Mark Harris, the newly-elected president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC), says he's hoping for a civil debate over a proposed amendment which would make it unconstitutional for North Carolina to recognize gay and lesbian couples with marriage, civil unions and possibly even domestic partnerships.

Speaking to the Charlotte Observer, Harris said he understands the debate will be emotional, but added: “I hope we can express our position – keep the conversation to the facts and our principles – and do it in a civil way. It doesn't mean I'm going to change someone else's position or they're going to change mine.”

“But in America, we all ought to be able to express ourselves without things getting out of hand.”

“Over the next several months, I am going to stress that this is an opportunity for the church to celebrate marriage and its biblical foundation – rather than talking about something we're against.”

A resolution in support of the amendment was approved last month during the BSCNC's annual convention.

The non-binding statement suggests that gay marriage would hurt the family, children and North Carolina's reputation and “economic viability.” It also calls on the state's churches to “pray faithfully against the legalization of same-sex marriages or marriage substitutes in American law.”

Moreover, the statement calls “upon all the churches of the Baptist State Convention to vigorously organize a strong effort among their members to support passage of the Marriage Amendment ...”

“From a biblical position, all I can do is state my position: I believe that homosexuality is a sin,” Harris told the paper. “That said, I don't believe that that position is at the heart of this amendment. If homosexuals choose to maintain a relationship and live together, that's their business. I don't believe people should be discriminated against.”

Harris added that allowing gay people to marry would harm children.

The BSCNC includes roughly 4,300 member churches.