RALEIGH, NC (AP) - North Carolina voters approve constitutional amendment defining marriage as union between a man and woman, the Associated Press reported.
The passing of Amendment One make North Carolina the 30th state to adopt such a ban.
With 35 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday, unofficial returns showed the amendment passing with about 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent against.
"Today citizens across the state of North Carolina voted to define marriage in our constitution," North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes said in a statement Tuesday night. "Passing this Amendment required support from Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters. This is a defining day for traditional values in North Carolina, and I'm proud to have voted for protecting marriage."
The national debate over gay marriage turned its attention South on Tuesday, as North Carolina became the latest state to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
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 oppose the amendment.
Supporters of the amendment responded with marches, television ads and speeches. The Rev. Billy Graham was featured in full-page newspaper ads backing the amendment.
"I voted for it, but personally, I would prefer the government stay of marriage altogether, let the church handle it," said Amendment supporter Dennis Peterson. "I understand a lot of people are divided. I personally wish we would be focused on bigger issues, like the economy, jobs."
North Carolina law already bans gay marriage, but an amendment would effectively slam the door shut on same-sex marriages.
A crowd gathered at Petra's Piano Bar in Charlotte reacted with disappointment as the Amendment One results trickled in Tuesday night. The bar hosted a party that was heavily attended by Charlotte residents opposed to Amendment One.
"The defeat is heartbreaking," said Jason Scott, who is planning a fall commitment ceremony with his partner of two years. "I thought better of North Carolina. I thought better of the voters. I thought North Carolina was more progressive than the rest of the South."
He had hoped they could one day be legally married in North Carolina. The passing of the amendment will put another barrier between the couple and their dream.
While Scott and more than 100 others who packed inside Petra's were clearly upset, there was also a sense of determination. Some patrons left the bar chanting, "We won't go down without a fight."
More than 500,000 voters had cast their ballot before Tuesday, more than the 2008 primary when Obama and Hillary Clinton were fighting for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama's North Carolina campaign spokesman issued a statement in March saying the president opposed the amendment. Obama, who supports most gay rights, has stopped short of backing gay marriage. Without clarification, he's said for the past year and a half that his personal views on the matter are "evolving."
His election-year vagueness on gay marriage is coming under fresh scrutiny.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan broke ranks with the White House on Monday, stating his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage one day after Vice President Joe Biden said he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex married couples getting the same rights at heterosexual married couples.
One fault line that could determine the result is generational. Older voters, who tend to be more reliable voters, were expected to back the amendment.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican from a Charlotte suburb, said even if the amendment is passed, it will be reversed as today's young adults age.
"It's a generational issue," Tillis told a student group at North Carolina State University in March about the amendment he supports. "If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years."
The 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.
The amendment also goes beyond state law by voiding other types of domestic unions from carrying legal status, which opponents warn could disrupt protection orders for unmarried couples.
"I understand that we already have a law on the books invalidating gay marriage. I feel like it's really important to stand up and be heard against any further discrimination," elementary school teacher Amelia Rogers of Raleigh said before casting her ballot last weekend. "That's the No. 1 reason why I'm coming out to vote today and it's against any further discrimination."
Those who oppose changing the traditional definition of marriage to include gays and lesbians said the amendment is the only chance average people have to weigh in.
"In other states, judges have redefined marriage, without a vote of the people. That's happened in California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts," said Tami Fitzgerald, who heads the pro-amendment group Vote FOR Marriage NC. "The origin of marriage is from God, and I think most people in our state know that."
While polls suggest a majority of likely voters supporting the amendment, an Elon University poll of adult residents in March found two-thirds of the state as a whole supports either gay marriage or civil unions.
"The Elon Poll is pretty consistent in indicating that people favor rights for gays and lesbians, but when you look at all the other polls that look at likely voters, they're all pretty consistent" in predicting passage, Peace College political scientist David McLennan said.