Gay rights activists in North Carolina said they would continue to fight for equality after voters approved a measure to enshrine a ban on same-sex unions in the state’s constitution.
With most of the precincts reporting Tuesday, unofficial returns showed the amendment passing with about 61% of the vote to 39% against. North Carolina is the 30th state to adopt such a ban on gay marriage.
Jeremy Kennedy, of the Coalition To Protect NC Families, said that it was too early to say how the campaign would respond to the defeat, which was heavier than expected.
But he said the 130 member organisations involved in the coalition would fight on. “We fought a hard campaign, and we fought it to win. Nine hundred thousand people came out an voted against the bill. If you had said that at the beginning we would have been laughing at you. It just shows there was some momentum on this. But the turnout was double what we expected. We needed to have more conversation.”
Stuart Campbell, of Equality NC, said campaigners would work to channel the inevitable disappointment at the result. “We have seen in other states when people have experience other votes like this, there is a lot of grieving, a lot of anger. We want to channel that anger and energy into constructive ways to take equality forward. We want to tell people why it is important that they elect pro-equality legislators and they keep fighting.
“We have run a very smart campaign. The fact of the matter is we didn’t have the time we needed. The polls show that when people learned about the amendment, they opposed it.”
Although national polls show an increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage, when the issue comes up before voters on a statewide ballot as it did on in North Carolina, the vote goes against it.
Tami Fitzgerald, who leads the pro-amendment group Vote for Marriage NC, said she believed the initiative awoke a silent majority of more active voters.
“I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Fitzgerald said at a celebration on Tuesday night. “The whole point is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design based on the demands of a group of adults.”
In the final days before the vote, members of Barack Obama’s cabinet expressed support for gay marriage, and former president Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to oppose the amendment.
Supporters of the amendment responded with marches, television ads and speeches.
A new campaign was launched on Tuesday to highlight the discrimination activists say is faced by LGBT people in North Carolina. The “We Do” campaign was launched in Wilson, North Carolina, with six couples requesting and being denied marriage licences from town hall officials.
The campaign, run the the Campaign for Southern Equality, aims to “tell a story of discriminatory law”. They plan to take the campaign to seven more towns in the state over the next week.
The Rev Jasmine Beach-Ferraram executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said: “LGBT people are second-class citizens. That is a reality that’s invisible to many people but it is a daily reality in every town in every city.
“We are calling for full equality under federal law because we believe that the federal path is how LGBT people in the South will become equal citizens under the law.”
The speaker of the North Carolina house, Thom Tillis, a Republican from a Charlotte suburb, said earlier in the year that even if the amendment passed, it would be reversed as today’s young adults age within 20 years. “It’s a generational issue,” Tillis told a student group at North Carolina State University in March about the amendment, which he supported.