CommunityPam's House Blend

Chapel Hill Council backs gay rights; the usual anti-gay suspects show up

It was a positive, but non-binding event against the state’s marriage amendment push, and the current Defense of Marriage Act. Note that members of the homophobic, bigoted Upper Room Church of God in Christ showed up, like the Cryptkeeper’s forces, to chastise supporters of gay rights. (N&O;):

They swooped in by the busload to the town they said was filled with “dead churches” that “disregard the Bible,” hoping to win over some sinners.

“I came here because I love Chapel Hill,” said the Rev. Ron Wood, pastor of Celebration Assembly of God on Weaver Dairy Road and a member of the anti-gay-rights group Called 2 Action. “I’m an ordained minister, too,” he added, referring to several speakers at the Town Council meeting Monday who identified themselves as clergy members. “But I’m not one who believes I have the right to disregard the word of God.”

Their message was rejected by the majority of Chapel Hillians who met them at Town Hall with signs, T-shirts and buttons proclaiming their support for gay rights. “If we give gays and lesbians their civil rights,” read one of the more sarcastic handmade signs, “then everybody will want them.”

“I consider myself deeply religious and deeply moral,” said Darlene Nicgorski, a former Catholic nun and a lesbian, her voice shaky with emotion. “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? That’s Christianity. That’s morality. That’s religious. You don’t have a corner on that.”

The podium at Town Hall became a pulpit as activists clashed over proposed legislative requests that would expand or protect the rights of gays and lesbians. The town’s requests to the General Assembly are not binding.

The meeting became a front in the national culture war over same-sex marriage, with more than 250 people packing council chambers. A side room brimmed over with people watching the meeting on television.

About 100 members of The Upper Room Church of God in Christ [Wooden’s church] came from Raleigh in a chartered bus to oppose the legislative requests, something the Rev. William Cooper said was “standard operating procedure” for the activist church.

“Amens” and “Hmm-hmms” greeted speakers who voiced their views. Snickering and clucked tongues chided those who disagreed with them.

Outcome was expected

Though the crowd was split about evenly, most of the speakers favored the town’s stance on gay rights. Council members approved the measures unanimously.

Lawmakers from Chapel Hill and Orange County will be asked to support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which says same-sex marriages in other states can’t be recognized in North Carolina; support adding sexual orientation to the state’s hate crimes law; and oppose a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The outcome was expected, but both sides said it was important that their message be heard.

“We came in good numbers, and we said what we needed to say,” said Hazen Ham, a Called 2 Action leader who was granted 10 minutes to speak for his organization. “The community hasn’t seen the last of us, because we’re going to keep pushing the truth.”

But many saw the Monday meeting as a sign that groups such as Called 2 Action won’t make major inroads in this liberal-leaning community.

Local activist Ruby Sinreich asked those in the audience who were both members of Called 2 Action and Chapel Hill residents to raise their hands. Just a few went up.

I think my point is made,” she said. “The people of Chapel Hill have shown over and over that they very much support the rights of gay people.”

The people on the left say, ‘We tolerate everything in the name of love.’ That’s just as wrong. The truth is in the middle. It’s time the church of Jesus Christ comes out of the closet and stands up for the truth.” People such as Ham might have a more welcoming audience in Raleigh. The constitutional amendment has 84 sponsors — nearly half of the 170 members of the General Assembly. An amendment will require a three-fifths vote in both chambers.

Council member Mark Kleinschmidt, who is gay, said the impact of the constitutional amendment wouldn’t just be symbolic. It could jeopardize Chapel Hill’s current program that provides benefits to “domestic partners.”

He called the proposed amendment “extraordinarily broad” and “frightening.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding