by Denny Sampson
Montpelier, Vt.–On Tuesday, January 25, more than 1,500 people braved a snowstorm to reach Vermont’s Statehouse to voice their opinions on whether or not gay marriages should be legally recognized.
The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in December that gay and lesbian couples were being unconstitutionally denied the benefits of marriage.
The legislature is now charged with deciding whether same-sex couples should be given the right to legally marry, or whether a separate domestic partnership system should be established.
It is the mutual responsibility of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to take public testimony on how the court’s ruling should be addressed, and to write a bill that will satisfy the court’s mandate.
Prior to the public forum, the House Judiciary Committee had heard testimony for two weeks. Those hearings drew relatively sparse crowds.
At the hearing on January 25, people wore their opinions on their lapels, with hundreds of pink circles declaring, "I Support the Freedom to Marry," mixing with hundreds of white ovals with blue letters stating "Don’t Mock Marriage."
"Vermont is famous for maple syrup, cheese, scenic beauty and traditional values," said Ruth Goodrich. "Is this [same-sex marriage] what we want Vermont to be famous for?"
Lee Moffatt said he and his male partner deserve the same rights as opposite sex couples: "I, too, represent the face of Vermont."
At the Statehouse forum, many opponents of gay marriage said that they were against discrimination. But they argued that such tolerance should not extend to marriage.
"Homosexuals should be protected from attack on their personal freedom," said Chris Bixby, who said he opposed gay marriage and believed the voters should decide the issue. "Marriage is not a civil right."
However, supporters of gay marriage said anything short of marriage would be the same as the separate-but-equal laws blacks fought against during the civil rights movement.
"I want to sit anywhere on the bus I choose to sit," said Laurie Morrison.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Howard Dean predict that lawmakers will enact a domestic partnership act, but Jonathan Radigan told lawmakers there is a huge difference between the partnership and marriage.
He said that although he would ask his partner to marry him, "I doubt I will ask him to be my domestic partner. It sounds like someone who cleans the house."
In spite of differences of opinion, decorum was maintained throughout four hours of testimony and 106 witnesses.
"I am so impressed and proud as a Vermonter of the civility on a very emotional issue," said Richard Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I think if the legislature can debate it the way the public has, we can come to a resolution satisfactory to a majority of Vermonters."
Vermont's top religious leaders, while relying largely on the same basic faiths and traditions, have come to opposite conclusions on whether the state should legalize same-sex marriages.
"I think everybody has to look into their own heart and decide what the scriptures or their belief is telling them," said Jane Garrett, an Episcopal priest who has been active in her church's debate about whether to bless unions between gay and lesbian couples. "It's open to interpretation," she said.
Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell drafted a letter opposing same-gender marriage to be read in all parishes. The Roman Catholic Diocese had planned a silent vigil outside the Statehouse, but canceled because the bus company it had hired refused to carry protesters to Montpelier during a snowstorm.
However, Episcopal Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod, United Methodist Bishop Susan M. Morrison and Ohavi Zedek Rabbi Joshua Chasan signed a separate letter drafted by themselves and 14 of their colleagues endorsing gay marriage.
"I have a very personal understanding of God. I live a traditional Jewish life and I know in my heart of hearts that homosexuality is as righteous as heterosexuality," Chasan said. "I'd be an utter fraud, especially after the Supreme Court decision, if I didn't make plain my view that to deny the right of marriage to homosexuals is a sin."
No state has legalized same sex marriage. Since Hawaii’s Supreme Court raised the possibility of same-sex unions in 1993, Congress and 30 states have passed preemptive laws saying they won’t recognize such marriages if they are legalized in any other state.
A similar measure was introduced this month in the Ohio legislature.
Hawaii has since barred gay marriage, and a March 7 measure on the ballot in California seeks to do essentially the same thing. Both states, however, have laws granting some benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
Vermont is the only state considering legalization of same-sex marriage.
Confirming a split that many legislators have sensed since the court ruled, a new poll showed 52 percent of Vermonters surveyed opposed the state supreme court ruling, while 38 percent agreed and 10 percent said they weren’t sure. The poll of 623 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Some legislators are disappointed that a poll was conducted on the politically volatile issue.
"I think it further polarizes the different positions," said Sen. Richard Sears, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"It may make consensus a little more difficult to arrive at."
Rep. Thomas Little, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expects his committee to begin drafting a bill by early next month and hopes to get it through the Vermont House by the beginning of March.
That would give the state senate about a month to consider it before the legislature adjourns in mid-April.
At last week’s hearings, Nancy F. Cott, a professor of history and American studies at Yale University, spent nearly three hours with the committee tracing the evolution of marriage in this country.
