North Carolina voters will go to the polls in less than two months to decide the fate of a constitutional amendment without knowing exactly what the amendment will do.
That’s one reason support for the marriage discrimination amendment is falling in the polls. The more people find about it, the less sure they are they want to write that uncertainty in the state constitution.
Supporters of the marriage discrimination amendment say it’s all about protecting their definition of marriage from “activist judges.” But same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina and no state court has shown much inclination to change that.
It’s the federal courts that are involved and any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court would trump the state amendment, a point the amendment’s supporters don’t point out very often.
But that’s not the confusing part.
The amendment is about far more than marriage. It says that marriage “is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
Many legal scholars say that phrase could wreak havoc with a wide range of state laws, ranging from employee benefits, domestic violence protections, even visitation rights and wills and trusts.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam claims those concerns are overblown and told the Winston-Salem Journal a few weeks ago that the arguments are “loopy” and designed to distract voters.
It sounds like the sort of debate that lawmakers should have heard as the amendment was making its way through the General Assembly, but Stam and his Republican colleagues refused to allow the legal experts to testify.
It also makes you wonder why the language about domestic unions is included in the amendment at all. If Stam’s goal was only to write a prohibition against same-sex marriage into the state constitution, as offensive as that is, then why not only include the wording about marriage?
Stam seems increasingly irritated about the suggestions that the marriage discrimination amendment could affect a wide range of laws, telling the Journal that a law professor from UNC-Chapel Hill who has raised questions “has gone from being a professor to being a tax-paid advocate.”
Apparently law professors at public universities are supposed to remain quiet about pressing issues facing the state.
He doesn’t have a phrase of derision yet for prominent professors from the Wake Forest law school who are also concerned about how the broad language in the amendment will affect people’s lives. But he’s likely to come up with one.
In Stam’s world, no dissent goes un-insulted. He has to be the smartest person in the room and he wants us to trust him, even when it comes to writing vague language about discrimination in the state’s fundamental document.
You don’t have to support gay marriage to have a reason to vote against this unclear and ill-conceived attempt to change our constitution. You just have to realize what’s at stake.
There’s a compelling legal argument that the rights of tens of thousands of unmarried couples, gay and straight, will be directly affected by the amendment on the ballot in May. At the very least, it’s unclear what the amendment will mean for them.
You can forget all that if you want and just take Stam’s word for it, just leave our constitution up to him. That’s what he is counting on.