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Strange bedfellows 

As a writer for the conservative John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, Rick Martinez is used to receiving nasty e-mails from readers on the left. Although he doesn't label himself a conservative, his opinions on topics such as the war in Iraq (Martinez wrote an op-ed piece last spring backing the Bush Administration's actions there) have raised plenty of dust with people who label themselves as liberals.

But lately, it's Martinez' conservative readers who are drawling lines in the sand. The reason? A Feb. 18 opinion piece he wrote for The News & Observer voicing support for gay marriage. In a column headlined, "Legitimize the love, America," Martinez rejects the notion that, as he puts it, "our country's moral values and religious foundations are threatened if the married couple across the street are Harry and Larry instead of Harry and Louise."

Civil unions are merely "political cover," he argues, as is the idea that gay marriage is a states' rights issue. Responding to what he calls "the biggest rap against gay marriage"--that it condones what some people see as an immoral lifestyle--Martinez says, "The majority of homosexuals I've known, including those I served with in the military, were fundamentally ethical and moral people."

Whoa.

And so, for the first time since he started writing opinion pieces for The N&O two years ago, Martinez has been taking heat from readers on the right. One guy told him that he'd obviously been writing for the "liberal" daily for too long, "and it's starting to rub off on you." As a guest on Jerry Agar's talk show on WPTF radio in Raleigh (the call letters stand for "We Protect the Family," the slogan of the insurance company that founded the station), Martinez had to fend off accusations that his support for gay marriage was a betrayal of conservative values and would lead to state sanctioning of unions involving polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia. (Imagine the sit-coms there).

Like any good columnist--especially one for whom writing is not his day job--Martinez has taken this all in stride. "It's not surprising that the reaction has gone this way," he says. "Gay marriage is a very emotional issue for people. And I saw it as a secular issue, whereas most people see it as a religious one."

What is surprising, says Martinez, a former sports writer and columnist for The Arizona Republic, is "the absolute silence on this column in the gay community."

He has a point there. Fully half of Martinez' column focuses on ways he believes gay rights leaders could build more support for gay marriage. First, they have to stop what he calls "mean-spirited attacks on those who seriously disagree" with the idea for religious reasons. And, he says, gays should be "at the forefront of repealing 'hate crime' legislation," (which Martinez considers "special protection") and "leading the charge against promiscuity."

"Get rid of those awful and garish gay pride parades and stop using shock value to introduce society to your sexual lifestyle," Martinez writes. "We've seen it. We get it. Move on."

Whoa.

Ian Palmquist, a spokesman for the statewide gay and lesbian advocacy group Equality North Carolina, says the buzz about Martinez' column in his community has been positive, if quiet.

"Some of his arguments were sort of off message," Palmquist says, "but it's good to have other voices out there supporting gay marriage. I've heard a lot of people comment that they were surprised and excited to see a conservative columnist coming out for this issue."

For anyone interested in taking the discussion further, Equality North Carolina is hosting a series of town hall-style meetings around the state on the subject of gay marriage. One in Raleigh is scheduled for March 24 at 7 p.m. Check www.equalitync.org for more info.

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