North Carolina to Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Republicans and Democrats in North Carolina will head to the polls on today to cast votes in a series of contests, but with the presidential primary all but finished, it's likely that a statewide initiative regarding same-sex marriage will be the race to gain the most attention nationally.

The measure being decided today is North Carolina Amendment One - a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if passed, would make marriage between a man and a woman the only state-recognized, legal union.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State,"  the language of the proposed new law reads.

And if passed, the amendment would go a step further than simply outlawing same sex marriage, which is already illegal in the state. It would mean that the state would cease to recognize any type of legal union between non-married couples -  gay or straight.

"The constitutional amendment will bar same sex marriage, but it also goes much further in that it bars civil unions," says Jean Cary, Professor of Law at Campbell Law School in Raleigh, N.C.

Several counties and towns within the state offer domestic partnership benefits to both gay and straight couples. But those benefits would be in jeopardy if the bill passes.

"We have half a dozen counties or towns that provide domestic partnership benefits to their employees. If this passes, all of those families who are receiving medical insurance under a domestic partnership arrangement would lose those benefits immediately," Cary said.

Several prominent Democrats, including Bill Clinton, have come out against the amendment. Clinton recorded a  robo-call urging North Carolinians to vote against the amendment.

Support for the referendum has come from high-profile individuals as well. The Reverend Billy Graham, who lives in Asheville, N.C., took out a series of full page ads in 14 local newspapers to run his statement of support for the amendment over the weekend.

"The Bible is clear - God's definition of marriage is between a man and a woman," the statement said.  "I want to urge my fellow North Carolinians to vote for the marriage amendment."

President Obama has remained relatively quiet on the subject. He did not directly address the amendment during his recent visit to the Tar Heel state last month. The Obama campaign released a statement via its North Carolina spokesman in March, but otherwise the President has stayed away from the topic.

"While the president does not  weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same sex couples," said Cameron French, North Carolina campaign spokesman, in a statement.  "That's what the North Carolina ballot initiative would do - it would single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples - and that's why the President does not support it."

The question of the Obama administration's position on gay marriage was reignited over the weekend, when Vice President Joe Biden suggested an openness to the possibility of legalizing gay marriage in an interview.

"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights," Biden said while appearing on NBC's "Meet The Press."

The Obama campaign suggested that Biden's comments were in line with President Obama's support of equal legal rights for all married couples, but Obama has not stated an explicit support for the legalization of gay marriage- instead stating that his views are "evolving."

Polling suggests that the bill is likely to pass. If passed, the amendment would become part of the state constitution, making overturning the legislation an arduous task.

Legal scholars suggest that if voters choose to pass the amendment, another statewide referendum likely would be necessary to overturn it. But that likely would require a Democratic takeover of the state legislature.