Chapel Hill stands up for gay rights

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday, March 12, 2005

If you were in the Town Council chambers last Monday night, you probably felt as Bill Strom did. "I am constantly moved and blown away by Chapel Hill citizens who stand before us and share their life experiences," he said. He referred to the dozens of citizens who came out that night to speak on behalf of the rights of gays and lesbians in the face of not only denial but further restriction of those rights under a right-wing assault.

The council's proposed legislative agenda has three items that speak to the rights of same-sex couples. It asks our state legislators to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman and to include sexual orientation as a protected category under the hate crimes law.

A handful of local fundamentalists brought in a busload of their con-freres from Wake County to preach intolerance to the Town Council. They soon learned they'd come to the wrong place. Their position received not a word of support from Chapel Hillians outside their small group.

Starting with Darlene Nicgorski, the first Chapel Hillian to speak, the tone was set. Nicgorski's voice trembled with emotion as she declared to the dozens of zealots who'd come to the meeting, "Don't tell me I'm not a family! I have a partner of 18 years. I am here taking care of her 87-year-old mother. Is that not love and family values?"

Susan Pike, a veteran of many years of marriage, spoke with the voice of experience.

"The threat to my marriage does not come from outside," she said. "There's plenty of threat from inside -- tempers, lack of patience, fatigue. ..."

Michael Williams addressed the question of whether gay marriage is a threat to heterosexuals. His parents, who just celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary, "realize that their marriage is not something I want to steal from them; I'd like one of my own."

Preschool teacher Mary Bratsch spoke of children, "children with same-sex parents. They are not maladjusted, not lacking ethics, not losing their souls, not spiritually or physically damaged, not unloved." She explained how discrimination against gay parents affects the lives of their children.

In a discussion rife with religious references, it was Methodist minister Rhett Brown who asserted the separation of church and state, saying, "I could quote scriptures in support of the stand I take today. Perhaps that is an appropriate act within the halls of the church but this is the hall of government and we live by the rule of law. Is it just to discriminate against any oppressed group based on the North Carolina Constitution? As a citizen of the United States, I say 'no.' "

Social worker Elizabeth Waugh-Stewart said that, as a lesbian, she resents the way "the issue of gay marriage obscures other deeply moral issues such as poverty, homelessness and environmental destruction. ... Let's put our energy there and let people love each other as they choose to."

Donna Bell rose to "reclaim marriage for all of us non-Christians." Bell objected to the idea that some narrow right-wing definition of family is basic to society.

"Community is the foundation of our society," she said, "community built on love of our neighbors, respect for our neighbors."

Although fairly restrained, Town Council members contributed a few words of wisdom as well.

Sally Greene said "our constitution should be interpreted to favor the increase of rights."

Edith Wiggins added, "when any one is denied their full justice and equality and the rights of all Americans, none of us have all of our rights."

"I do represent Chapel Hill," Jim Ward said, "by being against hatred, by being against discrimination. I support the dignity and respect of the individual and equality and justice for all."

Strom concluded that "justice, fairness and equality make our society stronger and set good examples for our children."

The spokesmen for the homophobic churchgoers erred in directing their remarks to Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt. Although Kleinschmidt is openly gay and did put forward the resolutions in question, he is joined by a unified council and community on these issues.

For his part, Kleinschmidt remained even-tempered, good-humored and articulate. In a hushed voice as if revealing a closely guarded secret, he suggested that legally married same-sex couples may already be living in Chapel Hill. Taking a more serious tone, he tied the importance of the legislative proposals to the recent anti-gay violence on Franklin Street and "the venomous cultural climate that targets gays and lesbians."

Fundamentally, Kleinschmidt concluded, the Chapel Hill legislative requests are "about treating people the same." And amen to that.



Dan, I'd retitle your article Chapel Hill Stands Up for Civil Rights as I think this more accurately captures the essence of what went on. As Sally implied, diminishing the rights of one group diminishes the rights of all. The Damage of Marriage Act's Orwellian nature is that it trivializes what it supposedly seeks to strengthen. The legalized intolerance codified in the abridgement (don't ask me to call it an Amendment) of the Constitution weakens every element of our Constitution and all the rights that it enumerates. Of course, these rights are inalienable and stand beyond any legal framework (even one as grand as our Constitution), so the "rightness" of Chapel Hill's stance transcends any legal argument and, thus, any Hammish abasement.

Dan writes, "The spokesmen for the homophobic churchgoers erred in directing their remarks to Councilman Mark Kleinschmidt. Although Kleinschmidt is openly gay and did put forward the resolutions in question, he is joined by a unified council and community on these issues."

Given what is happening in some of our Chapel Hill church congregations with regards to these issues, I think it is a stretch to think that we have a unified community. Sadly, intolerance is still a family value for all too many folks.

Fred, you are correct, of course. I cannot always tease out all the nuances of a point in an 800 word column, particularly in a case like this when I primarily want to report the inspiring words of those who spoke out at the hearing. Thus, my point is overstated. I could have said "largely unified."

Thankfully, there is no imaginable scenario, at least at this time. in which Chapel Hill would elect someone who supports the abridgement of civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation.

While somewhat tangental to the issue addressed on this string, for a thought-provoking discussion of the profound and pernicious influence of religious zealotry on public policy and its philosophical underpinnings, I commend to all Bill Moyers' essay on the subject in the latest New York Review of Books:



Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.