RALEIGH – Organizers and volunteers for and against the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in North Carolina marshaled their forces Saturday to persuade early voters on their way to polling places and remind others to vote on the measure during Tuesday’s primary election.
The two main campaign committees focusing on the ballot measure said their volunteers were operating phone banks, canvassing voters door-to-door and escorting people to early voting sites before they closed in the early afternoon in all 100 counties. The committees already have benefited from late-campaign donations by churches, gay-rights groups and individuals so their respective commercials can stay up on television.
But get-out-the-vote efforts were taking center stage in the campaign’s final days.
The amendment question asks voters whether the state constitution should say “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina.
“We put our TV ads up, we’ve laid the groundwork, we’ve been working hard for months and now it really comes down to the votes,” said Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager of the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, which opposes the amendment. Kennedy spoke minutes earlier from the platform at the OutRaleigh gay pride festival, urging attendees to get family members and friends to the polls.
“This is all up to you, every vote is going to matter in this election, every single vote,” Kennedy told festival-goers.
A spokeswoman for the pro-amendment Vote FOR Marriage NC said it had asked volunteer leaders in several dozen counties to organize voter outreach activities Saturday. The group’s more than 900 “church captains” also were expected to draw attention to Tuesday’s voting at Sunday services.
“We have had great success,” said Leonard Goenaga, grass-roots director for Vote FOR Marriage. “Our voters are getting out, our churches are telling some incredible stories. I’m confident that we’re going to be victorious on May 8.”
In Chatham County, more than a dozen pro-amendment supporters began the task of calling by Monday evening 10,000 registered voters who hadn’t yet cast a ballot in this election. “We are telling them that the amendment protects our current marriage laws, which is the union between one man and one woman,” said April Coletta, 32, of Pittsboro, who learned about volunteering through her Baptist church.
State law already limits marriage to a man and a woman, but amendment backers say the constitutional addition will stop judges from recognizing gay marriages. Amendment opponents say the proposal goes much further by preventing civil unions and domestic partnerships in the future, and could also weaken domestic violence laws, deny children health insurance and discourage business from expanding in North Carolina.
North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that hasn’t approved a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. “The entire nation is watching us and the entire state is watching us,” Kennedy said.
At the OutRaleigh festival, volunteers with blue shirts carrying signs on street corners asked people if they had voted and offered to take them to the Wake County Board of Elections headquarters down the street. The line backed out the door by more than 50 people shortly before 11 a.m.
People interviewed in line said they were voting against the amendment in the name of opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.
“I just don’t think there’s any point adding an amendment that is nothing but bigotry,” said Steven Stewart, 32, of Raleigh, who stood in line with partner Jamie Dennis.
Dennis said they might want to get married someday, but “whether this passes or fails, it won’t change that. It’s just one more roadblock and to me a waste of time since we already have state laws on the books saying two guys can’t marry.”
At another early-voting site in north Raleigh, where more than 350 people stood at noon on a sidewalk winding through woods to a city park building, computer engineer John Stanson said he would vote for the marriage amendment. He called arguments from amendment opponents misguided.
“I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” said Stanson, in line with his wife and two voting-age daughters. “The only thing the amendment does is defines what (marriage) should be.”
Amendment campaign groups planned news conferences Sunday and Monday with religious leaders and clergy urging yes and no on the referendum.
The amendment has sucked political air from races on the primary ballot, including the Democratic and Republican contests for governor, other Council of State seats and the Legislature.
State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett said interest in the amendment is contributing to another strong primary of early in-person or absentee voting, along with competitive GOP congressional races in the Charlotte area and in the mountains.
Nearly 363,000 people had voted by those methods through Thursday, the last day provided by the state elections board. Bartlett said it was possible early voting could reach figures from the 2008 primary election, when more than 493,000 ballots were cast. The 2008 surge was attributed to interest in the Democratic presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
“We have a decent chance of reaching similar numbers compared to 2008, but with a different crowd,” Bartlett said.