Gay-Rights Activists Prepared for Session Campaign to Change Laws
Raleigh News &
Observer, March 4, 2001
By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Gays and
lesbians have gained more acceptance in American culture and jurisprudence in
recent years, but they still feel like second-class citizens in North
Undeterred by recent setbacks at the Legislature, gay-rights supporters and
lobbyists are ready to begin another campaign to protect homosexuals in North
A bill filed last week would exempt consenting couples from the states
longstanding sodomy law. Another proposal would add homosexuals to groups
protected by the states hate crimes statute.
The activists and legislative supporters have been unsuccessful at the
General Assembly. Conservative lawmakers and groups have opposed efforts to
give what they say is special status to gays.
In a blow to same-sex unions, a bill reinforcing marriage as between a man
and a woman passed by wide margins in 1996. A hate crimes bill failed on the
House floor in 1999, while a similar crimes-against-nature bill never got out
The head of the states lobby for gay, lesbian and transgender issues
still says progress has been made.
"I think 10 years ago, no one would have taken these bills
seriously," said Jo Wyrick, executive director of the Equality NC
political action committee, which plans a lobbying day Thursday at the General
Assembly. "The fact that there are committee hearings is a huge
Wyrick and lawmakers believe they have a good chance with a proposal to
extend hate crimes laws that would provide stiffer punishments to people who
commit crimes because the victim is gay.
A state House committee approved a bill in 1999 that added gender, sexual
orientation, disabilities and age to the current hate crimes law protecting
people on the basis of race, religion and national origin. It was defeated
58-48 after full House debate.
Wyrick and Rep. Verla Insko, a prime sponsor of the House legislation two
years ago, said theyll try to get the bill approved in the Senate first
"That would give it some momentum," said Insko, D-Orange. "I
think then can we get other people to help us contact lawmakers (for support).
Its another strategy."
Sen. Jeanne Lucas, D-Durham, who plans to file the hate crimes expansion
bill in the Senate, is also a co-sponsor of a measure filed Feb. 26 that would
exempt consenting adults from the crime-against-nature statute.
The law, which applies to both homosexual and heterosexual couples, defines
oral and anal sex as felonies punishable by 10 years in prison.
"I think peoples privacies should be protected," Lucas said.
"Your home is your castle. You need to have the privilege to be in your
home and do what you want."
While the century-old law is rarely enforced against couples, it is used as
an excuse by some people to discriminate, Wyrick said. She said landlords use
the law to deny housing to gay couples because they claim doing so would aid
and abet a felony.
Sodomy laws at one time were on the books in all 50 states. In recent
years, theyve been repealed or struck down by courts in 32 states.
The proposal would still make a person guilty of a crime against nature if
someone is forced to perform the sexual act or pays for it.
"Its a good bill," said Deborah Ross, executive director of
the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. But she said
its unlikely the sodomy law will pass in part because lawmakers are
uncomfortable talking about sex.
Conservative groups say the sodomy bill would legitimize homosexual
behavior as well as unmarried sex, contrary to the morals on which the country
The proposal also could legalize some forms of bestiality, which is also is
forbidden in the current statute, said John Rustin with the North Carolina
Family Policy Council. Case law also shows the statute doesnt apply to
married couples, Rustin said.
"Theres nothing wrong with enjoying various forms of pleasures, as
long as it falls within the context of marriage," said the Rev. Mark
Creech with the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
Rep. Sam Ellis, R-Wake, said hes wary of any hate crimes bill because it
makes one group of victims more important than others by creating additional
crimes against defendants.
He points to the case of James Byrd Jr., a black man dragged to his death
in Texas. Without a strong hate crimes law in that state, three white
supremacists were convicted of murder two sentenced to death.
"I want to prosecute people who commit the crimes and I want to
prosecute people who commit the crimes equally," Ellis said.
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