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Charlotte Observer: GOP's McCrory (Quietly) Backs Amendment Against Same-Sex Marriage

He'd rather talk about something else - say, the economy or education. But press Pat McCrory about gay marriage, and the presumptive Republican nominee for governor will say this much - and little more: On May 8, he plans to vote for the proposed N.C. constitutional amendment reaffirming the state's ban on same-sex marriage. That puts him in line with evangelical Christians and other parts of the GOP's conservative base, who back the so-called marriage amendment by large margins. But it sets him apart from some leaders in Charlotte's business community and from many moderate voters - the very groups that formed McCrory's base during his many years as mayor of Charlotte. Prominent Charlotte Republican Sally Robinson, for example, said it was unfair to same-sex couples who want to build a life together. Her husband, attorney Russell Robinson, argued that the "poorly worded" amendment would invite federal lawsuits and have unintended consequences. And top Bank of America executive Cathy Bessant, who is unaffiliated, said passage of the amendment would be "disastrous" to North Carolina's business climate. She held a fundraiser for McCrory in her home last year. All three spoke on videos posted by the amendment's opponents. The three major Democratic candidates for governor also are against the amendment. McCrory, meanwhile, has managed to keep a low profile on this issue that has divided the state - and the country. But when asked - usually by the press - he has stuck by his support of the proposed amendment. "I believe that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman," he told Raleigh's WRAL-TV in answering a candidate questionnaire. In a recent interview with the Observer, he said he plans to vote "yes" but didn't want to explain why. "I'm in favor of it, and that's all I'm commenting on because I'm concentrating on other issues," he said. Asked what he would say to business executives who oppose the amendment, McCrory still wouldn't bite. "I'm not going to get into it," he said. "Let me say this: We're taking it to the people and let them vote. I respect the opinions that are being presented on all sides, and I've stated how I plan to vote." Political rationale There's political calculation to McCrory's approach, said Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State University. By favoring the amendment, McCrory stays out of trouble with conservative GOP voters: N.C. Republican voters back it 76 percent to 20 percent in a recent Public Policy Polling survey. They were wary of him when he was mayor and when he first ran for governor four years ago. But by not making the amendment a major issue in his 2012 campaign, Taylor said, McCrory appears to be hoping that he can maintain his appeal with his old coalition of business Republicans and moderates - including many Democrats and independents. Taylor said McCrory has been able to pull off this balancing act so far because he has no serious opposition for the Republican nomination. "This relieves him of having to deal with the amendment on a daily basis," Taylor said. " If he had a highly competitive Republican primary, the amendment would have played a more prominent role." McCrory may also want to soft-pedal the issue to avoid turning off independent voters. Those crucial swing voters opposed the amendment 55 percent to 42 percent in the PPP poll. So far, there are no signs that support for McCrory is eroding among Charlotte's business leaders or influential Republicans. Take former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, who ran for governor himself as the GOP nominee in 2000. Recently, he announced his opposition to the proposed marriage amendment. He says it's unnecessary and that he's heard from the city's big banks that its passage could make it harder for them "to hire and keep good people." But Vinroot, a corporate attorney, said his support for McCrory remains rock-solid. And, he added, "I think the business community is foursquare behind him." Russell Robinson, Vinroot's uptown law partner, disagrees with McCrory on the amendment, but also is backing him for governor. They may not agree with him on the amendment, acknowledged McCrory, but "they're still supporting me for governor." Consistent on gay issues Since he began running for governor in 2008, McCrory has been dogged by charges that he's trying to change his spots. The moderate mayor, Democrats say, has lurched to the right on everything from immigration to economic incentives for businesses looking to relocate. Not true, McCrory said. "I haven't moved at all," he said. "I keep hearing that, but I haven't." The record shows that he rarely sided with gays and lesbians, but sometimes left conservatives wishing he'd be more vocal: - In 1996, when the Charlotte community was debating "Angels in America," a play about AIDS that included male nudity and a rape scene, then-Mayor McCrory first called for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play to be "toned down." After the show was staged as written, he advocated cutting city arts funding. - In 2003 and again in 2004, McCrory opposed providing benefits to city employees' same-sex partners. The mayor said in 2004 that the benefits would cost too much and go against what most Charlotteans wanted. - In 2005, McCrory declined to send a letter welcoming those attending a dinner in Charlotte for the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest civil rights group for gays and lesbians. The mayor later explained that he didn't send the letter because he disagreed with the HRC's political agenda, which includes same-sex marriage.