North Carolina is shaping up as a gay marriage battleground come May. Numerous outside groups are getting involved in the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. California’s Democratic Party, for example, has joined the fight.
So when NC House Speaker Thom Tillis spoke to a group of NC State University students, some were caught off guard by his comment that the marriage amendment is a “generational issue,” adding that the “data shows right now that you are a generation away from that issue.”
Furthermore, the Speaker added, “if [the marriage amendment] passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years,” according to the NCSU student newspaper, the Technician.
The heated fight for and against the marriage amendment has already begun, but the striking aspect is that Speaker Tillis’ first point is right: A generational gap has emerged over the issue of gay marriage.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a poll in February of this year, indicating the 46 percent favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, while 45 percent oppose. This, the poll indicates, is the first time in 15 years that the public has been evenly divided on the issue.
This is a remarkable turn of public opinion on a highly divisive issue. Only two years ago, a majority opposed gay marriage while just 37 percent favored it.
In a poll taken by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2011, 62 percent of “Millennial” Americans (those age 18-29) said that gay and lesbian couples should marry legally, while only 31 percent of those who are 65 or older said so.
But what is even more striking is the fact that among white Evangelical Millennials, 44 percent favor legal gay marriage, compared to only 12 percent of evangelical seniors.
Among black Protestants, 63 percent oppose or strongly oppose gay and lesbian couples marrying legally, while only 33 percent favor or strongly favor it. The only other major group that is more opposed to gay marriage are white evangelicals, with 75 percent against (oppose or strongly oppose) compared to 20 percent for gays to marry legally (favor or strongly favored).
I would take exception with Speaker Tillis’ contention that, if the amendment passes, it will take 20 years. I would contend it could be sooner than that.
With the California initiative, known as Proposition 8, working its way through the federal appeals courts, the issue will most likely land in the lap of the U.S. Supreme Court. And the High Court has already indicated a willingness to strike down state constitutional amendments if the justices see a violation of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution.
One only needs to look at the 1996 landmark case of Romer v. Evans to find the U.S. Supreme Court willing to strike down a state constitutional amendment that was seen as blocking gay people from “safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.”
Currently on appeal to the full 9th Circuit, this case may be what the Supreme Court uses to strike down all constitutional amendments regarding gay marriage. It typically takes an appeal less than two years to go from a circuit court of appeals to the US Supreme Court.
And while Amendment 1 supporters may gain a victory in North Carolina, the exercise begs the question: Would it all be for naught after only two years?