Facing South

What happened in North Carolina? Lessons from the amendment battle

Another version of this story also appears at The Huffington Post.

As expected, North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment yesterday stating “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized."

Polls had always shown the amendment had majority support, and across the country, even the most progressive states -- think California -- have tended to pass such measures.

But the amendment passed by an even larger margin than projected, 61 to 39 percent. And given that a blue-trending state like North Carolina has now gone against the national trend of states accepting gay marriage, the question remains: What happened in North Carolina?

Here are some quick takeaways from the amendment battle:


On May 8, just over 20 percent of North Carolina's registered voters cast a ballot in support of the amendment -- the lowest support of any amendment that's passed in Southern states. To put it another way, 14 percent of North Carolina's population decided the fate of all of the state's families.

How did that happen? It started in June 2011, when a Republican state legislator was accidentally caught on a live microphone telling GOP lawmakers they needed the amendment to "get their ground game working" for November 2012. The embarrassing admission that the amendment was about turnout and politics and not morality forced Republicans to offer a compromise -- which enough Democrats accepted -- of moving the amendment vote to the primary.

Moving the vote helped Republicans defuse the scandal and may help Democrats this November. But it likely doomed chances of defeating the amendment: Primary voters tend to be older; nearly 50 percent of early voters on May 8 were 60 or older, the demographic least sympathetic to gay marriage and civil unions. In primaries, groups with established turnout vehicles -- like evangelical churches -- also have a ready-made advantage.


Supporters of the amendment benefited greatly from confusion about what the measure actually does. An April 2012 poll by Public Policy Polling [pdf] infamously found that only 36 percent knew it would ban both gay marriage and civil unions; another 27 percent admitted they didn't know what the amendment would do, and a striking 10 percent actually thought it legalized gay marriage).

This was significant, because that and other polls [pdf] found that a majority of North Carolina voters supported civil unions, as in other states. In 2006, Arizona voters defeated a proposition that prohibited both gay marriage and domestic partnerships, like the N.C. amendment does. A bill focused just on gay marriage passed in Arizona two years later.

Pro-amendment groups like Vote for Marriage NC knew this, which is why they focused all of their campaign messaging around the dangers of "same-sex" unions. Many media outlets went along, slow to grasp the broader consequences of the bill and describing it largely in the shorthand of only gay marriage -- a bias that benefited pro-amendment forces.

The focus on gay marriage alone also drowned out the work of scholars like UNC's Maxine Eichner, which broke ground in documenting the unintended consequences of sweeping anti-domestic partnership bills.


In the end, just eight counties -- four centered around the Triangle progressive stronghold -- voted against the amendment. This map from WRAL in Raleigh tells the story:*

True, those counties -- defined by cities and college towns -- are where more than a quarter of North Carolina lives, which is the reason anti-amendment forces focused on mobilizing their base in these areas.

But the amendment found support in counties that were older, less urban and less diverse. Democratic consultant Gary Pearce sees the other key fault line as decisive: faith.

As he wrote before the vote:

If you live in a city, you might miss [the influence of evangelical Christians]. And it's not that opponents of the amendment aren't religious. Some surely aren't "churched," but those who go to church tend toward a belief system that emphasizes fairness and tolerance. "Fundamentalists" care more about order, tradition and morality. This moral conservatism runs deep in North Carolina's political DNA. You have to understand that to understand what's apparently about to happen.

Conservative evangelical groups -- with support from GOP uber-donor Art Pope -- had been rallying their church base around an anti-gay marriage/civil union amendment for nearly a decade. The 2010 Republican capture of the N.C. legislature finally gave amendment supporters the opening they needed, and a lower-turnout primary election was tailor-made for an election where having a reliable and easy-to-mobilize base could guarantee victory.


North Carolina's amendment passed by a larger margin than expected, but given the odds in its favor, it's remarkable it didn't win by a larger margin.

Anti-amendment forces, under the umbrella of the Coalition to Protect NC Families, built a formidable operation and remarkable coalitions in a short period of time.

Especially notable was the leadership of Rev. William Barber of the NAACP -- only the second state chapter to take leadership on such an amendment fight (California was the other). Barber joined the fight early and rallied African-American ministers and communities statewide, the NAACP's efforts complemented by organizing help from groups like All of US North Carolina.

The anti-amendment campaign faced the inevitable tensions and dilemmas, and a loss always invites second-guessing: How much of the message should focus on the amendment's attack on gay families, the amendment's clear target, versus the collateral damage to non-gay couples, a message with broader appeal? How much to focus on mobilizing sure supporters versus "persuadables" in the middle? More money for TV ads or grassroots organizing?

What the anti-amendment campaign definitely created is a stronger network of groups who have now gone through a bruising battle together and will emerge stronger to tackle future challenges, like the November elections.

Indeed, a law that was designed to pump up GOP turnout has ironically helped energize, coordinate and strengthen work among progressive groups in North Carolina, something which blogger (and Institute for Southern Studies board member) Pam Spaulding says will have impact far beyond Amendment One:

Building the coalition — assembling the diverse partners involved in this battle has been quite a handful, and it has paid off in dividends. The social justice infrastructure that has grown and been extended and is highly visible now — this can have lasting political repercussions for progressive politics in North Carolina — and that helps the equality movement nationally in the end.

