Last edited: January 01, 2005

Homosexuals Rally for New Laws

A Group Tries To Persuade The Legislature To Pass Bills On Hate Crimes And Sodomy

Fayetteville Observer-Times, March 24, 1999
P. O. Box 849, Fayetteville, NC 28302
Fax 910-486-3545

By Kim Nilsen, Raleigh bureau

RALEIGH -- Gays and lesbians lobbied state lawmakers Tuesday, pushing for privacy in the bedroom and protection from hate crimes. The group’s organizers say legislative reforms in other states and anger over recent murders of gay men have helped fuel stronger grass-roots efforts in North Carolina.

The focus of the effort now is on two pieces of legislation. One bill would expand the scope of the hate crime law to cover acts targeting homosexuals.

The other would revise state statute that courts have interpreted as criminalizing oral sex and sodomy in both same-sex and unmarried heterosexual relationships. Past efforts to change what the state calls the "crimes against nature" law have failed. People who gathered outside of the Legislative Building for a gay rights rally Tuesday say this latest bid too will face opposition.

The rally itself drew a brief flash of protest. Lines of school tours and a group of senior citizens had filed past the gathering without a problem, but midway through the speeches, a man hurled a Biblical warning at the group about gays burning in hell. The man was escorted away by General Assembly police.

Unapologetic supporters of gay rights say the changes they are pushing for are long overdue. All 50 states once had anti-sodomy laws on the books. Those laws have been repealed or struck down in 32 states. Five states still have sodomy laws that apply only to same-sex acts, according to the Common Sense Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies public policy.

In North Carolina and 12 other states, the law applies to heterosexuals as well. A Louisiana court declared that state's sodomy law unconstitutional law month, but an appeal of the decision is expected.

Violating the law is a felony that can land offenders in prison.

"Eighteen states still make it a crime to love who we want to love," said Dan Hawes, a field organizer with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

While people are rarely prosecuted under the law, it can be used by employers and landlords to turn away homosexuals. Its provisions can become ammunition in custody cases, opponents say.

Superior Court Judge Ray Warren, who is openly gay and a critic of the crimes against nature provision, said many legislators and their children have probably broken the law themselves.

The N.C. Family Policy Council wants the law to remain in place. Bill Brooks, the council’s director, believes that a majority of North Carolinians would agree.

"Just because two people consent to do anything doesn't make it right," Brooks said.

Organizers of Tuesday's rally say that while the legislation may not pass, each push helps put the equity issue before people. "Every time, the odds get better," said M.K. Cullen, director of Equality North Carolina Political Action Committee.

The crimes against nature bill is sponsored by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Orange County who admitted that advocating for gay rights issues can be risky politically. "It’s not easy for me to be here," she told people at the rally. "This will be used against me."

The hate crime legislation may seem more safe for lawmakers, Cullen said. Crimes linked to religion, race and other factors are already covered. The bill expected in the House this week would add crimes spurred by sexual orientation, gender or disability. The provision would also boost hate crimes from a misdemeanor crime to a felony, said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Democrat from Durham who is one of the primary sponsors of the bill. The sexually-motivated murders of two gay men -- Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither of Alabama -- have prompted a national conversation about hate crimes.

While Brooks said he doesn't condone any violence, he opposes expanding the law to cover homosexuals. He said criminal laws already address violent acts and property crimes. Adding certain groups who have "singled themselves out" with behavior "of their choosing" could open a Pandora's box of demands for special protections, he said.

The day of lobbying in Raleigh was part of a week of events happening across the country to draw attention to inequities based on sexuality. Speakers urged participants to put pressure on lawmakers to support the bill by writing, calling or sending e-mail to lawmakers. A group from Cumberland County visited Tuesday with Sen. Larry Shaw, a Fayetteville Democrat, to discuss the legislative changes and needed funding for AIDS programs.

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