It’s a remarkable thing, this proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina.
No one seems to be arguing about same-sex marriage. Instead, both pro- and anti-amendment forces talk a lot about what else the amendment might do.
The problem, if one exists, can be found in the phrase “domestic legal union.”
The proposed amendment, which will be decided by North Carolina voters in the May 8 primary, begins: “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”
Sounds simple. If you believe marriage should now and forever be between only a man and a woman, you vote yes; if you don’t, you vote no. Right?
Sorry, it’s not that simple because that little three-word phrase isn’t defined in North Carolina law.
Those who want the proposed amendment defeated argue that, if passed, the language will undo everything from employee benefits to unmarried, heterosexual couples to domestic violence protections for anyone who isn’t married.
Those who want the proposed amendment passed say it does nothing of the sort, pointing to the additional language. It reads, “This sanction does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”
What has become increasingly clear over the last month or two is that anyone who claims that they know definitively that the amendment will undo these existing legal protections, or not undo them, is being a bit disingenuous.
Until the courts weigh in, no one really knows how the language will be interpreted.
Lawyers, on both sides, have made educated guesses.
Most of those guesses indicate that domestic violence laws wouldn’t be affected.
To make that point, N.C. Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, a Wake County Republican and key proponent of the proposed amendment, recently sent out a 16-page statement from three Campbell University law professors who concluded that domestic violence laws shouldn’t be affected because they aren’t premised on any “legal union.”
Those lawyers also write that the proposed amendment doesn’t justify concerns about employee benefits or rights extended to domestic partners who aren’t married.
On that score, many family law attorneys disagree. They have been sending out warning about the implications in recent weeks.
“What we’re buying for North Carolina is hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits,” one lawyer who specializes in family law said recently.
If the amendment passes – and polls at the end of March indicated that nearly 60 percent of likely voters favored the amendment – we will find out whose predictions were correct.
Still, isn’t it something to be considering a change to the supreme law of the state when no one knows for sure what it means?