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Rights and Rudeness: Isn't Being Politically Correct Simply . . . Correct?

5 years ago
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In Washington, Mayor Adrian Fenty has signed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, despite objections from Catholic clergy and some ministers, and pending a 30-day review period by Congress. I can safely say lawmakers in North Carolina are very far from taking that step.

However, in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County commissioners last week did approve domestic-partner benefits for county workers in same-sex relationships, starting in 2011. The 6-to-3 vote last week followed party lines, with Democrats voting for and Republicans against. Mecklenburg became one of seven municipalities -- including Chapel Hill and Durham -- to offer health care benefits to domestic partners of employees. Emotion marked speeches on both sides of the issue, and the outcome made news as much for particular words spoken during that debate.

Commissioner Vilma Leake, a Democrat, made policy personal by mentioning her son and his 1993 death from AIDS, after which Republican Commissioner Bill James leaned over and asked: "Your son was a homo, really?" She responded: "You're going to make me hurt you. Don't do that to me. Don't talk about my son."

James says he was misunderstood and was in the middle of saying "homosexual" -- but then a talk show on local radio station WBT-AM played back the tape. James then told host Keith Larson: "Look, I don't care if I said 'homo.' I don't think it changes the reality of it. Whether I said, 'Is he a homo, really?' or 'Is he homosexual, really?' -- I'm OK with either one of those." In an e-mail to media outlets, James also said, "Vilma is a religious hypocrite." Her late husband was a bishop in the AME Zion church, which, James said, "has historically opposed homosexuality."

This was not the first time James has made headlines. In just one example, in 2004, he said that children in the "urban black community" live "in a moral sewer with parents who lack the desire to act properly." So much for Southern hospitality.

Commenters continue to argue over whether Leake or James was more out of line. And the level of political discourse continues its downward spiral.

Except now, no one apologizes, not even one of those mealy-mouthed "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" apologies. Standing firm in your rudeness is considered a high-minded pushback against political correctness, an assertion of First Amendment rights. The days when political enemies fought the good fight and shared a beer afterward are over, unless the beer is a stage-managed encounter between a president, a professor and a policeman.

James did say in a weekend appearance that he would be willing to tell Leake: "I'm sorry if the question, you took it the wrong way." Commissioners are considering further action or censure.

What's in a name or name-calling? While Luisita and Mia talk about having some say over what we call ourselves -- the most basic courtesy anyone should expect -- there is a long line of people willing to fill in the blanks: "communist," "racist," random comments on blogs. As Melinda points out, even flight attendants doing their jobs can't escape the wrath of Congress.

Being sensitive to the feelings of others is mocked; the phrase "politically incorrect" was invented to cover a multitude of invective. Politically correct? It's about being correct, being polite. We teach the golden rule to our children, but then act as though good manners and treating others as we would like to be treated is only for suckers and wimps. Our politicians have led the way, and as long as there are partisan followers, compromise will remain a dirty word.

This week before Christmas, I've had the pleasure to observe saving graces, many times when labels are less important than finding common ground. Santa and the baby Jesus will do that to people.

A week that began with local political opponents sparring over an ugly insult didn't end that way -- unless you were paying attention to the Senate health-care debate. Sunday on CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) -- resurrecting the memory of Bernie Madoff's rap sheet -- said that "any Democratic senator who votes for this bill is a co-conspirator to one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in the history of Washington."

Happy holidays!
Filed Under: Gay Rights, Woman Up

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