FIGHTING EQUALITY | A crowd gathers for a rally in support of a state constitutional amendment recognizing marriage between a man and a woman as the only domestic legal union, on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 12. LGBT activists in the state have announced a new effort to fight the amendment and existing anti-gay-marriage laws. (Ted Richardson/Associated Press)

‘We Do’ will go beyond fighting anti-gay-marriage amendment to target state law already banning gay marriage

TOM BREEN | Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — A gay rights group launched a campaign Monday, Oct. 3 in Asheville that seeks to go beyond opposition to a May referendum question on constitutionally barring same-sex marriage by targeting current state law that already forbids such unions.

The Campaign for Southern Equality kicked off its “We Do” effort by having three same-sex couples unsuccessfully attempt to obtain marriage licenses from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds. Organizers and participants knew they’d be denied the licenses, since North Carolina state law already forbids same-sex couples from marrying.

The point, they say, is to draw attention to the human consequences of the law and, as with the civil rights movement, create a situation where the federal government intervenes to change state laws.

“What we’re calling for is full federal equality and we’re sending a very consistent message that these laws are on the books right now and they’re immoral,” said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the group, which plans to expand their efforts across North Carolina and the South in 2012.

The Asheville campaign includes plans for over a dozen couples to repeatedly apply for marriage licenses until Oct. 14, accompanied in trips to the register of deeds by politicians, members of the clergy and other supporters.

“We can’t go to our state legislature right now because our legislators are very hostile to LGBT rights,” Beach-Ferrara said.

State courts are similarly unlikely to support their aims, she said, adding, “We don’t have much recourse besides planned actions designed to resist these laws.”

Beach-Ferrara said the campaign has been in the planning stages since long before the current debate over a constitutional amendment, but the debate provides a charged backdrop for the “We Do” efforts. Last month, the General Assembly voted to put a question on the May primary ballot that would prohibit same-sex marriage in the North Carolina Constitution, which would make it the last such state in the Southeast to adopt such a provision. Those on both sides of the question are preparing for a hard-fought campaign in the run-up to the vote.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, supports the referendum question and called the “We Do” campaign “a strategic mistake” on the part of those who support gay marriage.

Fitzgerald thinks the effort might help secure the amendment’s passage by convincing undecided voters that the possibility of same-sex marriage in North Carolina is real despite current state law prohibiting it.

“I think it makes our case why we need an amendment,” she said. “When people see that, they’re going to be concerned and they’re going to take it as a sign of aggression on the part of people who advocate for same-sex marriage.”