Rhea County Commission Rescinds Gay Ban

Friday, March 19, 2004
Outside historic Rhea County Courthouse. Click to enlarge.
Outside historic Rhea County Courthouse. Click to enlarge.
- photo by John Wilson

The Rhea County Commission, meeting in a carnival atmosphere in the same courtroom where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held, took two minutes Thursday night rescinding a Tuesday vote seeking to ban gays from the county.

The commission earlier had voted 8-0, with one member absent, on the resolution asking that sodomy laws go back into effect. The vote was the same on rescinding it.

With an overflow crowd of vociferous supporters and foes of the homosexual lifestyle on hand, the commission filed in under police escort.

Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who made the original motion, moved it be rescinded. The vote was taken, and the commissioners quickly filed out - again under escort.

The resolution asked Rep. Jim Vincent to seek legislation to allow Rhea County to arrest gays for crimes against nature.

Commissioner Fugate earlier said he wanted to keep gays out of the county.

Demonstrators from both sides sparred heatedly inside and outside the historic courthouse.

The controversial vote had brought media attention from throughout the country.

June Griffin, a Christian activist, said the commissioners had bowed to "pressure from the liberal press."

She said, "We need to raise a better generation that won't chicken out." She said the majority of Rhea County residents supported the resolution.

Mrs. Griffin said she did not believe there are any gays living in Rhea County. She said, "Anyone I ever suspect, I go up and ask them directly." She said anyone she had asked had denied it.

But Daniel Shipley said he lives in Graysville near the Hamilton County line and is "gay and proud of it."

He walked up to June Griffin and said, "Honey, I'm gay and I want you to know I'm dressed as good as you."

Mr. Shipley said there are "a lot of gays in Rhea County."

One man at the brief meeting said the commission "kicked a hornet nest. They've made a laughingstock of Rhea County."

A man from Dunlap, who had a truck with anti-gay writing on it, was passing out tracts. The truck said, "Sodomites Don't Produce, They Recruit."

A number of young people demonstrated against the resolution.

One held a sign that said, "Judge not that ye be not judged."

Another said, "The Gluttonous Are Next" - an apparent reference to the portly Fugate.

Dunlap man preaching against homosexuality
Dunlap man preaching against homosexuality
- photo by John Wilson

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