Riding a Bible-influenced coalition that cut across political and racial lines, the marriage amendment stormed to approval Tuesday, making North Carolina the latest state to put stronger legal barricades before same-sex unions.
With 90 percent of the counties reporting, the constitutional amendment to make marriage between a man and a woman the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized won resoundingly, 61 percent to 39 percent.
It goes into effect Jan. 1. North Carolina has had a law banning same-sex marriages for 16 years.
Turnout, fueled largely by the marriage debate, was the largest for a primary in decades, election officials said.
This was an issue of standing on the principle of Gods word that marriage is between one man and one woman, and I believe that message has gotten across, said the Rev. Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charlotte and a leader in the state campaign for passage.
North Carolina becomes the last Southern state and the 31st overall to pass a defense of marriage amendment. Such measures have yet to lose. Eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
Opponents of the N.C. amendment called it a threat on a variety of fronts, from domestic-violence protection and health benefits for unmarried families, to industrial recruitment and job retention.
But for most voters, Tuesdays decision appeared to be a referendum on gay marriage.
The pro side could have not spent a single dollar, and they would have still won by double digits, said Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh.
Duke law professor Mike Munger said the amendments real impact might not be known for months.
The screaming, excruciating paradox of all this is that supporters wanted to take this out of the judges hands. Clearly it will have the opposite effect, Munger said. There will be litigation, and judges will have to decide what the darn thing means.
The amendment lost in the states largest areas, including Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, Raleigh and Durham. But it ran strongly almost everywhere else.
The Rev. Robin Tanner of Charlotte, a leader in the effort to defeat the amendment, looked beyond Tuesdays loss.
Hope lives on in this place we all call home, the pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church said in a prepared statement. Hope is our promised companion, and equality for all our promised land.
Added the Rev. Murdoch Smith, pastor of St. Martins Episcopal Church: The goal is not destroyed, just delayed for the moment.
Conservative voting bloc united
In passing the amendment, many conservatives and African-Americans set political differences aside to vote along spiritual lines. Conservative Christians believe homosexuality is a sin and that traditional marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God as a cornerstone of life.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the strongest support came from the predominantly white suburban areas of Mint Hill and Matthews. Across town, voters in the African-American neighborhoods of Coulwood and Paw Creek voted almost 2 to 1 in favor. The margin was the same in predominantly black precinct 79 near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
While the NAACP campaigned hard against the amendment, many black voters continued to see same-sex marriage not as a civil rights issue, but as a lifestyle choice with which they dont agree.
This amendment has always been about one thing and one thing only, marriage and family, said Bishop Phillip Davis, pastor of Nations Ford Community Church, a black congregation in southwest Charlotte. The voters of North Carolina have chosen to protect the soul of the state and the nation; that is marriage and family.
The campaigns were fueled by more than $3 million in spending. With Charlotte hosting the convention to renominate him this fall, President Barack Obama called for the amendments defeat. Around Charlotte, prominent Republicans such as former mayor and gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot spoke out against it.
But it never extended to rank-and-file GOP voters, pollster Jensen said. This never got beyond the point of Do I like gay marriage or not?
Last week, evangelist Billy Graham endorsed the measure, and the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and Raleigh made $50,000 donations.
Charlotte area voters didnt necessarily follow party affiliations in taking sides on the amendment.
At the Forest Hill Church precinct in south Charlotte, Democrat Don Hawley, 57, voted in favor. I dont know that we need to start protecting another class of citizens, he said.
Mary Settlemyre, 49, a Republican, voted no. My understanding of the Republican Party is its limited in your personal life, she said. That (intrudes) in the parts of your personal life they need not be in.
College counselor Catherine Odum, a Democrat, also voted against, saying, I dont understand why allowing gay marriage hurts marriage between men and women.
A national shift
Nationwide, attitudes appear to be changing on same-sex marriage. Polls show that younger voters strongly support giving gays the same opportunities as straight couples, and the opposition of older voters appears to be softening.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, leader of the Republican majority in Raleigh that put the measure on the ballot, said earlier in the campaign that he expects the N.C. measure to be reversed in the next generation because of changing attitudes.
And while North Carolina passed the measure convincingly, it did so by a lesser margin than many of its Southern neighbors. In 2006, 78 percent of S.C. voters supported their amendment. Elsewhere the endorsements ranged from 86 percent in Mississippi to 57 percent in Virginia.
In November, Minnesota voters will decide their own marriage amendment. In Maine, residents will decide whether to rescind their 2009 same-sex ban.
A year ago, Lisa Macdonald of Charlotte was among a group of local same-sex couples who went to Washington, D.C., to be married by their pastors and rabbis.
She later volunteered to work in the campaign to defeat the amendment. She said Tuesdays vote is a setback for her native state.
With this amendment, we have written discrimination into our constitution, she said. Its not the end of the conversation.
Harris, though, said the issue has never been about discrimination.
I believe North Carolinians took the took the amendment at face value, and they voted as such, he said. The only winner tonight is marriage.