She told legislators that traditional marriage-monogamous, for richer for poorer, "till death do us part"-has had, in practice, a relatively short tradition.
Cott, who is just completing a book on the political history of marriage in the United States, made comparisons between the plight of blacks and that of gays and lesbians. Slaves, Cott said, were not allowed to marry in the United States.
"Access to marriage is a basic civil right," Cott said. But slaves, she said, had no civil rights. After the Civil War, blacks did gain the right to marry and many former slaves flocked to marriage, she said.
"Same-sex couples don’t have a civil right to marry," she said. "The same as it was for slaves."
Paris--More than 6,000 French lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples have registered their unions under a new law giving extensive legal rights to unmarried couples, the Justice Ministry said January 20.
The Civil Solidarity Pact law, passed last October, has sparked a fierce debate in France, with opponents charging it would undermine traditional family values.
The Justice Ministry said 6,211 couples had registered by Dec. 31 in local courts around the country.
Paris had the most, with 1,462 couples registering, but other major cities also saw large numbers taking advantage of the law, with 136 registered in Nantes in western France and 119 in Grenoble, southeastern France.
The law allows couples to file joint tax forms after three years together; helps people bring foreign partners to France; require employers to take couples’ joint vacation plans into account; and make partners accountable for each other’s debts.
Inheritance, housing and social welfare rights are also included.
The newly recognized unions differ symbolically from traditional marriages in that unmarried couples will be required to register at a court instead of a town hall.
In addition, the measure simplifies the issue of separation: A partner desiring a split would need only to send a letter to their partner and to the court.
When first proposed by the Socialist-led government, the bill caused an outcry among France’s conservatives. Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets last year to denounce the proposed legislation.
Opponents charged it could lead to lifting rules that forbid gay couples from adopting children or having children by artificial insemination.
Conservative lawmakers argued the law violated the constitution by penalizing single people who would not benefit from the tax breaks the law offers.
Similar legislation already exists in several European countries, including Iceland, Belgium and Sweden. Laws in Denmark and the Netherlands are even more liberal, with the Netherlands considering a measure to include gays in the country’s marriage laws.
Hungary and Canada include same-sex couples under their common-law marriage statutes. Germany is considering a domestic partner law.
There are about 4.4 million unmarried heterosexual couples living together in France. The number of same-sex couples is unknown.
by Gip Plaster
Washington, D.C.--After two years of planning and the departure of some high profile leaders, Millennium March on Washington details are becoming clear.
What began simply as an April 30 rally now includes a march through the streets of the nation’s capitol and three big-name celebrities to headline entertainment. Growth and interest in the March has required organizers to open an office.
"I think this is a crucial march at a crucial time," said Dianne Hardy-Garcia, a Texas activist who recently was appointed co-executive director of the event. "The march is a tool for energizing our community, bringing them out and getting them politicized."
Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche and Melissa Etheridge will be among the performers who will entertain gays and lesbians from across the nation gathered on the National Mall.
"Ellen and her partner Anne have served as inspiring role models for a rising generation of lesbian and gay youth and have furthered understanding and acceptance in the larger society," said Ann DeGroot, one of the march’s four national co-chairs.
Donna Red Wing, another march chair, said Etheridge will be making her second appearance at a national gay and lesbian march. She also appeared during the 1993 event.
Joining the three performers will be Third Rock from the Sun costar Kristen Johnson. Other performers are expected to join the list. Some entertainers also likely will appear the day before at the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Rocks, a rock concert at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
Participants in the march will gather at the Ellipse, located behind the White House between 15th and 17th streets. Marchers will follow Constitution Avenue and turn right onto 14th Street, then left onto the National Mall to Third Street, where the main stage will be located.
In addition to entertainment, stage presentations will be made focusing on platform issues. Several hundred thousand ballots were distributed to gays, lesbians and allies throughout the nation and online to determine the platform.
Organizers have created a "working vision" from the more than 40,000 responses they had received by the beginning of December.
The eight priority issues are hate crimes legislation and protections; ending gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender discrimination in the workplace; racial justice; family values--including marriage and partner rights, adoption and child custody issues; health care issues; legal protection for the community’s youth; overturning anti-gay initiatives and laws at the federal and state level and privacy rights.
March organizers plan to share the event’s registration list with state and local groups and donate proceeds to organizations around the country. Ninety percent of proceeds from the march will be divided equally among statewide gay and lesbian organizations, national organizations for gays and lesbians of color and another category not yet determined.
Hardy-Garcia said she hopes the march will bring out the largest gay and lesbian vote in history for the presidential election.
"What this march is going to do is unprecedented," she said. "There’s nothing like a national march to inspire people.
