(Update, Feb. 13, 2012, 3:25 p.m.: As Charlotte remains silent on matters of LGBT equality, the New Jersey Senate pushes forward with a marriage equality bill and Washington state becomes the seventh to legalize equality in marriage for LGBT couples. Queen City, take note: The future is coming fast, and you’re being left in the dust.)
My post on Friday recounting the exchange between Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, a Q&A panel audience member and me and Mayfield’s insistence that Charlotte “has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh” caught the ire of a couple of my readers.
In particular, “Hunter” cut right to the chase (certainly, in a more forceful way than I would have):
Mayfield’s statement is utter bullshit.
The Charlotte City Council takes positions on state legislative matters all the time. Cities have legislative agendas, and Charlotte is no exception.
Shame on Mayfield for daring this speak such obvious lies.
Anyone with even a single iota of knowledge on how local government works knows that city councils and other local governing bodies (e.g. county commissions, transportation commissions, etc.) take public positions on state and federal matters on a regular basis. That usually happens yearly when, as Hunter points out, local governments adopt their state and federal legislative agendas.
The City of Charlotte is no exception. The council’s Governmental Affairs Committee meets regularly in order to discuss, debate and propose the city’s annual state and federal legislative agenda. They even publish a calendar outlining the timing of their deliberations and subsequent approval by city staff and city council.
The city’s 2012 state legislative agenda has yet to be finalized and I couldn’t find a copy of its proposed contents on the city’s and county’s website. I did, however, find the proposed 2011 state legislative agenda, complete with a full 22 pages of in-depth public policy position statements on items ranging from public safety and criminal justice to infrastructure, taxing and budgeting needs.
Perhaps I should have posted more about this on Friday; I just figured the existence of legislative agendas was a no-brainer. Hunter’s comment reminded me, perhaps, that’s not true, despite the fact that so many current council members and candidates certainly knew what a legislative agenda was during campaign season.
Back at the old day job, we spearheaded an initiative to get council candidates on-the-record responses to four issues of importance to local LGBT citizens and residents.
The fourth question in our candidate questionnaire asked:
Would you support the adoption by city council of a legislative agenda that includes items to (a) seek legislative approval to extend public accommodations and public housing ordinances to include both sexual orientation and gender identity, (b) oppose the state’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a statute which bans recognition of same-sex marriages, and (c) oppose any attempt to pass a state constitutional amendment that would ban recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal arrangements?
Yes I would support A, B and C. I believe that by building relationships and commitments among the Council members we can ensure enough support to sustain a yes vote.
That doesn’t square so easily with Mayfield’s response at the Thursday evening panel, when she argued, “Charlotte City Council has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh.”
Mayfield also said (emphasis added):
As far as taking a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh, it has never been the policy of the Charlotte City Council to make a statement one way or another. We really focus on what’s happening in the City of Charlotte. We do not step outside of our realm too often. If it’s going to benefit the city, that’s our focus.
And, that bears a more in-depth response than the one I offered on Thursday evening, when I said, “It might have been something that came out of Raleigh, but it is something that will affect Charlotte. It will affect all the LGBT people who live in Charlotte — people who are represented by the people on city council and who will be affected by the amendment.”
A few of many ways the amendment impacts Charlotte and why it is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council:
- The amendment would bar the extension of health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. The city doesn’t currently offer these benefits, but, as mentioned by Mayfield, the issue is currently being discussed and considered by council members and city staff. If the city truly desires to one day offer these benefits to LGBT employees’ families, then taking a position on the amendment and its ban on domestic partner benefits is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
- The amendment could mean the end of domestic violence protection for individuals, both gay and straight, in unmarried relationships. The city-county’s joint police department would have to explore new ways to combat and control domestic violence between unmarried partners. How would the police department ensure the safety of a person being battered and abused by an unmarried partner? How much authority would they have to remove the abuser from the household if law prohibits the recognition of their relationship? The city oversees and administers the police department, therefore it is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
- The amendment could invalidate joint child-custody and visitation arrangements between unmarried couples. Though the county primarily oversees the social services and children’s welfare programs here, if the city has any stake at all in the preservation of healthy homes and families, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
- Studies have found that LGBT people in states with anti-LGBT constitutional amendments face increased mental health problems. According to anti-amendment organizers, one such study found that LGBT people reported increases in mood disorder (36.6% increase), generalized anxiety disorder (248.2% increase), alcohol use disorder (41.9% increase), and psychiatric comorbidity (36.3% increase). Again, the county primarily provides health services to the public, but if the city has any stake in protecting, preserving and promoting a healthy population and workforce, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
- The amendment could result in a chilling effect in businesses currently located in North Carolina and those thinking of moving here. North Carolina is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies. The five largest — Charlotte’s Bank of America, Lowe’s and Duke Energy, and Winston-Salem’s Reynolds American and BB&T — each offer protections to LGB employees. With the exception of Lowe’s and Duke Energy, all offer protections to transgender workings. And, four — Bank of America, Duke Energy, Reynolds American and BB&T — each offer domestic partner benefits in addition to some some 50 other private companies across the state. Research of the “creative class” by Richard Florida has found that more and more workers within “creative” professional fields highly value respect, tolerance, inclusion and diversity. Such values are respected even among straight workers, who seek to know that a diversity of viewpoints, life experiences and people will be honored at their workplaces. According to anti-amendment organizers, the creative class workers were more than 2.5 times more likely to move to Massachusetts in the three years following marriage equality there than in the three years prior. What kind of message will this amendment send to current and potential employees and businesses in North Carolina? Will the amendment cause some citizens, along with their tax income and personal economic activity, to flee the state? Will some employees of major companies like Bank of America request to be moved to the company’s already-large presence in places like Boston or New York City (where marriage equality is recognized)? Will young entrepreneurs — the backbone of our small business economy — find it harder to recruit and retain highly-skilled and highly-valuable employees? Will companies themselves — those like Bank of America — find it easier to do business in less hostile places? According to the city council’s own 2012 Strategic Focus Area Plan for Economic Development, Charlotte seeks to “be the most prosperous and livable city for all citizens through quality economic development.” If the amendment holds any potential harm for economic development and growth, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
So, above and beyond the fact that it is utterly false to say that Charlotte “has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh,” it is also false to say that Charlotte, inherently, has no interest in the potential approval on May 8 of this anti-LGBT, anti-family, anti-personal freedom and anti-business constitutional amendment. The interest is wide and varied, far beyond the simple impact on the personal lives of LGBT Charlotteans. The amendment could affect local government and its employees, local law enforcement, the health and well-being of local families and children and the economic well-being of our entire city, region and state.
This amendment is, without a doubt, a major question of concern for this city and its people and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council. Like Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and Greensboro, the Charlotte City Council should consider and pass a resolution opposing the amendment and its potential harms to our fair city and this great state.
I encourage you to click over to the previous post on this subject, scroll to the bottom and find the contact information for Charlotte City Council. Send them an email or call them, asking them to take up a resolution opposing this amendment.