Wrong amendment, wrong time
From the time we enter elementary school, we are taught to revere and respect our federal and state constitutions.
We learn these constitutions were created to guarantee, enumerate, expand or grant rights to our citizens. Apart from housekeeping and budget issues, our constitutions codify the unique freedoms and civil rights enjoyed by all Americans.
Thus, any attempt to amend a constitution should be taken with great care.
Gov. Beverly Purdue echoed those sentiments in a statement this past Friday.
“Our constitution is for guaranteeing rights, not taking them away,” she said. “ And no matter what religious or moral background you come from, no one has the right to put discrimination of any kind into our constitution.”
The governor was referring to Amendment 1, which will be on the ballot for the May 8 primary and early voting. The amendment, as it appears on the current sample ballot on Dare County’s Board of Elections website, is worded as follows:
[ ] FOR [ ] AGAINST
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage a civil right. In Loving vs. Virginia, the Court’s majority opinion told us “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”
That particular case struck down a Virginia law banning interracial marriage.
The state Constitution is the ultimate source of law in North Carolina, inferior only to the U.S Constitution. Amending a constitution is serious business, reserved for correcting egregious violations of individual rights.
If Amendment 1 passes, all state courts, including the North Carolina Supreme Court will be bound by its terms.
Amendment 1 would also bind future legislatures.
For example, civil unions, a marriage-like legal vehicle has been adopted in many states as a way for non-traditional couples to reap many of the automatic legal benefits bestowed by marriage would appear to be unconstitutional in North Carolina if Amendment 1 is passed.
Another red flag is the mere action of placing a civil rights issue before the general public in a popular vote. Historically, expansion of civil rights has been the preserve of our elected representatives and the judiciary.
If the general public had been permitted to cast ballots on the enfranchisement of women and black men, or the citizenship of slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War those civil rights might still be non-existent.
The General Assembly’s decision to place the amendment on the ballot during May primaries, when voter turnout and attention is notoriously low is also suspect.
While no civil rights issue should ever be left to the whims of popular opinion, if the General Assembly felt this issue needed to be decided by the voters, the amendment should have appeared on the November ballot.
2012 is a presidential election year, and many congressional and state offices will also be up for grabs. Turnout will be exponentially higher, especially among Democrats and independents in November.
Choosing a lackluster May election to amend our state Constitution appears to be a deliberate attempt by the amendment’s legislative supporters to stack the deck in favor of adoption. A handful of voters motivated against “gay marriage” may well decide the issue for the rest of the state.
The language of the full amendment passed by the legislature also appears to be ambiguous. The state’s Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission offered the following official explanation, which proponents and opponents have criticized.
The Commission’s explanation is as follows:
“The term ‘domestic legal union’ used in the amendment is not defined in North Carolina law.
“There is debate among legal experts about how this proposed constitutional amendment may impact North Carolina law as it relates to unmarried couples of same or opposite sex and same sex couples legally married in another state, particularly in regard to employment-related benefits for domestic partners; domestic violence laws; child custody and visitation rights; and end-of-life arrangements. The courts will ultimately make those decisions.
“The amendment also says that private parties may still enter into contracts creating rights enforceable against each other.
“This means that unmarried persons, businesses and other private parties may be able to enter into agreements establishing personal rights, responsibilities, or benefits as to each other.
“The courts will decide the extent to which such contracts can be enforced.”
Thus, in addition to the red flags already present, the rarely used state commission whose purpose is to explain constitutional amendments to the public is unsure of how this amendment might affect existing arrangements having nothing to do with “one man, one woman” marriage — or how judges will apply law in lieu of Amendment 1 if adopted.
All of which provides good reason for conservatives, libertarians and those concerned about the reach of state power to vote against Amendment 1.
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