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Same sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in North Carolina

Predictions on whether the
constitutional amendment will pass in 2012

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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Will the voters pass a constitutional amendment in North Carolina?

That seems to depend upon the exact nature and wording of the amendment, and under what conditions it will be voted:

  • First, consider first an amendment to the NC Constitution if it had simply banned same-sex marriage: This is not the amendment authorized in 2011-SEP by the Legislature, but is a good place to start considering whether the actual amendment would pass.

    Nate Silver maintains the FiveThirtyEight blog on the New York Times web site. He specializes in the statistical analysis of political trends and campaigns. He has built statistical models that attempt "... to predict the percentage of the vote that a gay marriage-related ballot initiatives would receive ..." in the District of Columbia and in each of the 50 states if they were held on election day in 2012-NOV.  1 

    On 2011-JUN-29, Silver published an analysis for DC and for each state using two techniques:

    • A linear model which assumes that the support for same-sex marriage increases at about the same rate every year, and

    • An accelerated model that uses the trend line from national polls on same-sex marriage.

    He writes that the two models "... produce nearly identical estimates on the historical data, they diverge somewhat in their forecasts [of future data] because same-sex marriage appears to have gained support at a faster rate in the last couple of years." 1

    He found that the level of opposition to SSM in North Carolina was quite high, and exceeded by only eight other states. Only the voters in Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi are more strongly opposed to marriage equality.

    His linear model predicted a 66.1% vote share for a hypothetical same-sex marriage banning referendum in North Carolina during 2012-NOV. His accelerated model predicted a 60.4% vote share. Both models predict that such a referendum would be "very likely to receive [a] majority" vote in NC to ban SSM.

    As of mid-2011, support for SSM nationally is about 53% with opposition about 45%. Support has risen from about 27% in 1996 to 53% in mid-2011 -- a rate of about 1.7 percentage points a year. It will probably take until at least the year 2017 for a majority of voters in North Carolina to support SSM.

  • Second, consider the nature, scope, and timing of the amendment approved for 2012-MAY: If passed, this amendment would definitely ban SSM in the state. This is how it is being promoted by religious and social conservatives. However, it appears to be a stealth amendment that would have far greater impact on the NC culture than simply banning SSM. It require all legislation to view same-sex couples as "legal strangers" to each other; as mere roommates. Thus it would:

    • Prevent the legislature from creating a system of civil unions -- sometimes called "everything but marriage" unions that would give loving committed same-sex couples and their children the state benefits, obligations and protections given to opposite-sex marriage couples without the ability to call their relationship a marriage.

    • Prevent the legislature from creating a system of registered partnerships which are typically like civil unions, but with fewer benefits.

    • Prevent the legislature from recognizing common law relationships between both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

    • Have the potential to invalidate domestic violence protections for members of unmarried couples.

    • Interfere with existing child custody and visitation rights.

    • Invalidate trusts, wills and end-of-life directives of couples who are not married.
  • Third: Consider the most recent public opinion poll on SSM, civil unions, etc:
    • During 2011-FEB, the Center for Public Opinion Polling at Elton University conducted a poll among 467 randomly selected adults. The margin of error is ±4.6%. Unfortunately, the questions asked were slightly ambiguous. The pollster said:

      "I'm going to read you three statements, and, after I read all three, I'd like for you to tell me which statement comes closest to your position on this issue:
      - I oppose any legal recognition for same sex couples.
      - I support civil unions or partnerships for same sex couples, but not full rights.
      - I support full marriage rights for same sex couples."

      The results were: 29.0% want civil unions but not full rights; 27.8% prefer full marriage rights for same sex couples; 35% oppose any legal recognition. 3

      Thus there is majority support of 56.8% for some form of recognition of same-sex relationships; This is a healthy majority. Unfortunately the option of "full marriage rights for same-sex couples" would probably mean actual same-sex marriage to some adults, while other adults may have interpreted it to mean a civil union with all of the state's rights of marriage, except for the right to call their relationship a marriage. Still, the questions were sufficiently clear to show that "some recognition" had a very substantial 2 to 1 lead over "no recognition" of same-sex relationships.

    • Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted a poll of a random selection of 520 voters in North Carolina between 2011-SEP-01 and 04. The margin of error is ±4.3%. PPP claims that they are: "... a Democratic polling company, but polling expert Nate Silver of the New York Times found that its surveys in 2010 actually exhibited a slight bias toward Republican candidates. They found:

      • When asked their opinion on SSM, 61% of voters favor a ban; 31% want it legal; 8% are undecided or didn't answer.

      • When asked: "Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship?" 29% want civil unions, 25% want SSM. 43% feel there should be no legal recognition of a same-sex couple's relationship; 3% are not sure. Thus there is a majority support of 54% of voters who favor equal economic benefits and protections for loving, committed same-sex couples and their children. This is a healthy majority. 4

      Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality North Carolina -- a pro-marriage equality group -- said: "What this data reveals is when the issue is not obscured by legislative language, North Carolinians overwhelmingly oppose this vague, untested and overly-broad ban on basic relationship recognitions and protections. As a result, it will be our tireless goal to educate the public [on] these very real harms. … [A] coalition effort, reaching out to diverse North Carolina communities, will be instrumental in kicking off this crucial discussion and campaign." 5

  • What will be the likely outcome of the vote during 2012-MAY? The PPP pollsters asked: "State legislators have proposed an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution that would prohibit the recognition of marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. If the election was held today, would you vote for or against this amendment? Results show that:

    • 55% would vote against the amendment; 30% would vote in favor. 15% are not sure. The measure would lose.

    • 63% of Democrats, and 52% of independents would vote against the amendments. Among Republicans, 47% would vote against the amendment while 30% would vote for it.

Dean Debnam, President of Public Policy Polling commented: "It’s pretty simple: North Carolinians don’t support gay marriage but they also don’t think this constitutional amendment is necessary. And they also think this particular proposal goes too far by targeting civil unions, which many voters in the state support."

In other words, when the voters of North Carolina are informed that this is a stealth amendment that is being promoted to prevent same-sex marriage while in fact having a much greater scope,  most would vote against it.

However, the legislature decided to schedule the vote during the Republican Primary. According to, North Carolina has a semi-open primary system  2 The 2012-MAY primary is not for one party or the other -- it's for all electable candidates and issues. However, it will probably attract more Republican voters since that party will be selecting their candidate for the presidency. Democratic voters will ge given a ballot with items they can vote on, which does not include Republican candidates. Independents can choose to either vote using a Democratic ballot, a Republican ballot, or a non-partisan ballot (which won't have any Democrat or Republican specific races on it). Thus the actual vote will probably not match the actual wishes of all registered voters in North Carolina.

If voters realize the precise scope of the amendment, and if the vote had been scheduled in a way that the results would represent the true opinions of the voters of North Carolina, it would certainly be rejected. However, neither of these conditions apply. It will probably pass.

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2011-NOV-20: Baptist Church takes action:

By a unanimous vote, the 650-member Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, voted to prohibit its pastor, Nancy Petty, from legally marrying any opposite-sex couples. Since SSM is prohibited at this time in North Carolina, this means that the pastor will not be certifying any marrying licenses at all.

The vote followed a concern by Pastor Petty that being barred from signing legal marriage certificates for loving committed same-sex couples had become a burden on her conscience.

The congregants issued a statement saying that the state's marriage laws are discriminatory. It said:

"As people of faith, affirming the Christian teaching that before God all people are equal, we will no longer participate in this discrimination."

The congregation was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 because it was too accepting of lesbians and gays. 6

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nate Silver, "The Future of Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures," FiveThirtyEight blog, 2011-JUN-29, at:
  2. MDefl. "North Carolina is not an open primary," RightPundits, 2008-APR-23, at:
  3. Elon University POLL, 2011-FEB-28, at: This is a PDF file.
  4. "NC against gay marriage but also marriage amendment," Public Policy Polling, 2011-SEP-07, at: This is a PDF file.
  5. "Multiple Polls Reveal Growing Momentum Against the Anti-LGBT Amendment." Equality North Carolina, 2011-NOV-04, at:
  6. "North Carolina Baptist Church vows no marriages until gay marriage is legal," On Top Magazine, 2011-NOV-21, at:

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First posted: 2011-AUG-31
Latest update: 2012-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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