NEWSBRIEFS

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 321 | May 20 – 26, 2004

NEWS

News Briefs

Kerry Meets With LGBT Activists

Three days before his home state was set to begin recognizing same-sex marriages, Kerry reiterated that he does not support extending equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

“That was a disappointment to all of us there last Friday,” Stachelberg told Gay City News. “But he reminded us of a record” that is quite significant on a range of issues, including relationship recognition. He is someone who we can have a dialogue with, which is quite different from what we have with the current president.”

Other activists attending included Jeremy Bishop, from Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO’s LGBT rights group, Robin Brand, from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Dr. Marsha Martin, who leads AIDS Action, Keith Boykin, of the National Black Justice Coalition, Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, Sharra Greer, from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Kevin Jennings, who heads up the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and David Tseng, of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Elizabeth Birch, HRC’s former executive director, who is now LGBT finance co-chair of the Kerry campaign, was among the candidate’s supporters on hand.

On the issue of a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Stachelberg said that Kerry, “made clear his intention to oppose any amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” but added that the group did not pursue the candidate’s statement that he would support an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution to end gay marriage there as long as it made provision for substitute civil union rights. Such an amendment passed the state Legislature in March and could be voted on in November 2006.

“H e did not repeat his Massachusetts constitutional position, but it’s out there,” Stachelberg said. “Nobody asked—it’s old history.”

Stachelberg said that while AIDS, both in the U.S. and globally, anti-gay harassment in schools, and hate crimes legislation came up in the meeting, most of the session was “about relationships.”

“It was a chance for all of us in the room to continue or begin a dialogue with Sen. John Kerry, who we we will be working very hard to elect in the fall,” she said.

HRC has not yet made a formal endorsement, but Stachelberg said to expect one soon.

San Fran AIDS Deaths Decline

The San Francisco Department of Public Health reported eight deaths from AIDS in the first quarter of 2004, down from 37 in the same period last year and 87 in the first quarter of 1997.

San Francisco AIDS activist Michael Petrelis took the occasion of the dramatic drop to ask New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. why the newspaper, which has done stories trumpeting “sub-Saharan” rates of HIV infection in the town in recent years, hasn’t done a big story on this.

“The reasons behind the declining AIDS death rate should be explored by both reporters and officials at the San Francisco health department,” Petrelis wrote. “Are less people with AIDS dying because of drugs to control the disease and the opportunistic infections associated with it? Could the drop be due to less people contracting HIV? Maybe fewer HIV positive persons are progressing to full-blown AIDS status?”

Schumer, McCain Press FDA on Norvir

Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) have written the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that it investigate a pharmaceutical company’s 400 percent price hike for a leading HIV drug used in combination with other medications. The senators asked the FTC to investigate why the increase in Abbott Laboratories price of ritonavir, marketed under the brand name Norvir, appears to apply only when the drug is used with competitors’ drugs and not in the drugmaker’s own drug-combination product.

“We need to know—and we need to know now—whether Abbott Labs is taking advantage of their customers and putting people’s lives on the line for their own profits,” Schumer said.

Norvir is used by itself as a protease inhibitor or as a “booster” to increase the effectiveness of other protease inhibitors. A letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services by 83 AIDS physicians argued that a booster dose of Norivir “is an essential component of almost every protease inhibitor-based antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS.”

Schumer voiced concern that Abbott’s pricing policy was intended to increawse market share for Kaletra, another of its product used in combination with Norvir.

McCain is the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the FTC. Hollings is the ranking Democrat.

Jennifer Smoter, an Abbott spokesperson, told Gay CIty News, “Our actions with Norvir, regarding its price, were entirely legal.” She noted that while the daily price of Norvir was raised from $1.71 to $8.57, the price was frozen to clients of state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, that the change was cost neutral for Medicaid clients, and that people without insurance can continue to receive it free. She also said that many other drug therapies are priced at a mulitple of Norvir’s cost and that the drug makes up only five percent of the total treatment share. Smoter said Kaletra’s market share has not increased since the Norvir price hike.

Activists Pressure NY Dems

New York’s Stonewall Democrats took the occasion of the Massachusetts same-sex marriages this week to write to New York’s Democratic leaders and remind them of the unanimous resolution passed by the State Democratic Committee last September that supports full marriage rights for same-sex couples and opposes “any measures that might limit the access of lesbian and gay couples to civil marriage.”

Democratic officials such as Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Comptroller Alan Hevesi support same-sex marriage, but Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton only support civil unions for gay people. Assemlymember Herman “Denny” Farrell, the state party chairman, supports marriage rights for gay couples, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of the Lower East Side has yet to take a position on the issue.

