to get civil unions
by Anthony Glassman
Montpelier, Vt.-Civil unions for Vermont same-sex couples will be a reality in just over two months.
The Vermont House of Representatives gave final approval April 25 to Vermont’s ground-breaking civil union legislation, less than a week after the Senate returned the bill with a few amendments.
Governor Howard Dean signed the measure the next day.
"This is history. This is thrilling. This is the dawn of a new era of support and protection for the families of lesbian and gay couples and their children," said Gary Buseck, director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which helped argue the state supreme court case that brought the issue before lawmakers.
The bill had already passed the state’s House of Representatives once, in a slightly different form. The Senate version had an effective date of July 1, while the original House version would have started the law September 1.
A few state tax and insurance provisions in the final version will start with the new fiscal year on January 1, 2001.
The House approved the Senate’s start dates, and some changes in wording, with little debate. The 79 to 68 vote for the measure was greater than the House’s 76 to 69 vote for it in March.
"The granting of the equal protections of the law by providing the legal protections, benefits and responsibilities that flow from marriage will not diminish your humanity, your dignity, your freedom or independence," said House Judiciary Committee chair Thomas Little.
The measure will create a system of civil unions parallel to the heterosexual marriage system. Gay and lesbian couples will obtain a license from a town clerk, and then have the union certified by a judge or member of the clergy. To dissolve a civil union, the couple will have to go through family court, the same as a heterosexuals seeking a divorce.
Being in a civil union will entitle a couple to over 300 rights, benefits and obligations currently reserved for married couples in the state. The couples will not, however, be eligible for 1,049 federal marriage benefits, like joint tax filing and social security.
While out-of-state couples can enter into civil unions, they will probably not be recognized in other states, despite the United States Constitution’s "full faith and credit" clause requiring states to recognize marriages performed in other states. Out-of-state couples must also return to Vermont to dissolve a civil union.
Opponents had warned that the defeat of two proposed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage would doom the House’s support for the bill, but it passed by three votes more than the first time. The House also shot down a measure aimed at delaying the vote until November, after the elections.
The move for Vermont civil unions started with a 1999 state Supreme Court ruling mandating that same-sex couples could not legally be barred from the benefits given to married couples in the state. The court told the Vermont legislature to decide whether to create a parallel union for gay and lesbian couples, or to include them in existing marriage laws.
by Eric Resnick
Columbus--With a partisan vote, the Ohio House’s Education Committee last month rejected close to $1 million from the federal Centers for Disease Control for health education, including HIV prevention, because it didn’t keep with lawmakers’ mandate for "abstinence only" sex education.
Ohio is the only state to reject the CDC grant.
The majority of the $974,000 grant was for making dental services more accessible, increasing prevention education for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes and tobacco use prevention. It was targeted to Ohio’s six largest urban areas.
House Republicans objected to the grant’s HIV and AIDS prevention provisions, which totaled 9.1 percent of the grant, or $90,000.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, got an amendment attached to the state budget in 1999 prohibiting the CDC grant to be spent without legislative approval.
The six largest urban areas, which also have the highest mortality rates from AIDS, were each to be given $10,000, and the remaining $30,000 was for program administration. Local school boards had the option to accept or reject the funds as they saw fit.
But in order to teach about sexually transmitted diseases, teachers have to also teach about sex, which collides with Ohio’s "abstinence only" laws.
Jordan sponsored those laws, which prohibit the state health and physical education curriculum from teaching anything other than abstinence from sex outside of marriage as the way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Jordan’s budget amendment required that the education committees of the House and Senate hold hearings on the funds, which took place January 20-21.
"They really wanted to give it to us and were very flexible," said Amy Borror, spokesperson for Minority Leader Rep. Jack Ford of Toledo. "The Education committee wasn’t acting on it and the CDC even extended the original deadline."
The CDC set the deadline for an answer from the education committee for March 31.
On March 28, the committee had not yet acted on the grant. Ranking member John Bender of Lorain made a motion that the committee schedule the grant for action at its next meeting. According to Bender, the CDC would have accepted that and given another extension.
"I realized that it was the eleventh hour and we had to do something," said Bender.
Bender’s motion was defeated 13-8 along party lines. All the Republicans voted no. All the Democrats voted yes. By defeating Bender’s motion, the committee decided not to vote on whether or not to accept the grant, thereby forfeiting the grant. "By not making a decision, the committee made a decision," said Bender.
Bender was discouraged by some of the testimony given at the January hearings.
