On the May 2012 North Carolina statewide ballot, a proposed constitutional amendment will appear which would establish marriage as the only domestic legal union between a man and a woman. This amendment would amend Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution by adding the following subsection:
“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section 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.”
This amendment makes the relationship between a man and a woman the only valid domestic union that will be recognized by the State of North Carolina. It exempts private parties and presumptively private businesses from its reach.
North Carolina law already defines marriage as “created by consent of a male and female person to be lawfully married”. N.C.G.S. § 51-1.1 states that marriages whether created by common law, contract or performed outside of North Carolina between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina.
The United States Code in 1 USC Section 7 defines marriage in the context of any act of congress or any ruling, regulation or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies in the United States to be a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
The constitutional Amendment 1 goes beyond the non-recognition of marriage between persons of the same sex and impacts the extent of the status of a domestic partnership in terms of a wide range of entitlements and benefits. This amendment could affect custody claims, insurance coverage and retirement benefits, as well as entitlement to other job benefits. The implications of such an amendment are potentially far-reaching in how it might impact that wide range of benefits provided by state government, municipal government and the courts.
Gabriel, Berry, Weston & Wells LLP