Vermont House okays Ďcivil unionsí bill
by Denny Sampson
Montpelier, Vt.-The Vermont House of Representatives approved legislation March 16 that would allow gays and lesbians to form "civil unions"-partnerships entitled to most of the legal benefits and burdens of marriage.
After hours of heated debate, the House voted 76-69 in favor of the bill, setting the stage for the most far-reaching set of rights for same-sex couples in the United States.
Much of the debate centered on proposed amendments to the civil union bill. A "defense of marriage" amendment, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, passed. Another amendment, that would have required HIV testing for partners entering into a civil unions, failed.
"This is a legal structure parallel to marriage, but itís not gay marriage," said Rep. William Lippert, the only openly gay member of the legislature, and chief author of the bill. "I think it can be a model for other states for how to grant rights to gay and lesbian couples without having to step into the emotionally charged arena of gay marriage."
The civil union bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate leaders told the Rutland Herald they hoped to complete their work on the bill in about a month, and they were optimistic that the bill would win approval there.
Gov. Howard Dean supports the civil unions bill, and has publicly stated he will sign it if it does not change significantly.
"We think itís terrific," said Gary Buseck, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocate Defenders, a Boston group that argued the Supreme Court case. "This is a quantum leap forward in recognizing that gay and lesbian families deserve the same legal protection as other families. Itís a whole new realm."
Despite the excitement among gay civil rights advocates, there was disappointment that Vermont did not simply approve same-sex marriage outright.
"Itís an important start," said Peg Byron of the gay and lesbian Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Vermontís not even able to walk the whole road yet. But this beginning is so crucial."
The bill would provide all of the benefits available under the stateís marriage laws, except the word marriage itself. Partners may apply for a license from town clerks and have their civil union certified by a justice of the peace, a judge or a member of the clergy.
Gay and lesbian couples who form civil unions would be entitled to some 300 state benefits or privileges in such areas as inheritance, property transfers, medical decisions, child custody law, family leave benefits, insurance, taxes, and immunity from being compelled to testify against their partner.
In Vermont, civil union partners could file a joint state income tax return, make medical decisions on one anotherís behalf; be responsible for one anotherís remains when one died; and inherit each otherís estates without having to pay hefty estate taxes.
Partners in a civil union are not exempt from the burdens of marriage, however. Couples who want to split up would have to go through "dissolution" proceedings in Family Court, in the same way that married couples have to pursue a divorce. They would also assume each otherís debts like married couples.
The civil union bill was introduced in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that gays in Vermont were being unconstitutionally denied the rights and benefits of marriage.
The state Supreme Court said lawmakers could either amend the marriage statutes or create a domestic partnership alternative in order to bring state law into compliance with the Vermont constitution.
Many Vermonters have argued that the decision should be made by public referendum, not by legislators or justices. But Vermont doesnít have a simple system for amending its constitution, nor does it have a mechanism for a public referendum.
By not including same-sex couples in the stateís existing marriage laws, the Vermont measure does not allow them access to the 1,049 federal laws that apply to married couples, such as immigration rights, Social Security and federal taxes.
Congress and more than 30 states have passed laws denying recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states. However, some suggest those state "defense of marriage" laws might not apply to same-sex "civil unions" performed in Vermont.
Susan Murray, a lawyer and advocate of same-sex marriage, said itís an open question as to whether couples from another state might be able to enter civil unions in Vermont and have them recognized in their home state.
"It totally depends on what state laws say in that other state and what courts would interpret in that other state," Murray said. "Other states have structures called marriage that they already recognize. They donít have structures called civil unions."
"If they [gay and lesbian couples] want to come here and stay here, they can" take advantage of the civil union law, House Judiciary Committee chair Thomas Little said. "If people want to fly in for the weekend and get a civil union license and fly home, itís unlikely theyíre going to have their home state give it any legal recognition."
Claims victory because incident resulted in Statehouse flag restrictions
by Denny Sampson
Columbus--In the last of the "flag burning trials," a Columbus woman who set fire to a gay pride flag flown at the Statehouse for a Pride celebration last June has pleaded guilty to criminal damaging.
Judge Mark S. Froehlich fined Toni Peters $250, placed her on probation for two years and ordered her to pay $40-the cost of the flag-to its owner, Stonewall Columbus.
However, the 26-year old daughter of a Baptist minister declared victory because the rainbow flag will never fly at the Statehouse again.
"It took Chuck Spingola and I to stand up and say what they were doing was wrong, for the state to decide there will be no more of these flags flying," Peters said in Franklin County Municipal Court. "I feel God got the victory."
Several weeks after the June 27 flag burning incident, the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board, which controls the Ohio Statehouse grounds, decided that only government flags would fly there.
"For them to say they got what they wanted is appalling," said Jeff Redfield, executive director of Stonewall Columbus.
