About 25 local faith leaders and several Asheville City Council members gathered today, Jan. 25, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ to advocate for “full equality for all Asheville citizens.” The resolution pushed by the group — People of Faith for Just Relationships, whose members represent a variety of traditions — calls for City Council to take four specific actions, including “extending the city’s employment non-discrimination clause to include sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity or expression.”
“Today we are asking the city to act to the full extent of its powers to recognize same sex relationships,” explained People of Faith spokesperson, Rev. Joe Hoffman. “As clergy and faith leaders, we experience firsthand the hardships and the struggles of people who are directly effected by these inequalities. And we say it is time to honor the full diversity of our city with full equality for all.”
The resolution also calls for enacting an anti-bullying ordinance for all city institutions and grounds; creating a Domestic Partner Registry to recognize same gender relationships for rights in regard to assisted living facilities, funeral rights, health care fights and others; and “endorsing and supporting the rights of same gender couples to share fully and equally in the familial rights, responsibilities and commitments of civil marriage.”
Rev. Shannon Spencer of the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Asheville blamed misinterpretations of her own faith for some of the problems facing people of different genders and sexual orientations. “It must be named loudly, that historically, it has been the Christian faith that has been used to marginalize and scandalize and oppress the LGBT community,” she declared. “In our attempt to bring about what we thought was righteousness, we failed to remember God’s love, forgiveness, justice and mercy.”
Rev. Mark Ward of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, noted that although things are getting better, society still has “a long way to go towards equality.
“We live in an amazing time when most gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people are out and about in more ways than has ever been seen. We see this in business, in government, in politics, and in entertainment,” he observed. “But the truth is, most of these people are still living as second-class citizens.” He went on to describe the resolution as “a small step — just a little thing we can do. … to make Asheville stand as an example of what it means to be a compassionate city.”
The group of about 50 supporters who came out to endorse the measure included a majority of City Council members: Cecil Bothwell, Gordon Smith, Esther Menheimer and Brownie Newman. Bothwell said he expects the Council to formally vote on the resolution in about a month, predicting, “It’s pretty much likely to be a done deal.”
Council voted to support domestic partner benefits last February but the city is still working out how to implement the policy.
Here’s the full text of the resolution that was proposed on Jan. 25:
A Resolution in Support of Full Equality for All Asheville Citizens
WHEREAS the core values of the City of Asheville include commitments to “value and respect a diverse community, workforce, and ideas,” and to “value the safety and welfare of our employees and the citizens we serve;”1 and
WHEREAS up to 12% of Asheville’s population is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT);2 and
WHEREAS LGBT people possess the same capacity and desire as the rest of the population to be full and active participants in the life of our city; and
WHEREAS more than 600 same-sex couples are known to live in Asheville,3 a concentration more than three times the national average and the fifth highest concentration of same-sex couples among medium-sized metropolitan areas in the United States;4 and
WHEREAS statewide research shows that the individuals in same-sex couples reflect the diversity of the general population with regard to race and ethnicity;5 and
WHEREAS statewide research suggests that 22% of same-sex couples are raising children;6 and
WHEREAS research demonstrates that the psychosocial development and well-being of children raised by gay and lesbian couples is comparable to that of their peers raised by heterosexual parents;7 and
WHEREAS LGBT citizens and their children face stigma and harms due to a lack of basic legal protections under state and federal law; and
WHEREAS prejudicial attitudes are fostered when people are treated unequally under the law; and
WHEREAS, as a result, LGBT people and their families live with the constant risks of losing a job; facing eviction; being denied the full recognition of familial relationships in public and private settings; and undergoing bullying and
WHEREAS national research shows that “nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment at school, nearly two-thirds feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third feel unsafe because of their gender expression;”8 and
WHEREAS ensuring that LGBT people have equal protection under the law in the areas of employment, housing, and relationship recognition can reduce the harms that LGBT people encounter under current laws and can overturn the effects of prejudice; and
WHEREAS the Asheville City Council approved last year a domestic partner benefits policy that recognizes the capacity of same-sex couples to form committed, lasting unions; and
WHEREAS the Obama administration issued a 2010 Presidential Memorandum that mandates domestic partner visitation in hospitals that accept federal health monies, and Asheville hospitals do not currently have a mechanism for recognizing same-sex domestic partners;9 and
WHEREAS civil marriage confers hundreds of rights and protections under state and federal law, yet discriminatory marriage laws deprive same-sex couples of these same rights and protections, including, but not limited to, health care coverage and related decision-making, access to assisted-living facilities, decision-making around funerals and end-of-life matters, inheritance rights, survivor benefits, child custody, and adoption rights:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Asheville City Council act to affirm and protect the equal rights of all its citizens by
1. Extending the city’s employment discrimination clause to include “sexual orientation”, “gender”, and “gender identity or expression”;
2. Enacting an anti-bullying ordinance for all city institutions and grounds;
3. Creating a Domestic Partner Registry to recognize same-sex relationships for the purposes of providing documentation and offering a mechanism through which hospitals, businesses, and other entities will have the opportunity to recognize these relationships; and
4. Endorsing and supporting the rights of same-sex couples to share fully and equally in the familial rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.
1 “About the City of Asheville.” City of Asheville website.
2 Research suggests that 4% of the general American population is LGBT. Available data show that the concentration of same-sex couples in Asheville is three times the national rate, suggesting that the concentration of LGBT individuals in the city may be similarly elevated, in excess of 12%.
3 2009 American Community Survey. US Census. www.census.gov .
4 “Demographics.” GLBTQ Social Sciences.
5 Adam P. Romero et al., NC Census Snapshot. The Williams Institute.
6 Romero et al. 2.
7 Fiona Tasker, Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children: A Review, 26(3) Dev. & Behav. Pediatrics, 224, 240 (2005); Henny M.V. Bos et al., The USA National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS): Homophobia, Psychological Adjustment, and Protective Factors, 12(4), J. of Lesbian Stud., 455, 456 (2008); Abbie E. Goldberg, Lesbian and Gay Parents and their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association (2009).
8 Joseph G. Kosciw, Ph.D. et al. The 2009 National School Climate Survey. Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network.
9 President Barack Obama. Presidential Memorandum, Hospital Visitation. The White House.