Constitutional Convention?

Right wing groups, including the Nebraska-based Families for America, are frustrated that it looks like the U.S. Senate will not produce the 67 votes necessary to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage. Amendments need two-thirds of both houses of Congress followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states’ legislatures.

But there is another way to amend the Constitution that has never been used, but is being considered by conservatives. If two-thirds of the states’ legislatures call for one, a constitutional convention would be convened that could propose any amendments it wished, though each would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states to become part of the Constitution.

Thirty-nine states—more than three-quarters—have passed laws banning same-sex marriage and several others are moving to do so.

California Marriage Bill Stalled

While California has one of the most comprehensive domestic partnership laws in the country, a bill to license marriages for gay and lesbian couples has hit a snag after clearing a preliminary committee hurdle. The L.A. Times reports that legislative leaders want to wait until the courts rule on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to wed same-sex couples and other lawsuits on the issue. The state’s high court will hear arguments on the legality of Newsom’s actions next week.

The newspaper said that Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) is expected to come out for dealing with the bill, introduced by gay Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

Marriage News From Other States

Minnesota ended its legislative session without passing a proposition to put a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage on the November ballot. Alabama’s legislature also failed to agree on such an amendment, though both states already limit marriage to heterosexual couples. The Louisiana legislature passed measures to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot, but the houses are divided over whether to hold the referendum in September or November.

About 60 proponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples took over the Cook County clerk’s office in Chicago and shut it down on Monday afternoon. Michelle Baladad, who tried to marry her partner Jennifer Widd, told the Chicago Daily Herald, “I knew they were going to deny it. But it still hurt to hear him say no. It hurt a lot more than I expected.” The women had obtained a civil union in Vermont in 2002, which Widd said “has no legal meaning here.”

New Orleans Domestic Partnerships Upheld

A state judge has rebuffed a legal challenge to a New Orleans law that gives health benefits to the domestic partners of city employees. The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based right wing religious group, had filed the suit.

Support from Utah for Glick Bill

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a lesbian whose district includes Greenwich Village, got some support for her bill to replace civil marriages in New York with civil unions, for both gay and straight couples. A Salt Lake Tribune editorial this week said, “It would be better for governments to get out of the marriage business entirely, leaving to churches the religious rituals and theological disputes over who is eligible to receive those rites.

“Governments should content themselves to enforce the contract that a couple undertakes in a civil commitment, whether or not the parties to that agreement are of the same sex.”

Olympics Welcome Transsexuals

The International Olympic Committee’s executive board has voted to allow athletes who have had gender reassignment surgery and two years of post-operative hormone therapy to compete in the Athens games. Some IOC members were concerned that male-to-female transsexuals would have an advantage in competition with other women because men have higher testosterone levels and a higher muscle-to-fat ratio, as well as greater heart and lung capacity, the AP reported. But medical experts testified that these levels drop after the sex change operation and hormone treatments.

Homophobic Maneuver of the Week

Even with marriage now open to Massachusetts’ same-sex couples, the conservative Washington Times, owned by Rev. Moon’s Unification Church, is still putting the word marriage in quotes when applying it to gay couples. “Homosexuals ‘Marry’ in Massachusetts,” was the paper’s headline on Tuesday.

Author Gloria Anzaldua Dies

at 61

Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua, a leading lesbian Chicana writer and feminist theorist, has died at 61 of complications from diabetes in Santa Cruz. Her most famous work was a 1987 collection of prose and poetry, “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” which the Utne Reader and Hungry Mind named one of the “100 Best Books of the Century.”

City Welcomes Gay and Lesbian Newlyweds

Two New York same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts will be greeted in Sheridan Square on Thursday, May 20 at 6 p.m. The Civil Marriage Trail, which accompanied the couples, is sponsoring the homecoming rally for Edward DeBonis and Vincent Maniscalco and Cris and Robin Goldman-Beam who applied for their licenses Monday in Somerville, one of four towns issuing licenses to out-of-state gay couples. After the three-day waiting period, Justice of the Peace Janet Benzan married the couples in the same town.

N.M. Rights Law Safe

Attorney General Patricia Madrid of New Mexico has issued an opinion that the state’s new law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is not subject to a voter referendum. She said that laws relating to the “preservation of the public peace, health, or safety” may not be overturned by the voters.

Right wing groups are working to gather more than fifty thousand signatures by July 2 to put the matter on the ballot for November, but the courts will have to determine the validity of their petition and Madrid’s opinion.

Andy Humm can be contacted at AndyHumm@aol.com

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