Vermont lawmakers opt for partners, not marriage
by Denny Sampson
Montpelier, Vt.--The House Judiciary Committee of the Vermont legislature voted on February 9 in favor of developing a broad domestic partnership system for gay and lesbian couples instead of granting them the legal right to marry.
The committee voted 8-3 in favor of writing a law that would extend legal benefits and protection to same sex couples. Rep. Thomas Little (R), chairman of the committee, said the law would create a system "different than, broader than" domestic partnership plans that have been discussed previously.
The committee did not vote on an actual bill. They simply decided the kind of bill to write-a bill that would address domestic partnerships or a bill that would expand the legal definition of marriage.
The legislature has been trying to decide how to respond to a state supreme court ruling in December that said gay and lesbian couples are being unconstitutionally denied the rights and benefits that accompany legal marriage. The court said the legislature could rectify that by expanding marriage or creating a parallel domestic partnership system.
The committee has held two public hearings which were attended by more than 5,000 people. The committee also heard testimony from legal and religious experts for a month.
"Leadership requires a keen sense of what ought to be done in the context of what can be done, what is achievable," said Little. "Leadership untempered by careful assessment of the world we live in is not sound leadership. What is achievable in this General Assembly and this body politic this year is a broad civil rights bill and, speaking for myself, that does not cross the threshold of marriage."
The majority of the committee agreed with Little. Eight of the committeeís eleven members voted to move forward with a bill that would not broaden the existing marriage laws to include same-sex couples.
The three members who voted to expand marriage statutes to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry were Rep. William (D), Lippert, Rep. Steve Hingtgen (Progressive), and Bill MacKinnon (D).
Lippert, the only openly gay member of the the legislature, said he believed legalizing same-sex marriage would be a major step toward ending discrimination.
"I trust whatever next step we take collectively, we take in a continual step to dismantle institutional discrimination," Lippert said.
Hingtgen said that gays and lesbians in Vermont were entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples, including marriage.
"Full inclusion of gay and lesbian Vermonters in our state marriage statutes is the courageous, moral and timely thing to do," Hingtgen told the Rutland Herald.
Hingtgen warned that stopping short of marriage would mean bowing to the pressure from opponents.
Hingtgen said the issue before the committee was not simply a matter of legal rights and benefits.
"Itís about the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the mainstream of our communities. Itís about accepting gays and lesbians as full members, not partial members, of our towns and schools," he said.
MacKinnon was the third member of the committee calling for inclusion of same-sex couples in the existing marriage laws.
"It would be my suggestion to this committee than an inclusive marriage statute is what all of the evidence that we have taken points to. It is the constitutionally correct thing to do. To temper that with what the political realities are outside the insular world of the House Judiciary Committee, I think, is an incorrect move when a civil right is hanging in the air," MacKinnon said.
Vermont Governor Howard Dean had endorsed the idea of domestic partnerships immediately after the court issued its decision in December.
"I think it does balance the concerns for equal rights for all with the concerns of the majority around traditional marriage," Dean said.
Little said he expects the full House to vote on the measure by mid-March and the state Senate to take up its version by mid-April.
Twelve seek to impeach justices
A dozen legislators have signed on to a resolution seeking to impeach the Vermont Supreme Court for the justicesí decision on gay marriage.
Besides impeachment, the resolution calls for the Legislature to "ignore the Supreme Courtís usurpation of legislative authority."
"I have a problem with the decision," said Rep. Nancy Sheltra (R). "I have a problem with the usurpation of authority. And, as a legislator, I have a problem that they are trying to tell this branch of government what we should do."
"I personally do not equate this to civil rights," Shelta said. "This is a lifestyle, this is a choice of lifestyle."
Rep. Neil Randall, a Libertarian from Bradford, said he joined Sheltraís attempt to impeach the justices because he believed the court had gotten the law wrong.
"What we have done is confuse rights with privileges," Randall said.
by Denny Sampson
Ottawa--The Canadian government has moved to extend the benefits of common-law marriage to gay couplesóbut stopped short of extending them the right to legally marry.
A measure, introduced February 11 by Justice Minister Anne McLellan, would alter 68 federal statutes, including the Pension Act and Income Tax Act, to provide same-sex couples with increased benefits and obligations.
