Friends And Foes Of Gay Marriage Woo Voters In N.C.

May 6, 2012
Originally published on May 6, 2012 9:38 am

In North Carolina, voters will decide on Tuesday whether to add an amendment to the state's constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as domestic partnerships.

State law already prohibits same-sex marriage, but this measure would have broader consequences. Throughout the state, advocacy groups are stepping up their efforts to woo voters.

At an early voting site in Raleigh, Marissa Farrel, 24, is handing out as many flyers as she can. She's a volunteer with Vote for Marriage NC, the main group that supports the measure. As a religious Catholic, she says she believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Farrel thinks the state needs this amendment defining marriage so judges can't overturn the state statute already prohibiting same-sex unions.

"This has been a decade in the making for our state," she says. "I think it speaks volumes that 30 states in the country have it, and we are the only one in the South that doesn't have a marriage protection amendment."

North Carolina does stand alone as the only southern state without a constitutional provision limiting marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks Defense of Marriage Act laws, 28 states have such constitutional provisions.

Supporters of the measure rejoiced when Republican lawmakers finally succeeded in getting a marriage amendment bill through the Legislature in 2011. According to the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, 55 percent of voters support the amendment — but many don't realize that it also bans civil unions and domestic partnerships.

"What's amazing is that with those voters who actually understand what the amendment does, the amendment's failing by more than 20 points," says Tom Jensen, PPP's director of polling.

"People who really understand the amendment oppose it," he says. "The problem is that there's a huge chunk of voters that think all the amendment does is ban gay marriage, and with that group there's more than 70 percent support."

Jensen says polling shows a majority of North Carolinians oppose gay marriage, but they're fine with civil unions for gays and lesbians. He thinks voters simply aren't well-informed about the measure.

According to North Carolina's Board of Elections, the largest groups to vote early are white women and white Republican men; and the average age of the early voters is 59. So organizers against the amendment are trying to mobilize young people, who tend to be supportive of same-sex unions.

On a recent evening at Elon University, William Robinson, a field director with Protect All North Carolina Families, hands out flyers. Robinson, who's African-American, grew up hearing his mother's stories about getting caught after curfew in a small town during the Jim Crow years.

"On days she missed the curfew," he says, "she would be sprayed with a fire hose. And to me, this amendment has the same hate in its DNA. So this amendment makes me feel like those days I saw my mother cry and tell me those stories.

"It's discrimination," he says. "And discrimination, is discrimination, is discrimination."

Robinson says he and other organizers are planning rallies and special church services to encourage people to vote right up until the polls close Tuesday night.

Copyright 2013 WUNC-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wunc.org.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Voters in North Carolina will decide on Tuesday whether to ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships by changing the state's constitution.

From North Carolina Public Radio, Jessica Jones says advocacy groups on both sides are stepping up their efforts to win voters.

JESSICA JONES, BYLINE: It's a hot, muggy afternoon at an early voting site in Raleigh, and Marissa Farrel is handing out as many fliers as she can, to voters.

MARISSA FARREL: Hi. How are you doing today? I wanted to give this to you. It's the exact language that you'll see on the back of the ballot today.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Mm-hmm.

FARREL: It's the constitutional amendment to preserve marriage. And we're asking...

JONES: Farrel is a 24-year-old volunteer with Vote for Marriage N.C., the main group that supports the measure. As a religious Catholic, she says she believes that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. Farrel thinks the state needs this amendment defining marriage so judges can't overturn the state statute already prohibiting same-sex unions.

FARREL: This has been a decade in the making for our state. I think it speaks volumes that 30 states in the country have it, and we're the only one in the South that doesn't have a marriage protection amendment.

JONES: Supporters of the measure rejoiced when Republican lawmakers finally succeeded in getting a marriage amendment bill through the legislature in 2011. According to the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, 55 percent of voters support the amendment, but many don't realize that it also bans civil unions and domestic partnerships.

TOM JENSEN: What's amazing is that with those voters who actually understand what the amendment does, the amendment's failing by more than 20 points.

JONES: Tom Jensen is PPP's director of polling.

JENSEN: People who really understand the amendment oppose it. The problem is that there's a huge chunk of voters who think that all the amendment does is ban gay marriage. And with that group, there's more than 70 percent support.

JONES: Jensen says polling shows a majority of North Carolinians oppose gay marriage, but they're fine with civil unions for gays and lesbians. He thinks voters simply aren't well-informed about the measure.

According to North Carolina's Board of Elections, the largest groups to vote early are white women and white Republican men; and the average age of the early voters is 59. So organizers against the amendment are trying to mobilize young people, who tend to be supportive of same-sex unions.

WILLIAM ROBINSON: Hey, how you ladies doing?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi.

ROBINSON: Have ya'll voted yet?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No.

ROBINSON: All right. Be sure to vote the right way.

JONES: William Robinson is a field director with Protect All North Carolina Families. On this evening, he's walking through Elon University's campus, passing out fliers. Robinson, who's African-American, grew up hearing his mother's stories about getting caught after curfew, in a small town during the Jim Crow years.

ROBINSON: On days she missed the curfew, she would be sprayed with a fire hose. And to me, this amendment has the same hate in its DNA. So this amendment makes me feel like those days I saw my mother cry and tell me those stories. It's discrimination. And discrimination is discrimination, is discrimination.

JONES: Robinson says he and other organizers are planning events to encourage people to vote right up until the polls close Tuesday night.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Durham, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.