On Tuesday, North Carolina foolishly and shamefully joined 30 states with constitutional bans on same-sex marriages. But state voters went further than that with this unwise and unnecessary constitutional change.
With language that declares marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state, the amendment casts a cloud of uncertainty over the rights and benefits of unmarried couples both gay and straight and over domestic violence laws, child custody and visitation rights and end-of-life arrangements.
The ambiguity created by the declaration of traditional marriage as the only domestic legal union the state will recognize is ironic. Proponents have said the constitutional ban was needed to head off activist judges from intervening. But this change almost guarantees that judges will have to intervene and interpret what the amendment allows and prohibits.
Legal experts are divided on the possible effects. Even the state constitutional amendments commission that wrote an explanation so voters could understand the amendment concluded that the courts would ultimately decide the amendments ramifications.
Duke University professor Mike Munger told the Observer editorial board Tuesday that domestic partner benefits clearly are in jeopardy. Unmarried couples who get domestic partner insurance benefits from local governments could lose them. Its not clear its legal under the amendment for the governments to offer them, Munger said. Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, and Mecklenburg and Orange counties now provide health care benefits to domestic partners and their children.
And judges might refuse to issue domestic violence protection orders in cases involving unmarried couples and throw out orders already issued. Under this amendment, North Carolina doesnt appear to recognize them as having legally-defined personal relationships.
Proponents like Rep. Paul Stam, who has been the top legislative cheerleader for the amendment, have said the amendment isnt likely to have those impacts. But in truth, they dont know. Thats why many legal scholars expect the courts will adjudicate the matter. Some say the amendment itself is unconstitutional and is just inviting a federal lawsuit challenging its validity.
We hope there is a challenge to this misguided amendment. It was unnecessary. N.C. law has banned same-sex marriages since 1996. This change unwisely writes discrimination into the state constitution.
The state is on the wrong side of history on this matter. Most Americans are increasingly rejecting this type of prejudice against gays and lesbians. A new Gallup poll showed 50 percent of Americans believe same sex marriages should be recognized as legal, while 48 percent say such marriages should not be legal.
To their credit, Mecklenburg and a few other counties voted this amendment down. Thats heartening. Were disappointed the rest of the state decided otherwise. The result doesnt show love. Its wrong and disgraceful.