On September 18, 2012, we were asked by the County to consider several decisions related to reparations for the Rogers Road neighborhood, which bore the burden of the nearby landfill for many years.  A newly-formed Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force had been meeting for several months, and out of the group came several recommendations for the three jurisdictions (Chapel Hill, Orange County and Carrboro) involved in the legal entanglements of the Rogers Road community  to consider.  One was to discuss how much each jurisdiction might be willing to allocate toward a sewer infrastructure that would serve the historic Rogers Road properties.  Another was to consider allocating money to go toward construction of a community center for the neighborhood (a community center had been informally operating in the neighborhood, but had been forced to close due to several code violations).  The County had already signaled their intent to contribute financially to these two initiatives.

The Board members present (Dan Coleman was absent) were unanimous in agreeing that money should be allocated toward improvements in the neighborhood, although we discussed several logistical concerns about the proposals.  With regard to the sewer infrastructure, we wondered if future developers would really be the ones to ultimately benefit from the sewer extension, rather than current residents.  We also discussed concerns with the ongoing operating costs that would be associated with any community center that was built.  We further noted that there was a community center planned for a church property being developed on Rogers Road, and wondered whether it made sense to pursue a joint venture with the church.  We also were concerned about agreeing to allocate a percentage of money toward what was currently an unknown total cost.

Ultimately, the Board voted 6-0 “that the Town of Carrboro has the intention of contributing not more than $900,000 for the Town’s portion of the community center and cost of the sewer project.” We also directed the Town Manager to research funding sources, and investigate how the Town could recoup the sewer line investment costs from future developers.  We also expressed our appreciation to the County for their commitment to the project and requested that the Town of Chapel Hill consider their share of the contribution.

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!