The people of this state know better

Preamble to the North Carolina State Constitution: We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution.

The Preamble to the North Carolina Constitution, speaking for "We, the people," urges the constitution's establishment "for the better government of this State." For this historic reason alone, it would follow that a constitutional amendment should be a serious political consideration stemming from a clear need to improve government on behalf of all the people of the state.

But on May 8, in my native state of North Carolina, there is a constitutional amendment on the ballot that fails that historic standard.

It is an amendment that causes alarm in the state’s business community because of its potentially negative effect on hiring and employee benefits. It is an amendment that takes away the power of local governments to decide on certain benefits for staff. And it is an amendment fraught with legal complications that reach into the private lives of thousands in this state who currently live as domestic partners — including any unmarried couple raising children together.

And then there are the questions about the wording of the amendment itself. What voters will see on the ballot is different from the full text that would be inserted into our Constitution, if passed. And that text has raised serious questions for the state's Constitutional Amendments Publication Commission, which is required by statute to evaluate proposed amendments.

The commission, whose members include the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the General Assembly's legislative services officer, is obligated to develop an "Official Explanation of Constitutional Amendment" for such ballot questions. And for Amendment One, the commission makes note of several important factors:

• A current North Carolina law, enacted in 1996, says that marriage between individuals of the same sex is not valid in the state.

• The term "domestic legal union" in the proposed constitutional amendment is "not defined in North Carolina law," causing a debate among legal experts about how the amendment may impact unmarried couples of the same or opposite sex — particularly in regard to employment-related benefits for domestic partners, domestic-violence laws, child custody and visitation rights, and end-of-life arrangements. Courts will "ultimately make those decisions," the opinion states.

• The full wording of the amendment (which does not appear on the ballot) does say that private parties may still enter into contracts creating enforceable rights — meaning unmarried persons, businesses and other private parties "may be able to enter into agreements," but the "courts will decide the extent to which such contracts can be enforced."

And so we, the people of this state, have been asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that promises years of litigation and foretells untold complications in the lives of such vulnerable individuals as the children on your street whose parents are not married. Or elderly couples who live together without marrying in order to retain individual retirement or medical benefits. Or the victims of domestic abuse. Or the partners in a same-sex relationship who must pay hundreds of dollars for legal documents that may — or may not — protect their joint assets and mutually determined health-care directives.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the fact that this amendment was created to keep same-sex couples from having rights equal to those of heterosexual couples in the state. It enshrines one-man, one-woman as the only "domestic legal union" to be allowed protection under the law. In doing so, it turns its back on the goal of promoting the good of all, and instead promotes the inequality of North Carolina's citizens.

This amendment sprouted from the limited realm of group ideology instead of the richer ground of inclusive thinking. It is no surprise, then, that it would bear bitter fruit: any number of legal and societal detriments that can affect children, parents, domestic-violence victims, the elderly, as well as its target group — same-sex partners.

Voting against this amendment is voting against enshrining exclusive ideology in the constitution of this state. Voting against this amendment is refusing to undermine domestic protections for individuals in a variety of personal household configurations. Voting against this amendment is upholding the rights of businesses and local governments to recognize the reality of domestic partnerships.

And voting against this amendment is telling the Legislature that the people of this state know better.

— Contributing editor Nelda Holder can be reached at nholder@gmail.com.

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