* Here's an even better map by Jay Cagle showing the varying level of support among NC counties:

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People Referenced:


Marriage Amendment

The marriage amendment was deliberately put in the primary election because the writers knew that most voters would be republicans due to the fact that there were not many Dems on the primary ballots. Most voters stayed home and the bill passed as expected. I suspect that if this bill had been put on the ballot in the general election in November it would have failed miserably. I am a resident of NC and will be keeping my eyes open in the future for bill of this nature being slid into primary elections. What a travesty of justice and a sneak attack on the civil liberties of citizens. Where does it end??? Only God knows..... Live free or Die!!

Stop offending voters

I am completely offended that the article says the ammendment passed because folks were confused. The Democratic party takes the black married middle class womans vote for granted. Black southern married women don't believe in gay marriage. Black women die from aids more than any other group because of married men straying into the gay community . Wake up . Southern black women have always been highly political. Just because some northern folks moved down here with degrees dosen't mean you have the right to make blanket assumptions about black women in the south. black women tipped the scale on this vote on purpose!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was discussed in churches, sorority meetings, club meetings everywhere that women meet together. Black married women don't want gay culture thats it. Now leave our culture and North carolina alone before you totally make black middle class southern women turn on the democratic party all together. Go bother another state.

You are wrong. First of all,

You are wrong. First of all, there isn't a strong enough contingent of black women voters to successfully sway a vote. While you and yours may have had some small impact on it, that is not what determined the outcome. Second, it's ridiculous and even mind blowing how one of the historically most oppressed groups in this nation, black women, can actively oppress other individuals. You are no better than the people who advocated segregation and the treatment of blacks as second-class citizens. Third, AIDS is everywhere. We are past the point of believing that one only contracts it from homosexual anal sex. It has more to do with unprotected sex and general promiscuity.

Don't kid yourself. This vote was in favor of the bigots for a couple of reasons. 1. Conservative christians: it's not ok to attempt to hide your bigotry behind the fallacy that is the bible. 2. It was intentionally held during the primary, thus guaranteeing that mostly older voters and those who will be coming en masse from their bigotry centers some people call churches would be in the majority. 3. Some actually believed this amendment would have legalized gay marriage. There was a ton of misinformation and downright unscrupulous tactics involved in the passage of this amendment. You don't have to agree, history and facts show it to be true. Of course, I know how you christian types feel about facts.

No confusion here

It's extremely insultive to say that folks in North Carolina were "confused" with their vote. People new exactly what they were doing. Even democrats in North Carolina live fairly traditional lives. Black women in the south including north carolina have higher percentages of marriages and successful marriages than those outside of the south and they no the risk of abandoning traditional marriage support. This is a traditional place to live and it is still the south. Regions are different for a reason. No one tries to make New York or L.A conservative why should the south suddenly become extremestist far left socialist???

North carolina was broke and it decided to let some folks in to build a new economy get some growth get some money thats it it didnt mean most in the state decided to trade in their traditions and life styles its as simple as that. The state has grown the economy is good for these times and this recesion and now folks are closing ranks. Don't be fooled black married women in the triangle voted for FOR the ammendment banning gay marriage.
The boom in the south is over focus your attention on states where gay marrige and far left agendas may actually work. Leave North Carolina alone.

The math

Anonymous, I'm afraid it's your math that is off. You forgot to account for Libertarians and Independents. Add those in and, as you can clearly see at the top of the NCSBOE website, there are more than 6.2 million registered voters in N.C.

The number who voted to rescind constitutional rights for families in North Carolina was a very small portion of that number indeed, and even fewer if you take into account the larger population.

open letter to lazy democrats

Some basic math.

Democrats registered in NC: 2,735,467
Republicans registered in NC: 1,975,943
Votes cast for Amendment 1: 1,303,876
Votes cast against Amendment 1: 832,219

All that's needed for the triumph of evil is that good men stand by and do nothing. Look at the numbers, people, and call upon your basic math skills, not your partisan hatred. Even if EVERYONE who voted for Amendment 1 was a republican, your fellow democrats were complicit in its passage because they didn't vote against it. Maybe before you say, "God, I HATE republicans," you should ask your democrat friends where they were on election day.

That scenario's unlikely. It's a lot more likely that a *lot* of your democrat friends voted FOR Amendment 1. Math is not subject to party affiliation. I am also unaffiliated. Think. That IS legal, at least for the time being.

Numbers come from NC Board of Elections. Sorry for the inconvenient truth.

