The Sky Didn't Fall: The Meaning and Legal Effects of the North Carolina Marriage Amendment
47 Pages Posted: 3 May 2013 Last revised: 11 Mar 2014
Date Written: May 2, 2013
In May 2012 North Carolina became the thirty-first state to define marriage as involving only opposite-sex couples when it amended its constitution to provide that "[m]arriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."
There was much disagreement prior to the vote about the meaning and potential legal effects of this provision. Led by law professors from every law school in North Carolina, opponents of the Amendment claimed that it not only would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, but also would threaten a wide range of legal benefits and protections given to all unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, including existing domestic violence and child custody, adoption, and visitation laws. They also claimed that the Amendment's passage would lead to a flood of litigation over its meaning. A year has passed and none of these predictions have come true.
This article addresses the political controversy over the Amendment and how courts likely will rule on its scope and legal effects. It explains why opponents’ claims about the Amendment’s far-ranging "unintended consequences" were never likely to occur in North Carolina. It also provides a guide for resolving Amendment-related legal issues should they arise in litigation in North Carolina or other states with (or considering) similar amendments.
Keywords: marriage amendment, same sex marriage
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