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RALEIGH — More than 2,000 people rallied at the state legislature Tuesday, calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that may have enough support to clear the legislature this year.
The amendment would have to pass muster with voters in 2012 to get added to the state constitution, but first it needs a three-fifths majority in the legislature to get on the ballot.
In past years Democrats — long in control at the Capitol — kept the issue from coming up for a vote. With Republicans in the majority this year, proponents see their window of opportunity. Both “Defense of Marriage” bills — House Bill 777 and Senate Bill 106 — are working their way through the legislature.
“It will get done this year,” House Majority Leader Paul Stam told ralliers Tuesday.
State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, was more specific, saying he’s already got a vote count in the House. “I expect at least 78 votes (in the House),” Gillespie said, adding that he predicts a similar margin in the Senate.
Those votes could be a while off, though. Gillespie and state Sen. Andrew Brock, one of several co-sponsors for the amendment bill, said they expect the state budget to be done before the amendment comes to the House and Senate floors.
But both said they’ve been assured there will be floor votes after that, and Gillespie said his assurance came directly from Speaker of the House Thom Tillis.
Current state law already bans same-sex marriages, but amendment proponents see gay people on the march for recognition of their lifestyle. They warn that North Carolina must “protect marriage” with a constitutional amendment, as all other southern states have done.
If the legislature, then voters, approve, that amendment would read: “Marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. No other relationship shall be recognized as a valid marriage by the State.”
As ralliers began their morning outside the legislature, a much smaller group of legislators, ministers and activists gathered to rebut what they called an “extreme” message behind the amendment.
“You don’t use the constitution to take away rights,” state Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, said at the press conference.
“I’m sure (they will pass this bill),” said state Rep. Patsy Keever, also a Buncombe County Democrat. “They get what they want. That doesn’t make it right.”
“We need to reframe the question,” Keever said. “It’s not a question of sexual preference. It’s a question of love and commitment…the state should not take away people’s civil rights. Marriage is a civil right.”
The press conference was led by state Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, who made a name for himself earlier this session by being the only Democrat to vote for a Republican charter schools bill. Now it appears that Brandon, who spoke Tuesday about the difficulties of growing up gay and Christian, is also the legislature’s only openly gay member.
Brandon predicted that, if legislators vote to put the amendment on the ballot, it will be “embarrassingly defeated at the polls.”
“This issue is so ’80s…” Brandon said. “It’s a really extreme, extreme position.”