North Carolina’s Amendment One: Perfect Illusion of Democracy


Alec Killoran
Staff Writer

America. The United States of America. Bastion of freedom, hope, democracy. The land of the free, home of the brave and the country where everybody gets one vote. Other countries in the world have less ideal systems, where centralized power and corrupt governments run rampant through elections and legislation, but not in America, oh no. In the United States, our government is beholden to our citizens. The citizens decide who wins the election, and what the laws of the land will be, right?

Wake up, America, and smell the fresh coffee from your local Starbucks around the corner. Or, alternatively, take a walk over to North Carolina and see how that coffee is brewed.

The pro-family Amendment One passed on an astounding 61 percent margin. The amendment must have been pretty compelling, right? Let’s take a look at how all this happened.

First, the vast majority of voters polled were not in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. A small, but vocal minority favored same-sex
marriage. Not very many people stopped to notice that North Carolina had already banned same-sex marriage in 1996. After 16 years, apparently the ban by statute wasn’t good enough for North Carolina. So the legislature (not the citizens) drafted up Amendment One. They told the state that the amendment’s purpose was to clearly define “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman.

The amendment seems pretty harmless on the surface to that majority not in favor of same-sex marriage. To them, there was nothing alarming about the amendment. There was need to research it further. Sneaky, isn’t it? In case you didn’t notice, the elected officials used the logic in my last few sentences to legally and unofficially disenfranchise the state’s population. All they needed was a selling point to ensure that it would pass with the votes of a majority that saw no need to research the actual bill. After they had that in the bag, they were free to write in whatever else they wanted, and that is dangerous.

North Carolina’s legislators could have reversed the long-standing law prohibiting the usage of elephants to plow cotton fields (and what an outrage that would have caused if anybody knew about it). Or, alternatively, the legislators could strip economic and legal rights granted within the context of a civil union from all unmarried couples, same-sex or otherwise. Care to guess which of those legal changes actually took
place? I’ll give you a hint: cotton fields are not commonly found in zoos.

So how can we be sure that North Carolina’s voters didn’t want to strip those rights away from unmarried couples? In the public policy polling, question six asks, “If you knew that Amendment One banned both gay marriage and civil unions, would you vote yes or no?” Forty-four percent said they would vote against it, while 39 percent supported it. That little tidbit of information swung the vote from 61-39 to 44-39 (with about 16 percent reporting as “unsure”). So, just mathematically, I can say with certainty that voter ignorance accounted for a 22 percentage point jump in support for the bill.

Whether you support same-sex marriage or not (I believe the government shouldn’t even be involved in any way other than to uphold the economic contract between the couples), you cannot deny that this bill showcases the disenfranchisement of the electorate. The power to vote on a proposition was, in all practicality, in the hands of the legislators. That is scary. Perhaps even scarier is the idea that they can write in whatever they want once they make sure that they’ll get the apathetic or ignorant vote.

The next time you vote, make sure to know exactly what it is that you are voting on. Even so, how can you be sure that your vote won’t be swamped by those who don’t do their research? The solution is not to become disheartened. The only way to combat this is to steel our
resolves, educate as many around us as possible, and show up in droves to vote. The more educated voters there are, the better.