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From the Winston-Salem Journal's Relish
Speaker: Acceptance by churches key to gay marriage
Thursday, November 17, 2005
By Ken Keuffel
relish staff writer
Gay marriage may be difficult to imagine in North Carolina any time soon. But it could soon become legal in California. In fact, if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn't pledged to veto a measure that state legislators passed in September, it would be on its way now.
Woo vs. Lockyer, a case challenging current marriage statutes in California, is moving its way through the courts there. If the courts rule in favor of the plaintiffs, same-sex couples would be able to marry in California - and enjoy the rights and benefits of marriage.
Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco (www.nclrights.org), is the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs in Woo vs. Lockyer.
He'll speak tonight on the future of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in North Carolina and beyond at the Greensboro-High Point Marriott in Greensboro, near the Piedmont Triad International Airport.
The presentation is being organized by the Triad Equality Alliance and the Triad Business and Professional Guild.
Minter said he is encouraged by the progress that he and others are making to legalize gay marriage. In the end, though, such efforts can accomplish only so much.
"This issue is ultimately going to be decided not in the courts or in the state legislatures - but in local communities," he said. "I say that because neither the courts nor the legislatures are going to get very far away from what the average person feels and believes about this issue."
The best way to change hearts and minds is for lesbians and gays to come out and talk to their families and friends - one of several points that Minter plans to make tonight.
"It definitely takes a lot of courage, particularly in places that are not as safe as San Francisco or Massachusetts," Minter said.
Minter knows something about that. Now 44, he began life as a girl and was lesbian in orientation for a while. His parents, as he indicated in another published article, were less than accepting.
Then he attended college, first at the University of Texas and then at Cornell University, where he earned a law degree.
At some point, he concluded that he was "miserable" having a female body and being seen as female.
"Nothing worked," he said. "I really could never feel comfortable or happy until I was able to transition."
That happened in 1996.
"It was very difficult for me to come out as transgender to my family in Texas," he said. "I did not go home for seven years."
Finally, two years ago, he went home to visit his now-deceased grandmother on her 92nd birthday.
"It has been the most healing experience I've ever had," he said. "They were very, very accepting. This whole town has been incredibly open and accepting, including the pastor of my grandmother's church. It's really shown me how powerful it can be to reach out to people and give them the chance to understand."
There are many challenges ahead for those who advocate for gay rights. Minter said he would talk about some of them tonight.
"Our biggest challenge right now is to figure out how to make progress in states like North Carolina that are not as liberal on gay issues," he said.
Churches will be a part of the solution, he said.
"Some of the large, influential and ... fundamentalist churches are shifting toward acceptance of gay people," Minter said.
"Marriage is just a human right," he said. "If you're thinking that someone is not good enough to marry, then you're not seeing them as an equal fellow human being.
"That's why I'm optimistic. Once churches let gay people through the doors and start to relate to them as individuals and as human beings, everything else will follow.
"I firmly believe that."
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