AG Cooper says he’ll vote against NC marriage amendment

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s top law enforcement official said Wednesday he’ll vote against the marriage amendment on next month’s ballot, pointing out potential legal problems with its language and giving opponents of the referendum another ally.

In an email to his supporters, Attorney General Roy Cooper called the proposal to amend the state constitution “unclear, unwise and unnecessary.” Cooper said the proposal also lacked careful deliberation.

The amendment’s “lack of clarity will also result in a significant amount of litigation on many issues which will be decided by courts for years to come,” Cooper, wrote in opposing the question on the May 8 primary ballot. “This should be avoided.”

Cooper’s brief statement did not go into detail but would seem to bolster the arguments of other lawyers and professionals who say the proposed change to the constitution could deny some children health insurance and weaken domestic violence laws and child custody rules. At the very least, opponents say, the language will lead to years of legal challenges and discriminate against unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or same-sex.

“This support from the state’s highest-ranking attorney is proof” the amendment “has far-reaching, negative consequences,” Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager of the anti-amendment Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families, said in a news release.

Rachel Lee with the pro-amendment Vote For Marriage NC said it was worrisome that Cooper wouldn’t want to insert into the constitution an amendment affirming current state law that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The Legislature agreed last September to the put the amendment question on the ballot.

“The Legislature carefully deliberated the language of the amendment for many years and the people have been waiting to vote on this for a decade,” Lee said in an interview. While Cooper has a right to his opinion, Lee added, it concerns her that he would not support an amendment that elevates current marriage restrictions in state law that he has a duty to enforce. Cooper, a Democrat, faces no primary or general election opposition and is all but assured another four-year term as attorney general in November.

Amendment opponents say the proposal to make marriage between one man and one woman “the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina goes far beyond the current state law.

Both sides started running television ads this week. A pair of commercials by the Coalition to Protect All NC Families has focused squarely on the child health insurance and domestic violence issues. Lee’s group and other pro-amendment lawyers and activists have said the amendment’s supposed negative effects have been overstated by opponents.

Vote FOR Marriage and religious leaders have said the amendment is designed to protect traditional marriage from legal challenges filed by people who come from six states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage licenses are now being issued. Legislators in two other states have also approved same-sex marriage laws that haven’t yet been implemented. Gay marriages in other states are not recognized under North Carolina’s current laws.

Earlier Wednesday, at a Legislative Building news conference, several medical and social service professionals said the constitutional amendment would harm North Carolina children in families headed by both unmarried heterosexual and same-sex couples.

Dr. Erica Wise, president-elect of the North Carolina Psychological Association, said there’s no empirical evidence that having both a male and female parent is necessary for a child’s well-being. She said the quality of the parents’ relationship with each other and the child is more important.

Also Wednesday, the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families released a video by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., explaining more her opposition to the amendment she announced in February. She said the “divisive” amendment would take away people’s rights and could give businesses a reason not to expand in North Carolina.

Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and the three major Democratic candidates seeking to succeed her all have appeared in videos opposing it. Notable supporters of the amendment are presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

Credit: The Associated Press.