Diversity or damnation?

Eye of the beholder: Longtime anti-abortion activist Meredith Hunt was one of many protesters who objected to Asheville City Council adopting an equality-for-all resolution that calls for such actions as creating an anti-bullying ordinance and creating a domestic-partnership registry. photos by Jerry Nelson

Asheville City Council Feb. 22, 2011 meeting

  • Ingles expansion vote postponed
  • Development rules tightened

The chamber was packed 20 minutes before the Asheville City Council’s Feb. 22 meeting even began. Outside at Pack Square, a crowd rallied before a rainbow flag. Inside, assorted local ministers sat together in a row, recalling prior fights over similar proposed legislation they felt was immoral and chatting about their belief that the Antichrist will emerge from the European Union.

The cause of all the hubbub was an equality resolution on the evening’s agenda. Pushed by Council member Gordon Smith and several groups promoting LGBT rights, the ordinance was first unveiled in January at a rally organized by People of Faith for Just Relationships.

The sweeping resolution calls for: adding protections for sexual orientation, gender and gender identity to the city's employment-discrimination policy; crafting an ordinance prohibiting bullying on city grounds; creating an official domestic-partner registry; and endorsing the idea of civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“I know the heartbeat of Western North Carolina,” the Rev. Wendell Runion declared during the hearing. “This is not in line with the values of our community. Where will we go from here if this passes? Will we go then to pedophiles or, even further, to sex offenders?”

Asheville resident Tom Astik said he and his wife would consider moving out of the city if the resolution passed.

“God is not mocked,” proclaimed Randy Bray, telling Council members they'd have to answer to divine authority for their vote. “You have eternal consequences for the actions you make. You'll have a great number of people praying for you.”

And the Rev. Larry Sprouse warned Council about “abominations before the Lord. … I never thought in America we'd be debating this issue.”

But most speakers favored the resolution, saying it represented Asheville's best trait: a celebration of diversity.

“It is still true that a person in our community can be fired because of their sexual identity; there is no way for a same-sex couple to be in a partnered relationship that allows them the 1,100 rights and privileges heterosexual couples have.” In introducing the proposal, the Rev. Joe Hoffman of People of Faith for Just Relationships asserted, “The resolution we have presented is a civil rights document.”

Angel Chandler of GetEQUAL NC said, “Everyone in this room has the right to believe whatever they want, but the government does not have the right to pick one religion over another or one denomination over another.

“Personally, if you really want to go Bible, start reading it: There should be motions before this Council that divorce be made illegal, because Jesus clearly stated that. You better shut the Lobster Trap down too, because there are people over there cracking shellfish,” she added. “Our government should treat us all equally. I'm a citizen, a homeowner and a taxpayer, and I don't get near the rights as all these people complaining earlier.”

Speaking as a transgendered person and a Buncombe County native, Yvonne Cook-Riley said: “Asheville has afforded me the right to walk down the street without being attacked; to be with my friends and dress as weirdly as we want while having fun safely. This resolution addresses that safety and [our] ability to live here as citizens of this community.”

Simon Thompson said he and his partner have been together for 12 years and own two businesses in Asheville.

“I guarantee every member of Council has frequented a business run by someone in the LGBT community,” he asserted.

Equality and safety

After more than an hour-and-a-half of public debate, Council members took up the matter directly.

“Our job as Council isn't to prefer one religious view over another,” argued Smith. “Nothing we do here tonight will restrict you from believing what you want to believe. What we do here tonight will address the equality and safety of all the residents living here in Asheville. This is about justice.”

Council member Cecil Bothwell, who seconded the motion, quoted the Golden Rule, saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I can't think of a higher law than that, and that's why I'm going to vote for this.”

Jan Davis, who voted against last year’s proposal to extend benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees (those benefits are slated to take effect July 1), said he was “conflicted” about the current resolution but felt he had to vote for it.

“Take religion and government out of the issue and it's about rights for people,” said Davis. “I do not fear that day when I stand in front of God. What would give me fear is if I went against the teachings of Jesus in love and respect for other people.”

Mayor Terry Bellamy wanted a delay to consider the matter further, but she found no allies on Council, though they did agree to clarify the details of the forthcoming anti-bullying ordinance.

And as Vice Mayor Brownie Newman and Council member Esther Manheimer also voiced support, it became clear that only Bellamy opposed the resolution.

The mayor then launched into a long, emotional speech concerning both the current proposal and the public reaction to her previous stance against domestic-partner benefits. In the wake of that vote, Bellamy said she’d had trouble getting served in restaurants or helped in stores.

“I have never had a malicious thought about a gay or lesbian person, but I've been demonized because of my views,” the mayor declared. “In Asheville, N.C., in 2010, I was threatened. To say that discrimination is going to go away because Council approves this is just not true. It's unfortunate I can't say I'm against same-sex marriage without being condemned.”

