VOLUME 3, ISSUE 350 | Dec. 09 – 15, 2004
California Marriage Battles
Religious opponents of California’s comprehensive domestic partnership law are seeking to stymie the measure’s January 1 scheduled enactment. This week, right-wing conservatives announced a drive for a constitutional amendment to ban both marriage and domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples. Meanwhile, legislative leaders also introduced a new bill to open marriage to same-sex couples. The political wrangling occurs while a superior court is about to hear arguments in a lawsuit brought by 12 same-sex couples seeking to validate the marriages that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized last February.
The same-sex marriage bill, first introduced last year as the Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act, has been re-named the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act” by its Democratic sponsors, gay Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. “This legislation respects religious freedom and prohibits discrimination by our government,” said Geoffrey Kors, director of Equality California, the state LGBT lobby. The bill was unveiled this week at the Glide United Methodist Church, whose pastor, civil rights pioneer Rev. Cecil Williams, strongly supports it.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle “he thinks this should be done by a vote of the people or through the courts” and would not take a stand on the new bill. The paper also reported that some moderate Democrats think Leno’s bill is “a mistake.” Sixty-one percent of California voters passed a law excluding gay couples from marriage in 2000.
Couples who have registered under California’s domestic partnership law have been attending legal forums about their rights and responsibilities when the law kicks in on New Year’s Day. Some people who depend on “needs-based benefits” could lose them if their domestic partner’s income is factored in and are opting out of the registry.
Twenty-two years ago this month, then San Franciso Mayor Dianne Feinstein, vetoed a city bill for gay domestic partners. Now a U.S. senator, she has been quoted as blaming the same-sex marriages performed by Mayor Newsom for Democratic losses in the 2004 elections.
The religious right Traditional Values Coalition, led by Rev. Lou Sheldon, announced this week a drive for a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to heterosexual couples and to terminate the domestic partner registry. “They know they don’t have two-thirds vote [in the state legisature], so it’s just theater,” Leno told the Associated Press. A 2003 Field poll found that 72 percent of voters support legal protections for gay couples. Another poll this June showed a lack of support for both same-sex marriage and a federal constitutional amendment to ban it.
Canadian Ruling on Gay Marriage
Marriage equality activists in Canada planned a midday celebration in Toronto for December 9 in anticipation of a favorable ruling from the Canada Supreme Court, just two months after the government’s request for legal approval to open same-sex marriage nationwide.
Irwin Cotler, the justice minister, told CTV Canada the government would move the federal same-sex marriage bill “with all deliberate speed” when the ruling comes down, much sooner than expected. The government’s referral of the issue to the court was a stalling tactic for the Liberal Party, which now leads a coalition in parliament, after provincial courts started legalizing same-sex marriage in June of 2003.
Americans interested in Canadian residency can get information at a forum sponsored by Immigration Equality on Monday, December 20 at 6 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 208 W. 13th St.
It is already legal for foreign same-sex couples to marry in most Canadian provinces.
Gay Nigerian Granted Asylum
A Nigerian man identified as “Ojo,” which is not his real name, has won a rare claim for asylum from the United States based on the likelihood of persecution for his sexual orientation. Ojo fled Nigeria last year after a mob killed his male partner after discovering the two were gay. He arrived in New York last year without proper entry documents and was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The New York-based gay advocacy group Immigration Equality secured free representation for Ojo from Elise Schwarz of Caro & Associates.
Ojo lost at his first hearing in March, lacking documentation for his claim. He subsequently obtained his slain partner’s death certificate and a “key witness” stepped forward, according to a release from Immigration Equality.
Schwarz said, “If Ojo didn’t have people who cared about him in the U.S. and Nigeria, he never would have had a chance to get the evidence that the immigration judges required.” He can now remain in the U.S. and apply for legal permanent status after a year during which time the Department of Homeland Security reserves the right to appeal his case.
Study Shows Hepatitis Immunity
A study conducted in nine U.S. cities shows that forty percent of men who have sex with men have complete immunity to hepatitis A and 39 percent to hepatitis B, either through vaccinations or because of prior infection. The survey was conducted at gay pride festivals around the country by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and found that “more than half the nation’s gay and bisexual men are not protected” against these serious infections which can lead to liver cancer and death, the group’s release said.
The highest rate of vaccination was found at San Francisco’s PrideFest, with 51 percent of the men having received at least one dose of a hepatitis A vaccine and 56 percent receiving a hepatitis B vaccine. The lowest rate was at the Queens PrideFest in New York where the rates were 35 and 40 percent, respectively.
“Respondents were less likely to have been vaccinated if they had a lower income, don’t have health care coverage or a regular health care provider, or if they weren’t out to their provider,” the report said.
GLMA has been promoting vaccinations since 1999 and has seen the rates of vaccination double since then. Free or low cost vaccinations are available at gay health centers such as New York’s Callen-Lorde and through off-site programs like the city’s “Hot Shots” that brings the vaccine to gay bars and clubs. For more information, go to GLMA.org
Greeks Drop “Alexander” Suit
A group of Greek attorneys, who earlier threatened a lawsuit to ban screenings of Oliver Stone’s “Alexander,” have pulled back. The lawyers objected to the portrayal of their national hero as bisexual, but after seeing the film were satisfied that Stone had not included explicit homosexual love scenes in the movie’s final version. “The scenes we had expected to see are not there, but there are many sexual innuendos regarding Alexander’s sexual activity,” lawyer Costas Koutsoulelos told Reuters.