While the proposal avoided the issue of equating same-sex marriages with opposite-sex ones, gay and lesbian advocates praised the proposal for aiming to give same-sex couples recognition under the law.
"It all boils down to the right to have the same respect, the same accountability and the same responsibility as any heterosexually based family unit," said Patricia Maguire, 34, who lives with her partner Marion Steele.
Svend Robinson, the first openly gay member of the House of Commons, told the Washington Post that the legislation is "an important step forward in the long march toward equal rights."
The changes, which require approval by Parliament, would allow same-sex couples to claim their partners as dependents on income tax returns and collect survivor benefits under the Canada Pension Plan if one partner dies.
The legislation is rooted in several court rulings, particularly a ground-breaking Supreme Court of Canada decision last year that struck down Ontarioís definition of "spouse" that excluded gay couples.
The measure reflects similar changes already made by the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia that allow gay men and lesbians to adopt children and to make medical decisions for partners when they unable to make them for themselves.
A poll conducted for the Justice Department suggests the bill is what the citizens of Canada want.
ē 74% of respondents supported extension of federal social benefits to gay couples.
ē 69% of the respondents wanted them to receive income benefits and obligations.
ē 67% of respondents said same-sex couples should receive the same benefits and obligations as common-law couples.
ē 84% said gays and lesbians should be protected from discrimination.
However, only 59% of respondents supported legally calling a member of a gay couple a "spouse."
Bowing to the reality that public opinion is evenly divided on whether to allow same-sex marriages, McLellan said the government would not challenge the traditional common-law definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
by Bob Roehr
The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Al Gore for president at a news conference with the vice president in West Hollywood, on February 11.
"He has a long, tangible record of support and has championed our quest for freedom both in word and deed," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the national gay and lesbian lobby group.
She cited his lobbying support for the gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and his willingness to return to Washington by helicopter to cast a tie-breaking vote for that measure in the Senate. That commitment was never put to the test as the measure failed by a vote of 50-49, with a nominally supportive Democratic senator from Arkansas absent.
HRC insiders, speaking on background, said the group originally planned not to endorse until after the March 7 primaries. The strategy was "to play one Democrat off against the other" to get as much as possible for the community.
But Goreís campaign asked for the endorsement now, and the decision was made "to help a friend who has been helpful to us." There also was a sense that after New Hampshire, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradleyís insurgency was not going to be powerful enough to knock off Gore. Any delay would diminish the impact and value of HRCís support.
"There are times when I think that HRC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Clinton administration," said Ken Sherrill. He is a professor of political science at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, who closely follows gay politics. But he conceded that "if they waited any longer, they would not be able to claim some of the credit" for helping to nominate Gore.
Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, offered a mild critique from the right.
"HRC has made some important inroads into the Democratic Party," he said. "It would be better off embracing its hard-won position as a powerful player there and not hold out the myths of bipartisanship and that their issues checklist governs endorsements."
"If HRC were bipartisan, they would have put a premium on having the courtesy of sitting down in a formal meeting with Senator [John] McCain before making an endorsement," Tafel said. "But it is clear that internal Democratic Party politics were more crucial to them."
An October analysis of Federal Election Commission public records by San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis showed that individual HRC board members and senior staff had given $14,650 to the Gore 2000 campaign and no money to Bradley. It also had given $41,250 to Democratic Party national campaign organizations and none to Republican groups.
Bradley met with key leadership of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in New York City on February 6. That organization does not make political endorsements, but in a subsequent written statement executive director Kerry Lobel expressed gratitude to Bradley for his opposition to Californiaís Proposition 22, to ban same-sex marriage. She noted Bradleyís commitment "to continue to use his campaign as a bully pulpit to organize and get his supporters out to vote against it."
5% of voters are gay or lesbian
NGLTFís Policy Institute released "Out and Voting II" on February 14. The 50-page report updates an earlier analysis of self-identifying gay voters with data from the 1998 elections.
Author Robert W. Bailey, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said in an extended interview that gays constitute about 5 percent of the voting electorate. The data was drawn from exit polling gathered by the Voter News Service for pooled use by major media outlets that include CNN and the Associated Press.
Bailey has found "a softening of the polarization of í92" when the antigay rhetoric of Pat Buchanan and others at the Republican National Convention, combined with the outreach by candidate Bill Clinton, brought 77 percent of the gay vote into the Democratic column. That level of support has ebbed in each of the ensuing congressional elections to 65.1 percent in 1998.