“People believe I shouldn't be at an event or don't represent them: That is a lie from the pit of hell!” Bellamy proclaimed angrily. “I represent them, like it or not — all citizens of Asheville. I won't be pushed into a corner.”

In response, Smith assured Bellamy that he has “the utmost respect” for her. “If the bullying ordinance comes back and it's against free speech, I'll be the first to vote against it,” he vowed. “But this sets an important direction.”

Council member Bill Russell was absent due to illness, as he had been for the domestic-partner-benefits vote. The resolution was approved 5-1, with Bellamy dissenting. Applause broke out, and the mayor banged the gavel, trying to calm down the audience.

Smith, countering Runion’s earlier reference to the 1994 LGBT rights fight, cited the change between then and now, noting that this time, opponents hadn’t filled the chamber. “This is an idea whose time has come,” Smith declared.

After the vote, opponents (including many of the ministers) made their way out, shaking their heads as they wondered how such a measure could have found overwhelming support in a place that, as one speaker put it during public comment, “used to be the heart of the Bible Belt” — and, in their eyes, still ought to be.

Meanwhile, proponents (some of whom burst into tears of joy as the long-awaited resolution was approved), adjourned to the nearby Pack's Tavern, where — joined by Manheimer, Newman and Smith — they hoisted beers, toasting, “to equality!”

No vote on Ingles expansion

In other business, Council:

• Delayed consideration of a major expansion of the Ingles grocery store on the Smokey Park Highway until March 22, to give the developer time to reconsider lighting, parking, tree and sidewalk plans that don’t conform to city guidelines. Ingles was seeking an exemption from these requirements, but staff disagreed, saying they seemed to be based on the business’s preferences rather than actual needs dictated by the site.

Attorney (and former vice mayor) Gene Ellison, representing Ingles, cited safety concerns in explaining why the proposed design failed to satisfy those requirements. But several Council members were skeptical, noting that big-box developers such as Walmart have met them in the past.

• Approved new development rules requiring developers to wait up to a year before re-submitting a project for consideration after Council has rejected it, and increasing the minimum space between two projects for them to be considered separate.

Manheimer didn’t participate in the 5-0 vote: The Caledonia Apartments project had retained her law firm, posing a potential conflict of interest. After City Council unanimously rejected the controversial project last fall, the developer re-submitted it as two separate proposals not requiring Council approval, sparking the push for the new rules.

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.


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15 thoughts on “Diversity or damnation?

  1. artart

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the city providing benefits to gay persons with partners if they are providing them to legally married persons. However, what I object to is providing any city benefits for merely being married or in a gay relationship. Doing that is completely and clearly discriminatory to single persons in that single persons are effectively paid less (in benefits) than people with partners. It is a clear violation of the concept of equal pay for equal work. Why should it cost the city more for one class of worker than another?

  2. Curious

    Does the City offer (or propose to offer) to PAY the costs of spousal/partner benefits or simply offer married-partnered employees the opportunity to pay for the extra benefits themselves? The State only pays for the individual employee (single or married) but allows married employees to BUY their own coverage (at group rates, of course) for spouse/family.

  3. artart

    I am under the impression (perhaps wrongly, so someone who is aware of facts, please chime in) that the city subsidizes both the employee and the spouse (and employee’s children) to where something is paid but far from the full cost of the added persons. I am aware that the federal government, through some predictibly complex formula, calculates that their employees pay approximately 40% of the cost of health insurance while the federal government pays about 60%. Those percentages remain the same whether it is a single employee policy or a family policy. So the feds, in cases where the employee’s family is on his or her policy, effectively are compensating a married person at a higher rate than a single person. The concept of doing that sucks since as I said in the first post here, it clearly discriminates by compensating marrieds more than singles for the same job/rate of pay.


    Hoisting Beer, wow there on a great start!Slumber yourself, to become fullish! So when it gets to where my family and I are unable to walk downtown without seeing homosexuals making out, on streets we helped pave. It will be then that I will stand in the streets and boycott and riot my rights to stop paying taxes to support areas for such conduct, that makes me feel uneasy to try to explain the ignorant actions of man kind to my 8-12 year old babies. We no longer are able to enjoy the night time stroll through the park due to the homosexuals fowl conduct and drunken ways.They have abused there freedom, and the city council has helped them.And so is spoken of scripture, do you recall Sodom and Gomorrah and Gods feelings towards there actions. Your right, it is not mans place to Judge Nor his place to Suffer for other mans actions. So rest assure Terry Bellamy, God knows your heart and your intentions, and so Do we the people!

