Obama bailed out of North Carolina visit as traditional-marriage amendment goes to voters

Is the new sensitivity on the gay-marriage issue at Team Obama really all that new?  Last week, the White House scheduled a visit to North Carolina today to talk about the economy, which would have been interesting enough in a state with a jobless rate above the national average.  With traditional-marriage Amendment One appearing to be headed for victory, the White House changed direction two hours later and said the President was unavailable to speak in the Tarheel State, a fact reported today in North Carolina:

President Barack Obama was scheduled, albeit briefly, to visit North Carolina on Election Day to make an speech in Asheville about the economy.

But the White House sent the notice Wednesday last week but reversed course about five hours later, saying the trip wasn’t taking place, according to a North Carolina congressional office notified about the trip. The false alarm isn’t unprecedented — but the fact the White House even considered visiting the state on primary election day is interesting.

A controversial vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions is on today’s ballot. Obama issued a statement against the amendment earlier this year — but polls show it is likely to win by a solid margin.

That decision preceded Joe Biden’s comments on Sunday, which makes it appear that Biden may really have gone off the reservation.  Had Obama spoken today, there is little doubt he would have had to address Amendment One at some point.  How could Obama have responded?  Arguing that he’s still “evolving” while publicly opposing the amendment would have produced some awkward and incoherent moments.  So much for leadership.

It’s a shame we missed that, but North Carolina’s embattled governor gave us a demonstration of what it would have looked like today.  Governor Bev Perdue backed the current statutory language banning gay marriage, but opposes the amendment to the state constitution that would put the issue out of the reach of activist judges.  Suddenly, Perdue thinks that this issue doesn’t belong on ballots and needs a “national conversation,” which prompts Chuck Todd to ask her how Perdue can possibly square this circle:

It’s a headscratcher, all right, especially the claim that this amendment has nothing to do with gay marriage.  Here’s the text of the amendment:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

So domestic partnerships would still be legal, as they are now in North Carolina.  The amendment only changes the status of the legal definition of marriage from statute to constitutional amendment while protecting private contracts such as domestic partnerships.  In other words, it’s only about same-sex marriage, not about taking rights away from anyone, as the Salisbury Post tacitly notes in their analysis:

What will happen if the amendment fails?

Same-sex marriage will remain illegal under a 1996 North Carolina law. Civil unions still will not be offered to either same-sex or opposite-sex couples, but the state could pass a law to allow them.

There will be no constitutional ban on either gay marriage or civil unions, meaning a state court could one day strike down existing law as unconstitutional.

What will happen if the amendment passes?

It will be added to the state Constitution, meaning a three-fifths majority of state legislators would have to agree to repeal it.

The amendment would prohibit both same-sex marriage and civil unions, or legal unions with equivalent rights to marriage.

Just as in Minnesota this fall, the amendment gives voters in North Carolina a chance to keep judges from redefining marriage from the bench.  That’s it.  And if Perdue and Obama agree that the legal definition of marriage should be one-man-one-woman and that any other definition should be reached through means of representative democracy rather than declaration by judicial fiat, they should have no problem with Amendment One.  Perdue — and Obama — want to have it both ways, and as Chuck Todd implies, that’s nothing less than sheer incoherence.