Updated Wednesday, May 10, 11:10 p.m. Eastern. A version of this story originally was posted May 8.
RALEIGH, N.C. (BP) -- North Carolina voters have made the state the 30th in the U.S. to define marriage within a constitution as between a man and a woman, passing a proposal that had drawn nationwide attention by a margin even larger than pre-election surveys.
With all counties reported, the amendment passed easily Tuesday (May 8), 61-39 percent.
Critics said the North Carolina amendment was unnecessary because the state already defines marriage in the traditional sense, but supporters countered that North Carolina needed such an amendment to prevent a state court from legalizing gay "marriage," as happened in Massachusetts, Iowa and Connecticut. Judges can overturn statutes but not constitutional amendments.
The amendment passed despite supporters being outspent on ads by a margin of about 2-to-1, and despite opponents running TV ads claiming the amendment would negatively impact health insurance for children and the state's domestic violence laws. Opponents avoided the issue of gay "marriage" altogether.
If the debate had focused solely on marriage's definition, the winning percentage might have approached or surpassed 70 percent.
"This not only sends ... a message to North Carolina, but this sends a message to the whole country," Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, told the Biblical Recorder newspaper. "And that is what people of this country want to see -- marriage remain as one man and one woman."
It wasn't the only loss of the night for national gay groups. In Colorado Tuesday, the GOP-led House recessed without considering a same-sex civil unions bill, killing it for the session. Some observers thought it had the votes to pass.
The North Carolina vote was only the beginning of what will be a busy year nationally for supporters and opponents of gay "marriage." In November, Minnesotans will vote on a marriage amendment and Maine citizens will consider a proposal that would legalize gay "marriage." Additionally, voters in Washington state and Maryland likely will consider proposals that would reverse gay "marriage" laws in those states.
Some polls have shown national support for gay "marriage," but -- in light of the North Carolina vote margin -- many conservative leaders and even some pollsters aren't buying it.
After watching the North Carolina results Tuesday night, Tom Jensen of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling sent out a tweet, saying, "Hate to say it but I don't believe polls showing majority support for gay marriage nationally. Any time there's a vote it doesn't back it up."
The final pre-election poll from Public Policy Polling had the amendment up among likely voters, 57-39 percent. Historically, marriage amendments have outperformed surveys.
The coalition formed to promote the amendment, Vote For Marriage NC, didn't shy away from religion in urging voters to support it. One ad ended with an image of a Bible as a narrator explained that the amendment "protects marriage as the union of one man and one woman, just as God designed it." In the heart of the Bible Belt, the ad resonated. Having Billy Graham support the amendment in 14 newspaper ads the weekend before election day helped, too.
Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC, said her state had waited long enough to vote on the issue.
"We are thankful to God and to the people of North Carolina for joining together ... to preserve marriage as the union between one man and one woman in our State Constitution," Fitzgerald said in a post-election statement. "North Carolinians have been waiting for nearly a decade to protect marriage -- a sacred institution authored by God -- from being redefined against the will of the people."
For years, Democratic leaders in the state legislature prevented the amendment from appearing on the ballot. Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010 and made the amendment a priority.
Of North Carolina's 100 counties, the amendment passed in 93.
North Carolina was the last remaining state in the Southeast to pass such an amendment. While the amendments have been popular in conservative-leaning states, they've also passed in such left-leaning states as Michigan, Wisconsin and Oregon.
The healthy margin by which the amendment passed has been the norm at the state level. Including the 30 states that have marriage amendments and two other states (Hawaii and Maine) that have voted on the issue, the proposals have passed by an average margin of 67-33 percent.
Some criticized the amendment for prohibiting not only gay "marriage" but also New Jersey-style civil unions, which grant same-sex couples all the state legal benefits of marriage, minus the name. Supporters, though, said civil unions were simply a stepping stone to gay "marriage" legalization, and they noted that three states -- Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut -- had legalized civil unions only to follow by changing the marriage law, too.
The heart of North Carolina's amendment reads, "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State." Opponents tried to change the subject from marriage in the closing weeks of the campaign, charging that the "domestic legal union" language could endanger women by impacting the state's domestic violence statutes. Although some legal scholars shared that opinion, others disagreed, pointing out that other states have similar language in their constitutions and have had no problems. For instance, Idaho's amendment is identical.
Marriage amendments became popular after Massachusetts' highest court issued its landmark 2003 decision redefining marriage. Of the 30 states with marriage amendments, 26 have passed since 2003. If Massachusetts had had an amendment, the court would have been bound by the constitutional language.
Passage of the amendment also means that eight of the 10 states listed in Forbes' 2011 "Best States for Business" list have marriage amendments. Amendment critics often say the proposals are bad for businesses.
J.D. Greear, lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., a Southern Baptist congregation, urged the church's members to support the amendment.
"Government did not define or establish marriage," Greear said in a video recorded for members. "God did. Government merely recognized that which has been established by the Creator."
Redefining marriage would have "devastating consequences," Greear said, adding that it would "affect how we perceive God's image, how we understand God-like love, how kids understand their own gender identity."
Greear added, "Nobody's arguing that homosexuals are lesser people or they ought to be ostracized in our society or that they ought not to enjoy the same freedoms or protections that the rest of us enjoy. The point is simply that you don't rewrite the nature of God's design based on contemporary cultural mores."
Gay "marriage" is legal in six states: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, New York and Connecticut. None of them had a marriage amendment. --30-- Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Shawn Hendricks of the Biblical Recorder (BRNow.org). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp). Read Glenn Stanton's column, "Why not legalize gay marriage?" at http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37494