  5. Ashevegasjoe

    That is the most ignorant thing I’ve ever read. I’m sure anyone who reads it actually loses IQ points just for being subgjected to so many grammatical errors. But, misspellings, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, and total incoherence aside, your statements are factually wrong. The idea that all homosexuals are drunks is laughable. I’m a drunk, and am much more likely to be making out with some loose woman downtown, than any homosexual. Also, you and your family must never go downtown if you think we have not yet reached the point where you have to explain homosexual relationships to your 8, and 12 year-old “babies”?? You must keep them away from all grocery stores, schools, and public events, lest they catch the homo-virus. You should probably just put them back into your wife’s womb, so they don’t ever get exposed to icky people who are different then them. Unless of course one of them turns out to be gay (and that would be HILARIOUS).


    I want 4 women to shack up with by my side, when this happens I want all 4 to have all these privileges too. Thank you so much homo’s.

  7. Ironically enough, I’m actually moving from Asheville to get away from people like Tom Astik, Randy Bray, and “NOBILL”.

  8. Curious, I have asked Staff to answer your question. I know that spouses and children can be added to employee health plans, and I know that the payment for those additional persons is much higher than the payment billed to employees for their personal health coverage … but I don’t know if the spouse/child contribution is “full cost.” Apparently the answer is not simply yes-no, and I have been told that the answer will be explained at our March 8 work session.

    Artart’s point is well taken, and I will argue that if the spouse/child contribution is NOT full cost, that it should be.

  9. Curious

    Thanks to Councilman Bothwell for checking. Will be glad to have further information from March 8 session.

  10. Morris Oreilly

    I would like to know that as well. Married city staff can only put their spouse on their insurance as secondary insurance unless their spouse has no health insurance at their employer or they are unemployed. It definitely looks like both single and married employees are subsidizing other employee benefits of those with children and spouses on the insurance plan.

    In light of the fact that the city is bankrupting their insurance account already, why should those actually employed by the city have to continue subsidizing non employees, and now additional inn employees. Is this just another misguided attempt at social engineering from city council who are not empowered to do any of this?

    How does any of this improve the budget hole they have already created, or address any of the real issues council is elected to address like crumbling infrastructure? Exactly what state statutes empower council to do any of this? I’m aware of none, which would make all of this a complete waste of resources which should be spent on the problems council is responsible for dealing with rather than more of these distractions.

  11. 50cal

    >>if you really want to go Bible, start reading it: There should be motions before this Council that divorce be made illegal, because Jesus clearly stated that. You better shut the Lobster Trap down too, because there are people over there cracking shellfish,” she added.< < What a bunch of nonsense! It seems Angel Chandler is the one that needs to read the Bible and do a little research before she embarrasses herself, by her ignorance. Along with the rest of the Left who use this false argument ad-nauseum. It would be great if people would do a little more research on that tried old argument they use from Leviticus about shell fish, and such. In the New Testament the distinctions between ceremonial laws and moral laws were increased. Though most ceremonial and dietary laws were discontinued, the moral laws were not lessened after the Redemption of the New Testament. So, while the dietary laws were rescinded, the moral laws were increased.. saying that the Mosaic law has ended is not to say that God has no laws or moral codes for mankind. Even though the ceremonial law has passed, the moral law remains. The New Testament speaks of the "law of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:2) and the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). One cannot say that something that was sin under the Law is not sin under grace. Ceremonial laws concerning diet or wearing mixed fabrics no longer apply, but moral laws (especially those rooted in God's creation order for human sexuality) continue. Moreover, these prohibitions against homosexuality can also be found in the New Testament. When you find prohibitions in both the Old and New Testament, then you can be assured it's not something that should be engaged in. >>“Our government should treat us all equally. I’m a citizen, a homeowner and a taxpayer, and I don’t get near the rights as all these people complaining earlier.”<< Sister, homosexuals are under the same laws as everyone else. I don't have the right to live anywhere I want. I don't have the right to be employed by anyone I want. I don't have the right to marry anyone I want. There are laws and rules and moral restrictions that govern all of those things. Watching the the city council meeting with all the saccharin sweetness of the word 'love' thrown around from the supporters of the resolution covered the real agenda of government force. If we could have seen the faces of the supporters of the resolution as the opponents gave their comments, would we have seen LOVE shining through on their faces for those folks? LOL, I think not. So all this so called 'love' only goes one way. Am I to be forced to patronize homosexual businesses by government? Since it seems I will be forced to hire someone that may not be a job appropriate employee. Government force is the name of game.

  12. cwaster

    Separation of church and state.

    What if you aren’t a Christian? I’m not. The Bible is irrelevant to me. Bible thumpers like Nobill have no place in my worldview. In my opinion, racism, bigotry, and discrimination are ugly. Too bad so many who call themselves “Christian” still exhibit these ugly characteristics,in my opinion.

    What is relevant is people should have equal rights, whether they are gay or not.

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