"The Democrats should be a little worried about that," Bailey said.
Sherrill argues that as gays makes progress toward full acceptance, "It becomes easier and easier for conservative and Republican gays to come out." He believes that "the future growth in the gay vote is toward the center and then toward the right."
"It is not so much that Republicans are competing for gay votes as they donít want to write them off," says Sherrill. "They have discovered that they have constituents that are gay. The relative silence in the Republican Party, the de-emphasis on the issue by candidates who have a chance to be nominated, is a real indication of progress."
Bailey is a Democratic activist, so "When someone in the Republican Party attracts me, even though I know Iím not going to vote for him [McCain], it means that an awful lot of swing voters are going to go with him." Bailey called McCain "the antidote to Clinton."
"The message of the primaries has been that the [political] parties are unpopular and the leadership is very unpopular," says Sherrill. "The interest in McCain and Bradley has been because they are not part of the leadership of their parties. What McCain could do that Bradley couldnít do is come across as a guy you can understand. I really think that is what people are looking for."
"The interesting thing about John McCain is that he is pulling young people, new voters. Thatís how Jesse Ventura won," says Bailey. "Itís a protest among young people, theyíve got a different visions of politics. I think that a lot of people at HRC donít understand that yet."
by Denny Sampson
With the Ohio primary election just over two weeks away, the four leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have all taken stands on a number of issues important to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Here is a summary of the candidatesí positions, taken from their statements as well as voting records. The candidates are listed alphabetically.
The Ohio primary is Tuesday, March 7.
Bill Bradley (D)
During Bill Bradleyís three terms as a U.S. senator from New Jersey, he had a strong voting record on gay rights and AIDS. Bradley has also always been firmly pro-choice.
Bradley co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, Bradley believes there should be broader anti-discrimination protection, and has proposed adding sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
"Iím being realistic about the gay community and the talent it has to offer the country. It should be recognized and respected, not stigmatized," Bradley said.
Bradley co-sponsored the Ryan White CARE (Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency) Act of 1990 and its later reauthorization, which awards grants to care for individuals and families with HIV. Bradley supports increasing funding to find an AIDS vaccine and a renewal of the Ryan White act to fund AIDS services across the country.
An opponent of the "donít ask, donít tell" policy, Bradley believes that gays and lesbians have a right to serve openly in the military.
"Itís just common sense that if gay Americans can be policemen, nuclear scientists, bricklayers, football players, doctors, and lawyers, then they can also be sergeants and generals," said Bradley.
Bradley supports the passage of hate crime legislation, and believes that a distinction should be made when a crime is committed as a premeditated assault based on someoneís sexual orientation, gender, race, or disability.
In a meeting with representatives of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on February 7, Bradley expressed his support for LGBT rights in a number of areas, including adoption of children by same-sex couples, passage of domestic partner benefits and implementation of fair immigration policies that do not discriminate against LGBT people.
However, Bradley opposes gay marriage, and in 1996 voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defined "marriage" as a "union between a man and a woman."
In an interview with the Advocate gay and lesbin newsmagazine, Bradley said, "I do not call gay unions marriages, but I will respect them and I will work to see that committed same sex couples receive the property, income tax, insurance, and inheritance rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples."
George W. Bush (R)
Early in his campaign, Republican presidential front-runner Governor George W. Bush of Texas cultivated an image as an inclusive Republican, promising to bring minority groups into the party. However, Bush has not given a clear message on whether he includes the LGBT community under his "big tent."
In April 1999, Bush said that he would have no problem appointing openly gay people to his administration.
"As a general statement, if someone can do a job, and a job that heís qualified for, that person ought to be allowed to do his job," said Bush.
In September, the Scripps-Howard news service reported that Bush had met with a group of religious conservatives, and had pledged to not "knowingly" hire a gay person. However, he also said he wouldnít fire someone who was later "discovered" to be gay.
In an interview in November on NBCís Meet the Press, Bush said that he would "probably not" meet with Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay Republican organization.
"I donít believe in group thought," Bush said, "pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is create a huge political nightmare for people."