North Carolina's Vote on Amendment 1

We are fundamentalist faithful Christians. Please note; too many so-called "Fundamentalist" Christians some how missed the real Word of God, the divine Message from Jesus, which occurred during Jesus's preaching 30 years after his Virgin Birth and prior to his Crucifixion and Resurrection. They missed God's clear eternal instructions in the last two years of his life, his sermons, especially on the mountain, about loving and helping others, providing hospitality, loving your neighbor as your self. The Apostles' Creed clearly states that judgment shall only be done by the Risen Christ, the only Son of the Father. My wife and I voted against this heinous Amendment, primarily because it is none of our business how other couples, or singles,live their lives, as long as what they do does not injure or kill us, children, grandchildren, the elderly, or any other citizen, young or old. An establishment of religion has no historical or Constitutional basis or place in America. Such a proposed Amendment as this undercuts all of our civil liberties. It is not lawful. It is a violation of all of our sovereign civil rights and protections under The Amended United States Constitution. Look at the county by county North Carolina vote, overwhelming rejection of this proposed Amendment in Durham, Wake, Orange, Mecklenberg, and other more literate and well educated progressive North Carolina cities(Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Cary, Charlotte) and counties. The sad truth is that 20 % of North Carolina adults are still functionally illiterate, can not read or write, and are easily manipulated, especially by country preachers, and they live primarily in the Coastal plains, or near the old textile and furniture plants, or in the mountains; these voters are generally rural poor, ignorant, "Know Nothings", mostly white, people who historically, to their own great detriment, have always been easily and hatefully misled and manipulated by the wealthy factory owners and their bankers. These poor people are basically good and kind, but they are misled and driven to the polls by rich, racist,innately evil,anti-socialist, and anti-gay, unworthy and hypocritical Fox TV and "Talk Radio" announcers, who are bought and paid for, as are a majority of our Legislators, Senators, Congressional House Members, and Supreme Court Judges,by the major global banks, oil cartel, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies, all of whom are desperate to continue their disgraceful, unregulated, tax favored aggrandizement and concentration of wealth and power. These really decent poor people are owned, controlled, and still manipulated, as they were in the 1890s and the 1960s, by rich, selfish, Republicans who once played the "black card', and then the "Red card", and now it is the "Pink" card". This nation is now actually owned, bought and paid for, by the unethical , uncaring, irresponsible, and self-serving rich, and that is my friends the way it still is in the Mind of the South, and I am discouraged, especially as these bought and pad for politicians cut more and more funding from public schools. It is a vicious Chess Game this year.

Bill Harrison

Bill, Apparently you don't


Apparently you don't read the Bible. Jesus was a man of love and by reading your comments, at which get progressively more hateful by each sentence, you clearly are not a man who should be casting the first stone. Who is to say that your way is right and the "hypocritical Fox TV" watching, "illiterate" (who are you to decide what passes as intelligence or not intelligence)is wrong? God is a loving God, but he also talks about consequences for your sins if they are not repented. Since you are so versed in the Bible, does it not clearly state that homosexuality is a sin? Does it also not mention that you shall not "lay" with another person of the same sex as you? Are we as Christians not taught to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Are we not supposed to help our fellow man repent his sins and see the error of his way so that he may also come to know Christ and be brought into the Kingdom of Heaven? If you sir are Christian, than you have clearly lost your way. I shall pray for you to realize the error of your ways because after all, you mention that judgment is to be administered by the Risen Christ alone. But your name calling and bashing of those who hold beliefs that you don't understand would suggest that you don't believe the Risen Christ is the only one who can cast judgment when you are clearly trying to do the same thing. For shame sir, for shame.

I couldn't agree with you

I couldn't agree with you more. The Democratic party was deathly silent in my area of the state. My fellow Democrats didn't stand up for me when my rights were put up to a popular vote. Unforgivable.

he article is pretty bad from

he article is pretty bad from a statistical standpoint. You can't compare states' turnout percentages without accounting for presidential vs. non-presidential election years as well as general versus primary elections. So none of the states in the south are "apples" top North Carolina's "orange". Plus with North Carolina having at least the facade of being a more "progressive" state than certainly SC, GA, TN, and AL the differential shouldn't be shocking at all.

The article states: "North Carolina's amendment passed by a larger margin than expected, but given the odds in its favor, it's remarkable it didn't win by a larger margin." That doesn't even make logical sense. It's a nice spin piece to make us feel a little less crappy about yesterday's outcome, but it isn't really valid.


The 20% voter turnout statistic does not agree with the NC Board of Elections Results page which indicates:

Registered Voters: 6,296,759
Ballots Cast: 2,164,891
Voter Turnout: 34.38 %


Yeah, he is saying for... out of 34% showing up and doing their duty on election day it was split 61/39,

.61 x 34 = 21%

Only 21% of the registered voters in the state voted *for* the ammendment, 13% voted of the state voted against it... and 66 percent of the state just stayed home while liberty was skewered.

I personally believe that mass law changes like constitutional ammendments should require a quorum of registered voters not less than 50%, Or the issue should be tabled till the next cycle.

Yes, 20%

Danielle --

I'll break it down:

As of the time I wrote the article, the NCSBOE website showed 6,296,759 registered voters in N.C.

The number of people who voted for the amendment was 1,303,876.

1,303,876 / 6,296,759 = 20.7%

Make sense now?


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