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Anti-gay marriage amendment heads to N.C. ballot without public input

The North Carolina Senate joined the state House today in approving a measure allowing for a vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The measure adds an amendment to the May 2012 ballot during the Republican presidential primary.

The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 30 to 16. The House did so on Monday by a vote of 75 to 42. The amendment passed with three votes more than the 72 needed, as nearly 20 percent of Democrats in the House voted for the measure. The Senate needed at least 30 votes.

Democrats complained that the process was not open to public comment. “This is no way to conduct constitutional business for the state of North Carolina,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney (D-Orange). “It ought not to be done this way. There ought to be a fair hearing.”

Democrats made that complaint among many others during the debate on the bill:

Another point of contention has been the timing of the measure. Instead of a public vote in November when turnout is high in all parties, the amendment will be on the ballot during the GOP presidential primary in May, likely turning out many Republicans who support the amendment.

“I think what we’re trying to do is respect some who thought this was solely a political consideration,” House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) said at a news conference, noting that the move was meant to counter complaints that the amendment would be used to help defeat Obama and prop up his Republican opponent.

The Christian Science Monitor noted that the timing may help President Obama as the issue would bring conservatives to the polls on primary day.

“Putting it in the May primary puts the [gay marriage] debate within the Republican Party, so it’s likely to solidify the party’s rightward tilt,” Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, told the Monitor.

Bob Geary, of the Durham-based Independent Weekly, noted that the timing was a move by the GOP to ensure the amendment is passed by the voters:

Now, the vote will be in a primary — currently, it’s scheduled for May — to allay the fears of conservative Democrats that a big anti-gay vote in their districts in November will sweep them from office too.

Recall, though, that there will very likely be a hotly contested Republican primary for president next May in North Carolina, and a contested Republican primary for governor, and for lieutenant governor … and there will be no contested Democratic primaries at all. At least, no statewide Democratic primaries.

In other words, a huge Republican turnout in assured in May, and a very light Democratic turnout is assured unless the pro-gay rights side can produce one.

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