Bush opposes same-sex marriages and gay adoptions. At a Christian Coalition conference in October, Bush said of his judicial appointees, "My judges are going to understand that marriage is between a man and a woman, not two men." In a written statement, Bush said that he "believes children ought to be adopted in families with a man and a woman who are married." Bush says he is pro-life, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Arguing that all violent crimes are hate crimes, Bush opposes hate crime laws that would increase penalties for crimes motivated by bias. Bush also opposes legislation that would ban anti-gay discrimination.
Bush supports the "donít ask, donít tell" policy that currently allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they stay closeted.
Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, the only openly gay member of the Texas legislature, has described Bush as "pretty benign" because he hasnít resorted to anti-gay rhetoric. "Heís not a Jesse Helms," Maxey said, referring to the conservative North Carolina senator.
"But at a time when thereís a tremendous rise in hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace still abounds, the fact that a leader would not see gay and lesbian issues as important or take a position . . . is troubling to me."
Al Gore (D)
A long-time civil rights advocate, Vice-President Al Gore (D) and his wife, Tipper, together have more than a dozen openly gay and lesbian aides on their staffs and count gay men and lesbians among their closest friends and confidants, according to the Advocate.
In response to those on the political right who say that gays and lesbians are somehow threats to family values, Gore told the Advocate, "I believe that God makes us in different ways. I donít believe that having made us, God intends us to suffer discrimination and prejudice in all our days on this earth."
The front runner for the Democratic nomination and endorsed February 11 by the Human Rights Campaign, Gore is a strong supporter of ENDA.
Gore has supported the lifting the ban on gays in the military since the early days of the Clinton-Gore administration. He believes that the "donít ask donít tell" policy has not worked, and as president, he promises to eliminate it, allowing gays to serve openly.
Gore says he will work towards enactment of a hate crimes law. He advocated passing the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have expanded the definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation, gender or disability and allowed for the prosecution of those crimes under federal law. He also supports legislation that would increase sentences for hate crimes by about one-third.
Gore has vowed to provide national leadership in the fight against AIDS. As a U.S. senator from Tennessee, Gore was an original co-sponsor of the Ryan White CARE Act.
"I feel very strongly that we have to move aggressively to have adequate budgets and that means increased funding for the Ryan White CARE Act," said Gore. "Iíve been involved in stepping up clinical trials for new anti-HIV drugs and working out partnerships to make the whole process far more effective."
Gore is opposed to gay marriage. "Iím in favor of legal protections for domestic partnership," Gore told the Advocate, "but Iím not in favor of changing the institution of marriage as it is presently understood--between a man and a woman."
Gore does not believe the federal government has a place in the adoption process.
"Local adoption officials can evaluate the circumstances of the child and the parenting ability of the prospective parents and decide if thereís a good match," Gore said. Gore is pro-choice.
"On paper, Gore and Bradley are nearly identical with both generally supporting gay rights," says David Smith, communications director for the Human Right Campaign. "But when it comes to experience, Gore has a big head start."
John McCain (R)
Arizona Sen. John McCain has assured gay Republicans that he welcomes their support and would work to eliminate discrimination if elected president.
McCain met with the Log Cabin Republicans in November, and has given some indication that he is the first Republican presidential candidate to openly seek the gay vote. McCain told Log Cabin that he has a nondiscrimination policy in his office and said,. "I am unashamed, unembarrassed and proud to work with you."
McCain defended his meeting with Log Cabin on CBSís Face the Nation, saying he believes "strongly in the party of Abraham Lincoln, and the Log Cabin Republicans are part of our party."
However, McCain disagrees with virtually every gay civil rights legislative measure supported by Log Cabin. McCain opposes same-sex marriage, gay adoption and new hate-crime laws. Although he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, McCain has so far declined to support federal gay and lesbian civil rights legislation.
Log Cabin director Rich Tafel, who attended the meeting with McCain, quoted him saying, "Look, I am viscerally opposed to discrimination. And maybe I donít agree with all the specific remedies we talked about, and I want to hear more. But I want to tell you that I have been opposed all of my life to discrimination against anybody, including all of you."
On gays in the military, McCain said, "I support the "donít ask, donít tell" policy instituted by General Colin Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that does not allow the military to ask recruits whether they are homosexual, but requires individuals to keep their sexuality private and out of the military. I believe this policy appropriately reconciles personal freedoms with the fact that open homosexuality in military ranks presents a dangerous risk to morale, cohesion, and discipline."
