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UNC Law Profs: "Marriage Amendment" Could Affect All Couples

December 21, 2011

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina's "Marriage Amendment" could affect the health benefits and legal protections of all couples in the state, according to law professors at the University of North Carolina who say they are concerned about the proposal's potential unintended consequences.

The amendment passed the State Assembly this fall and will appear on next May's primary-election ballot.

Though often touted as a change only for same-sex couples, Professor Holning Lau says the amendment would make it impossible for the state to recognize any domestic union when two people choose to live together.

"The amendment would strip these loving relationships of any existing rights and also, foreclose the possibility of the state offering these couples any statewide domestic-partnership protection. "

If passed, Lau says, the amendment could also affect health insurance and other benefits offered by employers. Although supporters of the amendment say their goal is to defend traditional marriage, Lau says states where domestic unions are permitted actually have seen declines in their divorce rates.

Professor Maxine Eichner says such a law would have implications for all couples, in areas that include domestic violence protections for unmarried couples as well as child custody rights of domestic partners. She believes most people haven't considered how far this amendment could reach into people's lives.

"We still expect that the state is going to recognize our non-marital relationships, and if this amendment is passed, that would preclude the state from doing that in, potentially, a number of areas. "

Supporters of the amendment say they want to protect the state's current policy that prohibits same-sex marriage.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC