Monday’s Supreme Court action could open the door to gay marriage in North Carolina. But does it make it an issue in the U.S. Senate race?
Depends who you talk to.
“It could very well play a role in awakening and motivating voters that this election in particular is critical for North Carolina,” said the Rev. Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor who helped lead the fight to ban marriage for same-sex couples and now backs Republican Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House.
But Morgan Jackson, a Democratic consultant from Raleigh, doesn’t expect it to have any impact. It would be hard to make the case that electing Tillis over Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan could somehow reverse the position of the Supreme Court.
“I don’t think it is going to have any effect,” Jackson said.
North Carolina’s Senate race is one of the closest in the country, and it could turn on which side is most effective at getting its voters to the polls. The marriage issue illustrates a clear difference between the candidates.
In a statement with GOP Senate leader Phil Berger, Tillis said he hopes the Supreme Court makes “a definitive ruling” on the issue soon.
“Until then, we will vigorously defend the values of our state and the will of more than 60 percent of North Carolina voters who made it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman,” they said.
Hagan reiterated her support for same-sex marriage.
“I’ve made my personal opinion on this clear,” she said Monday. “I opposed Amendment One, because I don’t think we should tell people who they can love or who they can marry.”
In 2012, North Carolina voters approved the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by a 22-point margin. A recent survey by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found the gap shrinking, with 40 percent of voters favoring legalized gay marriage and 53 percent opposing it.
A poll last month by the conservative American Insights found a smaller gap, with 48 percent of likely North Carolina voters opposing same-sex marriage and 44 percent supporting it. The result was within the poll’s 4.6-point margin of sampling error.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, says there are advantages and disadvantages for both candidates.
“For Hagan, she could certainly use it to energize her urban liberal base,” he said. “But as she’s talking to those folks, he’s also talking to rural conservatives. So it’s a potential danger for her …
“(Tillis) is speaking to a base that could be threatened by this decision, and that could energize them. … Does he play to his base, or does he try to play to the middle? And doing one could potentially alienate the other.”