McCain opposes abortion with exceptions for rape, incest, and any time when the life of the mother is endangered by the pregnancy.
"On gay issues, the American public is way ahead of the GOP candidates," wrote Tafel in a statement to Log Cabin members. "Gay issues have their hardest time in Republican primaries, and in sheer numbers gay activists have overwhelmingly more leverage in Democratic primaries. In spite of this, McCain took some risks and spoke from his heart without fear or spin while Bush had only rhetoric-and wildly conflicting rhetoric at that."
by Denny Sampson
ColumbusĖGov. Bob Taft wonít have to testify in the case of a man accused of ripping down a gay-pride flag at the Statehouse, a judge ruled February 11.
Attorneys for defendant Charles Spingola subpoenaed Taft because they believe the flag was being flown unlawfully. They wanted the governor to explain who allowed the flag to be flown on a Statehouse pole during last Juneís Pride parade.
Judge W. Dwayne Maynard of Franklin County Municipal Court ruled against Spingola, but did not say why, according to a secretary in his office.
Taft spokesman Scott Milburn said the judge made the proper decision. He said the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board makes decisions on activities on the Statehouse grounds. The governorís office oversees the board but does not have a say in the process.
"Thatís kind of what we thought all along," Milburn said of Maynardís decision. "The governor was not in the decision-making loop on that. We really didnít have anything to do with this from the beginning."
Jeff Redfield, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, testified he had permission to fly the flag from the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board. Redfield filed the ethnic-intimidation complaint against Spingola.
Spingola, a 44-year-old street preacher from Newark, Ohio, is charged with violating the cityís ethnic intimidation ordinance by pulling down the flag on June 27.
Two others were also charged in the incident. Donald L. Richardson, 64, of London, Ohio, was found guilty of disorderly conduct on January 27.
Toni L. Peters, 26, of Columbus, faces charges of arson and ethnic intimidation. She admitted to setting the flag on fire after Spingola pulled it down, and is scheduled for pretrial hearings later this month.
Spingola reportedly called the rainbow flag the "Sodomite flag" and said that homosexuality a sin against God. Witnesses say that Spingola yelled it was his Capitol building and his right when he pulled down the flag.
"The evidence will show that he had no right," Laura Baker, an assistant city attorney, said Feb. 7 in her opening argument in Spingolaís trial, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
For Spingola to be convicted of ethnic intimidation, city prosecutors must prove he is guilty of criminal damaging and his motive was to intimidate the marchers who raised the flag.
The stateís ethnic-intimidation law says nothing about protection for gays, but the cityís law provides for their protection. Ethnic intimidation is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
by Denny Sampson
Frankfort, Ky.--The Kentucky legislature is considering three different bills that could impact that stateís LGBT community, if passed.
On February 2, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 70, which would allow churches to refuse to rent their facilities to gays and lesbians.
Sponsored by Rep. Tom Kerr, D-Taylor Mill, House Bill 70 would exempt religious organizations from civil-rights laws that require public accommodations to be open to all. Instead, churches could keep their rented facilities, such as campgrounds and meeting halls off-limits to groups inconsistent with the churchesí "religious tenets."
The bill will proceed to the Kentucky Senate. After several amendments, the final version will state that churches could not discriminate on the basis of disability, race, color or national origin. But gays and lesbians, atheists, Satanists, Wiccans and other whose presence offends religious groups could be barred, Kerr said.
The legislature also has on its docket a bill that would render four local gay civil rights laws passed last year null and void, according to The Letter, a Kentucky GLBT newspaper.
Introduced to the General Assembly January 27, HB 485 would essentially eliminate the ordinances and prohibit Kentucky municipalities and counties from passing future "Fairness" laws unless the General Assembly approves.
Finally, the legislature is considering House Bill 7, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment, according to The Letter.
On February 3, a group of about 50 people, including several religious leaders, called on Kentuckyís lawmakers on to support HB 7, and any other legislation they said would guarantee full protection for all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
by Shannon McCaffrey
Washington, D.C.--Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, introduced a bill on February 14 that would allow a U.S. citizen in a permanent relationship to sponsor his or her partner for immigration.
