Gay Rights

I was pleased to speak on WCHL twice recently.  First I was a guest on D.G.Martin’s Who’s Talking? evening program discussing my new casebook, Sexual Identity Law in Context.  D.G. and I had an introspective conversation about the legal challenges faced by LGBT persons, particularly in North Carolina.You can hear the show at this link:

A week later, I was invited to be a speaker on one of the panels at the annual WCHL Community Forum entitled Diversity:  Creating a Place for Everyone.  The conversation among the persons on this panel dealt with issues that many different groups face in our community.  You can click on the link below and scroll to the 2:00 p.m. hour to listen to this discussion:

Both are examples of great local programming that WCHL does for our community.

The following editorial appeared in the Herald-Sun (Durham) on February 13, 2012, the Carrboro Citizen on February 23, 2012, and the Chapel Hill News and the Durham News on February 26, 2012 (note: the last sentence was deleted in the February 26 printings):

In the pulpit recently, Catholics were urged by a letter from the bishops of Raleigh and Charlotte “to protect traditional marriage” by voting in favor of the proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution on May 8, 2012.  The bishops stated that more information would be forthcoming, and that they wanted to “engage the debate in a manner that never diminishes the inherent dignity of any person.”   They stated that their position was “a principled one based on eternal and divine truth[.]” 

I felt a sense of sadness when I read this letter. I spent the greater part of my young life attending St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Athens, Ohio, where, growing up, I methodically marched my way through the sacraments (Baptism, Confession, Communion, and Confirmation). Sadly, however, I knew that the next step in the church – Marriage – was one that I would never be allowed to take. I was also sad because although I respect the Catholic Church and appreciate the manner in which they pledged to engage in this debate, I strongly disagree with their support of this amendment.

 I now attend a church that opposes the amendment. Like many other faith communities, my church advises that our faith calls us not to judge one another but to love one another. But my personal opposition to the amendment is further informed by my professional life, where I study principles of federalism, and state and local law and policy.  The proposed amendment seems to put little stock in the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. And yet, as evidenced by the need for churches to state their positions – both for and against the amendment – in 2012, we seem not to be able to separate church and state.  

We have no proof about how John F. Kennedy, the nation’s first and only Catholic president, would feel about this amendment that would influence the legal rights of gay and lesbian citizens.  We do, however, have his own words (from a 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association) to remind us of what he said in an era when people in this country were concerned about having a Catholic as our Commander-in-Chief, and I believe those words provide some indication as to what his opinion might be. He said: 

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. 

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. 

“…  I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equals–where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.  … That is the kind of America in which I believe. …” 

President Kennedy, this is the kind of America I believe in, too.

Here is the statement we issued on March 3, 2011, right after we registered as domestic partners in the town of Carrboro:

Statement from Lydia Lavelle and Alicia Stemper:   

Today is the 100th anniversary of Carrboro.  On this day, our town celebrates our accomplishments over this past century, and our evolution from a small, working mill town into the progressive thinking, equality-for-all Carrboro of 2011. 

In 1994, Carrboro demonstrated its forward thinking nature by becoming the first municipality in North Carolina to offer domestic partner registration, only a decade behind the earliest on record in the United States (Berkeley, California in 1984). 

 As a couple, we said our vows in front of family and friends in a commitment ceremony several years ago. The ceremony was conducted by one of the ministers of our church. At that time, we could not register as domestic partners because our neighborhood had not yet been annexed by Carrboro.  Once we were annexed, we did not register for two reasons.  First, neither of us needed this as a condition for health insurance, the most common reason for these types of municipal registrations.  Second, domestic partner registration can also serve as a symbolic declaration of relationship. However, we decided that the declarations we made at our private commitment ceremony were enough.

But times change. Domestic partnership, civil union or same-sex marriage recognition is now available in most major countries around the world, and in sixteen (nearly a third) of our states.  This number continues to grow on a yearly basis.  According to a recent survey conducted by Elon University, more than half of North Carolina residents support legal recognition of same-sex couples.  However, in North Carolina, there are no state-wide domestic partnership or civil union benefits, and marriage is already denied same-sex couples by state law. But this is not enough for our North Carolina Senate.  Just last week, a bill was introduced in the Senate to amend the North Carolina Constitution to not only define marriage as between a man and a woman, but to make it the only  domestic legal union to be valid or recognized in our state.  In other words, not only will gay and lesbian couples continue to be denied the right to marry, they will also lose the ability to have those relationships recognized in any public way – even a symbolic one – and they will continue to be denied the legal responsibilities and benefits of marriage.

