North Carolina's Ban on Gay Marriage Could Also Affect Unmarried Straight Couples

How North Carolina's amendment against gay marriage could affect heterosexual couples.Voters in North Carolina on Tuesday passed Amendment One, agreeing to change the state's constitution to say that the only valid "domestic legal partnership" allowed in the state would be marriage between a man and a woman and banning gay marriage even though it was already prohibited by state law.

Related: Why I don't want gay marriage

"I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman," Tami Fitzgerald of Vote FOR Marriage NC told The Huffington Post. "The whole point is simply that you don't rewrite the nature of God's design based on the demands of a group of adults."

The last time North Carolina's constitution was amended in regards to marriage, it was to make sure that "all marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the third generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited."

The new amendment against gay marriage passed 61 percent to 39 percent even though, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 26 percent of voters admitted that they weren't even sure what the amendment was about (another 10 percent said they thought it would legalize rather than ban same-sex marriage). Though 55 percent of voters in North Carolina say they support "some form of legal recognition" for gay couples, 60 percent of voters said that they didn't realize that the amendment bans civil unions and domestic partnerships as well as gay marriage -- and that it could affect heterosexual couples as well.

Ninety-one percent of the cohabitating unmarried couples in North Carolina are heterosexual, according to the ACLU of North Carolina. But, thanks to the new amendment, domestic violence protections may be weakened or invalidated for people who aren't married. Counties and towns, like Chapel Hill, which recognize domestic partnerships and offer equal benefits to their employees regardless of sexual orientation will have to stop doing so. Private companies' agreements to provide health insurance to domestic partners could be unenforceable. And unmarried parents could no longer have the same child custody and visitation rights as re-married or previously married parents.

Though the amendment does not prevent people from entering into contracts with other people and does not prohibit courts from enforcing such contracts, private agreements -- including child custody, estate planning, property division, and medical powers of attorney -- could be invalidated or challenged if the heterosexual couple is not married.

Oddly enough, the sanctity of marriage folks haven't addressed the fact that North Carolina is one of the easier states in which to get an uncontested divorce (it doesn't require proof of estrangement -- you say you and your spouse have lived apart for a year, pay about $200, and that's it, you're done.) Instead, they've focused on amending the state's constitution in order to make it more difficult for courts to overturn the gay marriage ban. (The state's constitutional amendment against interracial marriage, added in 1875, wasn't removed until 1971.)

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama officially came out in favor of gay marriage, in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the amendment against it in North Carolina.

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” the President told ABC News. He added that while he supports states deciding on their own, his personal point of view and experiences with same-sex couples have prompted "a change in perspective."

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