(CNN) — North Carolina voters have passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, CNN projects, putting a ban that already existed in state law into the state’s charter.
With more than 1.5 million votes counted from Tuesday’s referendum, supporters of the ban led opponents by a margin of 61% to 39%, according to figures from the State Board of Elections. Its backers prepared to celebrate by serving wedding cake to their supporters in a Raleigh ballroom.
Tami Fitzgerald, the head of Vote for Marriage NC, said she had been confident that “the people of North Carolina would rise up and vote to keep the opposition from redefining traditional marriage.
“We are not anti-gay, we are pro-marriage,” she said. “And the point — the whole point — is simply that you don’t rewrite the nature of God’s design for marriage based on the demands of a group of adults.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for one of the groups opposing the amendment told CNN, “The numbers are not looking the way we hope they would look.”
“We have been down in the polls, and this certainly is not coming as a surprise,” said Paul Guequierre, of the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families. “But it is certainly not what we had hoped for.”
Graham’s endorsement was a rare move for a preacher who has typically avoided political fights. He took out full-page ads in 14 North Carolina newspapers touting his support for the measure, saying “the Bible is clear — God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.”
On the other side, former President Bill Clinton opposed the amendment in a recording sent by phone to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina homes.
“So the real effect of the law is not to keep the traditional definition of marriage, you’ve already done that,” Clinton says in the recording. “The real effect of the law will be to hurt families and drive away jobs.”
The amendment also would strengthen the state’s position against same-sex civil unions, often considered a precursor to the marriage issue. Several municipalities in North Carolina provide benefits to same-sex couples, and Duke University law professor Kathryn Bradley said those rights could be lost with passage of the amendment.
Concerns over the measure also honed in on the potential for unintended consequences, she said, affecting issues such as child custody and the prosecution of domestic violence among unmarried couples because of the narrow definition of the new statute.
“Before domestic violence laws, we relied on criminal assault laws, which don’t always protect against things like stalking,” added Bradley, who says the measure could also affect heterosexual couples.
The state House and Senate voted in 2011 to put the amendment before state voters. Both chambers are Republican-controlled for the first time in the past 140 years.
“This bill’s been 12 years in the making,” said Maxine Eichner, a law professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But it’s now made possible because Republicans control the legislature.”
Should the constitutional amendment gain approval, it would largely prevent the state’s judiciary from overturning it. Some 500,000 people had cast ballots on the measure before Tuesday through early voting or absentee ballots.
The only recent public opinion polling on the issue, from a group that does work for Democratic candidates and causes, indicates that a majority of North Carolina voters support the amendment.
Nationally, according to a new Gallup survey, 50% of Americans believe same-sex couples should be allowed to wed, a markedly different position than those polled in past years, suggesting growing acceptance of same-sex marriages.
Some 48% say such marriages should not be legal.
On Sunday, Vice President Joe Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the idea of same-sex marriage.
“I just think that the good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about, it is a simple proposition: Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person who love?” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Biden did not mention the North Carolina initiative and added that President Barack Obama has the final word on the administration’s policy. Obama has taken the official position that his views on the issue are “evolving.”
Before Tuesday, 30 states had voted in favor of constitutional amendments that seek to defend traditional definitions of marriage as a heterosexual union.
“Of states without constitutional amendments on marriage, 45% (nine of 20) eventually recognize same-sex marriage, either by direct judicial decree, by legislative action, or by a ruling requiring that same-sex marriages from other states be treated as valid,” the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriages, said in a statement. “Among the 30 states with marriage amendments, none have been repealed.”
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage beginning in June, but opponents there have pledged to block the bill and called for voters to decide the issue.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that permits same-sex couples to wed in that state as of January 1, 2013.