"It became clear to me that the opponents of this grant were people who home-school or send their kids to private schools, yet they think they know what is best for public schools," Bender said. He added that the religious right was influencing Republicans to oppose the grant.
"It is tragic that the self-righteous tyranny of a vocal minority has caused the return of federal funds while HIV and AIDS continues to spread in cities where the funds would have been used to instruct children on the dangers of unprotected sexual activity," said Bender.
"I have been in the legislature eight years, and this vote outraged me so much that I called a press conference for the first time ever. Press conferences are not ordinarily my style," said Bender.
House Education Committee chair Charles Brading was not available for comment, but his legislative aide Sharon Clark said he voted against Bender’s motion "because it was a challenge to the chair."
"The committee just wasn’t ready to deal with it," Clark said. She added that Brading wanted to give the committee time to think about the testimony in the January hearings before calling for a vote.
Bender said the fact that school districts could opt out of the plan and parents could opt their children out of any program funded by the grant as they can with all sex education classes had no effect on the Republicans.
"They still think we’re using the Reducing the Risk program, and you can’t tell them otherwise."
Reducing the Risk was a sexually explicit CDC program used with youth that were already sexually active. Ohio discontinued it in 1998 after the department of education had trained 50 staffers to teach the program.
According to Borror, opponents of this grant think those trainers are surreptitiously training more people to teach the program.
This misconception was fueled by an October 12 on-air monologue by radio personality Laura Schlessinger, who urged listeners all over the country to complain to the Ohio legislature and governor about it.
"In a perfect world, abstinence-only works," said Bender, "Otherwise, knowledge given in the classroom may be the only power for survival from HIV and AIDS."
Bender is concerned that the religious right might use its experience in Ohio to block CDC money in other states.
"I sense that the fact that this tactic worked in Ohio will make it the protocol in other states," he said.
Judy Maruzan, who directs the Safe Schools Are For Everyone program for the Cleveland Lesbian and Gay Center, expressed concern for the effect of lawmakers’ action on GLBT youth.
"This is incompetence on the part of the legislators," said Maruszan. "It is ludicrous to reject money with the literature showing that the youth HIV infection rate is growing so fast."
by Michelle Tomko
Washington, D.C.--In the largest event of its kind since 1993, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will swarm upon the nation’s capitol this weekend.
Aside from the well-publicized Millennium March and Equality Rocks concert, the weekend is packed with other events scheduled to capitalize on the huge number of LGBT people in town.
Several organizations will have their conferences in Washington this weekend, including Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the National Gay Pilots Association. A myriad of social events and performances will also take place around town. (See the calendar on page 8 for events and contact information.)
March organizers said last week that the 20,000 rooms set aside in the 70 participating hotels were all booked. Additionally, the gay and lesbian weekly Washington Blade surveyed hotels within a 30-40 mile radius of the event and found that they were booked to capacity for the weekend.
The march itself has come under scrutiny from some quarters, most notably the Ad Hoc Committee for an Open Process, which objects to the commercialization and lack of community effort in the planning of the event.
Anti-gays are also sure to be on hand, namely Fred Phelps and his loyal group of protesters.
Highlighting Friday’s events is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s one-day symposium on the persecution of gays in World War II.
Also on Friday is a Montage Opening Night Gala Dinner at the International Trade Center Main Atrium. There, guests paying from $250 to $500 will enjoy an evening honoring several queer performers, including Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres.
"The Wedding," a demonstration celebrating same sex marriage, will take place Saturday, April 29 at a new location, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Couples can register ahead of time and pay a $25 fee to the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and receive a certificate. They can also attend the event free without being officially registered.
MCC estimates that about five thousand couples will tie the knot at the 10:45 a.m. ceremony, presided over by the church’s founder, Rev. Troy Perry
The couples can honeymoon at the Millennium Festival. Being billed as the largest national festival ever for the LGBT Community, this street fair will be from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, on Pennsylvasnia Ave. between 3rd and 9th Sts.
The AIDS Memorial Quilt will hold a new panel dedication ceremony on the National Mall between 12th and 14th Streets on Saturday from 1 to 5 pm. Up to 150 new 12-foot-by-12-foot blocks of the Quilt will be dedicated.
A recent Human Rights Campaign press release confirmed that although there have been 30,000 seats sold for Saturday’s Equality Rocks concert, there are still tickets available. The concert will be held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium from 6-10 p.m.
Finally on Sunday, amid several smaller events, is the actual Millennium March on Washington, followed by a rally. Speakers at the rally include Patricia Kuttles, mother of slain soldier Barry Winchell; and Leslie Sadasivan of Cleveland, whose gay 14-year-old son Robbie Kirkland committed suicide in 1997.
