The fate of the same-sex marriage amendment referendum will rest in the hands of North Carolina voters in this coming election cycle.
This Spring, registered voters can vote on a proposed amendment to the N.C. Constitution that would continue the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. The ballot measure, called Amendment One, has incited protests on and off college campuses in favor of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. Student groups, such as Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, are actively working to mobilize voters to oppose the amendment, and the University has reaffirmed its commitment to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Last fall the N.C. House of Representatives voted 75-42 in favor of referring the proposed amendment to the statewide ballot May 8. The vote is grouped with several other pieces of legislation and the N.C. primary election.
In the face of Duke’s public stance against the proposed amendment, 56 percent of N.C. voters said they would vote for the amendment, according to a January report by Public Policy Polling. These results helped prompt legislatures to remain steadfast in their defense of the bill and its place on the ballot come May.
“I expect this bill to pass,” said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake and North Carolina House majority leader. “I don’t see a real threat to it.”
Many Democrats in the legislature oppose the amendment, noting that the rights of a minority should not be determined by a vote. Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, said the amendment would discourage gay couples from residing in and contributing to the workforce of North Carolina.
“This is a transient issue of public policy and has no place in the constitution,” said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Chatham and House minority leader.
As the vote approaches, the University is rallying its forces.
In a joint statement from Duke University and Duke Medicine Feb. 17, Duke vowed to support the LGBT community and reaffirmed its commitment to eradicate discrimination on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.
“As a major employer in North Carolina, we are proud to serve as a model of acceptance and diversity, and we stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal world,” the statement said.
The statement also pledged Duke’s support of the families of LGBT members, which is essential for Duke to “nurture excellence in all our endeavors.”
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Chair of Duke Together Jacob Tobia, a sophomore, said he is proud of the on-campus movement against Amendment One, calling it energetic and uncompromising. Tobia added that voter education will be essential in order to defeat the amendment, as the language of the bill is more comprehensive than most voters recognize and would legally ignore all unmarried couples in the state.
“The amendment will make civil unions and domestic partnerships unconstitutional for straight as well as gay couples,” Tobia said. “Any couple who is unmarried will receive no legal recognition or benefits for their relationship.”
Despite active opposition of the bill with in the confines of the Gothic Wonderland, Stam said he is convinced that many Duke students support the bill. He noted that even the youngest demographic of voters are widely in support of the amendment. The Public Policy Polling report noted that 51 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 said they were in favor of the amendment.
“If you think that Duke is widely in opposition to this amendment, you probably don’t get out much,” Stam said.
A one-stop shop
Duke’s Spring semester ends three days before the May 8 vote, prompting Duke Student Government to bring a one-stop early voting site to campus.
During the one-stop absentee voting period—April 19 to May 5—registered voters will be able to cast their ballot in the Old Trinity Room in the West Union Building.
The on-campus early voting site will be especially convenient for students who are interested in voting on Amendment One because it will allow them to both register in North Carolina and cast a vote in one visit, said junior Alexandra Swain, DSG vice president for Durham and regional affairs. This action will mitigate the inconveniences associated with voting as a college student, she said.
A similar procedure was successful in the 2008 elections, and more than 1,300 people signed an online petition to bring the voting site back to campus in the coming election cycle, Swain added.
The site will promote voting by students who stand on both sides of the marriage amendment issue, said freshman Miranda Goodwin-Raab, DSG senator for Durham and regional affairs.
“As a college campus, we have plenty of new and excited voters who are passionate about [gay rights] issues,” she said. “The students I’ve interacted with, they seem to be opposed to the amendment, but... students should use this opportunity to vote according to however they feel about this measure.”
The streamlined on-campus stop would help encourage students to vote on the amendment, said freshman Kristin Murray, who is currently only registered to vote in her home state of California but plans to register in North Carolina soon.
“I would definitely take advantage of this opportunity,” Murray said. “Plenty of students are very invested in the outcome of the marriage amendment, so I think the voting site will be a success.”