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As North Carolina Amends Constitution to Ban Gay Marriage, Obama Speaks Out

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Constitutional Amendment signs are seen with others at the entrance to a polling location at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. While a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage is driving turnout in North Carolina' primary elections on Tuesday, North Carolina voters are also choosing nominees for governor, 13 congressional districts, nine of the 10 Council of State positions and dozens of General Assembly seats.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Gerry Broome

Just one day shy of President Barack Obama’s historic announcement in favor of same-sex marriages voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman; effectively discounting other legal relationships, doubling prohibitions on same-sex marriage and potentially endangering benefits and protections for all non-married couples.

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Opponents of the narrow definition pointed out the vague language of the amendment. The full text of the amendment—“marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized”—illegitimizes any non-marriage relationship between two unrelated people.

This language suggests that other “domestic legal unions” like domestic partnerships and civil unions become moot in the eyes of the law.

Same-sex couples can’t have their relationship recognized by the government at all.

The amendment’s effect on those legal unions was likely lost on many voters. As Nate Silver pointed out last week, people are less likely to vote for prohibitions on civil unions and domestic partnerships—suggesting that voters were confused about what the amendment would mean in practice—and not just for same-sex couples.

For example, even heterosexual couples could see the effects of the amendment. Its broad reach also imperils domestic violence protections, end-of-life arrangements, child custody agreements, and employer-granted benefits for couples delaying or avoiding marriage.

The last time North Carolina changed its constitution regarding marriage; it was to ban interracial marriages. Now, the 30th state to adopt a same-sex marriage ban into its constitution, North Carolina has once again revised the institution of marriage to divide—and deprive a set of people equal protections under the law

Unless the United States Supreme Court strikes it down, the amendment will remain in the state’s constitution until the state’s population approves a measure to rescind it; neither state court nor legislature can overturn the ban.

Same-sex marriage advocates have yet to win a statewide referendum but a slew of open endorsements of gay marriage from Obama, Vice President Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggest that the political climate concerning gay rights, at least on the federal level, is changing—giving rise to hope that voters in Washington, Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine who will see measures to ban gay marriage on their ballots in November will be “evolved” enough to take a stand for marriage equality too.

Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.

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