Marchers will assemble at the Washington Monument beginning at 8:00 a.m. and proceed at 10 a.m. to the National Mall between the Monument and the Capitol. The rally will begin at noon, and continue to 6 pm.
Jackson, Mississippi--Lawmakers voted April 19 to ban same-sex couples from adopting, becoming the second state in 2000 to try to keep gays and lesbians from becoming parents despite threatened lawsuits.
Until this year, only Florida had a law forbidding gay couples from adopting. Utah’s legislature approved a ban this winter, and policy makers in other states are debating the issue, fueled by recognition of gay unions in Vermont.
Mississippi’s debate over same-sex adoptions took an unusual turn when the state’s top Episcopal leader urged the defeat of the ban.
Baptists and Methodists pressed ahead with a lobbying effort for the bill.
The state Senate passed the ban without debate and without opposition.
The state House had given approval earlier, and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has already said he will sign the bill.
"There was pressure from the religious right, and they caved into that pressure even though they were aware that it would be litigated. This is just an invitation to litigate," said David Ingebretsen, head of the Mississippi chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ingebretsen said the ACLU may sue on behalf of a gay couple wanting to adopt. He said the unidentified couple had made progress in getting qualified to adopt and was disappointed by the passage of the bill.
"A homosexual relationship implies the exercise of illegal activities and no child should be permitted to enter that type of setting," Sen. Ron Farris said, referring to Mississippi’s sodomy law.
Last week, the state’s Episcopal bishop said through a spokeswoman that lawmakers should "prayerfully examine all evidence before passing a bill that our descendants may look back on as a gross moment of injustice in our history."
The American Family Association, headquartered in Tupelo, had led a phone call lobbying effort at the capitol in the past month. AFA state director Mike Crook said gay couples who have unions recognized in other states should not be allowed to come to Mississippi to adopt children.
"Since there’s waiting lists for kids out there already, why should we let homosexuals adopt children?" Crook asked.
Nationally, there are only waiting lists for those who wish to adopt healthy white children, while large numbers of disabled children, as well as racial minorities, go unadopted.
Opponents maintained that the state has many children in foster care who need permanent homes and gay parents should not be excluded.
Sen. Hillman Frazier said his colleagues were responding to political pressure.
"This is a very hot topic around the nation. They wanted to make a statement," he said.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said the Senate "had an insurmountable number of people that had contacted the office in support of that, and we just felt like that was the right thing to do."
Three years ago, Mississippi lawmakers banned recognition same-sex marriages made in other states.
The latest proposal, which takes effect July 1, said "adoption by couples of the same gender is prohibited."
"It’s unconstitutional. When it’s challenged in federal court it won’t stand," said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the ACLU.
The ACLU is in court fighting Florida’s law and is challenging policies in other states.
Murdered soldier’s mother to sue Army for his death
Washington, D.C.--The Army’s attitude toward gays created the atmosphere that led to the murder of Barry Winchell in his barracks, his mother said Monday.
Patricia Kutteles of Kansas City, Mo., said April 24 she will sue the Army for $1.8 million the death of her son, who was 21.
Fellow soldiers believed Winchell was gay and harassed him for months before he was beaten to death while sleeping in his cot last July at Fort Campbell, Ky., she said. The Army knew about the harassment, but did nothing to stop it.
"We want the Army to be held accountable," Kutteles said.
Calvin Glover, 19, was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. Another soldier was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to investigators.
The killing prompted criticism of the Pentagon’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, which is currently under review.
Kutteles also alleges that Fort Campbell officials ignored underage drinking on the base and did not provide a way for soldiers to call 911 from the barracks. Glover has said he was drinking before the attack.
Maj. Pamela Hart, a Fort Campbell spokeswoman, said soldiers can now reach 911 from their barracks and have received additional training about the military’s policy on gays.
Fla. adoption suit gets green light
Key West, Fla.--A federal judge has ruled that a gay man who wants to legally adopt his foster child can sue the state over their ban on gay and lesbian adoptions.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project filed suit on behalf of Steven Lofton and others hoping to adopt children in Florida.
Lofton, who now lives in Oregon with an eight-year-old foster child and two other children of whom he has legal custody, is suing for the right to adopt the boy, who has been in his custody for years.
Florida was the only state to ban adoptions by gay men and lesbians after New Hampshire repealed a ban in 1998. This year, Utah and Mississippi have approved similar bans. Other states, fueled by the debate over gay marriage, are mulling the issue.
