04/18/12 — Commissioners reject support for amendment

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Commissioners reject support for amendment

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 18, 2012 1:46 PM

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Caitlin Breedlove applauds the vote by the Wayne County commissioners not to endorse the Defense of Marriage state constitutional amendment.

Wayne County commissioners' defeat Tuesday of a resolution to endorse the Defense of Marriage constitutional amendment ended with hardly a ripple after what had started two weeks ago as a spirited debate.

Commissioners did not call for any public comment prior to the vote and even Republican commissioners Ray Mayo and Steve Keen who had championed the resolution had little to say beforehand.

The whole process, from Mayo reading the resolution and the 4-2 vote that defeated his motion to approve it, took less than five minutes.

Keen and Mayo voted for the resolution. Democratic Commissioners John Bell, J.D. Evans, Jack Best and Sandra McCullen voted against it. Democratic Commissioner Bud Gray left the meeting early to attend a funeral.

A crowd of more than 100 people prompted commissioners to move the meeting to the historic Courtroom No. 1 where there is no live radio feed or television cameras.

"It is not my position as a county commissioner to tell individuals how to vote. As a county commissioner to tell you who to vote for and how to vote is just not my position," Best said.

"I just feel strongly that we are up here to run the business of the county and not to tell people exactly how to vote.

"When I took my oath of office as a commissioner I swore to uphold the constitution of this state and the United States of America, but getting involved with this amendment is a conflict," Bell said. "There is a separation of state and church and as a commissioner I don't think we have any business getting involved."

Keen noted that the law banning same-sex marriages was already on the books but said people should vote for the amendment to prevent changes in the future.

"This resolution here today was to encourage people to participate ... so a federal or state judge, one person, could not come in and strike lines and say it is unconstitutional," he said.

Bell said he normally didn't go back in history, but that he had been discriminated against all of his life. While in school black children also rode a yellow school bus, but the bus for the white children had a white roof, he recalled.

"That is something that a lot of you can't say," he said. "I grew up in an era when it was illegal to do certain things. And Steve, from that perspective, I have been through some things that most of you have never even seen or know what I am talking about.

"I remember all of that stuff and I swore on my mother's grave that I would never discriminate against anybody -- black, white or indifferent. I voted against it. That is my conviction and I take offense to people coming up and challenging the vote that I take because I vote my conviction."

After the commissioners finished their business, they opened the meeting to public comments. Comments regarding the amendment vote were evenly split between supporters and opponents.

Stephanie Kornegay of Mount Olive, chairman of the Wayne County Democratic Party, thanked commissioners for not endorsing "constitutional discrimination."

"I know it was tough," she said. "I know it was a distraction from the real business of Wayne County and that some will try to use it against you in the election. We know this is not an endorsement of gay marriage.

"You did the right thing and you did the Christian thing. Jesus never supported discrimination. This was nothing but a distraction of the real business of jobs and education and moving Wayne County forward."

State Rep. Efton Sager, a Republican, sought to dispel arguments that the amendment would have an adverse economic impact on the state.

"Nine of the 10 states forecast to have the poorest economic growth have legalized same-sex marriage, civil unions," he said. "Marriage between a man and a woman has proven to be the right relationship. It is a reason we have problems in our schools because we don't have a man and a woman as far as the act of marriage is concerned."

All the amendment does is not recognize same-sex couples as a marriage, Sager said. They can still have a civil union if they want to, he added.

Mayo and Mrs. McCullen both encouraged residents to get out and cast their ballot on May 8.

"We still live in a county, state and country where the majority still rules," Mayo said. "Come out and vote. That makes all the difference."