Last edited: December 05, 2004

Lawmakers Back Away From Penalizing or Protecting Gays

Poll: Most Don’t Want N.C. Laws Focused on Orientation, Behavior

Charlotte Observer, October 8, 2001
P. O. Box 2138, Charlotte, NC 28233
Fax: 704-358-5022

By Mark Johnson, Raleigh Bureau

RALEIGH—A new American Civil Liberties Union brochure answers 14 questions about being homosexual in North Carolina, and the first is whether N.C. law makes it illegal to be gay.

The answer: No.

N.C. law doesn’t single out homosexuals by name for punishment, nor does the law extend specific protections to gays. The reality of how N.C. law works, however, is not so middle-of-the-road.

A majority of Charlotte-area residents don’t want laws that target homosexuals. In a Charlotte Observer/NBC6 News Carolinas Poll, 68 percent of respondents said the state does "not need any laws that apply ONLY to homosexuals."

Many lawmakers in the General Assembly espouse the same attitude.

"It’s just not something that’s even gotten on the radar screen this year," said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford.

Lawmakers, however, approved legislation in 1996 that prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages, a measure that affects only homosexuals.

Two years ago, legislators rejected efforts to add homosexuals to the groups protected by the state hate crimes law. That statute increases penalties for offenses committed on the basis of the victim’s gender, race, religion or national origin.

"You’re moving to protect a particular behavior" by trying to include homosexuality in the hate crimes statute, said Bill Brooks, president of the conservative Family Policy Council. "It’s an attempt by (gays) to gain legitimacy, a legal legitimacy, for their lifestyle."

Gay rights advocates retort that religion is a choice or behavior yet is protected under the hate crimes law and other statutes.

"This is a non-issue," said Jo Wyrick, executive director of Equality North Carolina, a gay rights political action committee.

Legislators fear if they back gay rights "that they will lose votes or lose their seats," said Sen. Jeanne Lucas, D-Durham. "They think it’s so highly controversial that the public in their district will not support them."

The Observer/NBC6 poll surveyed 796 residents in the Charlotte region about a variety of issues, including laws pertaining to homosexuality.

An overwhelming majority, 76 percent, said a private employer should not be allowed to reject a job applicant because he or she is gay. By a slightly larger majority, 79 percent, respondents said a landlord or homeowner should not be permitted to refuse to rent or sell a home to someone because that person is a homosexual.

No state law, however, prohibits those kinds of actions.

"I don’t see it as discrimination," said Rep. Russell Capps, R-Wake. "They should have the freedom to decide who they want to (hire or) serve."

In addition to a lack of protective laws, homosexuals face selective use of the state’s "crimes against nature" law, which makes sodomy a felony offense. Both oral and anal intercourse are sodomy.

Child custody decisions sometimes hinge on whether one of the adults has engaged in illegal conduct. An opposing lawyer can argue that a gay parent is presumed to commit sodomy.

Many leases allow the landlord to terminate the lease if the apartment or house is used for illegal conduct.

"A landlord can say, ‘I’m not going to rent to a gay couple because they’ll probably use the premises to commit a felony,’" Wyrick said. "If a straight couple rents an apartment the landlord will never ask what they’re going to do in their bedroom."

Despite the lack of success in the legislature, Wyrick said groups like hers are encouraged by public attitudes, as evidenced by the Observer/NBC 6 poll.

"The majority of people in North Carolina don’t approve of discrimination in any form," she said. "And (they) certainly don’t approve of the idea that someone could be denied a job or denied a place to live based on their sexual orientation."

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