NC voters say 'I do' to marriage amendment

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as union between a man and woman in Tuesday's statewide primary, the Associated Press reported.

Experts predict that discrimination lawsuits will be filed to stop Amendment One from taking effect in North Carolina.

1.3 million people voted on Tuesday to pass the amendment, legally defining marriage in the state as between a man and a woman. 830,000 people voted against the amendment. 

Eight total counties in the state voted against the amendment, two of them in the Charlotte area -- Mecklenburg and Watauga counties.

At a press conference in Raleigh Wednesday morning, ACLU of North Carolina Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger delivered the following statement in response to the passage of Amendment One:

"My name is Jennifer Rudinger, and I am the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. I am here today on behalf of more than 10,000 members and supporters of the ACLU in North Carolina who are committed to achieving full equality for all people in our state, and we will not rest until we reach that goal. We are honored to count ourselves among the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who rejected the politics of division and discrimination yesterday and rallied around a shared vision of a North Carolina where all families matter and no segment of society should ever be marginalized.

"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once assured Americans that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Last night’s vote was a temporary setback in the much larger campaign for equal rights. In North Carolina and across the nation we see more and more people opening their hearts and turning toward justice on this issue every day.

"The diverse and wide-ranging opposition to this discriminatory amendment has created an unprecedented and still-growing coalition of groups and individuals committed to LGBT equality in North Carolina. This fight is not over. We are confident that the new partnerships, resources, and energy that came together to oppose Amendment One will continue working to expand freedom for all people in our state and confront attacks on civil liberties wherever they occur.

"Last night’s numbers might not reveal it, but the wind is at our backs. As public opinion continues to shift in favor of fairness and equality, it is no longer a question of if, but when, we will provide ALL our citizens with full and equal protection under the law. That day can’t come soon enough, but as we work together to bend the arc of history, we know that despite the temporary setback of Amendment One, we will get there … together."

People on both sides of the issue spoke out after the votes were counted. The focus now turns to what is next, and that likely means a heated court battle.

Channel 9 spoke to a legal expert who said he expects lawsuits to filed against Mecklenburg County.

“There's going to be a 14th Amendment federal lawsuit that tries to determine whether the amendment discriminated based on sexual orientation,” said UNC Charlotte professor John Szmer.

Last year, county commissioners approved benefits for same-sex marriage, but now there is the question of whether this amendment could take that away.

Other suits might also argue it threatens protections for domestic violence victims who are not married.

Some suits might argue whether the 1st and 14th Amendments would come into play. 

The argument is about the 1st Amendment questioning whether religion played a role in creating the ban and the 14th, which looks at ensuring the same privileges to all U.S. citizens.

Channel 9 spoke to people on both sides of the issue Tuesday night. 

“Once this passes, we will be placing it in the safety of our Constitution and where it will be safe in the whims of the judges and state legislature who might seek to redefine marriage,” said Rachel Lee.

“I was hoping the gap would be more close together.  It is disheartening to me. I feel like other civil rights came along and progressed, this issue will as well,” said Laura Cox.

Pres. Obama's Response

 In the days before the vote, members of President Barack Obama's cabinet expressed support for gay marriage and former President Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to reject the amendment.

Meanwhile, supporters ran their own ad campaigns and church leaders urged Sunday congregations to vote for the amendment. The Rev. Billy Graham was featured in full-page newspaper ads supporting the amendment.

Both sides spent a combined $3 million on their campaigns.

The Obama campaign released a statement on the passage of Amendment One late Tuesday night, saying "The President has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples."

North Carolina law already bans gay marriage, like nine other states, but an amendment would effectively slam the door shut on same-sex marriages. The amendment also goes beyond state law by voiding other types of domestic unions from carrying legal status, which opponents warn could disrupt protection orders for unmarried couples.

Six states - all in the Northeast except Iowa - and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages.

The North Carolina amendment was placed on the ballot after Republicans took over control of the state Legislature after the 2010 elections, a role the GOP hadn't enjoyed for 140 years.

Joe Easterling, who described himself as a devout Christian, voted for the amendment at a polling place in Wake Forest.

"I know that some people may argue that the Bible may not necessarily be applicable, or it should not be applicable, on such policy matters. But even looking at nature itself, procreation is impossible without a man and a woman. And because of those things, I think it is important that the state of North Carolina's laws are compatible with the laws of nature but, more importantly, with the laws of God."

Linda Toanone, who voted against the amendment, said people are born gay and it is not their choice.

"We think everybody should have the same rights as everyone else. If you're gay, lesbian, straight — whatever," she said.

North Carolina is the latest presidential swing state to weigh in on gay marriage. Florida, Virginia and Ohio all have constitutional amendments against gay marriage, and Obama's election-year vagueness on gay marriage has come under fresh scrutiny.

Obama, who supports most gay rights, has stopped short of backing gay marriage. Without clarification, he's said for the past year and a half that his personal views on the matter are "evolving."

Polls opened for the primary at 6:30 a.m. across North Carolina, and closed 13 hours later. Many people reported heavy turnout late at their precincts. People on both sides of the issue made last-minute pushes to get their message out in the days leading up to the election, holding rallies and airing advertisements.

While many people said it’s important to vote in every election, lots of voters said the big issue for them in this election is Amendment One.

“I’ve the read the Bible through, three to four times, and I think it's the thing to do,” voter Richard Foard said.

Some opponents of the proposed amendment say they’re concerned it would hurt all unmarried couples and prevent businesses from coming to the area.

“There are going to be wide-ranging ripple effects,” voter Lori Tiberio said.

Supporters of the amendment said those concerns won't play out.

“The research I’ve done shows it will not hurt domestic violence protection and will not affect domestic partner benefits,” voter Shelley White said.

But whatever the outcome, many people Eyewitness News spoke to feel the conversation won't end.

“Change is coming, whether it passes this time -- it’s not going to stay there forever because I feel like we are a country that respects everybody's freedom and everybody’s civil rights,” Bill Gauge said.

In North Carolina, more than 500,000 voters had cast their ballot before Tuesday, which was more than the 2008 primary when Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both sides said that bodes well for them.

Fore more polling information on Amendment One, click here.

For complete polling data on all races, click here.

Few surprises from the NC primaries

Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory wrapped up his primary campaign early, picking up 85 percent of the vote across the state. In many areas close to the Charlotte metro, more than 90 percent of voters favored him. Read more here.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry has beat out two GOP challengers in North Carolina's 10th Congressional District Republican primary to earn the chance at another term. Read more here

And in the 12th District, veteran U.S. Rep. Mel Watt has defeated challenger Matt Newton for the chance to retain his central North Carolina House seat. Read more here.

In the 9th District, the race was quickly boiled down to Robert Pittenger and Jim Pendergraph. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, it looks like Pittenger and Pendergraph will head into a runoff. Read more here.

Democrat Hayden Rogers has won a primary election to replace his former boss in North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.  Rogers will face the winner of a GOP runoff between Mark Meadows and Vance Patterson. Read more here.

Turnout also proved to be a problem across the state. At 11 p.m., voter turnout was under 34 percent, which may signal a tough few months ahead for the GOP.