RALEIGH — Departing Mayor Charles Meeker condemned a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in North Carolina on Saturday, days before the City Council considers the controversial issue.
Meeker derided the proposal as "discriminatory in nature, trying to put one group down and somehow (figuring) that's going to help the rest of us. But it never helps our community when a group is put down."
Meeker, speaking at a Unity Day forum at the Raleigh Convention Center, also urged attendees to take a don't-get-mad-get-even approach to the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions. He counseled voting out of office in the fall of 2012 the state legislators who backed the proposal, which will be on the ballot in May.
"This kind of effort to divide our community for political purposes is just wrong," he said.
Meeker is a Democrat; the amendment that will go before voters is the brainchild of the Republican majority in the state legislature.
The city's Human Rights Commission, an advisory group, has recommended that the City Council take a public stance opposing the amendment. The issue is on the agenda of Tuesday's council meeting.
Meeker, however, won't have an official role at that session. He didn't run for re-election this year and will leave office Monday, ending a 10-year stint.
While the state legislature was debating the same-sex marriage amendment earlier this year, three North Carolina municipalities, all of them in the Triangle - Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Durham - took the symbolic step of opposing the measure, according to the gay rights group Equality North Carolina.
In addition, leaders of seven local governments across the state that offer domestic partner benefits - including Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham city and county and Orange County - wrote an open letter to legislators in September urging them to reject the amendment. They argued that if the amendment became law it would strip them of the ability to offer benefits to domestic partners and would hinder North Carolina's ability to recruit businesses.
"When companies search for locations they consider all aspects of a community; smart companies know LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans are not only part of America, but that their talent is essential to its future," the letter stated.
Raleigh doesn't offer benefits to domestic partners, but the city is studying the issue in the wake of a Human Rights Commission recommendation that it do so. The commission also has recommended that the city "become more involved with LGBT issues."
The same-sex marriage amendment wasn't on the Unity Day agenda Saturday, but Meeker raised the issue in his opening remarks.
The Human Rights Commission voted to recommend that the City Council oppose the amendment in October, but Tuesday would be the first time that the council takes up the issue.
"I'm hoping it will be well-received and our City Council members will vote to make Raleigh an inclusive city where everybody is welcome," said Chris Moutos, the commission's co-chairman.
John Odom, the only Republican council member, said he doesn't think that the city should be wading into the issue at all.
That said, he added: "I'm a good Republican on (the amendment). I believe marriage is between a man and a woman."
But Odom doesn't expect that argument to carry the day among his council colleagues. "It will probably be a 7-1 vote," he said.