Plus, I had a lengthy discussion with the Raleigh pastor about his bible-based views - as well as his outlandish statements about gays. I also managed to get him on record agreeing that one should not be fired on the job for being LGBT.
During a Leadership Triangle forum on North Carolina's marriage discrimination amendment on Tuesday, pro-Amendment panelists cited the usual outlandish irrelevancies as justifications for adding discrimination -- biblical law, need for procreation, and fertility rates. Thankfully there were panelists who kept redirecting the conversation back to facts and civil law.
The language on the ballot:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
That's it. The anti-Amendment panelists addressed the implications of passing such a clumsily-worded amendment to the state constitution that includes a clause "domestic legal union" -- a phrase not in any NC statute -- that will no doubt be challenged in court case after court case as a result.
The vast majority of those in attendance were not on the fence; most had their minds made up about where they stood on the amendment, they were there to hear both sides lay out their cases for and against and the impact of A1 if it passes.
The amendment's scope and intent is broad -- it would ban all existing domestic partnerships already on the books in several municipalities and counties here in NC, affecting both same-sex and opposite sex couples. The very-specific status it grants for "marriage" excludes any legal recognition of same-sex couples such as civil unions as well. There is no legal question about this.
That's why it was absolutely outrageous that Pastor Patrick Wooden of Upper Room Church of God in Christ made the claim on stage that the amendment didn't ban civil unions.
On the panel (left to right): Patrick L. Wooden, Sr.; Representative Deborah K. Ross - Minority Whip, North Carolina General Assembly; Moderator: Tom Campbell - Former Assistant Treasurer of North Carolina. Currently produces and moderates the television talk show NC SPIN; Maxine Eichner - Reef C. Ivey II Professor of Law, UNC-Chapel Hill; Anthony J. Biller - Attorney at Law, Adjunct Professor at Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law.
Professor Eichner corrected Wooden, citing the fact that A1 proponent Rep. Paul Stam, who helped shepherd this onto the ballot, has publicly stated that it does ban civil unions and domestic partnerships and that was the intent. Conservative attorney Anthony Biller tried to rescue the situation for Wooden by saying that he doesn't see how unmarried heterosexual couples will be harmed by the amendment, and was unaware of a single case of this happening. He cited the fact that in Michigan, when municipal and county DP benefits were eliminated because of its state amendment, those entities tried to create workarounds by offering 3rd party designated beneficiary programs.
Professor Eichner noted that proponents of Michigan's amendment immediately responded to the workaround by taking the matter to court, citing that it was a violation of that state's marriage amendment. Clearly a move like this is not about protecting marriage -- how is a heterosexual marriage hurt by a couple having health benefits?!
Wooden's religious conflation of church and state was familiar and tired; given the predilection of Vote for Marriage NC to use as its sole messaging that this amendment is about god, the bible and "preserving traditional marriage", it's clear that they don't feel they can win any other way. Click for a clip of Pastor Wooden's "truth" about Amendment One.
I'll get back to Wooden and my conversation with him in a bit.
Moving on, it was kind of refreshing to hear the twisted contortions of Anthony Biller of the Campbell University School of Law, to make the case that civil discrimination by the state is necessary in this case. Biller said that the state has an important interest in preserving and upholding man-woman marriage because it is about parenting "the next generation."
That's right -- he believes that the human race is headed for extinction because of the lack of procreation -- gays marrying is going to accelerate it. Of course he fails to reiterate that marriage equality is NOT ON THE BALLOT IN NC.
He later tried to bolster this procreation "problem" by citing the low fertility rates in European countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, that "two men do not replicate a mother" and the "Homosexual lobby is waging campaign to scare voters." He stated that a population needs a fertility rate of 2.1 to sustain itself. (Huh? Isn't the earth overpopulated?) Professor Eichner countered that a Feb 2012 study showed a greater fertility rate in Netherlands (that has had marriage equality for some time) than Italy, and that its conclusion was that countries that provided better balance of supporting work/family life was a greater indicator of population health.
By the way, Biller said that no-fault divorce is a bigger problem than same-sex marriage. He was asked if there should be a divorce amendment. His response? "I don't know about that." And in an act of what seems sheer desperation, when he was queried about Amendment backer Rep. Thom Tillis's statement that if passed, the amendment would probably be overturned in 20 years by the next generation, Biller "it doesn't matter if it is a futile effort" in the long run because some things need to be done based on principle.
Wow. Digest that.
Rep. Ross gave attendees a bit of perspective on whole "procreation protection meme," noting that senior rights are affected by A1. "It's not about procreation for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s" who may not want to get married yet still have benefits. She also reminded attendees that the genesis of this ballot initiative, pushed through by the Republican majority after it gained control in 2010, was distasteful, given the gravity of a constitutional amendment -- it was not debated or its language studied in committee, it was inserted into a "nutrient management bill" and shoved to a vote in the General Assembly.
I had submitted a question (on an index card) for the Q&A, hoping it would be directed to Wooden. just for kicks. I asked, if we leave the whole church/state separation out of this, if he thought A1 was promoting religious discrimination against churches that would like to marry same-sex couples in NC. My card was picked and yep, he took the bait. His answer was, without hesitation: "Those other churches aren't reading God's bible right." People of faith - Wooden's way is the ONLY way to read God's Holy Book (his version, anyway).
