N.C. House passes anti-LGBT amendment

Amendment now heads to Senate

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: September 12, 2011 in News

Last updated: 9/12/2011, 6:10 p.m.

RALEIGH, N.C.  – The North Carolina House of Representatives passed today, 75-42, a proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment that would ban marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

The House took up the amendment after its rushed passage through the chamber’s Rules Committee earlier this afternoon. It came as another surprise move by Republican legislative leaders, who had previously announced, though sneakily, that the amendment would be heard today in a Senate committee. Sources say two GOP senators had excused absences, leaving the body without the votes for passage.

The newest version of the amendment, SB 514, moves the ballot date from November 2012 to the primary election in May 2012. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) said the date change was a way to “remove politics” from the issue.

“What we’re trying to do is respect the concerns of some who felt like this was purely politically-motivated,” Tillis said at the press conference. “I decided, consulting with a number of people, and we decided that this was the most acceptable form. It was a discussion that involved both chambers. There are some members who were inclined to support the bill and did feel like political considerations were an issue that might cause them not to vote for something they would otherwise support.”

GOP leaders had come under fire for placing the amendment on the ballot during next year’s presidential elections. Critics said they were merely attempting to increase conservative voter turnout.

Committee debate

The Rules Committee began their hearing at approximately 1:15 p.m. and ended near 2 p.m. The amendment passed by a voice vote of the committee.

House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) said it was “imperative” that the amendment be sent to voters.

“Things have changed in Iowa, California, New York, D.C. and Massachusetts,” Stam said. “We have now states with significant populations that are allowing same-sex marriages to be legitimized and entered into. The question then becomes what happens when they come to North Carolina seeking divorce or equitable distribution?”

Stam said marriage equality had been brought to those jurisdictions by state judges using provisions similar to those included in North Carolina’s constitution.

Former House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Orange) said the amendment was a “terrible idea” and that the amendment should have been written with better care.

“This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the State of North Carolina,” Hackney said in committee. “It ought not to be done this way and ought to be given a fair hearing. We have people in the audience, experts on constitutional interpretation. They are not allowed to speak. The language itself is put together — apparently finalized last evening. There are so many unanswered questions about this that we don’t have time to go into here at this meeting.”

Throughout the committee hearing and into floor debate, Hackney and other Democratic members continued to disparage Republicans for the hasty, rushed manner of the amendment.

House floor debate

Debate on the House floor started shortly after 2:30 p.m. on MOnday. The majority of speakers throughout debate were Democrats opposed to the measure.

One of the strongest speeches against the measure came from Forsyth County’s Larry Womble.

“This proposed piece of legislation is clearly an example of discrimination,” Womble said. “It is discrimination in its highest form…We’ve been so silent on some of the atrocities committed in this state against other people, human beings; the only difference is it might be the texture of their hair, the pigmentation of their skin or the color of their eyes. We are again today discriminating against people who are citizens. They are not criminals. They’ve not broken any laws. I assume they register and vote. They go to school. They work. They want to ascribe to the best that this society can offer…North Carolina is bigger than this. North Carolina is better than this. We need to rise to the occasion as we have done before when there’s been issues that are not right and not fair.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) also gave a moving, though a short, statement against the amendment. She teared up near the end of her speech while talking about her lesbian sister, her partner and four-year-old child.

Asheville’s Susan Fischer warned her colleagues that history would judge them harshly. “In the not too distant future we will be apologizing yet again for more unfair and discriminatory practices,” she said, citing the state’s past history of civil rights abuses.

Rep. Kelly Alexander (D-Mecklenburg) compared the anti-LGBT amendment to anti-miscegenation laws of North Carolina’s 19th century postbellum past. “Now is the time to thoughtfully stand against those people who are outside of these chambers and are clamoring for us to do something that is not logical or in the best interest of the people of this state,” he said. “Please vote against amending our constitution in this totally 19th century way.”

One of the final speeches opposed to the amendment came from Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the state’s only openly gay lawmaker (see, “In the limelight: Brandon at center of anti-LGBT amendment debate”). He said it was time to call out the amendment for what it is: discrimination.

“This is all about someone is different, therefore you will be treated different,” he said.

Brandon also said lawmakers could not make any logical argument for passing the amendment. “If you have a problem in your marriage, then it’s probably something you’re doing not what someone else is doing,” he said. “I can think of a lot of sins in the bible that affects marriage more than what a homosexual does any day of the week.”

Recounting an anti-gay speech he heard on the grounds of the legislature that day, Brandon asked all members to keep in mind the harm that will be caused by millions of dollars worth of ads that will be run during an amendment ballot campaign.

“What is a little child like after $10 million of ads that sound just like what I heard today,” Brandon asked. “What does that do to your constituents?”

Brandon concluded with an apology to the LGBT community: “To the folks in the LGBT community, I do apologize for the General Assembly and the way we have operated,” he said, then turning his attention to legislators: “Remember that flag will always stand for freedom. I don’t care how much power you think you have you will never take it away.”

Floor debate ended shortly after 6 p.m. The amendment passed 75-42 and now awaits hearing in the Senate, where it is expected it will also gain the three-fifths majority needed to place it on the ballot in May 2012.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more updates at our Legislative Watch at goqnotes.com/in/ncga/.