Updated: 11:55 p.m. ET.
With all counties reporting, the amendment passed with the support of 61 percent of voters; just 39 percent voted against the measure.
The measure effectively bans not only same-sex marriages but also civil unions, making it one of the strictest of the marriage amendments approved in 29 states.
North Carolina’s legislature narrowly passed the sweeping anti-gay amendment last September. Critics charged that proponents of the anti-gay measure “snuck it on the May ballot,” at a time when they knew there would be low voter turnout and a more favorable mix of voters on their side.
“North Carolina has wandered into treacherous terrain with Amendment One. For all the talk of bolstering families, this measure shamefully shoves them into harm’s way,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
HRC President Joe Solmonese characterized the defeat as “a temporary setback in the fight for equality.”
“The passage of Amendment One is a heartbreaking loss for families in North Carolina, but will not stop us in the march toward full equality,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement this evening.
“As the country continues to move in the direction of marriage equality, our opponents have cynically interrupted the important conversations taking place which lead to increased understanding and acceptance.”
Solmonese noted that support for anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments has been dropping over the years as support for marriage equality rises nationwide.
In 2004 similar amendments passed on average 71 percent to 29 percent. In 2008, the margin shrank from 57 percent to 43 percent. The average for these amendments in the South has been 75 percent to 25 percent.
Prior to the vote, the May 1 polling from Public Policy Polling showed voters under age 30 opposed the amendment by 26 points and in addition, reports indicate that youth turnout was significantly high during the early voting period.
North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis recently said the issue was generational and that the amendment would be repealed in 20 years.
“Marriage is a tremendously motivating issue for younger voters, and we’ve seen an outpouring of energy against this amendment from youth,” said Solmonese. “Elected officials would be wise to tap into this enthusiasm.”
Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry, called the vote “a painful reminder of what happens when a preemptive ballot-measure is stampeded through before people have had enough time to take in real conversations about who gay families are and why marriage matters to them.”
“This amendment is a last gasp of discrimination that will cause real harm to families, communities, and businesses in North Carolina, but says little about the prospects for a better outcome in battles to come in states where there has been greater visibility for loving and committed couples and those who get to know them,” Wolfson said, in a statement.
“And even in North Carolina, the long-term effect of this nasty attack will be to spur more conversations and open more hearts, helping more people rise to fairness and support for the freedom to marry.”
Herndon Graddick, President of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said “North Carolinians voted to write discrimination into their constitution largely because the media didn’t do its job.”
“North Carolina’s media failed to educate its audience about the potential far-reaching consequences of this amendment, and as a result, polls show as many as 60 percent of voters didn’t know the extent of what they were voting on,” Graddick said.
“While today’s vote is devastating to those families who will lose vital protections, we are encouraged by a steady rise in support for equality across the country.”
Since September, individuals and organizations on the state, local and national level having been advocating both for and against the measure. As with states preceding North Carolina’s vote, this issue has drawn a stark line between supporters and opponents of the amendment.
In the campaign’s final days, former U.S. President Bill Clinton recorded automated phone calls opposing the measure, while evangelist Billy Graham, 93, took out full page newspaper ads supporting it.