The constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions is making North Carolina a national battleground, the extent to which is now coming into focus with campaign finance reports showing the referendum buoyed by big out-of-state donors and interest groups.

The National Organization for Marriage contributed more than $300,000 to the group pushing the May 8 ballot initiative, according to reports filed this week, and the Human Rights Campaign countered with $250,000 from its national and state affiliates to defeat it. And the campaigns for and against the amendment are pulling heavily from the 2008 contest in California on Proposition 8 with top consultants, donors and organizations from each side of that fight helping to define the issue in North Carolina.

The two referendum committees raised a combined $3.2 million, likely making it the most expensive campaign in the state this primary season, more than doubling the cost of the Democratic governor’s race and many heated congressional primaries.

“The fight going on in North Carolina right now is critical to the larger LGBT community,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz with the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. “It’s important to note that North Carolina is the only state in the South not to have passed an amendment.”

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