Legislature Meets for Third 2011 Session,
Approves Discriminatory Constitutional Amendment,
Schedules Fourth Session
The General Assembly met for three days last week in its second mini-session following adjournment of the regular long session. A third mini-session is scheduled.
This session was supposed to be the “Constitutional Amendments Session,” but when the dust cleared, only one constitutional amendment had been approved – the one which defines marriage so as to exclude people who are gay or lesbian not only from marriage but also from civil unions or other similar committed relationships and which could also prevent local governments and even private companies from granting partner benefits to anyone not in a two-gender marriage.
(A proposed constitutional amendment which would have limited the number of terms which could be served by the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tem of the Senate was put on hold when the Senate and the House couldn’t agree on whether the limit should be two terms or four. TABOR, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, did not come up at all, though it is eligible for consideration next year.)
The discriminatory language which would be added to the Constitution reads, in its entirety: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
The language about private parties was added after many in the business community argued that the amendment would preclude private businesses from offering partner benefits to same-gender couples, something that would put them at a competitive disadvantage with other states in hiring and which might cause companies wanting to give such benefits not to relocate or expand in NC. The meaning of that second sentence is not clear, however, given that NC is an “employment at will” state with many workers not having employment contracts. And the language would clearly prohibit public employers (towns, cities, counties, etc.) from granting these benefits even though several already do so, apparently with the approval of voters/taxpayers in those communities.
Another change was made in the amendment bill. Earlier proposals would have put the amendment to a vote of the people in the general election in November 2012. Some Democrats had speculated that the amendment would be used to get voters to the polls who might be more likely to vote for Republicans. Since the Republican majority in the House needed a handful of Democrats to join them to produce the required 3/5 vote to amend the constitution, the bill was changed to put the public vote on the ballot for next May’s primary. Ten Democrats then joined 66 Republicans in approving the bill. (Two Republicans did not vote.) In the Senate, the vote was entirely along party lines: 30 Republicans voted yes, while 16 Democrats voted no. (Three Ds and one R had excused absences.) In the popular vote next year, a simple majority of those voting would add this new language to the state constitution.
The NC Council of Churches is opposed to the constitutional amendment, believing that language which discriminates against a class or category of citizens should not be put in the state constitution, a document intended to give rights, not take them away. We will be working with the state NAACP and others – including people who support same-gender marriage, people who oppose it, and some who don’t care – to defeat the amendment next May. As the Rev. William Barber wrote last week, “A vote on the same sex marriage amendment has nothing to do with your personal opinion on same sex marriage but everything to do with whether or not you believe discrimination should be codified and legalized constitutionally. We should never seek to codify discrimination into the very heart and framework of our Constitution.”
The Next Mini-Session
The General Assembly will return to Raleigh on November 7 for the fourth time in 2011. At that session, the following issues may be considered:
- Matters pertaining to redistricting of the General Assembly and seats in the US House of Representatives
- Override votes on bills vetoed by the Governor this year
- Election laws
- Bills related to casino gambling on Cherokee land
- Bills addressing natural disasters
- Adoption of bills currently in conference committees
- A bill related to local management entities (LMEs), which handle services for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or substance abuse issues.
We will publish Raleigh Report as needed at that time.