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A family’s story about the unforeseeable consequences of anti-gay Amendment One

Amendment One

By Jacob Combs

Yesterday, Creative Loafing Charlotte, a website that covers arts and entertainment in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area of North Carolina, published the  powerful story of Renee Brown and Kelly Gimlin, a couple who live in the Charlotte suburb of Cornelius with their eight-year-old daughter, Sydney Jolie Brown.  Renee, Kelly and Sydney’s story shows is just one example of the far-reaching and nefarious effects that Amendment One could have on families and children if it passes next Tuesday.

Renee, the director of marketing for Wells Fargo’s wealth, brokerage and retirement branch, and Kelly, a stay-at-home mom, have already taken steps to assure that Sydney and their asserts are protected, even though their relationship is not recognized under North Carolina state law.  Still, Amendment One poses a whole new set of challenges for the family, along with many unanswered questions.  The couple has already decided not to have Gimlin try to adopt Sydney, since it would require her to sue Brown in order to qualify as a second parent and could lead to a lengthy (and procedurally complex) legal battle.  If Amendment One were to pass, it could make that process more difficult, or even impossible.  And if something were to happen to Renee Brown, Kelly and Sydney could be separated, even though Sydney has lived her entire life with Kelly as one of her moms.

The central problem with Amendment One, a point which we’ve written about before here on but which bears repeating, is the vagueness of language in the ballot amendment.  At first glance, the amendment’s wording seems simple: it states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.”  But it is the phrase “domestic legal union” that makes the issue so complex, since that phrase has never been used before in North Carolina law nor has it been defined by the state’s court system.  The amendment itself also offers no definition.  What this means, essentially, is that no one knows just what effect the amendment would have, or how the court’s would interpret it.  As the Creative Loafing article puts it, lawyers agree that “the amendment could bar the state from giving unmarried couples of any sexual orientation the right to determine how to dispose of their partner’s remains and how to handle medical emergencies or financial decisions” and “could invalidate trusts, wills and domestic-violence and child-custody laws.”

Because marriage equality is already legally prohibited by North Carolina state law, it may seem to some that the Amendment One campaign is simply a choice between the lesser of two evils.  In reality, though, it’s about much more than that.  A nationwide study published in 2009 by Yale University’s Mark Hatzenbueler found that LGBT individuals living in states with constitutional amendments banning marriage equality experienced singificant increases in mood disorders, anxiety and substance abuse.  By a unanimous 157-0 vote, the American Psychological Association last year fully endorsed marriage equality, with the resolution clearly stating that “emerging evidence suggests that statewide campaigns to deny same-sex couples legal access to civil marriage are a significant source of stress to the lesbian, gay and bisexual residents of those states and may have negative effects on their psychological well-being.”  Not one member of the nation’s most important organization of psychologists, a group with over 154,000 members, voted against the resolution.

As you’ve read P8TT over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed just how much we’ve been covering Amendment One.  In the last week, though, I’ve been amazed by the reaction I get from friends and family when I tell them I’m going to North Carolina this weekend to get out the vote against the amendment: they simply haven’t heard about it.  For those of us who live and breathe this kind of news, Amendment One feels like a national issue (because it does certainly have national implications), but for the country at large, Amendment One isn’t really on the radar.  That is changing, though, as the election gets closer and as our side works with all its might to push for a major upset at the polls next Tuesday.  This is why we here at P8TT consider it so important to provide daily coverage of the campaign, and to keep growing awareness of the real effects Amendment One could have.

Renee, Kelly and Sydney demonstrate that this fight isn’t just about the lesser of two evils.  It’s about protecting families.  It’s about protecting children.  And, in a larger sense, it’s about the mental health of the LGBT community, not just in North Carolina, but across the United States.


  • 1. AnonyGrl  |  May 2, 2012 at 9:10 am

    I've been working on people locally too, here in Albany, NY, who don't know about Amendment One or its national implications. Plus, if I find somebody who has contacts in NC, I encourage them to get those contacts out and voting.

    May not be much, but every mind we touch, every voice we empower, every heart we change is one more step.

  • 2. Seth from Maryland  |  May 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Breaking News: Colorado House Committee to Vote on Civil Unions Bill Tomorrow

  • 3. Bill S.  |  May 2, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Rhode Island state legislature is having a hearing on marriage equality tonight.

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