The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lit candles at the foot of the Duke Chapel Monday in symbolic protest.
The North Carolina General Assembly voted Monday on the Republican-sponsored N.C. Defense of Marriage Act, which would amend the state constitution to define marriage as strictly a union between a man and a woman. A state statute already prohibits gay marriage, but this legislation would propose a referendum to officially amend the constitution, making it more difficult for lawmakers to change the legislation in the future.
The act to amend the constitution passed 75-42 in the state House and will be debated on the state Senate floor Tuesday. If it passes in the Senate, the amendment will then go to referendum in time for elections in November.
“Our representatives no longer represent our interests in state government,” said Janie Long, director of Duke’s Center for LGBT Life. “Duke and Durham do not support putting discrimination into our constitution.”
The Duke LGBT community hosted a candlelight vigil Monday night in order to spread awareness about the bill and motivate opponents to vocalize protest against it, Long said. Duke joined nine other candlelight vigils hosted around North Carolina by Equality North Carolina, a gay rights advocacy group.
North Carolina is the last state in the South to vote to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage into its constitution. Approximately 30 other states have approved amendments similar to this one to date.
Long noted, however, that Durham supports same-sex partners, and the Duke Chapel honors same-sex unions. Currently, North Carolina prohibits same-sex marriage, but passing this bill would incorporate it within the state’s constitution, making it more difficult to overturn. It could also prevent private institutions, such as Duke, from recognizing same-sex unions by providing equal benefits, she said.
“They do not speak for us,” Long added. “There have been recent studies to show that North Carolina does not support this kind of hate.”
But a state-wide poll released by Public Policy Polling—a non-partisan, national polling center—Wednesday revealed that though 61 percent of the poll’s respondents oppose gay marriage, 55 percent would vote against the state amendment if it was put on the ballot.
The issue is also polarizing among age groups in the population. According to the poll, 78 percent of respondents under the age of 30 would reject this GOP-backed bill.
State representative Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, speaker pro-tempore for the House, co-sponsored the bill and said he believes that to draw conclusions from these kinds of polls would be to tread murky waters.
“I don’t believe that poll,” Folwell said. “I don’t believe it is correct but if it is, I will accept the outcome.”
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He added that the same discussion occurred in 1996 when the bill banning same-sex marriage was proposed to the state Senate. The debate lasted for 10 minutes, Folwell said, passing with a large margin of support.
“I don’t care how people live their lives. It’s none of my business but that is why we are putting it to the people,” he said. “Sometimes decisions are bigger than us and when that is the case, we must defer to the people.”
Long noted, however, that some state legislators do not seem to be acting in support of their words, as they have banned public debate on the issue. To have their voices heard, the LGBT community and its supporters will be rallying on the steps of Halifax Mall in Raleigh Tuesday.
Some students at Duke’s vigil shed tears following personal statements by senior Megan Weinand and sophomore Ryan Nini about their experiences living in North Carolina after publicly identifying themselves as homosexual.
“This will simply marginalize LGBT-identified people who are already second class citizens [here],” Nini said. “It says that my home, North Carolina, no longer welcomes me.”
Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells gave a speech at the vigil professing his opposition to the state legislation and criticizing the bill for infringing on what he called self-evident, inalienable rights.
“It denies freedom to many and benefits no one,” Wells said.
Renowned blogger and active supporter of LGBT rights, Pam Spaulding compared the current debate to the contention that occurred decades ago over inter-racial marriage.
“Race relations were a much bigger problem when I was little,” Spaulding said. “Once upon a time, people thought inter-racial marriage was immoral and would tarnish the institution of marriage.”
She urged opponents of the bill to follow its progress and—should it make it to the ballot Nov. 6, 2012—to come out and vote against it.
“This is no time to sit at home,” Spaulding said.