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One Divisive Amendment


Signs like these dot lawns across North Carolina. Photos : Tanner Latham The proposed constitutional amendment on North Carolina's ballot defines marriage as between one man and one woman. If approved, it would outlaw gay marriage in the state's constitution - in addition to the law already on the books that bans gay marriage. But the debate over what's been called Amendment One has evolved beyond whether society should accept gay marriage. WFAE's Tanner Latham joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey to explain. Mark Rumsey: Tanner, what's this debate now about? Tanner Latham: Well, groups that are urging defeat of the amendment are focusing on what they say would be the fallout if the amendment one is approved. Basically, no matter your personal beliefs about gay marriage, they are pointing out social problems they say would result if the voters approve the amendment. For example, health insurance and domestic violence. The primary group organizing against the amendment, the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, has an ad that says children of unwed couples - whether or not they're gay - would lose their health insurance. Ad: "My fear with Amendment One is that my daughter would lose her health insurance. And that she would lose it immediately. Simply because we're unmarried." MR: Well, are these claims true? TL: Yes and no. The ad is vague. And as result, the implication is that children of all unwed couples, no matter their employers, would lose health insurance benefits. That's not true. However, children of couples who work for a local government, like Mecklenburg County that offers health insurance to domestic partners, could very well lose their health insurance. Campbell University law professor William Woodruff says it comes down to the definition of marriage that would be embedded in the state's constitution: "I think the language of the amendment would prohibit the insurance benefits going to the domestic partnership or civil union," says Woodruff. He says that local government could continue offering health benefits to these couples, but that would require them changing how they define who is eligible for health insurance. That's not necessarily a sure thing because it becomes a political issue. MR: Another argument is the passage of the amendment would remove domestic violence protections for all unmarried couples. Is there truth to that? TL: Well, like many things, it depends who you talk to. A UNC-Chapel Hill law professor named Maxine Eichner says absolutely. "If courts construe the term domestic legal union to mean any unmarried couple-and that means either any same sex or opposite sex unmarried couple, because the term domestic legal union doesn't distinguish-they could interpret it to strike down any relationship protections of unmarried persons," says Eichner. MR: And, Tanner, you indicated there is not agreement on this position. TL: Well, there rarely is when it comes to new law. Professor Woodruff says this argument is a reach because assumes that judges would give the broadest interpretation of the amendment's intent. He says history shows that doesn't happen, and it's ridiculous to say it would in this case. Judges would have to determine that lawmakers had no intention of protecting unwed couples from domestic violence when they approved those laws: "I don't think that that necessarily means that you then would take the next leap and say, 'Oh, that that rule applies to all personal relationships,'" says Woodruff. "There's no logical, rational reason to make that link." MR: The election is just a few days away now. Taking the issue back out to the voters, what are the latest polls telling us about the amendment? TL: As of Tuesday, Public Policy Polling out of Raleigh is saying that voters are planning to vote in favor of the amendment 55 to 41. Of those polled, 48 percent were Democrat, 34 percent were Republican, 74 percent were white, and 18 percent were African-American.