It is a new battle for civil rights, say opponents of the gay-marriage ban slated for a popular referendum.

Proponents, however, view it as the last defense in the fight to protect traditional marriage against the whims of a future Legislature or activist judge.

Two months away from the vote on Amendment One, the opposing camps seems destined to fall along partisan lines.

Republican and religious leaders have already been vociferous in their support of the referendum, hoping to bring North Carolina into sync with all of its southern neighbors and 29 other states nationwide who have all passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

The late state Sen. Jim Forrester, an 11-term Republican from Stanley, originally introduced the bill into the General Assembly, after decades of championing the cause.

Citing its necessity, Forrester once warned the absence of a marriage amendment invites homosexuals to North Carolina in order to “practice their mischief” in “cesspools of sin” like the city of Asheville.

Catholic bishops Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Michael Burbridge of Raleigh have mounted a campaign advocating the amendment through social media, while the Baptist State Convention, representing more than 1.3 million churchgoers and led by Pastor Mark Harris of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, officially endorsed a yes-vote back in November.

Christian Action League Executive Director Mark Creech spoke passionately about defining marriage as a traditional institution.

“Voters in 30 other states have already had the opportunity to protect marriage in their own constitutions and we are pleased that we will finally be able to do so as well,” said Creech.

“We’re the last state in the South to be able to vote on marriage and we are confident of victory.”

Both Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-Cherryville, have supported constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage at the federal level, but have not weighed in specifically on the state amendment.

State Sen. Kathy Harrington, Rep. Kelly Hastings, Rep. William Current and Rep. John Torbett all championed the proposed amendment in a September town hall meeting in Dallas and have vowed to continue urging a yes vote.

Meanwhile, Democratic politicians are using the no vote as a rallying point for the upcoming elections and primaries.

Offering a warm introduction to the Human Rights Campaign gala in Charlotte, Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democratic political hopeful, used the occasion to declare his opposition to the amendment.

“Tonight, I want to stand up,” Foxx said. “I will be voting against Amendment One.”

The keynote speaker of the event, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, underlined the importance of defeating the amendment in May, hoping that the same excitement will carry to the presidential election later this year.

“I think it’s a great template for what needs to be done to organize people and turn out people for November,” remarked Sebelius. “North Carolina is hugely important in this next election.”

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan came out against the amendment last week, taking the opportunity to denounce the “hyper-partisan political environment” which has brought forth such a proposal.

“Amendment One has far-reaching negative consequences for our families, our children and our communities,” said Sen. Hagan in a statement. “North Carolina is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, and this amendment would harm our state’s ability to recruit the innovators and businesses that are driving our economic recovery.”

Scheduled to coincide with the party primaries on May 8, the measure would legally define marriage as between a man and a woman by enshrining it into the state constitution.

Even though same-sex marriage and civil unions are not currently legal under state law, popular support of the amendment would make any reversal of the laws legislatively or judicially impossible — unless it is struck down by a higher court.

Published in the Gaston Gazette.