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Columnist Myron B. Pitts of the Fayetteville Observer has an excellent, if sobering, essay this morning about the North Carolina General Assembly. It’s entitled “State’s decisions, from bad to abysmal” and it attempts to rank the worst decisions made by North Carolina lawmakers over the past half decade. Admittedly, Pitts has carved out a daunting task for himself, but see if you agree with his list, which starts with the awful 2013 tax changes and runs through the death-promoting decision to deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people.

NOTE: As the General Assembly is still in session, the list may well have to be updated in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and feel free to offer your additions.

Click here to read Pitts’ list.

Commentary

marriage amendmentAccording to news reports, Representative Paul Stam will hold some kind of legislative “briefing” tomorrow on a “religious freedom” bill that would permit magistrates and other state employees to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses if it violates their own religious beliefs.

This is an enormously troubling idea.

From a legal standpoint, permitting state employees to refuse to perform the duties of their job based on their faith opens the door to all sorts of potentially absurd new practices. There are many religions out there with many different beliefs, including some that are contrary to our state laws or policies. Are we now saying that a person’s individual, albeit sincerely-held, beliefs take precedence over the duties of their job? Can an EMT refuse to provide medical treatment to a member of the LGBT community because their lifestyle violates her religious beliefs? If a police officer, whose religion beliefs include the right of a man to discipline his wife, witnesses domestic abuse while on the job, can he choose not to arrest the husband? We’re heading down a very slippery slope with this bill.

But let’s think about this bill itself, which Stam claims is intended to defend religious freedom. The irony of this, of course, Read More

Commentary

Gay marriage 3Same-sex couple are marrying tonight in the Old North State. And what a marvelous triumph it is for the forces of love, tolerance and progress over those of hate, discrimination and backwardness. Hallelujah!

It’s also a moment in which it’s hard not to take note of the fact that with this momentous change, a prediction of one of the chief architects and defenders of the old, discriminatory law, North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, came true — just a little early.

As you will recall it was in the spring of 2012 — just weeks before Amendment One was passed by voters during a primary election and while he was campaigning for it — that House Speaker Tillis predicted the Amendment’s ultimate demise:

“If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years,” Tillis said.

As it turned out the repeal came in just 29 months and Tillis, who always seemed weirdly unconvincing in his support of the Amendment (perhaps even as he was cynically trying to stand in the courthouse door to block same-sex couples from gaining equality this week) is left to consider the ruins of one of his signature “accomplishments” as a state leader.

In a way, it’s seems somewhat fitting that things happened this way and at this moment in time in the state’s political history. A long, dark era in state history came crashing down today. Perhaps it will be just the start of several dramatic turnarounds for the state as supporters of change and modernity finally take note of their own power and move rapidly to send the purveyors of fear and reaction into forced retirement.

Commentary

Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina issued the following statement in response to the announcement this morning by the U.S. Supreme Court that would not take up the appeals of various circuit court decisions upholding marriage equality:

U.S. Supreme Court today announced it would not review appeals court rulings in seven states, including one from Virginia by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, striking down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples. The decision means that all of those rulings stand, and the states in their jurisdiction must comply with the law and recognize the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

North Carolina is one of five states in the Fourth Circuit. The Supreme Court’s announcement means that all states in the Fourth Circuit, including North Carolina, are bound by the Fourth Circuit’s ruling that struck down Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

“The Supreme Court’s decision means that the freedom to marry for same-sex couples must be recognized here in North Carolina without delay,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “We are asking the district court here in North Carolina to immediately issue a ruling striking down North Carolina’s unconstitutional and discriminatory ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Every day that gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina are denied the ability to marry the person they love places their families and children in legal and financial jeopardy. The time has come to end this unfair treatment once and for all and to let our American values of freedom and equality apply to all couples.”

The ACLU and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation have filed two federal lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, both in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. The first, Fisher-Borne, et al., v. Smith, was filed in July 2013 as an amended complaint to a 2012 lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions on behalf of six families across the state headed by same-sex couples. On April 9, 2014, the ACLU filed a second federal lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin, et al., v. Cooper, on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, the Gerber plaintiffs are asking the court to take swift action.

The ACLU has asked the judge in those cases to quickly overturn North Carolina’s marriage ban in light of a July ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that found Virginia’s similar marriage ban unconstitutional.

To date, the ACLU has legal challenges to marriage bans pending in 13 states.

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Lennie and Pearl

Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin — Photo credit: ACLU of North Carolina

Michael Biesecker of AP has a wonderfully heartwarming story this morning that’s available in several news outlets about one of the couples leading the legal fight for marriage equality in North Carolina. Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber have been together for 48 years and the notion that they might taste victory in the near future as Pearl battles health problems is a very cheering notion.

(As an aside, it should also be pointed out that, in addition to being a plaintiff in the legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination amendment, Gerber (on the left) was once one of North Carolina’s finest consumer rights attorneys — she managed the Winston-Salem legal aid office for years and helped save countless people of modest income from various financial predators.)

All that said, it should also be noted that when marriage equality does come, the fight for justice will be far from over. As a our panelists eloquently explained at last week’s Crucial Conversation luncheon on the subject (watch the video here), LGBT North Carolinians can still be summarily fired by their employers because of who they are.  In other words, if same sex couples get the chance to be married in the near future, many will still have to remain in the closet for fear that placing their wedding photo on their desk at work will still get them fired.

And rest assured, even if the courts soon order marriage equality, Paul Stam and the other theocrats in the General Assembly will be doing their utmost to prevent passage of a law banning discrimination in the workplace and/or public accommodations. In other words, there’s a heck of a lot of work still to do.