com/sunday/). Many churches also will hand out pro-amendment bulletin inserts. The IRS allows churches to take positions on such ballot issues as marriage amendments. (See previous Baptist Press story at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37508.) In some locations where early voting locations are open on the weekend, members even can go vote after church.
One pastor who has been involved in promoting the amendment is Scott Davis of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord.
"I will be encouraging our people to make their voices known on this issue," Davis told Baptist Press. "I believe this to be one of those defining moments for the church."
Davis added, "We must not erroneously be led to think that this is a matter for neutrality. We do not live in a neutral world when it comes to morality."
North Carolina's Bible Belt-bent has been demonstrated by the fact that the boards of commissions in 22 counties have gone on record as supporting the amendment. In other states, such as Washington, localities often are debating whether to do just the opposite -- that is, support gay "marriage."
Six states currently recognize gay "marriage," and two more have passed gay "marriage" laws that are being challenged by citizens and could be overturned. None of those states, though, had a marriage amendment, which binds judges to the definition in the text. In some of those states, the legalization of gay "marriage" has impacted the religious liberty of private businesses and curriculum in elementary schools. In Massachusetts, where it's legal, a second-grade class read a book, "King & King," about a prince who "marries" another prince. In Vermont, the ACLU sued a bed and breakfast after it declined to host a same-sex "wedding" reception.
Outside groups, Lee said, see North Carolina as an opportunity to pull off a landmark upset victory.
"They have placed a large target on North Carolina, because we're the last state in the Southeastern United States to consider an amendment preserving marriage between a man and a woman," Lee said.
A marriage amendment has failed only once, in Arizona in 2006, when opponents successfully persuaded voters into believing it would, for instance, limit Social Security incomes of unmarried senior couples. The ballot also had language that some thought was confusing. Two years later, in 2008, Arizona voters approved a marriage amendment with different language. --30-- Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. For more information on the issue, visit www.VoteForMarriageNC.com/. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).