"After being found guilty and sentenced, they still donít believe what they did was wrong," Redfield said.
According to her lawyer, Tom Condit, Peters pleaded guilty to criminal damaging to get the case over with, but does not believe she broke any law.
Organizers of the June 27 lesbian-gay pride march in Columbus got approval from to fly the gay-pride flag in front of the Statehouse during the celebration. The flag belonged to Stonewall Columbus, and was the first gay-pride flag to fly with official sanction at the Ohio Statehouse.
On the day of the march, the flag was torn down and burned as part of a Christian groupís protest of the festivities.
Angry that the rainbow flag was flying in front of the Statehouse, Spingola, a street preacher from Newark, climbed the pole and cut it down. Peters set the flag on fire.
Spingola said he objected to the "queer flag" flying at the Statehouse, because he thought it was "sanctioning sin and encouraging people to go to hell."
Peters was one of three protesters arrested the day of the march.
On January 27, Don Richardson, 64, of London, Ohio, was found guilty of disorderly conduct for interfering with State Highway Patrol officers during Spingolaís arrest. Richardson received a $50 fine and liability for court costs. The judge limited Richardsonís responsibilities for the court costs to $50.
On February 16 Spingola was found guilty of criminal damaging, but not guilty of ethnic intimidation because the jury had failed to reach a unanimous verdict on the ethnic intimidation charge.
Franklin County Municipal Judge Dwayne Maynard sentenced Spingola to 90 days in jail, but suspended 85 days of that sentence with the understanding that Spingola will serve one year of probation. Maynard also fined Spingola $100 and court costs.
City Prosecutor Steve McIntosh dropped the ethnic-intimidation charge against Peters in exchange for her plea.
McIntosh said it would have been more difficult to prove ethnic intimidation against Peters because she did not make inflammatory statements.
McIntosh also reduced the original arson charge to criminal damaging.
"If we had gone to trial, I think the result would have been the same," he said after the sentencing.
Peters, who has lived in Columbus for two years after moving from Moscow, Ohio, said it was her Christian duty to go to the march and speak out against homosexuality.
"I donít hate these people," she said. "They need to be saved."
by Eric Resnick
Shifts in public opinion about treating gay and lesbian people fairly on the job appear to be helping their chances at the ballot box, with record numbers of openly gay candidates winning.
A Newsweek poll released March 20 found that by a margin of 71 to 24 percent, Americans believe that gay and lesbian people should be hired to serve as "major public office holders." This finding reflected the similar margin believing that there should be equal rights in terms of job opportunities for gay men and lesbians. The poll did not address attitudes towards bisexual and transgender people.
Openly gay and lesbian candidates for office have been more successful this year than ever. Ohioans Joe Lacey of Dayton and Dan Dickman of Mansfield will proceed to the general election as Democratic nominees for state representative and U.S. House, respectively.
They were joined in a March 7 primary victory by Californians Sheila Keuhl for state senate, Jackie Goldberg and Christine Kehoe for state assembly. Rep. Carole Migden of San Francisco, won the nomination to run for re-election. She is one of two lesbians currently serving in the California Assembly.
Toni Adkins was the top vote-getter in the race for San Diego City Council third district, making her the leading contender in the November election.
California will have two openly gay candidates for U.S. House. Gerrie Schipske of Long Beach won her primary and will face incumbent Republican Steve Horn. Ron Oden of Palm Springs will face incumbent Mary Bono, wife of Sonny Bono, who died in office.
The Fort Lauderdale suburb of Wilton Manors, Fla. became the second city in the U.S. with a gay majority on its council with the election of John Fiore as mayor. West Hollywood, Calif. is the other.
Fioreís March 14 election shared victory with openly lesbian Patti Sheldon of Orlando, who got enough votes to move to an April 11 runoff for Orlando City Council. If she wins, she will be the cityís first openly gay official.
The voters of Tempe, Ariz. re-elected openly gay Republican mayor Neil Giuliano to a forth term. Tempe is the largest U.S. city with a gay mayor.
In the March 21 Illinois primary, State Rep. Larry McKeon won his primary and will run for re-election.
McKeon, a Democrat, is the only openly gay member of the Illinois legislature and is also openly HIV-positive.
Sloan Wiesen, communications director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washiogton, D.C. political action committee that raises funds for openly gay and lesbian candidates, acknowledges that the shift in attitude is still concentrated in some geographic areas of the country. However, he adds, "There is an emerging consensus around certain issues of basic fairness."
Not all of the gay and lesbian candidates that won March primaries are endorsed by the Victory Fund.
"The functions of running a small city government will remain the same no matter who is gay or straight in the council," Wiesen notes. "A pothole will still be a pothole."
