Gay Marriage Battle Heats Up in North Carolina -- and Gets Personal

When I hear religious leaders with whom I have a personal connection screaming about my "perverted lifestyle" from their pulpits and over the airwaves, as a gay man in a 17-year relationship, it's personal.
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Despite the fact that the N.C. state constitution already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, conservative activists and politicians just can't leave the issue alone. They're proposing a 2012 state constitutional amendment that would further discriminate against LGBT residents, potentially even outlawing civil unions. As a gay man in a 17-year relationship, that affects me. Supporters of the amendment obviously fear me and my partner so much that they want to deny us, and others like us, any legal rights whatsoever.

I take it personally because I like to think of myself as one of the good guys, someone who works hard, pays his taxes, stays out of trouble and tries to get along with others because everyone benefits in the end. Who wouldn't take it personally if your relationship was called "perverted" by local church leaders and politicians? They even claim that legally recognizing my relationship will cause their own marriages to collapse! In my more magnanimous moments, I have often thought that if only these conservatives knew me and my partner, they wouldn't say such things. But they don't know us and they don't care; they care only about imposing their political and religious agenda on everyone in North Carolina.

So yes, this is personal. When I hear state officials lumping me and my partner in with dangerous criminals, that's personal. And when I hear religious leaders with whom I have a personal connection screaming about my "perverted lifestyle" from their pulpits and over the airwaves, yes, it's personal. One of those religious leaders is Rev. Ron Baity, who heads up Return America, a local group spearheading the proposed amendment. His wife taught me off and on for 13 years at a Christian school in Winston-Salem, NC, where I attended school with Baity's children.

When I realized Baity was behind this effort, I thought I'd send him a friendly email. And yes, it was friendly! I simply said, hello, your wife taught me years ago and here's a link to a thoughtful essay on democracy and gay rights. No, I didn't expect him to suddenly see the light, but I thought mentioning his wife in the email would get his attention (I'm sure he gets lots of hate mail, after all). It certainly did -- and he instructed me to never, ever use his wife's name in an email again, and then he promptly called me "perverted." Nice to hear from you, too, Reverend!

I'm enough of a good guy to hope that Baity might realize that I had been under the godly care of his wife for 13 years and still turned out to be gay -- and well, might that be worth something? Am I still so dangerous? The Christian school I attended was small, and while there are a few other openly gay former students out there, I'm guessing most haven't emailed Baity or his wife about gay rights. Baity and others like him have made this fight over gay marriage personal -- and now, I'm doing the same by naming him and his organization and committing myself to speak out about this issue.

I'm fine with Baity preaching what he wants at his Berean Baptist Church, but his religious beliefs should not become state policy. I'm a person of faith, too, but I have no desire to discriminate and legislate against others because of my spiritual beliefs as Baity does. In the email I sent, I guess Baity felt it was too personal to mention his wife (even though I said nothing inappropriate). Did I hit too close to home? Did I sully his precious family with dirty politics? Maybe now he knows how I feel, and yes, now it's personal.

If you're a North Carolina resident, visit Equality NC to learn more and find out what you can do to support LGBT rights and protect your own relationship.

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