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Amendment One Part 5: Should It Be In The Constitution?

As we wrap up our week-long series on the constitutional amendment on the May 8th ballot that seeks to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal domestic union in the state, we examine the constitutionality of the amendment.

Article 1, Section 1 of the NC Constitution states: "We hold it to be self-evident that all persons are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor, and the pursuit of happiness."

Those very words, written so many decades ago, are now under debate.

The constitutional amendment has many asking questions, like this one: If same-sex marriage is not legal in North Carolina, why is there a push to define marriage as only between man and woman in the constitution?

Dr. Melinda Kane is a sociology professor at East Carolina University who specializes in gay and lesbian politics. She says those who support the amendment are concerned a court could one day rule that the North Carolina law prohibiting same-sex marriage violates our constitution. But the amendment could change that. Dr. Kane says, "If our state constitution prohibits the recognition of same sex couples then a judge could not say that the law violates our constitution. So the passage of the amendment nor the failure of the amendment affects peoples ability to marry right now. It's about future challenges to the law."

Another common question: Is the amendment constitutional?

Absolutely not says Sarah Preston. She's the policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina. Preston says, "Well I think it goes against treating everybody fairly. I think that's what our state is about. That's what our constitution says so it's certainly, It certainly wouldn't treat everybody fairly and that's what we want to see happen in the state. You know we've had incidents where we've tried to diminish rights through the constitution and we've recognized that's not what the constitution is for it's meant to protect and expand rights, not diminish peoples rights."

Dr. Carmine Scavo is a political science professor at East Carolina University and says the constitutionality of Amendment One all comes down to the Supreme Court. Dr. Scavo says, "The United States Supreme Court has ruled that in many cases, that states can grant additional rights to citizens than the U.S. Constitution does but it can't take away rights, can't grant fewer rights than the U.S. Constitution does and so the question here becomes is marriage a right. That's going to be a judicial question at some point that's going to come up, now the question of whether it's constitutional or not is whether the United States Supreme Court says it's constitutional or not. Legal scholars will weigh in on both sides on this but it's really the opinion of the justices on the United States Supreme Court.

Another question: What if the amendment is passed and then comes a push to remove it? An amendment can only be taken out the same way it was put in.

UNC-Chapel Hill's John Sanders wrote a history of North Carolina Constitutions. He quotes John Parker, a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Parker's definition: "The purpose of a state constitution is two-fold: (1) To protect the rights of the individual from encroachment by the state; and (2) To provide a framework of government for the state and its subdivisions. It is not the function of a constitution to deal with temporary conditions, but to lay down general principles of government which must be observed amid changing conditions."

Voters will be the judge if Amendment One fits into that framework when they cast their vote.

Attorneys at the UNC School of Law have written their opinion on Amendment One, and they believe it will have a substantial impact. They believe courts could interpret the amendment as not to give any protections to any unmarried couple, whether they are straight or gay.

Several professors from the Campbell University School of Law are refuting those claims by the UNC attorneys. To read the entire paper from UNC law professors, and the Campbell Law professors see the story on witn.com, "Professors At Two Prominent Schools Of Law In NC Discuss Amendment."

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As we continue to look at both sides of the debate over the constitutional amendment on next Tuesday's ballot that seeks to define in the North Carolina Constitution that marriage between one man and one woman is the only legal domestic union to be recognized in the state, we take this issue to the streets of Eastern Carolina to get your thoughts.

Elizabeth Wiley says The decision to let voters decide on whether marriage should be defined and then placed in our state Constitution is not an easy decision. Wiley says, "Before I do vote, I don't know, what I would decide, I think about researching it so I can find the truth."

ECU Junior Alexis Brown told us she's not sure where she stands. Others like Tyler Troutman have made up their mind. "For me, I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe it should stay that way." Ann Kram told us, "People that want marriage to be between a man and a woman are being very selfish as in it's not going to hurt them if two men or two women get married, but it will hurt the two men and the two women who can not." Maneesh Jeyakumer told us, "A marriage is up to two people not up to the government, so I would vote against it." Jennifer Crayer told us, "Regardless of how I feel of how marriage is defined between one man and one woman to me it's not a constitution issue."

