The approval of Amendment One marked a setback for some members of the Duke community even as they found much to celebrate in the success of mobilization efforts on campus.
Leaders in the campus LGBT community and Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, the coalition created to organize on-campus voter turnout and opposition to the amendment, have commended the efforts accomplished on campus in spite of the overall result. At the Duke voting site, 95 percent of those who cast votes on Amendment One voted against it. Shortly after the referendum passed 60-40, the University announced that employees and faculty in same-sex partnerships will continue to receive comprehensive benefits. The data makes official the divide between campus climate and statewide sentiment.
“People are sad that we lost and that we live in a state where that happened but happy that we live in a local community that is so supportive,” said junior Jacob Tobia, chair of Duke Together.
The amendment will have no effect on Duke’s benefits for employee same-sex partnerships, including medical benefits, retirement plans and survivor benefits, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.
“As a private institution, Duke has the latitude to provide benefits to whoever it wants, whenever it wants, under certain broad guidelines,” Schoenfeld said. “There will be no change in what Duke can provide to its employees.”
Even so, the Duke LGBT community has had to come to terms with the overwhelming margin of the amendment vote.
“There have been tears, there has been anger, there has been absolute astonishment,” said Janie Long, director of the Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life.
The people most affected by the loss have been LGBT-identified community members for whom Amendment One was their “first battle,” Long added.
Although polls before election day had predicted that the amendment would likely pass, the size of the margin came as a surprise, Tobia said. The sizeable last-minute turnout in support of the amendment demonstrates that opponents of gay rights are on the defensive.
“In some sense, this is a last desperate cry of ignorance and inequality in our state. It’s the noise people make on the way out,” he said. “It’s a litmus test of how we are winning on a larger scale.”
The Triangle region bucked the statewide trend with strong electoral opposition to the referendum—70 percent of Durham County voters cast ballots against the amendment. After persistent efforts by Duke Together to promote awareness of the amendment and advocate voting against it, on-campus voting had a turnout of 4,075 voters. Of the 4,061 people at Duke who voted on Amendment One, 3,847 voted against the amendment.
“I’m unequivocally confident in saying we were effective in our work,” Tobia said.
Sophomore David Winegar serves as co-president of Duke Democrats, which is a participating group of Duke Together. He noted the broad range of participants in campus efforts, which included not only undergraduates but also faculty, staff and members of the Duke University Health System.
“The huge mobilization campaign against Amendment One revealed Duke as a more politically active and progressive campus than many people realize,” Winegar wrote in an email Wednesday. “It also revealed the generational shift on gay marriage—young people are overwhelmingly in favor of it and voted against Amendment One in large numbers, which holds promise for the future.”