Clergy, LGBT advocates stress importance of standing up, speaking out for equality
CHARLOTTE — Hundreds of people marched and gathered for a rally in Uptown on Friday afternoon to speak out against a proposed state constitutional amendment that could ban marriage and other relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
The “Standing on the Side of Love” rally was planned by members of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is holding its annual general assembly in Charlotte this weekend. Local organizations and clergy joined the association for a rally in Marshall Park easily attracting more than 500 people.
“We are many religions gathered to declare a universal truth: we are all one human family,” Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte Pastor Jay Leach told the crowd. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face discrimination, harassment and violence all over the world and right here in North Carolina. We are here to declare a vision of a beloved community where all are respected and valued.”
At the forefront of the rally were concerns over a proposed state constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. Ian Palmquist, the outgoing executive director of the statewide advocacy group Equality North Carolina, spoke at the rally.
“We are facing real challegnes right now in North Carolina,” Palmquist said. “Right-wing lawmakers have introduced an amendment not only to deny marriage equality to same-sex couples but also to potentially ban civil unions, domestic partnerships and even domestic partnerships that employers offer.”
Palmquist added, “This amendment is bad for business, bad for North Carolina and bad for the faith community and we will not allow it to become a part of our state’s constitution.”
Several clergy members from various faith traditions also spoke at the rally, including Unity Fellowship Church of Charlotte’s Bishop Tonyia Rawls.
“I am here to affirm that there are many people of faith who recognize the sacred worth and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Rawls said. “We stand solidly opposed to a constitutional amendment that would ban all forms of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.
Rawls said the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement lives on today.
“I am the beneficiary of liberties hard won through the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “I am here because reasonable people took a stand and said no to unjust laws that wanted to rob me and people like me of our liberties. I stand today because it is my turn to fight. We all stand today against efforts to legislate discrimination and harassment.”
The rally also included comments from the Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda. In recent years, the east African country has come under international fire for a proposed “Kill the Gays” bill that would have prescribed harsh penalties up to and including the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality.
“We have a long way to go despite all the achievements we have made,” Kiyimba said. “All over the world while some are celebrating their liberties others are still experiencing captivity. I call for everyone here to stand and say enough is enough. I do what I have to do; I could not sit down while I saw my people being killed. Some Ugandan gays fear even to go to the hospital.”
Kiyimba addressed briefly the proposed 2009 Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
“Keep in mind,” he said, “that the homophobia we are experiencing in Uganda was exported to our country by evangelicals in the United States of America.”
Loan Tran, an outspoken youth board member of the local youth services group Time Out Youth, pleaded with rally attendees to stand up for young people.
“I ask you to remember to fight for youth like me — fight against this system that constantly breaks us and then expects us to rebuild ourselves with our own hands,” Tran said.
The anti-LGBT constitutional amendment might be debated in a special September session of the state legislature. Republicans in the state House have said hearing the bill sooner rather than later would aid in right-wing groups’ get out the vote efforts. The amendment was the target of a June 2 protest on the House floor in which three gay rights activists were arrested.
Following the rally on Friday evening, a movement to push for marriage equality in New York state saw success when the state senate there passed a marriage equality bill 33-29. It now goes to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been a primary proponent of the bill and is expected to sign it into law.
The Friday rally was sponsored by Time Out Youth, Unitarian Universalist Association’s “Standing on the Side of Life” Campaign, Faith in America, Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina. : :