While U.S. immigration laws allow heterosexual married couples to sponsor their partners for citizenship, the laws donít permit gays and lesbians to do the same for their partners because there is no legally recognized marriage for same-sex couples.
Although supporters admit Nadlerís Permanent Partner Immigration Act of 2000 stands little chance of passing in the current Republican-led Congress, Nadler introduced the bill out of what he termed "simply a matter of common sense and fairness."
"Why do we allow the government to tear apart committed and loving couples just because of who they love?" Nadler said.
The issue has been talked about for years in the gay and lesbian community, but Nadlerís bill is the first to deal with the topic, said Lavi Soloway, chairman of the New York City-based Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force.
"We look at it as the very beginning of an important dialogue in Congress," Soloway said. "Weíre hoping to attract a core of support and to begin building a broader coalition. But weíre realistic to know that this bill isnít going to pass right away."
Nadlerís bill would introduce the term "permanent partner" into sections of immigration law dealing with legally married couples. Permanent partners would have to demonstrate that they were in an intimate, committed relationship. Each partner must be over 18 years old. Certain other restrictions would apply.
Thirteen other countries currently provide immigration rights to same-sex partners, including England, France, Canada and South Africa, Soloway said.
Gays, Wiccans contribute to school religious display
Altoona, Pa.--A west-central Pennsylvania school district where framed copies of the Ten Commandments are being displayed has received requests for equal space for alternative viewpoints including non-Christian religions and the origin of the pink triangle used to identify gays in Nazi Germany.
The Altoona Area School District devised a policy allowing documents that meet certain criteria to be placed in glass display cases in school libraries for 25 school days.
The documents can show no disrespect to any individual, ethnic group or religion and must be of a historical or religious origin.
The policy was a compromise to satisfy supporters of permanent display of the Ten Commandments and opponents who threatened to sue if no other viewpoints would be displayed as well.
A committee of teachers and other district employees appointed by Superintendent Dennis Murray privately examines all submissions and decides what will be displayed. The school board is not involved.
The Ten Commandments and an affirmation of humanism--the first such documents approved for display last month--have been on view for 10 days.
The latter, a platform of 21 statements, says adults should be allowed to express sexual preferences, exercise reproductive freedom, have access to medical care and die with dignity.
Lorie Polansky, who submitted the humanism documents, told the Altoona Mirror that she wanted students to receive a balanced point of view.
"I would rather see none of this in the school, but if Rev. Dull is going to get his Ten Commandments, then we deserve equal treatment," she said.
Others want equal treatment as well.
Gail Alberini submitted material from her Bahaíi faith "so children can realize that there is not just one religion in the world," she said. Documents she submitted include passages from Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Bahaíi.
Amanda Moore, an Altoona High School graduate who lives in State College, told the newspaper she submitted writings from Wicca.
"I thought it was important to provide diversity to the character building project," she said. "Itís not meant to convert. Itís meant to help people defeat ignorance."
Last week, James Gatehouse submitted a one-page document entitled "The History of the Pink Triangle," which explains how the triangle emerged from Hitlerís Nazi party use of different colored triangles to identify citizens and prisoners in concentration camps according to religion, ideology, sexual orientation and numerous other distinctions.
Wort could impede AIDS drugs
London--St. John's wort, a popular herbal remedy used to relieve mild depression, can dangerously interfere with prescription drugs used to treat HIV-infected people and heart transplant patients, new research shows.
Two studies published in The Lancet medical journal found that St. John's wort dulls the effectiveness of both the HIV protease inhibitor indinavir (Crixivan) and the transplant drug cyclosporin, used to suppress transplant patients' immune systems so their bodies don't reject the new organs.
In one of the studies, Stephen Piscitelli and other researchers at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., gave eight HIV-negative volunteers indinavir three times a day. On the third day, St. John's wort tablets were added and the volunteers continued taking both pills for two weeks.
Blood tests were taken the day before the volunteers started taking the herb and at the experiment's end.
The blood concentration of indinavir immediately before another dose was due was an average of 81 percent lower with St. John's Wort than without it, the researchers said. Overall, levels of the HIV medicine in the blood dropped 57 percent when taken with St. John's wort.
Virginia may lower sodomy penalty
Richmond, Va.-Oral sex between consenting adults would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor if legislation endorsed by a House of Delegates committee becomes law.
