By Jesse Wood
April 17, 2012. During the Watauga County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night, April 17, no one made comments amidst the public hearings concerning public road names; refinancing of the Watauga High School; and a proposed block grant on behalf of the Hospitality House.
But, seven people did sign up to discuss other matters not on the agenda or among the scheduled public hearings – the Marriage Protection Amendment, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Two weeks ago at the previous Watauga County Commissioner meeting, the commissioners approved a motion to endorse the Marriage Protection Amendment. In response to that endorsement, an event was posted on Facebook titled “Let Watauga County Commissioners Hear your Voice” urging citizens to speak out against the Marriage Protection Amendment, which will be on the ballot for the North Carolina primary election on May 8.
Two-hundred-eighty-four people were “invited” to the event via Facebook; thirty-six people said they were “going;” and six people said they “maybe” would attend. Less than 36 people were at the meeting, and that number included several members of the press and county officials.
Craig Fischer, Beth Jacquot, Catherine Hopkins, Marge McKinney, Marie Hoepfl, Paula Finck and K. Alex Katz signed up to speak during the public comments section of the commissioner meeting. Comments were limited to 2 minutes per person.
Normally, Watauga County sheriff deputies don’t attend these government meetings – except to present to the board, but two were present inside the administration building, where the commissioner meeting took place on Tuesday night.
Fischer said the board’s endorsement was “meaningless” because the decision will be left up to the citizens of Watauga County during the primary. He added that the board’s endorsement was “supremely cynical” and a “distraction” from other “more important issues” such as jobs and the economy. After he spoke, one or two people began to clap, during which Chairman Nathan Miller said, “There will be no clapping.”
Jacquot said the board serves the community, but no one asked about her input, she said, nor did it have a public comment hearing before the board endorsed the Marriage Protection Amendment last April 3. The vote for whether to endorse or not endorse the amendment was not on the agenda of last week’s meeting. She added that the board doesn’t have “jurisdiction” to “influence” voters and the board’s role lies within administrative municipal issues.
Hopkins, who is a member of the High Country United Church of Christ Task Force for Equality, spoke before the board and recounted a tale of a gay partner she was with in college who was stigmatized because she was not accepted for being born gay. She added, though, that she was lucky to be accepted as she was from her church and familly. “Stigma can kill. I loved a young woman [whom] neither her family or her church could accept,” Hopkins said. “She chose suicide over stigma.” Hopkins also recited some of the state’s constitution. “All people are created equal and have inalienable rights including including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she said. “It does not say unless you are gay.”
Finck told the board that this is the first time she has ever spoken at a public hearing during a county commissioners meeting. She is 82. She said her husband recently died, and she was suffering from personal sadness. “Now, I am feeling the pain of others,” Finck said.
The board listened to the comments, though took no action, nor did the board address those speaking out against the amendment with comments of their own.