My post-panel encounter with Rev. Patrick Wooden
Actually, when I arrived at the forum he saw me and came up and introduced himself. I was my usual polite self (I am Southern, after all). Let's wind the clock back are recall some of the documented statements about LGBTs that he has made on the air. Wooden:
- believes that Glee and Tyler Perry’s Madea promote ‘gay perversion’
- went on The Michelangelo Signorile Show and educated listeners about “glory holes“
- accuses gay men of molesting gerbils, baseball bats, and cell phones
- claims, citing no evidence of course, that all gay men will need to wear a diaper or a butt plug just to be able to contain their bowels
- decided to get lesbians on his radar by proclaiming that I needed to find Jesus – and a man to breed with to “rock my world.”
I asked about Wooden, who was wearing the same well-tailored pinstriped suit you see in the photo, about his inability to separate church and state re: Amendment One, but didn't get deeply into it because Professor Eichner pulled me aside to introduce herself and then they had to draw straws for speaking order. Afterwards he came up to me again to re-engage, something I was happy to do.
He spoke dismissively onstage about other religious leaders who oppose Amendment One, and when I asked him about the NC NAACP's Rev. Barber's Open Letter to North Carolinians and very forceful advocacy against A1, he said that Rev. Dr. Barber is a demagogue (that's a quote), and is not telling the truth about the harms of the amendment. Another wow.
I asked him to consider my humanity and why this Amendment is harmful to me and my family. I reminded him that when he assails those opposing Amendment One of hijacking the term "civil rights" and its meaning to blacks, that I in fact care deeply because I see the intersections as someone who is a triple minority - gay, black, and a woman. I told Pastor Wooden that I am all too aware of my race -- having experienced, among other things, "hailing a cab while black," and "shopping while black" (being followed in a store, automatically seen as a shoplifter). At that point, Wooden shared that he had too experienced the latter in a store, being followed while much-more suspicious white teens were in the same store and received no scrutiny.
It was at that point I said -- "then you see what it's like to have your humanity disgraced, to feel less-than." All I asked of him was to see that this is just another form of that kind of discrimination gay people experience all the time, and for those who are people of color, it's troubling to see the lack of understanding. Even as he held firm to his own belief that homosexuality is a moral wrong, he couldn't deny that the day to day sense you are never good enough based on what you look like or any other attribute is soul-draining.
I asked him about his absurd and offensive statement about gay men using a cell phone during a recent interview with Michelangelo Signorile on Sirius XM OutQ:
You talked about one man who had a cell phone that had to be removed [from his anus]—
Yes, and I stand by my comments. That’s what was told to me, that while they were trying to remove it, the phone rang.
Did they answer the phone?
As a matter fact what I was told was that the surgeon asked, “Will anybody get that?” And of course, no one answered the phone. And to add to it, that the individual, when they were released from the hospital, called back and wanted their phone.
Wooden's defense is that he was asked to go on the program and he told "an anecdote". I reminded him that he had no data or evidence to support this claim, and that this is only supporting the notion that he thinks being gay is all about sex, and that heterosexuals engage in all sorts of sexual behaviors that don't have any impact on their civil rights. All he could say was that he has to talk about it in these terms because, by definition, "homosexuals as a group are defined by who they sleep with" and by extension, since his religious view is that homosexuality is a sin, this is what drives him to speak out.
Just the messenger, folks.
Wooden and his views on employment discrimination
It was at that point -- since I know I'm not going to change the views of anyone about this amendment who has a religious basis for supporting it -- that I focused on what he believes about workplace discrimination. Marriage equality is unlikely to ever be on the ballot in North Carolina, but employment non-discrimination legislation will certainly be debated in the legislature one day. You can be fired in NC for being LGBT right now if you are in a state job or work for a business that doesn't have pro-equality policies on the books.
Wooden was initially a tough nut to crack on this, because he is clearly used to dodging this by the tack he takes. Several times he tried to punt and say he supports the current laws as they stand that provide no protections. Alternately when asked about his personal opinion, he said he believes it is a sin and he wouldn't "want a homosexual working for him." (I let that one slide, since it's entirely possible he already does, they are just in the closet, but I digress.) I reminded him that this isn't the issue or the question, because as a church leader he doesn't have to hire LGBTs regardless of whether the state law changes to protect LGBTs from workplace discrimination.
Bottom line, I laid it out for him-- there are two people in a workplace that do the same job, one straight, one gay, and they are performing their jobs equally well. Each places a photo of their partner on their desk. As the law stands, if the boss of the gay person has a negative reaction to that photo because of their personal homophobia, there is nothing to stop them from firing that gay employee, and no legal recourse for that person. Are you OK with this?
He thought about it and tried to answer again that he agreed with the state law as it stands. He also tried to deflect by talking about sexual acts in the workplace or inappropriate sexual discussions. Again, I had to redirect to say that any action of that nature would be against most companies' human resource policies, regardless of the orientation of the individual and thus is irrelevant here. We're talking about the casual references people frequently make in the workplace -- like discussing what movie you and your partner went to see over the weekend, or that picture on the desk. I reiterated, do you think that that situation I laid out is OK? That someone should be fired from a state job because of that simple action?
He finally admitted it -- he said he didn't think that someone should be fired for that -- displaying a photo of their partner on their desk if they are in a same-sex relationship.
Of course now, when that legislation does come to the fore, I will remind Wooden of his position.
Before we parted, Wooden insisted that he wanted to have lunch with me to discuss these issues. For some reason he felt the need to tell me that he thought I was intelligent (! Are lesbians stupid by default?), and that he had told people he knew that if he ever met me he'd like me. Well, one can be gay, black, a woman and intelligent and likeable (or not). I guess this is the best he can do since he already knows I am hell-bound from his perspective, perhaps finally accepting that I'm not going to find Jesus and some man to breed with.