South Carolina county votes to keep “family values” resolution to oppose “gay lifestyles”

Umbrella with religious messages being displayed at the Supreme Court of the United States, December 5, 2017 in support of religious liberties during the Cake Shop case.
Umbrella with religious messages being displayed at the Supreme Court.Photo: Shutterstock

A motion in a county in South Carolina to repeal a 1996 anti-gay resolution was set to pass on Tuesday night, when a sudden change in votes kept the “family values” resolution in place.

Greenville County’s 1996 resolution says, “Lifestyles advocated by the gay community should not be endorsed by government policy makers, because they are incompatible with the standards to which this community subscribes” and “Gay lifestyle units are directly contrary to state laws.”

Related: Republicans introduce a bill to criminalize medical care for trans youth in South Carolina

The resolution called on the county to “vigorously” oppose “gay lifestyles,” not to fund LGBTQ activities, and support local anti-LGBTQ politicians so that “a previously silent voice will now be heard.”

According to the Greenville Journal, the motion brought to the County Council on Tuesday night was specifically aimed at dismantling the “family values” resolution by implementing a rule that all County Council resolutions must sunset after four years. LGBTQ advocates had been fighting to get the motion passed at previous meetings.

Because of discussion at an earlier council meeting, advocates predicted that the council would vote overwhelmingly in favor of passing the motion, with eight council members in favor and three against.

But two members of the county council, Bob Taylor and Joe Dill, unexpectedly changed their yes votes to no at the eleventh hour. While the vote was still six to five, seven votes were needed for the motion to pass.

The change in votes occurred due to a sudden influx of people, many of them religious and holding Bibles in their hands, who spoke during public comment to oppose the motion in favor of “traditional family values.”

“I started hearing things that pricked my conscience,” Dill told WSPA News, “and made me realize that I couldn’t vote for this because there’s a lot of stuff that was going to be killed in the 1996 resolution.”

The Greenville News reported that eight out of the ten community members who spoke on Tuesday night opposed the removal of the resolution, but the massive crowd that gathered to watch the vote was split 50/50 on the motion.

Terena Starks, a member of the local advocacy organization Upstate Pride, which originally brought the 1996 resolution to the council’s attention, said the opposition simply beat LGBTQ advocates to the front of the line when signing up to speak.

“It’s disappointing to say the least,” said Starks. “To get the backlash we’re getting. It hurts.”

The community had been so sure the resolution would pass that the Campaign for Southern Equality had even released a press release declaring victory, titled “Greenville County Effectively Repeals Anti-LGBTQ Resolution in Response to Advocacy from Local Community Members.”

Now advocates are figuring out the next plan of action. “The Campaign for Southern Equality applauds advocates in Greenville who are pushing for an end to the resolution and will continue to pushing for change in Greenville,” a new statement reads, though it says it will continue to post updates as things develop.

What has been especially frustrating to LGBTQ advocates is that one council member was absent that night. Council Member Ennis Fant, who had publicly supported the motion, was out of town.

“If he were here it would have passed,” said Starks.

She also said Upstate Pride plans to keep fighting to repeal the resolution.

Indeed, there are other methods of repealing it in the works. Dill has proposed a referendum that would place the question on the ballot on Election Day in November. Fant has also introduced a proposal that would specifically remove the 1996 resolution.

Update: Campaign for Southern Equality sent LGBTQ Nation this statement on the vote:

This should have been an easy vote – and initially, it was. The 1996 resolution is blatantly discriminatory and sends a discouraging and harmful message that LGBTQ people are not welcome in Greenville. For so many people in the county, that sentiment just doesn’t ring true: People in Greenville are coming out as LGBTQ, living full, happy lives, and increasingly being met with strong support from family members, friends, and neighbors.

Unfortunately, on a second vote several Council members changed their vote, and one Council member was absent. The people of Greenville plan to engage in conversations with every member of the Council and help them understand the harms of the 1996 resolution and the needs of the LGBTQ community more broadly.

We’re really proud of the LGBTQ community and allies in Greenville for coming out to the meeting and making their voices heard on Tuesday. And we know that they’ll keep attending the meetings, sharing their stories and pushing for change. There’s another meeting in two weeks where this issue has the chance to come up again.

Beyond that, we’re seeing a stronger and stronger organizing infrastructure for LGBTQ people across South Carolina: A coalition of more than 20 organizations, many led by trans people and people of color, has formed to take on anti-transgender legislation in Columbia. LGBTQ students have sued the state over an anti-LGBTQ law from the late 1980s. Times are changing in South Carolina and moving forward. We believe that this year, Greenville will move forward, too.

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