RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, but not much is expected to change immediately.
That's because North Carolina law already banned gay marriage. The amendment voters passed Tuesday night by about 61 percent of voters effectively will seal the door on same-sex marriages and potentially have other effects farther down the road.
"Same-sex marriage was illegal today; it's illegal tomorrow," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University who writes an annual review of state constitutional amendments. "There were no same-sex civil unions recognized in North Carolina today. Those will not be recognized tomorrow. The bottom line is there's not a lot of change because of this amendment."
The amendment likely would affect issues other than gay marriage the most because the "marriage-plus" amendment approved in North Carolina prohibits not only same-sex marriage, but also same-sex civil unions. Nineteen states have such amendments, Dinan said.
For example, a handful of local governments provide benefits to employees who are involved in same-sex relationships. In Michigan, the state's highest court ruled that an amendment did affect those benefits, Dinan said. But in North Carolina, officials in Durham and Orange counties have said they don't expect to have to eliminate those benefits because of the amendment, he said.
Opponents had said they feared the law could affect domestic violence protections, some of which refer to people who live together. Dinan said he doubted that would happen, although Ohio had a three-year court fight over the issue before the Supreme Court ruled the laws weren't affected.
Some voters who opposed the amendment weren't that concerned with the practical effects of the amendment, but more with how it makes North Carolina look.
The amendment was unnecessary, said Sam Stone, 70, of Raleigh, who voted against it, along with his wife, Virginia, 66.
"Doing this amendment makes it seem more mean-spirited," he said Tuesday as he went to the polls.
Shane Colwell, who's studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, said the amendment clarified the definition of marriage.
"I'm a born-again Christian, and I just believe the Bible is clear that marriage is for one man and one woman," he said. "It doesn't mean that anybody's less equal than anybody else. I just think that marriage is one man and one woman."
In the final days before the vote, members of President Barack Obama's cabinet expressed support for gay marriage and former President Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to oppose the amendment.
Supporters of the amendment responded with marches, television ads and speeches. The Rev. Billy Graham, 93, was featured in full-page newspaper ads backing the amendment.
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