North Carolina’s Referendum on Amendment One (i.e. “The Marriage Amendment”) was passed this evening. For any of you who may have heard about this initiative, please understand the implications of this amendment span far beyond gay marriage rights.
As it stands, gay marriage is already banned in North Carolina by statute, so the issue at hand for Amendment One was not actually about the definition of marriage itself, but rather about revoking the rights of couples—both same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike—that are in domestic partnerships.
It is already an audacious pursuit to propose a “marriage” amendment to the North Carolina state Constitution, as its self-professed “pro-marriage” aim is essentially to restrict individual liberties by permitting a government body to distinguish between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” family structures. Furthermore, what is equally alarming is the additional threat this amendment will now pose for women, children, and the elderly, as well as to the notion of “family” as a domestic legal entity deserving of certain rights.
At this junction in the debate, however, an appeal for embracing basic individual dignity or—at least a “live and let live” attitude—towards those seeking a domestic partnership will likely fall upon deaf ears: most people familiar with the issue have already chosen a “side.” Instead, allow me to focus on the pragmatic concerns of implementing such a piece of legislation into our legal and societal framework:
- In the event of an accident or incapacitation, an unmarried person has no legal rights to make emergency medical or financial decisions for his or her partner, and has no protected rights for hospital visitation.
- Unmarried victims of domestic violence will no longer be protected under domestic violence statutes as a direct result of the limitation on the legal definition of “family.” Concurrently, abusive partners are able to use this limitation as a defense against criminal charges of domestic violence, thereby resulting in case dismissals.
- Children of unmarried parents may lose health insurance, depending on the child’s biological relation to the partner with benefits.
- By prohibiting any other types of legal relationship recognition (e.g. civil unions, domestic partnership, common law, etc), all legal agreements—including custody rights, medical directives, wills, visitation, etc—must be established through “enforceable contracts among private parties,” resulting in either unnecessary financial strain as a result of accruing legal fees or in foregoing civil protection as a result of their inability to afford a lawyer.
While I recognize that this referendum was voted on—and, indeed, passed—through the very democratic process our country was founded upon, my fear is that there are unforeseen implications in the interpretation and enforcement of this amendment that have not been made clear to voters. A review of the Vote for Marriage NC “fact sheet” further illustrates a lack of significant consideration given to the potential legal repercussions to this amendment.
For example, in addressing the “myth” pertaining to this amendment’s profound unforeseen consequences, “Vote For Marriage NC” glosses over this concern with the rationalization that—since the amendment is a mere two sentences long—it could not possibly entail such inadvertently damaging effects. This is, of course, absurd: it is directly because of this oversimplification of phrasing that so many legal uncertainties have surfaced.
Additionally, the self-proclaimed “pro-marriage” organization offers a very different picture of the Ohio Supreme Court ruling pertaining to a similar ban on domestic partnership, stating simply that the “[Ohio] Supreme Court made clear that their marriage protection amendment would not impact the application of the state domestic violence laws.” What “Vote for Marriage NC” fails to mention is the three-year debacle that precipitated that Court ruling, as well as the 30+ domestic violence cases that were either dismissed or overturned on appeal as a direct result of the Ohio ban on domestic partnership.
Putting the “Vote For Marriage NC” campaign’s bigoted ideologies aside, without a full picture of the implications Amendment One will have on North Carolina’s legal system or social climate, we cannot reasonably expect voters to make an informed decision to vote for this measure. Without such critical information, can we reasonably expect to successfully promote and uphold our own nation’s democratic ideals?
It is ironic to consider that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects each citizen’s right to exercise his or her own freedom of religion, and yet it appears that religious dogmatism has allowed North Carolina to justify infringing upon our citizens’ basic civil rights. Regardless of your individual religious convictions, please consider what it means to be an American citizen by signing the Petition to repeal Amendment One.