"We have to create our own moments," she continued, as she reflected on the many ways the queer community faces discrimination. "Marches are life-transforming for people. We have a whole generation who has never marched."
She said she is aware that early organizing efforts for the march were full of turmoil, but believes as the event draws closer, those days are gone.
It was only in November that former executive director Robin Tyler, the march’s founder, resigned citing "conceptual and creative differences" with the board.
From the beginning, the Human Rights Campaign and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the groups who first announced the event, have been criticized for attempting to design an event without community input. Detractors also have questioned the event’s goals and timing.
"In the end, what people will remember is what it feels like to be on that mall with thousands and thousands of people like them," Hardy-Garcia said.
by Denny Sampson
City councils of both Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado are considering legislation that would protect transgender workers from job discrimination on the basis of their gender identity.
The Atlanta City Council is considering an ordinance that would amend the bill of rights in the city’s charter to include gender identity, age, color and disability in non-discrimination provisions, according to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender weekly Southern Voice.
The measure was initiated by the office of Mayor Bill Campbell, and has the support of all City Council members. The ordinance will apply only to city employees.
While the ordinance is well supported, procedural rules in the City Council require that an ordinance intended to change the city’s charter must take several weeks to pass. The earliest it could receive a vote is February 28.
Boulder’s City Council has tentatively voted to include transsexuals among the groups protected by its anti-discrimination ordinance.
The council will hold a public hearing and take a second vote on the amendment on February 1. It was approved unanimously on the first vote.
The proposed amendment would allow employers to require a "reasonably consistent gender presentation" from their workers. It also would mandate "reasonable accommodation" to shower locker rooms for people in the midst of a gender change.
If the proposal is approved, Boulder will become the first city in Colorado barring bias against those having "a persistent sense that one's gender identity is incongruent with one's biological sense."
Currently, only one state--Minnesota–three counties and 20 cities, including Toledo, ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity for private employers, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
San Francisco--Harvey Milk’s former home and camera shop on Castro Street may soon be registered as a historical landmark.
Milk made history in 1977 with his election to the city’s Board of Supervisors as the first openly gay person to hold elective office in California.
Milk was assassinated by Dan White on November 27, 1978, shortly after White gunned down Mayor George Moscone.
"This is probably one of the most significant settings that represents the gay movement of San Francisco," Alan Martinez, a supporter of the move to make the Victorian-era building a landmark, told the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board on January 19.
"It's as important as Stonewall," he said, referring to a New York City gay bar that was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in June. The Stonewall Inn, the only gay site on the National Register, was the location of a 1969 police raid that sparked a riot seen as the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
Milk used his Castro Camera store as headquarters for several political campaigns, and it became a focal point of the city’s gay and lesbian community in the 1970s. A bronze plaque in the sidewalk in front of the store at 573 Castro St. is dedicated to the slain supervisor, and a two-year-old mural with his image appears on the exterior of the building.
The advisory board unanimously agreed that the site become an official city landmark. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors must approve the status before the mayor gives a final okay.
The Castro property, built in 1894, housed hardware stores and a place for blue-collar tradesmen including builders, carpenters and sheet metal workers, until about the 1940s, when it was converted to commercial use.
The building, which was leased by Milk from 1973 to 1978, currently houses the Skin Zone, a cosmetics shop.
In June, the owners of the property said they opposed it becoming a landmark, because that would make it more difficult to alter it.
London--Oscar Wilde’s lover was never prosecuted for "homosexual acts" partly because Lord Alfred Douglas was viewed as the "victim" in the affair, according to newly released documents.
Wilde was a 38-year-old man a century ago, at the height of his powers as a dramatist when he embarked on an affair with the 22-year-old Douglas that was to lead to his downfall.
Britain’s office of public records on January 20 released a letter written by a senior official that asks prosecutors not to pursue a case against Douglas.
In the letter, Senior Treasury Counsel Charles Gill urges prosecutors to consider that Douglas was a young undergraduate at Oxford University when the two met and that Wilde "obviously exercised" a strong influence over him.
The relationship infuriated Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry (of boxing rules fame), who left a visiting card at Wilde’s London club calling Wilde a "somdomite."
Under the conventions of the day, Wilde felt he had no choice but to sue for libel, but the case was a disaster.
After it emerged that Queensberry’s lawyers had evidence of Wilde’s previous gay affairs, he abandoned the case and found himself facing a criminal charge of gross indecency. He was convicted of "homosexual acts" committed before his relationship with Douglas, and jailed in 1895 for two years.
After he was released, Wilde left England and died in France a few years later. Gay sex was not decriminalized in Britain until1967.
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