CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) took on the question of same-sex marriage at a debate on Tuesday, just one day after the Supreme Court opened the door to legal marriages for LGBT couples in the state.
Host George Stephanopoulos directed the question to Tillis, who is challenging incumbent Hagan for her U.S. Senate seat.
Laying out the events of the past two days, Stephanopoulos asked Tillis if he would continue to fight the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, commonly called “Amendment One” and approved by voters in May 2012.
“Two years ago, 60 percent of voters said they wanted to define the institution as an institution of marriage between a man and a woman,” Tillis responded. “I feel it’s my responsibility after 60 percent of the people voted that into law to defend the laws of the state.”
Tillis also said the nation was in a “dangerous time” and accused President Barack Obama of having “appointed liberal activist judges” who are “literally trying to legislate from the bench.”
Tillis added: “The federal government is continuing and the judicial system is continuing to become an activist legislative branch. I think it’s dangerous and it’s denying states to do the things that we want to do. What North Carolina may want to do is what North Carolinians should decide, not Senator Hagan and the courts up in Washington.”
Stephanopoulos again pressed Tillis on his potential defense of the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, which legal experts agree will be struck down in the next few days.
“We are going to continue to take our case because that’s not been decided yet, but there are other circuits that have not decided,” Tillis said. “Ultimately, we hope that this does go to the Supreme Court.”
Hagan responded that she opposed Amendment One.
“No two families look alike, but all families want to do the best for their children and grandchildren. I don’t think anyone, including the government should tell somebody who they love or who they can marry,” Hagan said.
“Speaker Tillis put Amendment One on the ballot,” Hagan added. “He’s actually hiring lawyers — paying for lawyers out of taxpayer dollars to take this suit to court. Speaker Tillis has said they will continue this fight this case in spite of what the Supreme Court’s denial has been.”
Tillis, along with state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, has said he will continue to defend the amendment, despite having admitted two years ago the flawed constitutional ban would eventually be overturned.
“It’s a generational issue,” Tillis said to a group of students at North Carolina State University just one month before the amendment passed. “If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.”
Earlier this year, Tillis boasted of his support for the amendment.
“Take the issue of traditional marriage,” Tillis said in a TV ad aired before this spring’s Republican primary. “Plenty of politicians talk about. After I became speaker, we put it in the constitution,” as the image of a newspaper headline announcing the passage of the anti-LGBT amendment.
Despite Tillis and Berger’s intentions to continue defending the ban, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory all but admitted the fight was over on Monday.
Speaking with WSOC-TV on Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said it is only a “matter of time” before North Carolina’s marriage laws will open up to same-sex couples. His legal advisors, he said, have told him to back off.
McCrory also said he doesn’t support gay marriage but, according to WSOC-TV’s Dave Faherty, “I support our constitution and I am sworn to uphold the laws…and I’ll do just that.”
Attorney General Roy Cooper, who had already backed off the amendment’s defense months ago, has told local officials to prepare for an influx of same-sex couples wishing to be wed when the court order is issued “relatively soon.”
Hagan and Tillis will face off in this November’s general election.
Tuesday’s second debate was aired on UNC-TV and was the second sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation.