Ahead of next week's gay marriage debate, North Carolina GOP leaders have launched a divisive anti-gay campaign.

Lawmakers will begin debate on whether to send to voters a proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a heterosexual union. A Senate committee will hear the measure on Monday.

Starting two weeks ago, GOP lawmakers who favor the amendment began rallying support for its passage at town hall meetings and press conferences.

North Carolina House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam said during a press conference that the proposed gay marriage ban would protect children and that any argument in favor of such unions would support incest and polygamy.

“It protects the children of the next generation. We see in countries around the world where they legitimize same-sex marriage that marriage itself is depreciated. I think you'll find that the impetus for same-sex marriage is not for same-sex people to get married – very, very few of them do – rather it is to delegitimize marriage as an institution, as a whole. That will affect your children and grandchildren, because all social science research demonstrates that's the best way for children to be raised. So you have to look to the future to see the true advantages of this.”

When asked whether the amendment was “a reach of government into the individuals' lives?” Stam answered: “Well 90 percent of all laws affect people's lives, so that's an argument without any content to it. … We prohibit adult incest, we prohibit polygamy. What would be their answer to that? We're involved in people's lives. That's a slogan without analysis.”

“What I'm saying is,” Stam went on to explain, “you cannot construct an argument for same sex-marriage that would not also justify philosophically the legalization of polygamy and adult incest.”

Stam also suggested that being gay was a choice and called North Carolina a “normal” state.

Senator James Forrester, the bill's primary sponsor in the Senate and a physician, claimed during a town hall meeting that gay sex shortens people's lifespans. He was joined by four additional Republican lawmakers, Senator Kathy Harrington and Reps. Kelly Hastings, John Torbett and Bill Current, and was greeted with a standing ovation at one point during the event.

“At least 20 years is taken off a homosexual's life, if they practice homosexuality, due to the increased death rate from AIDS, and hepatitis, and all of the other related factors to that. That doesn't seem to discourage them from practicing this unhealthy lifestyle.”

“I'm trying to talk with them. And I've got a few homosexual patients, and I treat them just the same as anybody else. I love them. Perhaps even more, because I know they're going to die at least 20 years earlier.”

“We need to reach out to them and try to get them to change their lifestyle back to the normal lifestyle which we can accept.”

“It's a new day in Raleigh. This could really make a mark on society as we know it,” Forrester added. (The audio is embedded in the right panel of this page.)

During a press conference last week sponsored by House Pro Tempore Dale Folwell, Johnny Hunter of the Fayetteville-based Life Education And Resource Network (LEARN) said gay couples should not be allowed to marry because they cannot consummate a marriage.

To illustrate his point, Hunter held up a lock and inserted a key into it.

“The anatomy is not right for a homosexual to even consummate a marriage,” Hunter asserted. “What it takes to consummate a marriage is a lock and a key.”

Representative Kelly Hastings, a freshman Republican legislator, echoed a similar sentiment in comments to the Shelby Star: “I'm just one of those traditional people – I think that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. I think that procreation is a gift from God. I think marriage between one man and one woman is a part of that.”

Hastings added that marriage between members of the same sex would pave the way for polygamy: “If we view marriage as anything different, it opens it up to a lot of other areas that may be controversial.”

Earlier, North Carolina's top Republican, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, said he personally believes “data” show that heterosexual marriages are more stable and nurturing when asked his view on gay marriage.

Opponents of the proposed marriage amendment will hold a rally in Raleigh on Tuesday.

(Related: Majority of North Carolina voters oppose gay marriage ban amendment.)