"The American public," said Wiesen, "is increasingly eager to pick elected officials based on merit, not sexual orientation. Itís really that simple."
by Michelle Tomko
Los Angeles--Over five hundred protesters gathered March 21 outside Paramount Pictures to demand the studio drop plans to bring controversial radio host Laura Schlessinger to television this fall.
Some carried signs stating "Iím not a biological error," and "Hate is a Paramount concern." The crowd forced police to shut down Melrose Ave. Several dozen free speech advocates demonstrated across the street.
"When Paramount bought Laura Schlessinger's show, they bought a battle with the gay community,'' said Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Several Paramount employees also joined the protest. Among them were openly gay Frasier executive producer and co-creator David Lee.
Robin Tyler, a long time activist and co-founder of the www.stopdrlaura.com web site, spoke at the protest.
"Laura Schlessinger is to Judaism what paint by numbers is to art," Tyler said. "She keeps calling my community biological errors. Well, if Laura thinks homosexuality is still a disease, we should all call in sick to work."
The controversy around the radio host sparks from what many groups call her anti-gay comments on her "Dr. Laura" radio program. On the air she has been an advocate of reparative therapy, Proposition 22 and has called homosexuality "deviant behavior" and a "biological error."
"Some of the words I've used have hurt some people, and I am sorry for that," Schlessinger said in a statement March 11. "Words that I have used in a clinical context have been perceived as judgment. They were not meant to characterize homosexual individuals or encourage others to disparage homosexuals."
Schlessinger recently spoke out against her protesters and the website calling them "fascists" and "terrorists."
In its three weeks of existence, www.stopdrlaura.com has registered over 8,000,000 hits.
by Eric Resnick
Democratic Senate candidate Ted Celeste said he canít win without support of the gay community.
Celeste, brother of two-term Ohio governor Richard Celeste and son of former Lakewood mayor Frank Celeste, said he will stand up publicly for issues of importance to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the context of his campaign.
"Donít expect those issues to be the major issues of this campaign, but I believe those issues have become polarizing in our society, and I will use my message of inclusion to bring about common-sense solutions," said Celeste. "My message is one of bringing people together."
Celeste, of Columbus, defeated Rev. Marvin McMickle of Shaker Heights, former state representative Richard Cordray of Grove City and activist Daniel Radakovich of Cleveland in the Democratic primary election March 7 and will face incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in November.
Celesteís campaign will focus on agriculture, education, the environment, and working families, but he said, "DeWineís anti-gay votes will be issues when the campaign turns to social policy."
"DeWine blew it in 1996 when he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, helping to cause it to lose by one vote," said Celeste.
Celeste conceded that most of the gay community support in the primary election went to his opponent Richard Cordray because of Cordrayís record of support for gay issues, but adds, "I have a record, too."
Celeste, who has not held public office before, points to his tenure as a trustee of Ohio State University for an example.
"I worked to influence other trustees to approve domestic partner benefits for university employees," he said. "It, too, was a polarizing issue and the dialogue had broken down. I had to convince other trustees that it was an issue of fairness."
Gay civil rights was absent from most of the debates between Celeste and his opponents, but it did come up. Same-gender marriage came up at the debate held at the Columbus Metropolitan Club February 29.
Celeste said at the debate that he knew of gay couples who want to have commitment ceremonies and he detected "the same level of commitment that they have to each other that folks who are of a different sex have."
Celeste continued, "I would be in favor of supporting commitment ceremonies between adults who have that kind of commitment and desire to spend their time together."
Celeste, a real estate developer, contrasted his sentiments about GLBT issues to that of his Republican opponent by citing the 1999 congressional scorecard recently released by the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC rated senators on five votes including ENDA and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the willingness to sign a policy of non-discrimination in their own office.
DeWine and fellow Republican Sen. George Voinovich, elected in 1998, each scored 17 percent for their office job policy. Both voted against the GLBT community on all five of the HRCís bills.
"If I were there today, Iíd be a 100 percent," said Celeste, who added that his campaign has already hired openly gay staffers.
Site of Stonewall riot is now a national historic landmark
New York CityóThe Stonewall Inn, site of a 1969 rebellion that gave rise to the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, is now a National Historic Landmark.
The Greenwich Village gay bar joins 2,200 other sites deemed to be "meaningful to the history and culture on the United States," according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which announced the designation March 1.
The Stonewall was included last June in the National Register of Historic Places, a list of over 68,000 sites of local or regional importance. It is the only lesbian-gay site to be included on either list.
The structure at 51-53 Christopher Street was originally built between 1843and 1846 as two separate buildings, both stables. In 1930 they were combined, and made into a restaurant. The Stonewall Inn opened in the space in 1967 as a private club.
Since serving alcohol to a "known homosexual" was illegal, the Stonewall, like many gay bars of the day, had no liquor license. Police raids were a common form of harassment, with the names of all arrested published in newspapers.
