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The Plain English Attorney

In an overwhelming vote and a strong blow to businesses throughout the state, North Carolina’s House and Senate affirmed a ballot initiative that would constitutionally ban corporations, limited liability companies and jointly held real estate. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the legislature voted by a more than three-fifths majority in both houses to ban all legal unions within North Carolina that were not related to marriage between a man and a woman. The public will vote, by simple majority, on whether or not to approve the automatic dissolution of all corporate entities and jointly held real estate during the May 2012 primary elections.

OK, that wasn’t the intent, but that’s a potential interpretation of the poorly-drafted constitutional amendment meant to ban gay marriage in North Carolina. The revised amendment, submitted to Democratic legislators less than an hour before committee hearings, stated that the only “legal domestic union” in North Carolina will be marriage between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, Chapter 55 of and other sections of the North Carolina General Statutes use the term “domestic” to refer to entities located and originating in North Carolina as opposed to “foreign” corporations originating from another state but wanting to do business in North Carolina. A “legal union” is also a nebulous enough term that it could apply to any coming together of people or assets in a form authorized by law. Fortunately, exemptions were made for “private contracts,” which are already protected by the U.S. Constitution. But since corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and other specific corporate forms are created under law as a type of legal union, they may be subject to challenge in the future.

Yes, it this legal theory is not likely to win out by the time it gets to the North Carolina Supreme Court, it just shows how biased and bigoted legislators who have wanted a constitutional ban on gay marriage for more than a decade could not come up with language that precludes the argument that the amendment could be interpreted as abolishing corporations. To paraphrase the words of House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, “Let’s not rush into this until we know what the words will mean.” But to characterize House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, “we know exactly what the words mean, and your legal mumbo jumbo is just another delaying tactic.” If this passes, I guess we’ll see if rushing to get the initiative on the ballot was worth the risk in getting the language wrong.

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