Delegate Karen Darner has tried several times to repeal the state's "crimes against nature" law, which applies to all consenting adults-gay and straight-who engage in oral or anal sex, even in private. Violating the law is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Felons also lose their voting rights, Darner noted.
The committee wouldn't go along with repealing the sodomy law entirely, but did agree to make it a lesser offense punishable only by a fine of up to $250.
The Virginia Court of Appeals agreed in December to review the constitutionality of the law, which some authorities say is a legitimate way to deter public sex acts.
The law was challenged by nine men convicted of "soliciting sodomy" from undercover police posing as gays in a Roanoke park.
Four other states have felony sodomy laws, and 12 additional states have misdemeanor measures. Ohioís law was repealed in 1973.
1,500 march for stabbed student
Tucson, Ariz.--About 1,500 people marched near the University of Arizona to protest the stabbing of a gay student last week.
The 20-year-old, who police said was a victim of an apparent hate crime, is recovering from a stab wound in the back. The suspect, Gary Grayson, 37, reportedly yelled anti-gay statements after the attack.
The victim made an unexpected appearance at the rally Sunday.
"I am afraid," said the tearful student, whose name has been withheld for his protection. "I am afraid to be the target of the worldís discrimination. I am afraid of the hate that leads to violence."
The marchers held large banners and noisemakers, concluding the march with a rally in the universityís center.
Crusading molester gets 40 years
Anderson, Indiana--A foster parent who prevented a girl in his care from being adopted by a gay man was sentenced February 9 to 40 years in prison for molesting the girl.
Earl "Butch" Kimmerling pleaded guilty last month to four counts of molesting his foster daughter, now 9. He and his wife, Saundra, fought in 1998 to keep the girl from being adopted by Craig Peterson, a gay man who had adopted the little girlís three brothers.
Prosecutors had argued for a harsh sentence. "Itís hypocrisy at its highest level. He holds himself out to be a person of God, as a representative of the Christian community, and at the same time engaging in outrageous behavior," prosecutor Rodney Cummings said.
During their fight against Peterson, the Kimmerlings gained support from various Indiana political figures, including Anderson Mayor Mark Lawler and a Republican state representative who unsuccessfully tried to ban gay adoptions.
The Kimmerlings eventually succeeded in adopting the girl, but Kimmerling was arrested and charged with molesting her after Saundra Kimmerling notified police.
The girl remains in Saundra Kimmerlingís care.
Illinois considers violence bill
Springfield, Ill.-In spite of opposition from conservative factions, Illinois is pushing to become the first state to offer a new legal tool to women and gays who are victims of violence.
The "Gender Violence Act" would allow civil lawsuits by victims of rape, domestic abuse, gay-bashing and other violence based on gender or sexual orientation.
Supporters-including Illinois Gov. George Ryan-say it is a way to give power back to victims by letting them sue their attackers.
But others call it too vague, too broad and potentially harmful to business. They also argue it's unnecessary.
The proposed bill is based on the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act, which is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The federal law only allows women to sue, but the state version extends it to those who are victims because of sexual orientation. Victims also could sue over violence based on perceptions--for instance, if a man was attacked because others assumed he was gay.
The federal and state versions also allow victims to sue groups, corporations or institutions they feel are responsible for the attack.
Case against 68 ministers dropped
Sacramento, Calif.--United Methodist officials decided February 11 against charging 68 ministers who simultaneously blessed a lesbian wedding to protest their church's ban on gay marriages.
Investigators ruled the allegations were not serious enough to merit a trial. Had the pastors been convicted of breaking church law, they could have faced punishment as severe as dismissal.
"No further steps or actions will be pursued," said Bishop Melvin Talbert of the church's California-Northern Nevada Conference. "This decision will not resolve the tension within the [church] community."
The lead defendant was the Rev. Don Fado of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, who performed the wedding of church members Ellie Charlton, 64, and Jeanne Barnett, 69.
A total of 92 ministers participated in the wedding. The remaining 24, from other conferences, have also not been charged.
Fado has compared the ceremony to an act of civil disobedience.
Hate crime bill approved
Atlanta--With just one vote to spare, the Georgia Senate approved a bill on February 9 allowing judges to impose enhanced fines and penalties for those who commit hate crimes, including those motivated by the victimís sexual orientation..