Brian Wing told us he is personally disgusted about the amendment put on the ballot and for many reasons. Wing says, " The first, is I am a gay man and I've been in NC for 20 years, and I don't feel it's fair for other people to tell me I don't have the right to basic rights that other people are afforded by a basic marriage contract."

Kristie McNeil and her husband got married eight years ago this week and believe in their marriage contract, but not to the extreme to put in the constitution. McNeil says, "That's my personal spiritual belief a man and a woman should marry, but I don't think the state should determine."

For Wing and his partner of eight years-- their main concern is having the right that all loving couples have for one another. Wing says, "I personally don't care if you call it marriage or you call it fruity pebbles, I think I should have the basic rights to decide who that person is who will make those end of life decisions for me."

And it's why he hopes the amendment will be defeated. Others want to see it passed to ensure traditional marriage remains intact.

Our coverage of the constitutional amendment continues Friday at six as we take a look at whether the constitution is the right place to define marriage.

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As we continue our week long look at the proposed amendment defining marriage in the NC Constitution, we talk with those on the frontlines of both sides of the fight.

Alex Miller is the co-chairman of the Coalition to Protect all North Carolina Families. The organization is heading up the fight against the amendment. Miller argues this amendment would go far beyond defining marriage. Miller says, "The amendment, the way it's written it would strip away legal protections for all unmarried couples and their children."

Among the concerns are that domestic violence protections could only apply to married couples. Miller says it's not an issue they raised. He says they're just echoing the sentiments of the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Miller says, "If they say this amendment could seriously jeopardize domestic violence protections for unmarried women, I'll believe them."

Tami Fitzgerald heads up Vote for Marriage NC and the North Carolina Values Coalition, pushing for the amendment's passage. Fitzgerald says, "The opposition is just trying to find any type of argument to take the public's focus off the fact that this amendment is really about protecting marriage between one man and one woman and so these arguments they have fabricated about harming domestic violence protections are just that, a fabrication."

Both groups also differ on whether the amendment could strip away health coverage for some children and threaten child custody and visitation rights, same sex health care benefits and wills and trusts.

We wanted to find out what the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys had to say about all of those legal matters. When we asked them, they said the organization, representing all district attorneys in the state, "Has no position on the amendment."

Several district attorneys and other lawyers across the state said the amendment will not impact domestic violence protections. Professors at UNC's Law School disagree with that.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says he'll vote against the amendment, calling it, "Unwise and unclear, and that his office would obviously be involved in the litigation that will occur if this amendment passes."

The North Carolina Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission official explanation of the amendment states the courts will have to decide many of the issues being raised about the possible consequences of the amendment.

There is also concern by opponents on the impact on the economy. Miller says, "We've had business leaders come out, people who have brought businesses to North Carolina who said they would not have brought their business here had this amendment been in place." Fitzgerald counters, "Any business study that's come out in the last 12 months showing the business health or growth of the states and compare them or ranking them shows invariably that the top 9 out of 10 states for business are states that have protected marriage in their constitution."

And that's what Fitzgerald hopes voters will do come election day. Miller believes the more those opposed get their message out the less likely that will happen.

Thursday night at 6 as we continue our week long look at the marriage amendment we hit the streets to hear what some of you are saying.

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Tuesday night at six we continued our week-long look at Amendment One examining the religious aspect of the measure. Some see it as a moral issue and have come out in favor of the amendment. But not all faithful want to see the amendment become part of the constitution, believing its passage will do more harm than good.

The states two largest denominations, Baptists and Catholics, are both backing the amendment and asking their millions of followers to do the same.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, which includes all of the Catholic churches in Eastern Carolina, along with the bishop of the Charlotte Diocese covering the rest of the state, began in January urging the state's one-million Catholics to vote for the amendment. Bishop Burbidge says, "The vote for the marriage amendment is a vote saying the traditional definition of marriage that has been part of our society forever given to us by God is one man one woman in a permanent union and a vote for the marriage amendment will reflect that belief. As Catholics, as people of all faith and goodwill, we have to be faithful citizens so we need to participate in the issues of the day."

It's the same approach from the North Carolina Baptists, 1.3 million strong in the state, who passed a resolution in support last fall shortly after the amendment was drafted. In that resolution, they refer to numerous bible verses they say support their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, that marriage is God's law, and not something to be changed by civil law.

While North Carolina's two largest denominations support the amendment, there are other denominations that don't, including the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Michael Curry is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of NC. He says, "The potential consequences of this amendment could really inflict harm on folk and regardless of what one thinks about the marriage issues, there are some just basic humanitarian issues at stake."

Those unknowns are part of the reason the Episcopal Diocese, with nearly 84,000 members across the state, passed a resolution in opposition to the amendment. Bishop Curry says, "Why would you amend your constitution when you don't know the full answers to the consequences of your action?" Questions like whether the amendment will impact domestic violence protection orders, healthcare benefits for some families and their kids, and child custody and visitation rights. Bishop Curry says, "I take the position that if there is a chance a child is going to be hurt we shouldn't do it. Period. And there is a chance, in fact there's more than a chance."

Bishop Burbidge maintains if all of those things were true, the Catholic Church could not support the amendment. He also doesn't believe, as some do, that the amendment is discrimination. "First of all, if it was a form of discrimination, the church could not be for the amendment. We believe that all forms of discrimination and bias and prejudice must be eradicated."

Some have raised the issue that churches should not be involved in a political or government matter like this. Bishop Burbidge says we have always been one nation under God, and now, more than ever, citizens with religious beliefs and morals and convictions should be encouraged to bring forth what they believe and hold dear.

Bishop Curry said even without the issues he's concerned with, he would still be opposed to the amendment because he says all people are created in the image of God and we share that image equally.

So what about those potential consequences Bishop Curry mentioned? Wednesday night at 6:00 we'll hear from the two groups leading the fight for and against the amendment and ask them those questions.

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All this week on WITN News at Six we are taking an in depth and comprehensive look at Amendment One, the so-called "marriage amendment," that would define in our constitution that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that can be legally recognized. Both those for and against say much is at stake with the outcome of the vote.

Bruce and Ruth Hangosky have been married for 36-years. Ruth says, "We just love each other deeply, he is my soul mate." Bruce says, "Our marriage has gotten stronger and stronger, it's just amazing."

The Hangosky's have three daughters and six grandchildren. Like any family they've had ups and downs, but through it all they say God is at the center of their life. Bruce and Ruth are legally married and wear rings, a symbol of their marriage and commitment to each other.

Aaron Lucier and his same-sex partner, who did not want to be on camera, have been together for 15-years. Lucier does not have the paperwork, nor a ring on his finger, but he says his relationship with his partner is just like many heterosexual couples. Lucier says, "In our minds we are in a relationship that has value and significance and that's about as married in my book as I can be."

Lucier is not legally married to his partner because same-sex marriage is currently against the law in North Carolina, some legislators want to take the issue a step further with the ballot question on marriage.

Lucier says the amendment, "Is about politics, it's about unfairness, trying to put negativity into our constitution, it's about convincing people to vote on fear, the
fear that marriage is going to fall apart if gays get access to it." He fears for the effects it would have on homosexual people along with the effects on other non-married heterosexual people.

While laws in the state already make gay marriage illegal, the lawmakers in support of the amendment argue judges or future lawmakers could change them, and the extra barrier of having this measure in the constitution is needed. It's a measure the Hangosky's support. Ruth says, "If it wasn't a man and a woman none of us would be here." Bruce says, "I think it would be a step in the right direction to get back to the Lord, certainly this is a biblical principle that we have one man and one woman that marry each other."

Lucier says he just asks that people educate themselves and understand the issues and the bigger picture."

Tuesday at six as our week long look at Amendment One continues we'll hear what religious leaders across the state are saying about the proposal.


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