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Campaign to defeat anti-gay marriage amendment in NC takes shape

By Matt Comer
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Meeting over the weekend with more than 400 of their supporters from across the state, officials with the statewide LGBT advocacy and education group, Equality North Carolina, previewed their official campaign to defeat an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment in May 2012.

The amendment, approved by the legislature in September, will appear on the May 8, 2012, primary ballot. If voters approve it, the amendment would ban recognition of marriage, civil unions and domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.

Advocates with Equality North Carolina’s new Coalition to Protect NC Families say the amendment is not solely an LGBT issue. The legislation’s broad language could impact domestic violence laws, child custody arrangements, wills and other legal matters between unmarried opposite-sex couples.

Getting that message out will be key to Protect NC Families’ coalition approach, new campaign manager Jeremy Kennedy told qnotes. He cited Mississippi’s defeat last week of a constitutional amendment that could have banned abortion procedures and contraceptives as an example of a successful, southern issues-based campaign.

“They had a broad coalition of people maybe not directly affected by that amendment, being able to show how the amendment would hurt all people in Mississippi, not just women. That’s what we will do here,” Kennedy said.

About 10 groups and 20-30 of their affiliates have already pledged to support the new coalition, Kennedy said.

He also thinks North Carolina is ready for the challenge.

“North Carolina is the only southern state to have fought off one of these amendments,” Kennedy said. “It’s not just because of the politics in the state that it’s been fought off but also because people and organizations in this state have organized and fought against it.”

He added, “North Carolina is primed to really make history here and be the first state to be able to beat one of these amendments.”

The Coalition to Protect NC Families has launched an initial website at protectncfamilies.org. Kennedy said the group is still in its early planning stages, but they are working diligently to pull all of the campaign’s components together. Hiring staff and working to open field offices across the state will be high on the group’s list of priorities in the new year. Currently, the coalition has hired Kennedy, Faith Outreach Director Ryan Rowe and a field organizer, Chris Speer.

Jeremy Kennedy

Kennedy said he hopes to organize as many people as possible to get out and vote against the amendment in May. Doing so will require a tremendous amount of resources.

“If I get as much money as I want, I’ll have an office open and organizer in each town,” he said.

Raising the capital to mount a successful campaign will be among Kennedy’s first jobs. He’ll rely on support from a large team of campaign steering committee members, co-chaired by contract lobbyist and former Equality North Carolina Interim Executive Director Alex Miller and Blueprint North Carolina Executive Director Sean Kosofsky.

“Early money,” Kennedy said, will play a deciding role in the shape of the campaign’s future.

“Whether we like to believe it or not or whether we want to talk about it, money wins because it gives us the resources to win,” he said.

Kennedy said raising money will take all supporters’ involvement, from college students’ $5 contributions to more able donors’ $10,000 gifts.

The Coalition to Protect NC Families will operate as a referendum committee and be able to collect contributions from other organizations, individuals and businesses, a structure that will differ significantly from anti-gay organizations supporting the amendment. While the coalition’s donations will be reported publicly to the North Carolina State Board of Elections, the anti-gay The North Carolina Values Coalition has been registered as a 501(c)4 and will keep their donors anonymous.

Kennedy said the difference in approaches might seem small, but are telling of larger philosophical differences.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Kennedy asserted, commenting on the group’s decision to make donor and contribution information public. “We have nothing to hide and want to run a transparent campaign that the community believes in and that the community is a part of.”

The outcome of the May vote will depend ultimately on voter engagement and turnout, a reality Kennedy and other coalition team members already realize and are working to support.

“We want to run a ground campaign here that is going to be unlike anything North Carolina has seen before for an issue like this,” Kennedy said. “Of course we’ll have ads, mail, earned media and the events, but if we don’t have a program talking to voters one-one at the doors, on phones and in churches, then we’re not going to be able to bring the votes out.”

The coalition expects to host an official campaign launch in early December.

Matt Comer is Editor of QNotes.
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