‘This issue is so ’80s’: Thousands rally in support of same-sex marriage ban in N.C.

From WRAL (Watch video of the entire rally below)

GARY D. ROBERTSON  |  Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — The chatter over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state constitution rose Tuesday as thousands of conservative Christians rallied to urge the Legislature to vote on it now that its Republican leaders are open to the idea after Democrats blocked it for years.

State Capitol Police estimated about 3,500 people participated in the marriage amendment rally behind the Legislative Building and organized by the Forsyth County-based Return America group. Visitors carried placards, American and Christian flags and listened to local ministers and nationally known speakers in conservative Christian circles argue voters are restless to cast yes or no votes for the amendment.

North Carolina is the only Southeastern state that hasn’t approved an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Thirty states have voted to allow that restriction in their state constitutions.

“It’s time. It’s time, North Carolina, it’s time,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told a cheering crowd on the Halifax Mall. “It’s time to protect from those in Washington and those activist judges who are willing to aid those who want to redefine and ultimate destroy marriage.”

Earlier Tuesday, several ministers and a rabbi explained their opposition to the amendment in a separate news conference. They said passing the amendment would make gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people second-class citizens by siding with the religious views of what they call a minority of citizens and deny them the ability to love whom they choose.

“This extreme legislation will only cause needless pain and suffering,” said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory. “At a time when legislators should be chopping away at unemployment rates and searching for ways to build a budget that would befriend the poor and marginalized, legislators are choosing to advance this divisive social agenda.”

North Carolina state law already identifies a valid marriage as one “created by the consent of a male and female person.” However, supporters of the ban contend an amendment would better protect traditional marriage from court challenges by same-sex couples married legally in five states and the District of Columbia.

About a dozen lawmakers were introduced at the rally, including two key House Republicans who said the question would be heard in the Legislature in 2011.

“It will get done this year,” House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, told the crowd.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said later he also expected the amendment to be considered soon, either in the current session or in an extra session later that would examine proposed constitutional amendments.

Return America’s recent biennial rallies had fallen on the deaf ears of Democrats who led the General Assembly in one or both chambers for more than a century. They wouldn’t consider Republican-penned amendments and were allied with gay rights groups that argue an amendment would emboss discrimination permanently into state law.

That changed when the GOP won both chambers in the Legislature last fall. Three-fifths of the members in the House and Senate would have to approve the amendment in order for it to be on the November 2012 ballot, the date for a pair of bills that have been introduced. Some Democrats would be needed in the House to meet the three-fifths threshold. Some have co-sponsored previous measures.

A simple majority would be required in the statewide referendum.

The Senate version of the constitutional amendment also could deny same-sex partners other benefits such as visitation rights in hospitals and health insurance, according to Ian Palmquist of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina.

Amendment opponents could be helped by changing attitudes about homosexuality. Supporters point to surveys showing more than 70 percent like the amendment, but a 2009 Elon University Poll showed about half of North Carolina adults oppose one. And a February Elon poll showed more than half of North Carolina residents now support some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples.

The rally came three days after thousands of people attended the first “OutRaleigh” festival, which celebrated the area’s gay and lesbian community. Another North Carolina-based group called Faith in America is paying for billboards and newspaper ads in Raleigh calling on an end to religious bigotry, and ultimately a gay marriage amendment.

“This issue is so ’80s,” said Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, the second openly gay lawmaker elected in North Carolina history. “It’s really an extreme, extreme position.” Brandon said he’s a Christian and believes some churches can confuse the values of the Christian faith and Jesus.

“Jesus was a compassionate person, and he would not have a rally outside right now,” he said.

But rally participants who traveled to Raleigh from across the state said they believed they had the right answer to the well-known Christian motto and question, “What would Jesus do?”

“I think he would want us to stand up for what’s right,” said Cindy Sartain, 54, of Concord, who came to the rally with members of her Baptist church in Kannapolis.

Rich Wells, 44, of Garner, an engineer who took a vacation day to attend the rally, said he’s encouraged by the Legislature’s interest in the bill, but “ultimately we just pray and leave the results to God.”

—  John Wright

Gay marriage ban keeps moving toward Minn. ballot

MARTIGA LOHN | Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage moved closer to getting on Minnesota’s 2012 ballot Monday, clearing a Republican-led House panel after its first Senate committee approval last week.

If both chambers approve the proposal, voters would be asked next year whether to amend the state constitution to define marriage solely as union of one man and one woman.

The amendment’s prospects have improved this year after last year’s elections gave Republicans full control of the Legislature for the first time in nearly four decades. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the amendment but doesn’t have the power to block it.

The 10-7 party-line vote by the House Civil Law Committee seemed almost preordained, with the panel’s Republicans voting yes and Democrats no. Minnesota law already prohibits gay marriage and prevents the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. But Rep. Steve Gottwalt, the bill’s sponsor, said he wants voters to be the ones to define marriage in Minnesota, not lawmakers or judges.

“It is not about hate, it is not about discrimination, it is about defining in Minnesota’s constitution the definition of marriage,” said Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud.

The amendment’s opponents predicted it would unleash a divisive political campaign that could tear apart families and communities.

“How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether God actually wants them around?” said Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, drawing applause and shushing from panel chairman Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.

Religious leaders of various backgrounds testified on both sides of the issue about the importance of families.

Pastor Sergio Choy of Bloomington’s Ministerio Maranatha Church spoke in favor of traditional marriage, adding that redefining the institution to include same-sex unions would be comparable to trying to make water out of hydrogen or oxygen alone.

“It is one mother and one father, one man and one woman who make up the foundation of the family,” Choy told lawmakers.

Gay-rights supporters warned legislators they risked overstepping their role and going against the tide of history as acceptance of gay relationships increases.

“This is not the religious law committee — this is the civil law committee,” said David Cummer, an elder at Grace Trinity Community Church in Minneapolis. “You guys have not been elected to the College of Cardinals. You are not members of the state church of Minnesota.”

The bill now heads to the Ways and Means Committee, its last stop before reaching the full House. The Senate version will go before a rules panel before reaching the floor.

—  John Wright