N. Carolina Lawmakers Considering New Marriage Amendment
RALEIGH, N.C. - A new version of a constitutional amendment proposed by Republicans to ban gay marriage in North Carolina tries to shield companies that want to offer benefits to same-sex couples, but opponents of the marriage prohibition were angry about the timing of the new proposal and said Saturday it raises more questions.
A Senate judiciary committee is scheduled Monday to consider the updated proposal, which would recognize marriage between one man and one woman as the state’s only valid domestic legal union. But the proposal, released Saturday by a senator’s office, also says the amendment would not prevent private parties from entering contracts, nor courts from ruling in those cases - a likely reference to same-sex benefits.
Some business leaders and gay rights activists have argued that earlier versions of the amendment could prevent corporations from offering health and life insurance and other benefits to employees in domestic partnerships.
The constitutional amendment would have to be approved by the House and Senate and then by voters in 2012.
House Republican leaders pushing hard for the amendment said they didn’t believe earlier proposals would bar corporations from entering agreements with employees on such issues. However, Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said this past week he was working to ensure its language wouldn’t put North Carolina companies at a competitive disadvantage.
Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said in an interview the new language is intended to show "what this amendment is about is same-sex marriage ... the specific things that have motivated the sponsors. It’s not about private contractual relationships from private companies to private individuals."
Holning Lau, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill, said the language would preserve the ability of private companies to offer same-sex benefits. But Lau, who co-authored a paper examining legal ramifications of a marriage amendment, said the revised amendment would still hamper the ability of private employers in North Carolina to attract and retain workers in creative fields who "prefer to work and live in places that embrace diversity and are inclusive of gays and lesbians."
Also, Lau wrote in an email, the "new language still threatens local governments’ domestic partner benefits and registries, statewide domestic violence protections and possibly child custody and visitation laws."
Thirty states have approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage. Six states - most recently New York - have sanctioned such unions, whether through a Legislature or the courts. State law in North Carolina already defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but social conservatives in and outside the General Assembly said imprinting the limit in the constitution would protect the idea better from legal challenges.