Last edited: December 20, 2004

Mixing Legislators, Leviticus

Pushing Gay Rights Legislation in Jesse Helms’ Hometown

Raleigh News & Observer, March 24, 1999
Box 191, Raleigh, NC 27602
Fax 919-829-8924

Rob Christensen: Mixing legislators, Leviticus

If you looked up "long shot" in the dictionary, you might find this definition: pushing gay rights legislation in Jesse Helms’ hometown.

But that didn’t deter more than 100 people, including a former Democratic legislator and a current Republican judge, from gathering in front of the Legislative Building on Tuesday to voice their support for new laws designed to protect homosexuals from harassment.

Gay groups are lobbying to expand the state’s anti-hate crime law to include offenses based on sexual orientation. Twenty-one states already offer such protection.

The groups also want to join the 32 other states that have repealed anti- sodomy laws. Similar bills introduced in the 1993 and 1997 sessions never made it out of committee.

Supporters of repeal note that heterosexuals also can be guilty of sodomy under North Carolina law -- witness the recent Bill and Monica soap opera.

"The fact is, the majority of the 170 people [legislators] in here have probably violated it and their children most certainly have," Superior Court Judge Ray Warren, a Charlotte Republican who is gay, told the crowd.

Well, maybe. But the legislature, for the most part, looks to me more like the Saturday-night-after-the-bath crowd.

At one point the rally was interrupted by a spectator yelling about people burning in hell. He was hustled off by security.

He has read his Bible, sort of. Leviticus does say that it’s an abomination for a man to sleep with another man and that homosexuals should be put to death. But Leviticus also says it’s an abomination to eat shellfish and you don’t see religious cranks harassing customers coming out of the 42nd Street Oyster Bar yelling: "REPENT OF YOUR OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER OR YOU’LL BURN IN HELL."

People have always interpreted the Bible to suit their own prejudices. (Leviticus also calls for the death of adulterers and people who curse their parents, but you don’t hear much about that.)

Homosexuality is still one of those politically radioactive issues that most politicians don’t want to touch, which is why the campaign to decriminalize sodomy is likely to be a marathon rather than a sprint.

It takes guts to even introduce the legislation – as Sen. Ellie Kinnaird of Carrboro and Rep. Paul Luebke of Durham plan to do.

Republican conservatives, in particular, have used homosexuality as a political symbol for social trends that trouble many people – from the high rate of divorces to out-of-wedlock births, although these are clearly boy-girl problems.

But homosexuality is not really a partisan issue.

Thirty-four percent of gays voted Republican in the last election, according to Andrew Sullivan, a gay, conservative British journalist, who spoke Monday at N.C. State University.

Nor, said Sullivan, is there really a gay agenda. Most gays just want to live their lives more or less like everyone else. Many of the rights sought by gays in recent years have reflected quite conservative impulses – wanting to serve one’s country, wanting to serve God, and wanting to share one’s life with someone in a legal union.

"Our personal lives should be our personal business alone," said former state Rep. Sharon Thompson of Durham, who is gay. "Government has no place in our bedrooms or our family rooms."

Rob Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or at

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