Mothers sat on church pews bouncing babies on their laps.
Men wrapped their arms around their wives’ shoulders. Children, seated between their parents, swung their feet from the cushioned benches.
The families looked to Pastor Rit Varriale as he called on them to start a revival protecting the sanctity of marriage in Cleveland County.
Monday night was, first and foremost, a worship service at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Shelby. It was also a rally in support of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Supporters of Amendment 1 want to define marriage between one man and one woman as the only legal domestic union in the state. If North Carolinians vote in favor of the amendment on May 8, gays would be excluded from state-sanctioned marriages.
“To vote for this is to understand the love of God,” Varriale said, explaining God’s commandment that people must first love God, then love people.
Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. The ban will be added to the state constitution if the amendment passes, preventing state judges from overturning the ban.
Society’s ‘building block’
Cleveland County residents filled the church’s pews for the Monday night’s rally. The congregation applauded and murmured “Amen” as Varriale and other area ministers spoke about the importance of voting in favor of Amendment 1.
All of Cleveland County’s lawmakers voted last year to place the marriage amendment on the May primary ballot. Boiling Springs-based group Neighbors for Equality, however, has worked for months to fight the amendment’s passage. Neighbors for Equality held meetings in Shelby to inform the community about what group members say is an overly broad, discriminatory piece of legislation.
North Carolina Sen. Warren Daniel and Rep. Kelly Hastings spoke during Monday’s rally about supporting the marriage amendment in their respective houses. Daniel called marriage between a man and a woman, “the fundamental building block of society.”
Cleveland County election officials say the marriage amendment is likely to increase voter turnout during the state’s primary election in May. County elections director Debra Blanton previously told The Star that typical voter turnout for a primary election is 20-30 percent, with presidential primaries seeing the highest turnout. Blanton said this year she’s expecting at least a 50-percent voter turnout, with the gay marriage amendment driving a lot of Cleveland County residents to vote.
Varriale asked the congregation to stand up for God’s word by voting in favor of the amendment. A vote for the marriage amendment, he said, is a vote for traditional Christian values.
“Silence is no longer an option for the 21st century church,” Varriale said. “Let us serve our God.”