Frist Broadcasts AIDS Misinformation
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, who is a physician, insists on being addressed as Dr. Frist. But his misstatements on ABC News’ “This Week” last Sunday about HIV and AIDS caused the Liberal Oasis Web site to claim that Frist is in violation of the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics that require doctors to “be honest in all professional interactions” and “make relevant information available to… the public.”
ABC’s George Stephanopolous, questioning Frist about the inaccuracies in many abstinence-only sex education curricula that were brought to light this week by California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, asked whether “tears and sweat can transmit HIV.” Frist first said, “I don’t know,” then later said, “You can get the virus in tears and sweat. But in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard.”
The Centers for Disease Control Web site says, “Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV,” though it does say, “HIV has been found in saliva and tears in very low quantities from some AIDS patients.” It is never present in sweat.
Frist also asserted that condoms have a “15 percent failure rate.” When used properly, the failure rate is between 2 and 3 percent.
Anniversary of Gay Sanity
On December 15, 1973, the American Psychiatric Association made its historic decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder. Early gay and lesbian activists, including Bruce Voeller, a founder of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, made lobbying for the change a key goal and accomplished it relatively swiftly. Frank Kameny of Washington’s Gay Activists Alliance and Barbara Gittings of Philadelphia also played key roles.
The Gay Activists Alliance of New York, now defunct, was founded 35 years ago on December 21.
Senate Dem. Opposes Amendment
Gay activists raised concerns when Democrats elected Harry Reid, who opposes abortion, as the Senate’s next minority leader. “On Meet the Press” on Sunday, Reid told host Tim Russert, “In our state, you have to have marriage between a man and a woman. That’s the law in the State of Nevada. And within a couple years, even Massachusetts, that will be the law. And we in Congress recognized there would be some controversy over this, so we passed the Defense of Marriage Act that says you do not have to recognize the marriage laws of another state. That’s the law of the land. And I think that we have to be very, very careful about how we tamper with the Constitution. I have agreed reluctantly on several occasions to agree to constitutional amendments. But frankly, in the history of this country, there’ve been over 11,500 attempts to amend the Constitution, and I want to approach those amendments very, very cautiously. I do not think it’s necessary at this time to have a constitutional amendment in that regard.”
Reid said that he expects that a state constitutional amendment in Massachusetts against same-sex marriage couples will pass its second constitutional convention this year and be approved by voters in 2006.
Matt Foreman, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is calling on congressional Democratic leaders to once again certify that they will not vote for the Federal Marriage Amendment under any circumstances. It never got to the floor this year, but is expected to be again introduced by Republicans. President Bush supports the amendment.
Polish Partners Bill Advances
President Bush often cited Poland among his “coalition of the willing” in his war on Iraq. He may be less inclined to sing Poland’s praises now that its Senate has voted 38-23 to establish a registry for gay partners and provide them with rights of inheritance and other benefits. The bill now goes to the lower house, where it is expected to meet “resistance,” the Advocate reported.
“This is the first very difficult and very important step toward making this a normal country,” Polish gay activist Szymon Niemiec told PAP, the Polish news agency.
Partner Benefits Deleted in Michigan
Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm eliminated benefits for the same-sex partners of state workers last week, acting in response to the constitutional amendment passed by Michigan voters banning same-sex marriages and “similar union for any purpose.” David Frank, the head of the Office of the State Employer, told the Detroit News that anyone who claims to know what the “similar union” phrase means legally is “either a fool or a liar.” The Michigan Federation of Teachers vowed to work to reinstate the benefits.
Out journalist Doug Ireland, in his Direland blog, wrote, “You can bet that Granholm’s action is, just as I predicted, the harbinger of more Democratic sellouts of gays to come.” He noted that she did not even secure a legal opinion on the amendment from the state attorney general before unilaterally withdrawing the benefits.
Officials at Central Michigan University said that they will continue to provide domestic partner benefits. A spokesperson for the school said, “President Michael Rao has said he will to all he can to fight and preserve the present benefits.” The University of Michigan and Wayne State University will also continue the benefits.
How to Have a Lesbian Baby
A new study from Minot State University in North Dakota has found that women who take Thyroxine, a drug for thyroid deficiency, or use amphetamine-based diet drugs are more much more likely to have children who are homosexual, especially girls. The drugs seem to have the greatest effect in the first three months of pregnancy.
Dr. Glenn Wilson of the Institute of Psychiatry in London told the U.K. Telegraph, “These types of medication could have an effect on brain chemistry and research suggests that this is a major factor in determining sexual orientation.”
The study also found that mothers of heterosexual males were 70 percent more likely to have taken drugs to combat nausea during pregnancy than mothers of homosexual males.
Mail Order Partnership
New York City has had a domestic partnership registry since the Dinkins administration, but for those who live in less enlightened precincts, the City of West Hollywood has a solution. The city will register your partnership by mail for $25, a boon to couples whose companies want some proof of domestic partnership before extending benefits. The L.A. Times reports that 60 percent of the partnerships registered in West Hollywood since the law went into effect in 1985 are by out-of-state couples.
Other jurisdictions offering the service to non-residents include Seattle, Miami Beach, and Hawaii and California.