Republicans called the bill unconstitutional, but the prevailing Democrats described it as a means to fight domestic terrorism.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, applauded as the Senate's electronic vote board displayed the 30-23 vote, one vote more than the 29 needed to pass a bill in the Senate. The bill now goes to the House.
Senate GOP Leader Eric Johnson said Republicans fought the bill because they believe it to be unconstitutional and because it creates special classes of victims.
The bill allows judges to impose additional fines of up to $15,000 and extra jail time of up to five years in cases where they determine the victims were chosen because of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
Parents' okay needed to join gay club
Los Angeles--The Orange County school board February 10 moved to require parental permission from high school students wanting to join extracurricular clubs.
The move came after the a court had ordered the board to allow a high school gay straight alliance to meet on school grounds. With this requirement, students wishing to join the gay support group must first tell their parents.
The board also decided that sexual matters may not be discussed at any extracurricular club and students would be required to maintain a 2.0--or C--average to be in the club.
The rules on high school clubs take effect July 1. The board voted to ban all extracurricular clubs at elementary and middle schools, effective immediately.
Lawyers for the Gay-Straight Alliance alleged that these new sanctions are targeted at their clients club.
"Certainly, a parental consent requirement will have a greater effect on some clubs than others," said David Codell, who represents the teen founders of the club. "There is a concern that some students want to attend a club like this in order to address issues of intolerance that they may be facing in their home lives."
86 mark Valentineís Day at city hall
DenveróEighty-six couples, many of them same-sex sweethearts, celebrated Valentineís Day by officially signing up for Denverís new domestic partners registry.
Mayor Wellington Webb and the councilmembers who sponsored the ordinance creating the registry addressed the couples February 14. There were flowers, a cake and a photographer.
The registry, approved by the Denver City Council in November, allows committed, unmarried couples to document their relationship. Open to both gay and straight couples, the law requires that they be over 18 and share a common household.
Registration for the "certificate of committed partnership" is available at the clerk and recorderís office for $25.
Critics say the certificate is meaningless, offering gay and lesbian couples a second-class sort of marriage. Advocates say it would help establish proof of the relationship for possible insurance and other employment benefits.
Miami may see rights repealed, again
Miami--Dade County commissioners gave religious conservatives permission to begin a signature collecting campaign that could repeal a measure banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Take Back Miami-Dade, a political action committee made up of the Christian Coalition and several other religious and conservative groups, has 60 days to collect signatures from four percent of the countyís registered voters, about 33,400 signatures. If enough signatures are collected and verified, the amendment would be put up for a vote in September.
The anti-discrimination ordinance was approved in 1998 by a narrow margin.
The effort against the ordinance recalls the nationís first-ever anti-gay initiative: singer Anita Bryantís "Save Our Children" campaign that led to the repeal of an earlier Miami-Dade gay civil rights ordinance, in 1977.
Britain considers partner law
LondonóThe Labour government has plans to give gay couples equal rights to employment benefits and health insurance in an attempt to eliminate discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Margaret Hodge, the equal opportunities minister at the Department for Education and Employment, said the government had asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to draw up a code of proper treatment for gay employees after receiving evidence that there was discrimination against gay persons in the workplace.
The commission, which is consulting with Stonewall, a gay civil rights group, said the new rules would seek to eliminate all differences in the treatment of gay and straight people at work.
Gay films are in line for Oscars
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees February 15 for the 72nd annual award ceremony, with several queer entries.
American Beauty was nominated for eight Oscars, including one for openly gay screenwriter Alan Ball.
Openly gay Spanish director Pedro Almodovarís Todo Sobre Mi Madre, or "All About My Mother," was short-listed for Best Foreign Film.
Openly gay John Coriglianoís The Red Violin was nominated for Best Original Score.
Boys Donít Cry, about the murder of Brandon Teena, won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations for Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, based on a series of books by lesbian author Patricia Highsmith, has five nominations.
Election, which featured a lesbian character, is a finalist for Best Screenplay
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, which romantically pairs up Satan and Saddam Hussein, is up for Best Original Song: "Blame Canada."
The awards will be presented in Los Angeles on March 26.
Compiled from wire reports by Michewlle Tomko, Denny Sampson and Patti Harris.
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