NGLTF names new director
Washington, D.C.--The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has named Elizabeth Toledo as their executive director, effective June 1.
Toledo is a former vice president of the National Organization for Women. She will be the organization’s first Latina head, as well as the first lesbian mother to lead the NGLTF.
"Elizabeth Toledo is a perfect match for NGLTF," said board co-chair Jerry Clark. "She is a charismatic leader and lead organizer in the progressive movement in the United States."
Toledo is also an accomplished fundraiser, having brought over a million dollars from new sources into NOW’s coffers during her tenure there.
She replaces Kerry Lobel, who resigned after three years as executive director in December. Toledo has said that she will continue Lobel’s commitment to bisexual, transgender, youth, and elderly issues, as well as focusing on racism.
"In order to move our many communities forward, we must recognize the things that we, as people of different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations have in common," she said. "We empower ourselves- and we become more powerful- when we seek allies and build bridges between people and causes that at first glance might appear different from our own."
Judge orders end to Pitt case
Pittsburgh, Pa.-A common pleas judge has issued a temporary injunction against the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, ordering them to stop their investigation of the University of Pittsburgh’s failure to grant partner benefits to lesbian and gay employees.
The investigation is part of a four-year old case stemming from a complaint filed by former University of Pittsburgh instructor Deborah Henson and six other current and former employees. Henson argued that the university’s refusal to grant health insurance benefits to same-sex partners violated a city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The city commission found in 1998 that there was probable cause that the University of Pittsburgh had discriminated against Henson, and began the investigation. The university’s stance had led to a hunger strike on campus, and mini-revolts by faculty and students.
Judge Robert Gallo said that the investigation was invalid on two counts. A law passed by the Pennsylvania legislature last November exempts state universities from local ordinances. The measure was passed very quickly to counter Henson’s case. Gallo also agreed with Pitt’s lawyers that, since the school’s policy denies health benefits to unmarried heterosexual partners, there is no sexual-orientation-based discrimination.
The injunction is temporary. Pitt is seeking a permanent one against the city commission.
Columnist charged with vote fraud
Des Moines, Iowa--Gay sex columnist Dan Savage will face charges of felony voter fraud which could result in a sentence of up to six years in prison.
The writer, who lives in Seattle, was in Iowa during the January presidential caucuses there. He is charged with using his Kirkwood Hotel address in Des Moines to vote in the Republican caucus.
He then wrote an article for Salon.com titled "Stalking Gary Bauer." In it, he told how he infiltrated the Iowa headquarters of the anti-gay leader’s presidential campaign. Savage wrote that he had attempted to infect Bauer with his case of the flu by licking doorknobs and staplers at the headquarters.
Preppies sentenced for carving ‘homo’
Greenfield, Mass.--Two former prep school roommates have been sentenced to probation after admitting they cut homo into the back of another student with a knife.
Jonathan Shapiro, 18, of Keene, New Hampshire, was sentenced to three years probation April 19 after pleading guilty in Franklin Superior Court to a single misdemeanor count of assault and battery.
He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service for his role in the May 1999 incident at the Northfield Mount Hermon School.
His roommate, Matthew Rogers, 20, of Franklin, Tenn., who admitted wielding the knife, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery.
Rogers, who also admitted cutting another student in an earlier attack, was given a suspended 2½-year jail term, placed on probation for three years and ordered to perform 144 hours of community service.
Authorities said the students did not actually believe the 17-year-old victim was gay. Instead, they argued over the rock band Queen and the characterization of its music as "gay."
When the judge asked him why they attacked the student, Rogers answered, "No point." Rogers’ appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy was withdrawn because of the incident.
‘Our love was illegal and immoral’
Gainesville, Ga.-A woman is fighting her ex-partner’s efforts to get half of the assets from their time together by claiming their relationship was founded on "illegal or immoral considerations," invalidating any agreements between them.
Judy C. Alexander is being sued by Virginia Corsini, who argues that she is entitled to fifty percent of the assets of her relationship with Alexander, including a business Corsini says they started together.
Corsini’s attorney, L. David Wolfe, said that he thought Alexander was trying to turn the case into a gay issue, which would decrease his client’s chances of victory in conservative Hall County, 40 miles east of Atlanta.
Alexander’s lawyers say that she started her business alone, and that Corsini never served any official role in the company. Furthermore, they claim, the immoral basis of the relationship voids any oral contracts the two women may have had on the matter.
Compiled from wire reports by Anthony Glassman, Michelle Tomko and Brian DeWitt.
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