RALEIGH — Every other year the N.C. General Assembly holds a short session. This limited legislative session is held to debate and approve the state’s biennial budget, local bills and other important matters. EqualityNC (ENC), the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, spent the entire session, which ended July 18, working on a few key pieces of legislation, including the School Violence Prevention Act. Other important issues, including AIDS Drug Assistance Program funding, the anti-gay constitutional marriage amendment, the REAL ID Act and gift tax issues, also played into the 2008 Raleigh calendar.
Anti-bullying bill takes a hit
“I’ve had a few days now since the 2008 session ended and the School Violence Prevention Act died,” EqualityNC Executive Director Ian Palmquist wrote in a July 23 email to supporters. “I’ll admit, I’m still angry about it. But I’m also even more confident that we have a real opportunity to move North Carolina forward.”
Although the bill ultimately died, Palmquist said numerous positive advances were made.
“The House stood with us again and again, voting our way on five separate votes on this bill over the last couple years,” he wrote. “The Senate has long been the more challenging chamber for us, but even though the Senate failed to do the right thing and pass the bill, we found strong new allies and are poised for progress in 2009.”
In the last week of the legislative session, special interest groups on the Right pushed hard to have the anti-bullying measure defeated. They disagreed with the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender-identity/expression as enumerated categories in the list of protected groups.
A July 19 article written by L.A. Williams, a correspondent for the Christian Action League of North Carolina, proclaimed, “Pro-Homosexual Bullying Bill is Dead.” The Christian Action League and its executive director, Mark Creech, staunchly opposed the legislation.
“[The bill] would elevate sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the same level with the enumerations of race, color, ancestry, national origin, gender, physical appearance, mental, physical or sensory disability — all immutable or unchangeable characteristics,” Creech told Williams. “Yet homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, cross dressing and other alternate sexual behaviors are not immutable, but changeable. It would be most egregious to affirm by state law that what is unnatural behavior is somehow unchangeably innate and normal.”
Religion and other “changeable” characteristics were also included in the list of enumerated protections.
At the beginning of the legislature’s final week in Raleigh, EqualityNC feared there wouldn’t be enough votes to pass the bill and immediately reached out to supporters across the state, urging them to contact their state senators and representatives.
The hard work looked to have paid off when ENC calculated that they might have gained enough votes to pass the bill. Unfortunately, on the last day of the session, absent senators caused the measure to fail.
“In the end, we had the votes for passage in both chambers if everyone was there, but absences in the Senate hurt our numbers,” Palmquist wrote in a July 18 post on ENC’s website. “Neither chamber took up the bill, knowing they lacked the votes for passage in the Senate.”
ENC worked with a wide-ranging coalition of statewide organizations to lobby for the anti-bullying bill. The N.C. Association of Educators, the N.C. Association of Social Workers, Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, the Junior League of North Carolina and other child welfare and education organization in the state supported keeping the enumerated categories.
Amendment defeated, other advances
For the fifth year in a row, ENC and other progressive allies worked with state legislators to keep a proposed anti-LGBT constitutional marriage amendment off the ballot. The amendment’s defeat means that North Carolina will — for at least another year — remain the only Southern state to have kept such a measure off the ballot.
If it had passed, the legislation would place an amendment question on the statewide ballot restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples and possibly denying any legal rights to same-sex couples, such as inheritance or hospital visitation.
In addition to turning back the marriage amendment and securing majority support for the School Violence Prevention Act — effectively winning the debate for next year’s reintroduction before the legislative session even begins — ENC was able to move its agenda forward in a number of other ways.
A bill opposing the federal REAL ID Act was passed by the House. ENC and the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union worked hard to have North Carolina join with other state governments in opposing the bill. According to transgender activists, the identification cards resulting from the national law would pose significant threats to transgender safety and increase the risk of discrimination by government, business and public safety officials.
ENC also worked hard to support the successful repeal of the Gift Tax. The Gift Tax, a tax paid by the recipient of gifts of real and personal property, exempts gifts between spouses from any tax and gives certain relatives a lower rate. Same-sex couples, who are denied recognition under state law, are treated as legal strangers and taxed at the highest rate.