Raleigh may not be drafting its own nondiscrimination ordinance, but LGBTQ residents and others will still be protected under Wake County’s law, city council member Jonathan Melton said Tuesday.
“As a gay man, I will tell you that walking down the street knowing that I am protected means more to me than who is the enforcing agency,” Melton said during a city council workshop on Tuesday. “I think it’s less how the sausage is made. It’s more important that the sausage is made.”
Melton’s comments came after council member David Cox criticized the city’s decision to opt-in to Wake County’s non-discrimination ordinance rather than approving their own, calling it “unfortunate.”
The Raleigh city council came under fire earlier this year for delaying the passage of a local nondiscrimination law, with Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin saying she wanted to see how litigation against policies adopted by other municipalities played out. Nine North Carolina cities, including Durham and Chapel Hill, and three counties beat Raleigh to the punch after a state law banning local nondiscrimination policies expired in December. Those cities and counties are Asheville and Buncombe County, Apex, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County, the city of Durham, Greensboro, Chatham County, and Winston-Salem.
Now, after months of pressure from residents and advocacy organizations like Equality NC, Wake County is taking the lead on protecting the rights of LGBTQ residents.
Melton said Tuesday he worked with Equality NC in proposing this solution and there are important benefits to enacting one uniform policy.
“Having the same set of rules enforced in the county and in the city, enforced the same way by the same people, there’s a lot of benefit to that,” he said. “I also hope that some of the smaller towns in Wake County will then join, once Wake County and Raleigh have extended these protections to our residents, visitors, and citizens.”
Council member Patrick Buffkin noted that having one law would be helpful to businesses with retail stores in multiple jurisdictions.
“For [businesses] to manage two or three different sets of rules could be really cumbersome,” he said.
With the city council poised to adopt Wake County’s nondiscrimination policy at its meeting next Tuesday, October 19, there’s certainly reason for celebration. The act “will send a resounding message with the county that all are welcome here,” said Melton.
But one has to wonder if the delay, combined with the city attorney’s careful outlining of Raleigh’s legal position Tuesday, sends a different message—that the city isn’t a leader for change, but a follower.
This story has been updated from an earlier version.
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