Charlotte lawyer first gay man to hold N.C. elective office

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Charlotte lawyer John Arrowood made history Friday.

The reason isn't clear from his résumé, the envy of most lawyers. Arrowood, 50, was a partner with the firm James, McElroy and Diehl. He served on the N.C. Banking Commission and on the boards of the Mint Museums and the Charlotte Center for Urban Ministry. He has won legal awards.

The reason wasn't even clear when a packed courtroom saw him take the oath Friday for the N.C. Court of Appeals.

No one mentioned what many of them knew -- that Arrowood had just become the first openly gay person in a statewide elective office in North Carolina. A decade after such an event would have startled the capital, no one has made an issue of his sexual orientation.

Arrowood said he has no agenda. He described his judicial philosophy simply.

"It is to administer justice without favoritism to anyone or to the state," he said from the bench after Chief Judge John Martin swore him in.

The 15-member court is North Carolina's second highest, hearing appeals in three-judge panels. Arrowood fills the spot left when Judge Eric Levinson of Charlotte became justice attaché to Iraq for the U.S. Department of Justice.

He will stand for election to a full, eight-year term in November 2008. Voters in North Carolina have never, in recent memory, been given the choice in a statewide election of voting for someone who is openly gay.

"It will probably be in some voters minds," Arrowood said in an interview with the Observer. "For the vast majority of people, they won't care. They're going to judge me by my qualifications, what I bring to the bench and what I do when I'm on the bench."

There is one openly gay member of the General Assembly, Sen. Julia Boseman, a Wilmington Democrat. Arrowood is also a Democrat.

Criticism of Arrowood has been muted. When Equality North Carolina, a Raleigh group that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, applauded Arrowood's appointment and noted his service on the group's board, the conservative N.C. Family Policy Council took note on its Web site.

But the criticism was aimed at Arrowood's work for the group -- and his leadership of its political action committee, which gives money to candidates -- not his personal life.

Gov. Mike Easley's office said Friday he doesn't know about Arrowood's sexual orientation and doesn't care.

"John Arrowood is a fantastic judge, and we're fortunate he's willing to serve the state of North Carolina," said spokeswoman Sherri Johnson.

Dan Ellison, president-elect of the N.C. Gay Advocacy Legal Alliance, said Arrowood's appointment signals progress.

"It's great for people in elected office and in appointed positions at every level to be open about who they are," said Ellison, speaking for himself and not the alliance.

Arrowood agreed. "Judges ought to be honest about who they are," he said in the interview, "and this is who I am, so I'm not going to hide it."