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Good news from the folks at ACLU of North Carolina:

RALEIGH – The Wake County Board of Commissioners today voted to add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals to those protected by the county’s employment nondiscrimination policies. The measure, approved as part of a consent agenda, ensures that county employees cannot be discriminated against for their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

“We applaud the Wake County commissioners for joining the growing list of county and city governments that have expanded workplace protections in the interest of fairness and equality,” said Susanna Birdsong, Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “Everyone deserves a fair chance at employment and advancement in the workplace, and no one should ever lose their job because of who they are or who they love. Employers know that part of attracting and retaining the best employees is offering a workplace that is fair, where qualified individuals are not discriminated against based on characteristics unrelated to the job. The sad reality is, despite overwhelming public support for protecting LGBT workers in North Carolina, it is still legal to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation in much of our state. We urge the General Assembly and other local governments across the state to pass comprehensive employment protections for LGBT workers.”

A 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found that 71% of North Carolina voters believe employers should not be able to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation.

State municipalities that have adopted LGBT nondiscrimination policies include Buncombe, Durham, and Mecklenburg Counties, and the cities of Asheville, Boone, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Charlotte, High Point and Raleigh.

Stand by for some troubled souls on the right to tell us that barring discrimination somehow limits their “religious freedom.”

Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully blasts the outrageous and illegal actions of Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis and the preposterous behavior of the presidential candidates who’ve beaten a path to her jail cell and microphone stand:

“While Davis’ action may make her a champion in some circles, she was violating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that in effect legalized gay marriage in all states. And though she presents herself as a symbol of religious conviction, public officials do not take the oath of office and accept their public salaries (in her case, $80,000) with the option of not doing their duty. Davis is entitled to invoke her conscience and her Bible in refusing to carry out duties she believes go against her beliefs. She can do so by resigning.

But neither her state nor her country gives such officials the right to pick and choose which laws they’ll enforce. Law enforcement officers, judges and elected officials have to act in accordance with the law. Their personal beliefs can’t trump their sworn duty.

Davis’ post is an elected one, so she’ll likely not be turned out of office. But a federal judge warned her that she was not to interfere with the legal licensing process again. He should stand firmly behind that warning.”

It’s as simple as that.

News

Solitary confinementJust in from the ACLU of NC:

“A coalition of human rights groups yesterday sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. The letter comes weeks after President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement across the country and criticized the practice in a major speech on criminal justice reform.

The 15-page letter – signed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and North Carolina Stop Torture Now – chronicles the recent deaths of several inmates held in solitary confinement in North Carolina, as well as the mistreatment and horrific conditions suffered by countless more. One of those prisoners, Michael Anthony Kerr, a 53-year-old former Army sergeant diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, died of dehydration in March 2014 after spending 35 days in solitary confinement. In the letter, the groups document North Carolina’s failure to provide adequate resources for prison mental health services and explain how inmates with mental illness are disciplined for manifestations of their illness and often released directly to the community after months or years in isolation.

‘Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,’ the letter reads. ‘However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform. Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.’

The letter is available at https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/files/letters/SolitarylettertoUSDOJ.pdf

Background: On any given day, as much as 14 percent of North Carolina’s 37,500 prison inmates are locked away in solitary confinement—often for such minor offenses as using profanity. There, they are isolated for 23 to 24 hours a day, without sunlight, fresh air, or contact with human beings. More than one in five of those prisoners placed in isolation require some type of treatment for mental health issues.”

Commentary

Dan Forest[This post has been updated — the original version had an incorrect link]. Remember that kid on the grade school playground who hated losing so much that he’d grab the ball and go home when the game stopped going his way? It’s seems a safe bet that North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest was such a child.

The man who is also pretty clearly North Carolina’s most reactionary statewide elected official in memory dispensed another ultraconservative pearl of wisdom recently when he told a radio host in Asheville that North Carolina will probably have to change the basics of state marriage laws now that same sex couples can partake.

After referring the “so-called right to get married” of same sex couples and explaining how liberal judges were misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and acting to “legislate from the bench,” Forest, who is not a lawyer, agreed with radio host Peter Kaliner that North Carolina would probably have to follow Alabama’s lead and change state marriage laws. Recently, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that would change how the state deals with marriage so that rather than having state officials issue licenses, the state would simply register marriages after they’re witnessed by a private party.

When Kaliner asked Forest what he thought about such an approach, Forest said it was probably “a next step in North Carolina” if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage. (Click here to listen to the entire depressing interview — the relevant portion is at around the 5:20 mark).

As to what all the implications of such a radical change would mean for people who no longer received a marriage license — either with respect to children, insurance, recognition in other states, etc… — is anybody’s guess, but it doesn’t seem to bother Forest, who would rather do away with state sanctioned marriages completely than let people he doesn’t approve of enjoy their benefits.

Commentary

Gay marriage 2After it gave the bill a perfunctory review and then ignored it, there was hope that the North Carolina House had decided, smartly, to deep-six the discriminatory Senate proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to opt out of marrying same sex couples. Now, sadly, the measure is back and scheduled to be heard in committee today.

Fortunately, the chances of this discriminatory proposal actually ever going into effect remain highly questionable. As reporter Sharon McCloskey explains over on the main Policy Watch site this morning, the bill is a successful lawsuit waiting to happen:

“If the bill passes in the House and becomes law, it would be the first of its kind in the country, according to Katharine Franke, a professor at Columbia University School of Law and director of its Center for Gender & Sexuality Law.

(A similar bill in Texas recently failed after corporations there voiced their opposition.)

And in the eyes of legal experts, it would be unquestionably unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer explains in an excellent editorial this morning why it should never get that far: Read More