Gay unions mulled

Published 12:27 am Friday, September 23, 2011

Beaufort County’s legislative delegation generally favors a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Approved by a majority of the N.C. General Assembly, the amendment is scheduled to go before North Carolina voters in the May 8, 2012, primary elections.

The amendment would prohibit same-sex unions of any kind, but Republican legislative leaders who pushed for the measure say it would not prevent businesses from offering benefits to same-sex couples.

Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, voted for the amendment.

Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, indicated he would have voted for the amendment, but had to leave Raleigh on the day of the vote to respond to a family emergency. (His 96-year-old mother’s house had caught on fire.)

Cook was asked whether he would campaign for the amendment.

“I think I’ll leave the question to voters,” he said. “The table is set for them to make their decision. That was a big part of why I voted the way I did. I think people should have a chance to weigh in on this issue.”

Cook said marriage “is a basic building block of our society,” and that it should be protected.

Cook also signaled he’s conflicted about certain aspects of the called-for marriage ban.

“I don’t want to harm homosexual people,” he said. “I don’t want to make their life any more difficult than it is, if it is. I think if there is some unintended consequence of this constitutional amendment, I think later on we should address making changes to help people who are hurt by this if they are hurt by this amendment.”

He said it remains to be seen whether the amendment would affect wills, contracts or end-of-life decisions involving gay couples.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody in this situation,” Cook reiterated. “I know a lot of people attach a lot of meaning to homosexual relationships, and that’s fine, but in my mind that’s a separate issue from the protection of our marriage system.”

Cook said he suspects most of his constituents wanted him to cast his vote for the amendment, though he knows some didn’t feel that way.

“I’ve even heard from close friends who are not happy with me because of my choice, and that saddens me, but you have to do what you think (is right),” he said. “I did what I think is right here.”

White said he hadn’t seen the final version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate Sept. 13 on a 30-16 vote with four senators – White among them – out on excused absences.

“I know in the beginning it looked like it was going to really hamper the ability of some of our businesses to entice the brightest and the smartest to come to the state, but I heard that that part had been softened up and been changed somewhat,” he said.

Asked for his thoughts on the marriage question, White replied, “I was brought up in the Methodist church, and I certainly believe that marriage – what I’m going to call true marriage – should be between a man and a woman, but I think your state statutes cover that. I think having a constitutional amendment is a little bit of a conflict between church and state to go to that extent.”

White suggested he wouldn’t be persuaded to endorse civil unions.

“I think God made a lot of us different, and certainly I don’t have a problem (with people) living together, I don’t have a problem with businesses paying benefits and offering benefits to people who are not engaged in marriage the way our state statutes say it is,” he said.

White said he’d had numerous emails from constituents urging him to support the amendment.

The Associated Press has reported North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast that hasn’t enshrined a gay marriage ban in its constitution.

In a Sept. 7 post on its website, the left-leaning Public Policy Polling of Raleigh said 61 percent of the people it surveyed between Sept. 1 and Sept. 4 opposed gay marriage while 31 percent favored it.

“However when you throw civil unions into the mix as an option 54% of voters support legally recognizing gay couples (25% for marriage, 29% for civil unions) while only 43% are opposed to any sort of legal recognition at all,” the post reads.

The pollsters reached out to 520 North Carolina voters.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.