RALEIGH, N.C. — A rally that brought thousands of proponents for an anti-gay constitutional amendment on marriage to the North Carolina LEgislative Building on May 17 was countered by messages of inclusion by progressive members of the clergy.
State lawmakers joined Equality North Carolina, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, for a press conference inside the state legislature where clergy members said any attempts to write discrimination into the constitution were unjust.
“Matters of church and state are separate and should be separate,” Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe) told reporters. “This is another instance where I believe folks are trying to dictate the tenents of religion from the constitution and that’s not appropriate.”
Charlotte’s Bishop Tonyia Rawls of Unity Fellowship Church and the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Hickory’s Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church also spoke.
“You do not have a legal right to tell other people how they must love,” Rawls said. “We stand today against the effort being offered up to legislate discrimination and bias.”
“Should not legislators be about ushering in justice?” Spearman asked. “The anti-LGBT amendment is not fair and it certainly is not just.”
While supporters for equality spoke to media, some 3,500 anti-gay rally attendees heard speeches from religious leaders like Return America’s Rev. Ron Baity, the organizer of the rally, and hate group leader Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The Washington, D.C.-based group’s North Carolina affiliate, the North Carolina Family Policy Council, had supported the rally and encouraged their members to attend. The D.C. organization was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center last year.
Republican McDowell County Rep. Mitch Gillespie told anti-gay rally attendees that he expected a victory for the amendment this year.
“I’ve been down here for seven terms; we’ve been fighting for this for a long time,” he told the rally. “This year we’re going to make it happen. I fully expect it to pass this year and I expect a large, bipartisan vote on it.”
A few dozen pro-gay counter-protesters also attended the anti-gay rally. Some have alleged intimidation by state capitol police, who attempted to persuade a small group of counter-protesters to move from where they had gathered near the anti-gay rally’s stage. A video posted on YouTube showed a police officer telling the group that they, unlike anti-gay ralliers, did not have a permit to be on Halifax Mall. A pro-gay rally will be held at the Legislative Building on June 2.
Two versions of the anti-gay amendment have been filed in the state legislature. The Senate version, sponsored by Gaston County Republican Sen. James Forrester, would prohibit recognition of both public and private relatinships ranging from marriage to domestic partner benefits. The less-stringent House version would ban only recognition of marriage.
This is the eighth year in a row that anti-gay legislators have introduced the amendment. Equality North Carolina had successfully lobbied the formerly-Democratically-controlled legislature from taking up debate on the measures. Last November, both chambers of the legislature gained a Republican majority. North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without such an anti-gay amendment in its constitution.
— Press conference and rally quotes courtesy video from NC Policy Watch and WRAL. : :