DOBSON — Surry County voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of a constitutional amendment Tuesday to make marriage between one man and one woman the only legally recognized union in North Carolina.
By 9:30 p.m., the measure also was declared to have passed statewide by The Associated Press, although election returns still had not been tallied from three-fourths of North Carolina’s 100 counties at that point.
Despite the outcome, a local gay-rights activist predicted Tuesday night that the battle over same-sex marriages has only begun.
“Win or lose, the state legislators putting this amendment in play kicked a sleeping dog,” said Steve Noga, a Thurmond resident who on Monday night had challenged a recent endorsement of the marriage amendment by the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
Meanwhile, the head of a local ministerial group believes the outcome of Tuesday’s vote in Surry County reflected a desire to adhere to the teachings of the Bible regarding marriage.
“There is plenty of documentation,” said the Rev. Bob Josey, the president of the Mount Airy Ministerial Association.
“Most of the pastors I have talked to are in favor of it,” Josey added of the amendment. Those who supported the measure “look at it as God’s law versus man’s law,” he explained “And God’s law dates back thousands of years.”
The presence of the marriage amendment on Tuesday’s ballot was credited with stimulating a voter turnout in Surry County (35 percent) which was much higher than usual for a primary.
Seventy-eight percent of the county’s voters ended up favoring the measure, compared to 22 percent against, which translated into a total vote count of 12,017 to 3,323, according to unofficial results from Surry’s 29 precincts. That percentage margin was established as early returns trickled in and stood up as the evening progressed.
As of 10:45 p.m., the measure also was on its way to approval across the state, with results in from 79 counties. At that point, the vote count was 1,272,139 for to 803,649 against (61 to 39 percent).
In recent weeks, forces on both sides had galvanized their respective stances as evidenced by signs placed in yards, at businesses and in front of churches.
Josey added Tuesday that the Mount Airy Ministerial Association avoids taking an active role in political issues, and he thinks its member pastors didn’t try to tell their congregations how to vote.
Also, “it’s every pastor’s right to vote as he chooses,” said the local minister. But the prevailing opinion among them regarding the marriage amendment seemed to surround a simple principle:
“It is based on the pastors’ feelings that the Bible has described the way marriage should be — and most pastors stick with the Bible’s teachings,” Josey said.
The debate over the issue in Surry seemed to pick up steam after the county commissioners voted unanimously on April 16 in support of the marriage amendment. That produced both praise as well as criticism from constituents.
On Monday night, Noga, a former military member who lives in Thurmond, charged that the commissioners exceeded their “official elected capacity and publicly adopted … personal religious views to sway voters and influence the outcome of the ballot.”
After the outcome of the vote was apparent Tuesday night, Noga said he believes the issue is far from decided.
State legislators who pressed for the amendment’s passage “are going to have a lot of challenges facing them,” Noga said of the scenario he envisions over a conflict surrounding recognition of same-sex unions. “It’s going to be a long bitter fight. … The people are going to fight.”
Noga added, “All our legislators are in for a battle. It could be a long hard one, but in the end justice will prevail.”
North Carolina already had a statute banning gay marriage, but the measure on Tuesday’s ballot, known as Amendment One, called for adding wording to the state Constitution to include that prohibition.
It stated, “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”
Critics charged that this language could threaten domestic-partnership protections for couples in general while barring same-sex unions.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.