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NC House Advances Same-Sex Marriage Ban Amendment

Lawmakers in the North Carolina House have passed a bill to let voters decide whether to add an amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The State Senate is expected to vote on the measure today. The bill was supported by 75 members of the House, after three and a half hours of debate and a full day of competing public rallies. Less than an hour after House lawmakers passed the bill yesterday evening, nearly three hundred people opposed to it held a vigil across the street from the General Assembly. The group of gay rights advocates vowed to return today for a rally at lunchtime to protest, or to "celebrate a victory in the North Carolina Senate, if they choose to stand on the side of equality, tolerance and fairness," said Alex Miller, interim director of Equality North Carolina. If the measure passes the Senate, Miller said opponents will begin a ballot initiative campaign to "defeat this divisive, hurtful amendment, on the ballot whenever they should put it there." "Win or lose, we will do it together and we will move North Carolina forward no matter what," said Miller, to applause from the crowd. Other speakers at the vigil included pastors, Duke professor Tim Tyson, and country music star Chely Wright. People in the crowd held up neon-colored glow sticks, including Alison Maxwell who came with her same-sex partner of six years. She says she understands why some lawmakers want to add an amendment to the state's constitution even though state law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. "It's a fear of people that are different, not like themselves," said Maxwell. "They don't like that. They have a law in place. They're afraid that a liberal judge is going to overturn that and overrule on that and they feel like they need this constitutional amendment." Supporters of the proposed amendment want to make banning same-sex unions as foolproof as possible. Earlier this year, a federal judge in California upheld a ruling that struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. Conservative groups in North Carolina are trying to prevent a similar scenario. Earlier in the day yesterday, supporters of the marriage amendment held their own rally of several hundred people. Mark Creech, head of the conservative Christian Action League of North Carolina says "some underestimate the significance of this debate." "(People say) lawmakers shouldn't be focused on this question, but instead should be concentrating on dealing with hurricane damage, the need for jobs, and our sluggish economy," said Creech at the rally for supporters of the proposed amendment. "I respectfully contend that there is no issue for the North Carolina General Assembly or the public to consider now or later, that is of greater gravity than how marriage will ultimately be defined among us." As Creech spoke, members of the audience lifted hand lettered signs and clapped their hands. "Pretty much once you start redefining marriage, there's no end to where it'll stop, and pretty much it'll be nothing like it is since the beginning of human history," said rally attendee Trey Baldwin. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. "What we are doing with this legislation is we are simply saying that it is time for the citizens of the state of North Carolina to be able to join with the same right that has been exercised all across this country to be able to weigh in on this issue," said Republican Representative Nelson Dollar of Cary. The North Carolina Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday. If three-fifths of state Senators approve it, the measure will go on the primary ballot in May of next year. A simple majority of primary voters would add the amendment to the state constitution.