By SYLVIA ADCOCK, Staff Writer
The move by the justices in an administrative meeting last week means the issue is dead.
The amendment to the preamble approved by the State Bar added two sentences to the preamble: “While employed or engaged in a professional capacity, a lawyer should not discriminate on the basis of a person’s race, gender, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This responsibility of non-discrimination does not limit a lawyer’s right to advocate on any issue.”
The State Bar’s council approved the amendment last year after nearly two years of heated discussion, with much of the controversy centering on the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Any changes to the rules must be approved by the Supreme Court. The court does not have to give reasons for rejecting a change, and it did not give any this time.
“That will essentially be the end of it,” said Tom Lunsford, executive director of the State Bar. “They have chosen not to approve it. Our rules do not enjoy the force of law until the Supreme Court approves them.”
The inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity turned into a hot-button issue for the Bar’s councilors, and some attorneys who opposed the amendment said it would impinge upon their freedom of religion if they felt that homosexuality was against their religion.
Susan Dotson-Smith, past president of the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, said she was disappointed in the court’s action but not surprised.
“The message it sends to general public is a political message not a message from officers of the court,” she said.
It is unusual for the court to reject changes to the rules. While it’s not clear why the justices rejected this one, a number of attorneys wrote letters to the justices urging them not to approve the amendment.
Jere Royall, an attorney who works for the N.C. Family Policy Council, said he wrote to each justice and encouraged others to as well.
Royall’s letter said in part, “We should not ‘aspire’ to embrace, encourage, or facilitate behaviors that many attorneys understand from medical, scientific, social, moral, and historical research to be harmful to children and adults. Including the terms ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ would violate the United States’ and North Carolina’s constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and religion.”
Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) was also a vocal opponent.
In addition to the women’s attorney organization, the proposal had the backing of the N.C. Advocates for Justice and the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys.