North Carolina, the only southeastern U.S. state without a same-sex marriage ban in its constitution, debated the issue Monday in its capital city, Raleigh.
Republicans now run the Legislature for the first time in 140 years and are moving to let 2012 voters decide whether state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman should also be written into the state constitution.
“It's time that we settled this issue," said GOP state Rep. Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem, a key amendment proponent and the No. 2 leader in the House.
The possible constitutional ban against gay marriage could potentially draw conservative voters to the polls. It has, however, drawn criticism from gay rights supporters who believe the 2012 statewide ballot is unnecessary.
Many gay-friendly companies said it would discourage new business in North Carolina, where unemployment is now over 10 percent, AP has reported.
"It makes no sense that North Carolina, in a dark economic hour, should single out a minority of its population for public judgment," said Andrew Spainhour, general counsel of Greensboro-based tableware seller Replacements Ltd, where nearly 100 of the 450 employees are gay, including the company founder.
However Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said, "There's no doubt that there would be some advantage in motivating voters for Republican candidates.”
Guillory added, “We are polarized on this [the issue of gay marriage].”
Regardless Republicans have clarified that the legislation would not prohibit businesses from extending benefits to the domestic partners of employees, Reuters reported.
"The goal is not to hinder any private company from any policy they want to have,” said state Senator Dan Soucek, a Republican from Boone and a principal sponsor of the amendment legislation.
“I haven't seen anything credible that it's going to affect how companies treat their people," he added.
In 2008, President Barack Obama won the state, which is hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention, by only 13,000 votes.
Currently thirty states have constitutions limiting marriage to a man and woman, while six states and Washington D.C. allow same-sex couples to marry. Minnesota voters are set to consider an amendment for next year.