Local lawmakers want prohibition against gay marriages

Local legislators are expressing strong support for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in North Carolina as a union between a man and woman.

It would constitutionally prohibit gay marriages in the state.

Democrat Rep. Lorene Coates and Republican Rep. Fred Steen II, who together represent Rowan County in the N.C. House, have signed on as co-sponsors of House Bill 1606, the “Defense of Marriage” bill.

It would ask voters in November’s general election to says yes or no to a constitutional amendment “to provide that marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time, and this is the only marriage that shall be recognized as valid in this state.”

The issue of gay marriages has received considerable attention in recent months, especially in the states of California and Massachusetts. President Bush has pushed for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman only.

In March, a gay couple in Durham brought legal action against the Durham County Register of Deeds for refusing to issue them a marriage license.

State Rep. Linda Johnson of Kannapolis and Rep. Jeff Barnhart of Concord — both Republicans — also have signed on as co-sponsors of the Defense of Marriage bill. The Senate equivalent is Senate Bill 1057, for which Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, is a co-sponsor.

Brock’s Senate District 34 includes most of Rowan County and all of Davie and Yadkin counties.

The General Assembly has yet to act on the legislation during the current short session.

“I think marriage should be between a man and a woman,” Coates said. “I’m just standing up for what I believe in.”

Coates said the legislation represents an important bipartisan bill. She noted that the four primary House sponsors are two Republicans and two Democrats.

Steen said he has received a lot of e-mails and telephone calls from Rowan County residents who support the bill. But his Raleigh office also has been inundated with correspondence from areas such as Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill in which people express opposition to it.

“It’s the same letter,” he noted, “it’s just sent by a different person.”

Steen and other supporters of the constitutional amendment say it would prevent “activist” state judges and the courts from allowing gay marriages — what they say happened in Massachusetts.

“There’s a lot of awareness, and a lot of citizens don’t want to see what happened in Massachusetts as something they have to honor,” Steen said.

Steen said the fact that the Defense of Marriage bill already has 67 co-sponsors in the 120-member House is a good sign it’s “going in the right direction.”

Brock said states allowing gay marriages have taken the institution of marriage and “warped it in a perverted fashion against a longstanding belief.” He said gay marriages go against Judeo-Christian principles and his own conservative family values.

Brock described marriage between a man and woman as “the greatest institution we have,” and one that should not be entered into lightly. While it’s law now that marriage should only be between a man a woman, a constitutional amendment “puts the institution of marriage where it should be,” Brock said.

Allowing gay marriages also would have far-reaching financial implications for the state, giving special tax breaks where none existed before, Brock said. It also would lead to other attempts to erode marriage as an institution, he predicted.

“What’s to stop someone from marrying his dog?” he asked.

Brock said he has received “very few” e-mails, faxes or letters against the Defense of Marriage bill. A controversy would be when opinion is evenly split, Brock said, but he labeled support for the bill as overwhelming.

In another legislative matter, Coates, Brock and Steen expressed support for pay increases for state employees, including teachers. Their offices received visits this past week from state employees who are lobbying hard for pay increases in the new budget under consideration.

Brock also met with Citizens for a Sound Economy, which endorses his bill that would require cities to have voter approval of any areas that they try to annex involuntarily.

Brock described North Carolina’s annexation law as “the worst law on the books in any state.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.