New Briefs

NYS High Court Hears Gay Marriage Case May 31

This is the big one. The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest, will hear the appeals of Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the NYCLU on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the right to marry on May 31. A decision is expected this summer.

Arguing for retaining a straight-only marriage law will be the offices of Democratic state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, two ostensible supporters of same-sex marriage.

These appeals bring together four same-sex marriage cases, all rejected by the Appellate Division. A fifth case, argued by civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel, goes before the Second Department of that mid-level court on March 28.

The high court can rule any number of ways. It can find a constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry, order the Legislature to fashion a remedy that equalizes rights for same-sex couples resulting in civil unions as in Vermont, or it could reject all claims of the plaintiffs.

On Tuesday, Spitzer and 45 other elected officials across the state, including Democratic state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, but not Bloomberg, voiced their support for marriage equality under an initiative organized by the Empire State Pride Agenda, New Yorkers for the Freedom to Marry. Those statements followed similar pronouncements from 70 members of the clergy around the state on Valentine’s Day in February.

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Bush Reiterates Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage

You really had to see this: President George W. Bush squirming and pursing his lips as he was asked a probing question about his stand on same-sex marriage at his press conference this week. Here is the transcript:

QUESTION: Mr. President, two years ago, Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, heard your state of the Union address, went back to California, and began authorizing the marriage of gay men and lesbians. Thousands of people got married. The California courts later ruled he had overstepped his bounds. But we were left with these pictures of thousands of families getting married. And they had these children. Thousands of children. Now, that might have changed the debate, but it didn’t. But in light of that, my question is: Are you still confident that society’s interest and the interests of those children in gay families are being met by government saying their parents can’t marry?

BUSH: I believe society’s interests are met by defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That’s what I believe.

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NYS Senate Rejects Anti-Bullying Bill

The Dignity for All Students Act, long stalled in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate, was rejected in a party-line vote last week on a “motion to petition” brought by out gay Senator Tom Duane, a Chelsea Democrat. The Empire State Pride Agenda said Duane’s maneuver “did force senators to hear about the bill,” which has passed overwhelmingly in the Democrat-dominated Assembly. DASA sets up a structure in schools across the state to protect students from bullying based on race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. The GOP specifically opposes the inclusion of gender identity and expression protections in the bill.

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U.S. Supremes Restrict Sexual Imagery

The CDA prohibits knowingly transmitting obscene content to minors on the Internet, but provides a defense if reasonable methods are used to exclude minors from access to the material—including adult verification, special access codes, or credit card use. The law’s practical effect, then, is to ban free and easy Internet access to any obscene material not shielded in one of these ways. The courts accept the notion that without such shields, minors will access such material and the content provider should be held responsible.

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit last summer found that it was impossible to establish the degree to which constitutionally-protected speech might be inhibited by the obscenity provisions of the CDA.

The plaintiffs had testified that news of the CDA criminal penalties deterred them from posting certain materials on their Web sites, given their uncertainty that they could establish the “value” of the work from expert testimony. The court found the fear of possible prosecution reasonable, but also found that Supreme Court doctrine on the First Amendment holds that incidental deterrence or punishment of protected speech might be allowable in pursuit of a compelling interest in deterring or punishing obscenity. The circuit court ruled that the act was not guilty of “substantial overbreadth.”

In a written release after the Supreme Court action, Nitke wrote, “I am deeply disappointed. I believe their decision was motivated by the current political climate, and not based on our Constitution or the law.”

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High Schooler Disciplined for Filming Gay Love Story

Brandon Flyte, a non-gay senior at West Linn High School in Oregon, has been banned from the school for making a student film called “Brokeback High,” a gay love story set in a high school today, the Advocate reported. The administration had ordered him to delete a scene showing shirtless men snuggling, but he showed the unedited version to his marine biology class. For this, Flyte is being forced to finish his secondary education at Clackamas Community College.

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De Blasio May Take On Fossella for House Seat

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Anti-Gay Marriage Amendments Resisted

The New Hampshire House voted 207-125 against a state constitutional amendment that would have restricted marriage to man-woman couples. State law already does so. In Iowa, a state senate committee deadlocked over an amendment. The United First Parish Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, where Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams are entombed, won the right from the Zoning Board to hang a 34-foot banner outside proclaiming “People of Faith for Marriage Equality.” The local Historical Commission had forbidden the banner because of its size. At the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where gay groups are forbidden to march, MassEquality petitioned among the spectators to call upon the Legislature to block a state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. “There was absolutely zero hostility,” Marc Solomon of the group told the Boston Globe. The group collected 800 signatures. In Asheville, North Carolina, Unitarian Reverend Joe Hoffman announced he will no longer collaborate in discrimination by signing marriage licenses for non-gay couples until same-sex couples are allowed to marry legally. “I hope it will prompt people to think,” he told the Asheville Citizen-Times. Hoffman will still do religious ceremonies for gay and straight couples.