Those introducing the bill call it “Defense of Marriage,” but that is a misnomer. They are not looking to defend marriage, which would imply that marriage was being threatened. Instead, they are looking to exclude gay and lesbian citizens from having the same protections, the same responsibilities, the same recognition, and the same benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy. They are also aiming to keep same-sex couples from even having the ability to be symbolically recognized by their own communities as a valid couple.  We feel that this anti-gay bill is wrong.

Carrboro as a town has long stood against bigotry like this. It struck us that we are so grateful for this town, so proud of its leadership, and so humbled by its courage, that we wanted to make a symbolic gesture of our own.  Therefore, we chose to register as domestic partners on this date, tying our personal history to the history of this town as a way to say, “Thank you, Carrboro!”  We did this as a commemoration of the spirit of our town on its 100th anniversary. We did this as a statement of gratitude to Carrboro. And we did this as a statement of outrage to our legislators. The state of North Carolina should not be in the business of passing laws that exclude many of its citizens from the rights and the privileges that other citizens enjoy.

Congratulations, Carrboro. Thank you for taking leadership on matters of equality and fairness. Thank you for supporting and valuing your lesbian and gay citizens. We are proud to live here and proud to be registered as domestic partners.

Happy Anniversary!

Having attended the Human Rights Campaign’s Annual Dinner in Raleigh the evening before, I think I was on a mission at our annual BOA retreat on February 28.  During the HRC Dinner, companies were highlighted who have implemented gay friendly policies (for example, anti-discrimination requirements, domestic partner benefits, diversity training, and histories of financial support for LGBT advocacy groups).  Scorecards for various companies (mostly national, but some regional and state) can be found on the HRC website. 

Anyway, this got me to thinking (again) about contracts we (the Town/BOA) award to businesses and companies that compete for our projects.  I always ask, as part of any contract we review regarding a job that a business or company is going to perform for the Town, that the contract have an LGBT anti-discrimination clause.  So, at the retreat, I remarked about this again, and asked if it was possible to make this requirement part of the RFPs (request for proposals) at the front end of future bid awards we make, so that the anti-discrimination clauses could then automatically be added to these contracts in the future.  It was suggested that this be investigated so that we could adopt a policy reflecting this.  Staff is looking into this matter, and hopefully we will have a favorable(legal)  outcome in this quest.   The Daily Tar Heel had an article about this matter here:


I had the pleasure of being on the Planning Committee for a symposium that was held for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) in Chapel Hill from September 24-27, 2009.  The symposium was brought to our area by Laurie Paolicelli, the executive director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.  Part of the program included a visit to the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, and a stroll through our town using our fabulous “Walk Carrboro” maps!   Several participants also spent some time in the evenings in Carrboro. Additionally, I was a participant on a panel discussing various issues facing our LGBT community; I talked about ways we have addressed LGBT issues in Carrboro through policy and law.  You can read more about the panel at Pam’s House Blend:  This travel market is a great one for us to cultivate, and I give kudos to Laurie for landing this gig.  The participants at the conference went home with a new understanding of how progressive we are in Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

Here is a link to an editorial I wrote that appeared in The Carrboro Citizen on May 7, 2009. It sums up the sad state of our housing anti-discrimination bill this session:

I will continue to bring this issue up in the years to come. As I stated in the editorial, someday we will not be allowed to discriminate in Carrboro.

We are talking to our legislative delegation about an amendment that we want to make to the Carrboro Town Charter this year. Here is the pertinent part of our current housing anti-discrimination clause with the changes we are reqeusting in italics:
Section 10-1.  Housing Discrimination.   The board of aldermen may adopt ordinances designed to ensure that all housing opportunities in the Town of Carrboro shall be equally available to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, or gender expression.    Such ordinances may regulate or prohibit any act, practice, activity or procedure related directly or indirectly to the sale or rental of public or private housing that affects or may tend to affect the availability or desirability of housing on an equal basis to all persons, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, or gender expression.  
Sam Wardle called to interview me about the proposed bill, and the ensuing article can be found in The Independent here:
I find it interesting that John Rustin from the North Carolina Family Policy Council states that only “immutable” characteristics are covered under existing anti-discrimination policy.  Is he suggesting that religion is “immutable” and sexual orientation (where valid argument exists) is not?

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