Open mic broadcasts GOP closed-door talks on anti-gay amendment

Catawba County Republican says legislative leadership supports amendment passage this year

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: June 4, 2011 in News

RALEIGH, N.C. – A day after pro-gay protesters were arrested on the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives, lawmakers at a closed-door, House Republican caucus meeting spoke about the proposed constitutional amendments on marriage, unaware that their comments were being streamed into the legislature’s press room.

Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) said he had met with the “conservative, pro-family caucus” and several anti-gay groups. He said the constitutional amendment was one of the issues outside groups were pushing.

“It’s important to the conservative groups that we get this passed this year because they need that to be able to get their ground game working to get the maximum effect to get out the vote,” he said.

Hilton also said this year’s legislative session was turning out to be “one of the most conservative, pro-family legislative sessions I’ve ever seen” and thanked Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) for his support of the amendment.

“Speaker Tillis has assured us it will happen this year,” he said. “It may be in a special session for constitutional amendments but it will happen this year.”

Ian Palmquist, executive director of the statewide Equality North Carolina, said his group had been aware of the possibility of the amendment’s passage this year but that recent developments seemed to be sealing the deal.

“It is our understanding that in the last 24 hours both Speaker Tillis and [Senate President Pro Tempore Phil] Berger have now committed to moving the legislation this year,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard over the last six months to do everything we can to avoid this. This is the first time we’ve seen such a clear commitment [from Republican leadership].”

Equality North Carolina has been working to secure the necessary votes to stop the amendment on both the House and Senate floors.

“The includes mobilizing constituencies in key legislative districts to get them to contact their legislators and mobilizing leaders in the faith and business communities and political leaders to speak out against the amendment,” he said.

Palmquist said his group has received support from most of the Democratic caucus, which holds a minority in both chambers of the legislature for the first time in over a century.

“Most of the Democratic caucus continues to support our position but there are a number of Democrats and moderate Republicans who we believe are persuadable but are not 100 percent on our side at this point.”

The gay rights leader, who has announced he will be stepping down from his role in July, also said the June 2 pro-gay protests on the House floor could adversely affect his group’s efforts.

“Different tactics are appropriate at different times and the action we say yesterday invading the House chamber, I think, had a negative impact on our ability to stop a constitutional amendment on marriage this year,” he said in an interview a day after the arrests. “Direct action is a really important strategy and tactic but it needs to be used in smart and strategic ways and unfortunately that’s not what we saw yesterday.” : :