RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/ABC7) - North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman, becoming the latest state to effectively slam the door shut on same-sex marriages.
With most of the precincts reporting Tuesday, unofficial returns showed the amendment passing with about 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent against. North Carolina is the 30th state to adopt such a ban on gay marriage.
Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the pro-amendment group Vote FOR Marriage NC, said she believes the initiative awoke a silent majority of more active voters in the future.
"I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman," Fitzgerald said at a celebration Tuesday night. "The whole point is simply that you don't rewrite the nature of God's design based on the demands of a group of adults."
The approval means North Carolina will not recognize any type of legal union between non-married couples be they gay or straight.
Voter Richard Foar said, "I've the read the Bible through three to four times, and I think it's the thing to do."
Voter Bill Gouge countered, "It's a matter of civil rights."
Across the country support for gay marriage is high. A March ABC News poll found more than 50 percent of Americans were in favor of gay marriage. The statistic is the highest the numbers have ever been.
A recent statement by Vice President Joe Biden has made the topic of gay marriage a hot issue in the presidential campaign.
"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights," Biden said on Meet the Press.
But, President Barack Obama has not gone that far in any of his statements on gay marriage. As a Senate candidate in 2004, Obama opposed the issue.
But in December 2010, he said, "My feelings about this are constantly evolving. i struggle with this."
In the final days before the vote, members of President Barack Obama's cabinet expressed support for gay marriage and former President Bill Clinton recorded phone messages urging voters to reject the amendment. Opponents also held marches, put up television ads and gave speeches, including one by Jay Bakker, son of televangelists Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Bakker.
Meanwhile, supporters ran their own ad campaigns and church leaders urged Sunday congregations to vote for the amendment. The Rev. Billy Graham, who at age 93 remains influential even though his last crusade was in 2005, was featured in full-page newspaper ads supporting the amendment.
Both sides spent a combined $3 million on their campaigns.
Experts expect the measure to pass, despite the state's long history of moderate politics.
North Carolina law already bans gay marriage, like nine other states, but an amendment would effectively slam the door shut on same-sex marriages.
Six states - all in the Northeast except Iowa - and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages.
The North Carolina amendment was placed on the ballot after Republicans took over control of the state legislature after the 2010 elections, a role the GOP hadn't enjoyed for 140 years.