Law in Contemporary Society

Amendment One's Majority Approval


On May 8th, 2012, North Carolina voters passed the state constitutional Amendment One, also referred to as The Marriage Amendment. On the surface, the amendment bans gay marriage as well as same sex civil unions (which many voters were unaware of). However, the full impact of this amendment remains to be seen and will likely require the North Carolina courts to interpret its application in a variety of settings including opposite sex unions and domestic violence protections. This essay will discuss the process in which this amendment has passed. What occurred in North Carolina was not a fair process and allowing North Carolina or other states to amend their constitutions based on this unfair process with language that greatly effects a minority group goes against the principles of justice and equality.

In 2011, the sponsors of Amendment One created a legislature initiated amendment. They followed the procedures laid out in Article XIII Section 6 of the North Carolina constitution. The proposed amendment was heard three times and it was approved by three-fifths of all members of each house. The legislature voted to put the amendment to public vote and set the vote to be during the May primary election. In that election the amendment passed by a 61% majority and it will be added to the North Carolina constitution January 1.

Procedural Problems

While everything was done in accord with the constitutionally required procedures, there are two problems that these procedures can and did cause. The first stems from the ability for the legislature to decide when to submit the amendment to voters. The legislature and governor played political games for their parties’ benefits in putting the amendment for vote during the primary election instead of the during the general election. Despite a higher than expected voter turnout, the amendment was voted on only by a small and likely biased sample of voters. The second problem with these procedures is that they allow this small percentage of voters to decide by simple majority vote on the rights of a minority without fully knowing the amendment's impact. No percentage of voters should have the ability to hinder a minority group’s rights without a complete understanding of everything involved.

Primary and Voter Turnout

The legislature can decide when to hold the vote on the proposed election. While politicians had different motivations with various levels of legitimacy for holding the vote during the state’s primary elections in May, it is clear that having the largest percentage of the population vote was not among them. Primary elections in North Carolina have far lower turnout than general elections and primary elections with only one party’s presidential candidate being voted on have even lower turnout ( Although the voter turnout for this primary was the highest ever in North Carolina, likely due to the presence of the amendment, it was still well below the turnout in recent presidential election years. The 61% of voters in favor of the amendment (1,316,621) represents a small percentage of North Carolina residents (9,656,401), voter eligible population (6,551,412), and registered voters (6,296,863), yet that is all that was needed for this amendment to pass with "majority support" (; As this was a primary with only certain office nominations being contested, there exists a strong likelihood of a bias in voter turnout among certain segments of the population (based on ideology, age, religious affiliation, etc.). It is a great injustice that a constitutional amendment of such importance was passed by so few and potentially biased voters. Although these issues could arise no matter when the vote was held, and one could argue it is the responsibility of the electorate to vote anytime an important issue is on the ballet, the legislators in charge of setting the date should have done so motivated by the best and most fair turnout without resorting to political games.

Voter Knowledge

Another problem with the passing of the amendment involves its wording, its impact, and the voters' understanding of these. It is described by its sponsors and supporters as a marriage amendment, and many believe the bill is only about outlawing gay marriage. However, due to the amendment’s wording, it actually does much more than that. A poll conducted a week before the vote showed that only 40% of voters knew the amendment banned both gay marriage and civil unions ( This poll further suggested that when people were informed of this, they tended to change their view ( Legal scholars have argued about the full effect of the amendment with no conclusions reached on certain issues beyond gay marriage and civil unions. When these issues arise, it will likely fall on the courts to provide an interpretation that cannot currently be predicted accurately. If people studying the law cannot agree on the amendment's effect, it is very unlikely the general population understood it. However, the population was asked to vote on adding it into the constitution based on their limited and erroneous knowledge of it. The responsibility for understanding the amendment can be put on the voters. However, with respect to an important constitutional amendment, that was worded so confusingly (perhaps intentionally), this argument does not take away from the injustice of the amendment’s passing.


No matter what perspective the amendment is analyzed from, its biggest impact is on a small proportion of the population. In a country that was supposedly founded based on equality, allowing a minority’s rights to be restricted by a majority vote in the manner it was in North Carolina on May 8 is hypocritical and wrong. A "marriage amendment" such as this is not unique among the states. Many states throughout the country have passed similar constitutional amendments using their amendment procedures. Many of these involved a majority voting on the rights of a minority group, with political games played by the politicians, and the electorate having imperfect information about the full effect of the amendment. Even before deciding on the content of these amendments, the process by which they were passed and the process by which similar amendments may be passed in the future should be reexamined to help prevent such an injustice from occurring.

Eben, I'd like to edit this based on your comments. Thanks.

-- By IanFisher - 16 May 2012

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r4 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:09:55 - IanSullivan
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