During a raid in the wee hours of Saturday morning, June 28, 1969, the barís patrons fought back, the first time gay and lesbian bar patrons had ever done so. This touched off the Stonewall Riots, five days of demonstrations and confrontations with police that are commemorated each year by the Pride celebrations in June.
"It was a galvanizing event, and led to the creation around the country of a number of other organizations that began the effort of recognition by gay and lesbian Americans," said John Berry, an assistant Interior secretary.
The Stonewall Inn closed shortly afterward, and a number of tenants have occupied the space since. Presently it houses a new Stonewall Inn and a clothing store.
The Interior Department received only one negative letter in response to the Stonewall's nomination as a national landmark.
Williams brothers charged with arson
Sacramento, Calif--Two white supremacist brothers charged with murdering a gay couple were charged on March 17 of setting fire to three Sacramento synagogues and a medical center that houses an abortion clinic.
Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, have been in jail since July, when they were arrested in the July 1 shootings of Winfield Mowder and Gary Matson at the coupleís home in Redding, California, about 150 miles north of Sacramento.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on the murder charges.
The latest indictment accuses the brothers of conspiracy, arson, and destruction of religious property. The charges carry up to 235 years behind bars.
The June 18 synagogue fires caused more than $1 million in damage. The brothers were also charged in a July 2 arson at the Country Club Medical Center, which houses an abortion clinic.
No one was injured in the fires.
Benjamin Williams, who uses the name Matthew, has told news organizations that he alone was responsible for the slayings and fires. Investigators said Tyler Williamsí handprint was on the pistol used to kill Matson and Mowder .
Since the arrest, Matthew Williams has repeatedly professed anti-Semitic, anti-gay and white supremacist beliefs. He recently grew a Hitler-style mustache and has said he wants to wear a Nazi-style uniform in court.
Matthew Williams, who has said he killed the couple to "obey Godís law," said his defense in the murder case will be based on his belief that the Bible condemns homosexuality. His brother has not talked to the media.
Utah governor signs adoption ban
Salt Lake City--Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt signed a new law March 14 that will prevent gay and lesbian couples from becoming foster parents or adopting children.
The measure outlaws the placement of children in homes where unmarried adults are living together in an intimate relationship. The new law is similar to a rule adopted last summer by the board of trustees of the Division of Child and Family Services.
Almost immediately after the family services board passed its rule, the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, claiming the rule violates equal protection guarantees of the Utah and U.S. Constitutions by prohibiting a category of people to adopt.
The state law more clearly targets gay and lesbian partners than the family services rule, and it requires case workers to determine if applicants have a sexual relationship outside of marriage.
Utah joins Florida as the only two states to ban gay adoptions.
Mississippi adoption ban resurrected
Jackson, Miss.--Less than a week after killing a bill that would have banned gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, the Mississippi House of Representatives revived the issue amid public pressure.
The bill had easily cleared a House committee, but the chairman decided March 16 not to bring it up for a vote of the full House.
After that decision was made public, Mississippi lawmakers were deluged with phone calls in support of the bill from citizens who were outraged that it had died without a debate.
The issue was resurrected March 21 in the House Public Health Committee as part of another proposal dealing with nurse practitionersí roles in adoptions.
The new proposal does not go as far as the first one. Initially, representatives proposed banning gay couples from adopting and refusing to recognize those adoptions made in other states. The new measure only bars gay and lesbian Mississippians from adopting.
The House was expected to take up the bill on March 22.
Lawmakers in Hawaii, Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering similar laws. Lawsuits are pending against other statesí gay adoption bans.
Florida and Utah are the only states that presently prohibit gay couples from adopting.
Flight attendants get partner benefits
New York CityóA new 4Ĺ-year contract between Continental Airlines and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents its 8,500 flight attendants, will include partner benefits for same sex partners.
The contract, announced March 17, will take effect April 1.
The contract also extends flying companion benefits to all flight attendants. A flight attendant can choose any person they wish to receive discounts on flying.
The tentative agreement still must be approved by the rank and file.
European Union urges partner laws
Brussels, Belgium--The European Union's parliament has adopted a resolution urging the 15 E.U. nations to grant same sex couples equal rights with heterosexual couples.
The recommendation, which is not binding on the member nations, was included in a report on human rights approved March 16 by the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, France.
The report was approved by 265 votes in favor to 125 against. There were 33 abstentions.
The motion said EU nations should "guarantee one-parent families, unmarried couples and same-sex couples rights equal to those enjoyed by traditional couples and families, particularly as regards tax law, pecuniary rights and social rights."
Some E.U. nations, including Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, France and the Netherlands, already grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. The question is under debate by parliaments in others.
The resolution noted, "European citizens continue to suffer discrimination and disadvantages in their personal and professional life as a result of their sexual orientation" despite specific references in the E.U.'s basic treaty against such discrimination.
Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Michelle Tomko and Denny Sampson.
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