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High Court Drama over Same-Sex Marriage in Minnesota

The justices immediately denied telling Johnson any such thing. He acknowledged his comments were “poorly worded” and “embellished.” Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz issued a statement saying it would be “highly unethical for me” to “give assurances to anyone on how the court was most likely to decide an issue that might come before it. It just never happened.”

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SF Archdiocese Condemned by Supervisors for Gay Adoption Retreat

A spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco said that allowing gay people to adopt children is “not in synch with church teaching.” The new Archbishop, George Niderauer, made a slightly more nuanced statement on the controversy, saying, “We fully accept and faithfully teach what the Catholic Church teaches on family life,” but adding that they are at this stage “reviewing our adoption programs.”

Brian Cahill, director of Catholic Charities, the agency that facilitates adoptions, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the archbishop did not explicitly ban same-sex adoptions, which the group has done in the past under Archbishop William Levada, who is now the Pope Benedict XVI’s top aide and is leading the worldwide crusade to stop the practice.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously condemned Levada for his anti-gay statements. The board’s resolution said, “It is an insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles” with the city’s “customs and traditions, such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need.” The resolution went on to say Levada “is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city.”

It is not clear what further steps the board will take regarding funding for Catholic Charities. The group has millions in contracts with the city and the state, but Catholic Charities says no funds are used for the adoption programs. In Massachusetts, where Catholic Charities was forced by the state’s bishops to withdraw from adoption services rather than let gay people adopt, Republican Governor Mitt Romney filed legislation to exempt religious organizations from complying with state laws that forbid sexual orientation discrimination in adoptions. Democratic legislative leaders have made clear that the bill is dead on arrival on Beacon Hill.

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Domestic Partner Registry for Rockland

The County Legislature of Rockland voted 12-4 to create a registry for domestic partners open to gay and non-gay couples over 18. It also amended housing law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The registry gives domestic partners the same rights as spouses in such areas as visitation in hospitals, nursing homes, and correctional facilities, the Journal-News reported.

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Connecticut Marriage Case to Court

Eight Connecticut same-sex couples had their day in court on March 21, seeking the right to legally marry. The state legalized civil unions for gay couples last year, but reserved marriage for heterosexual couples. The plaintiffs were represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the legal advocacy group that won the historic 2003 Massachusetts same-sex marriage case.

Superior Court Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman pressed GLAD to define the harm to the gay couples when civil unions confer all the rights of marriage that a state can. Attorney Ben Klein said that the limitation of marriage to man-woman couples “is nothing less than the government’s announcement that these are second-class citizens” and that “marriage is a privileged legal, cultural, and social status.” The state defended the discriminatory law as different from laws banning interracial marriage by insisting that race is not an essential part of marriage but gender is.

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Canadian Clergy: Stop the Gaybashing

The Canadian Religious Conference, representing 22,000 priests, nuns, and religious brothers, wrote to every bishop in the country urging the Catholic Church in Canada to end its “unconditional alignment” with “directives from Rome,” the Globe and Mail reported. The story said that in their letter the religious leaders talked “about the Vatican and the Canadian church’s intransigent stands on sexual morals, their unwelcoming attitude toward homosexuals, their lack of compassion for divorced persons, their fear of dialogue with other churches, and their censorship of dissenting views.”

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Gay USA Marks 20th Anniversary of City Gay Rights Law

“Rights and Reactions,” a one-hour documentary on the battle over New York City’s lesbian and gay rights law that passed in 1986 after a 15-year struggle, will be shown on “Gay USA,” co-hosted by this reporter, on Thursday, March 28 at 11 p.m. on Time Warner 34 and RCN 110 in Manhattan, simulcast at MNN.org, channel 34. It will be repeated throughout the week on the Dish Network through Free Speech TV. The film was made by Phil Zwickler, who died in 1991, and Jane Lippman. The city bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation passed by a vote of 21-14 in the 35-member Council on March 21, 1986 and was signed into law in April by Mayor Ed Koch.

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