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July 7, 2000

�You may now kiss�

First civil union couples are joined as Vermont law takes effect

by Anthony Glassman

Vermont is not a particularly busy state. It�s got some forests, it�s got some skiing, and that�s about it. But this past weekend, people across the state and across the country were abuzz with talk of Vermont. As of 12:01 am July 1, the state began granting civil union licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Brattleboro town clerk Annette Cappy opened her office at midnight so that Carolyn Conrad and Kathleen Peterson could take their place in American history as the first same-sex couple to be united by a state in the nation�s 224 years.

A few minutes later they stood near a fountain outside the town hall and recited their vows. A crowd of about 100 cheered them on.

"We've already been married spiritually and morally, and we wanted to be legal the minute we could,'' Conrad said before the ceremony.

The couple, who have been together five years, had invited only eight people to the ceremony. But gays and lesbians from around the state showed up to observe history in the making. The crowd was joined by a dozen protesters who held signs and conducted what appeared to be a prayer circle.

Nine hours later, Lois Farnham and Holly Puterbaugh received their civil union license when Burlington town clerk Margaret Picard opened at 9 am.

Farnham and Puterbaugh are one of three couples who sued Vermont in 1997 for the right to marry. The suit resulted in a state Supreme Court ruling in December that Vermont must give same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples. To comply, the legislature created civil unions.

The law is not limited to Vermonters, and many people traveled farther afield to get their civil union licenses. Cappy�s second midnight appointment was two gay men from Massachusetts.

Couples from Montreal, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, South Dakota, Louisiana, and one from Columbus, Ohio, came to the state to get legal recognition of their relationships.

The Columbus couple, Dorrie Mills and Karen Anders, was fairly shy about the event.

"We don�t want to say too much about it," Anders said when the Rutland Herald asked if they would use their union to challenge Ohio law. "We believe this should be a right anywhere in the country."

Not everyone was so happy about it, though. Conservative lawmakers, as part of a lawsuit to stop the statute, failed to get an injunction delaying the start of the law last week.

And, of course, the religious right is livid.

"We should be proud that the flag is flying high and instead I�m wondering why the Vermont flag is not at half mast," said Rev. Craig Benson, referring to the fact that the law took effect on the Fourth of July weekend.

Vermont laws typically begin on July 1.

There will be efforts this fall in to elect Vermont politicians who will repeal the law, and a few town clerks have already resigned, rather than have a hand in sanctioning a relationship they oppose. The state also gives them the option of hiring assistants to give out the licenses.

And, of course, civil unions aren�t recognized over state lines, meaning that none of the financial or legal benefits of a civil union would be usable anywhere but Vermont. So-called "defense of marriage" acts in 33 states, rushed through legislatures in the last few years, might stop recognition of civil unions. Court cases are likely in many states as people united in Vermont seek benefits in their home states.

But scores of people are civilly united, or are unionized civilians, since a name hasn�t been formally introduced for two people who have a civil union. For now, between 20 and 30 same-sex couples are happy, together, and legal, for the first time since this country was founded.

 

Israeli military not affected by open policy, study says

by Eric Resnick

Santa Barbara, Calif.--A study released June 28 shows that gays and lesbians in the Israeli Defense Forces do not adversely affect performance or unit cohesion.

The study, which was conducted by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, counters the United States military claim that openly gay sevicemembers destroy unit performance.

The Israeli Defense Forces adopted regulations allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in 1983; and in 1993, repealed security restrictions on gays and lesbians, giving them equal status with heterosexual servicemembers.

The United States is the only western nation banning openly gay and lesbian servicemembers. The U.S. and Turkey are the only two NATO member nations with such a ban.

The center released a study of gay participation in the Canadian armed services four months ago.

According to center founder Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, his organization was founded in 1998 to combat claims that support the U.S. ban.

"The right wing, led by military analyst Charles Moskos and the Family Research Council, have used bad social science which has been repeated by the generals and senior officers in their justification for the ban," said Belkin. "The generals lied to Congress in 1993 about unit cohesion."

Belkin said that he studied Canada first to refute the claim by Moskos that other countries allowing gay servicemembers have different cultures.

"What could be more similar to the U.S. than Canada?" he asks.

"Israel was studied because they are widely esteemed as a fighting force, and because Israeli soldiers do come out while they are in the military, which refutes another Moskos claim," he added

Belkin said his group will study Australia next, then the San Diego police department. San Diego has more than 50 openly gay officers.

Belkin points out that his group�s study is peer-reviewed by social scientists and follows accepted research methods, unlike Moskos, who relies on anecdotes. The center�s study found that the inclusion of gay servicemembers has not harmed operational effectiveness, combat readiness, or morale.

It also found that homosexuality appears to be peripheral to all soldiers� preoccupations, regardless of sexual orientation, and that gay servicemembers adjust to military life as well as their heterosexual counterparts.

The center�s study is consistent with a Rand study done in 1994, a Harvard University study done in 1998 and data from the U.S. General Accounting Offices which also indicate that gay servicemembers do not adversely affect unit cohesion.

"There are two forms of data that Moskos and the right wing use to lie to congress," said Belkin. "One is that they use anecdotes, not evidence. Anecdotes can be used to show whatever you want as long as you pick the right anecdotes."

"Then," added Belkin, "they use statistical surveys of straight soldiers showing that they have a dislike of gay soldiers, which they translate into unit cohesion falling apart."

Belkin said that what Moskos and his followers don�t talk about is "task cohesion."

"It is an uncontested finding in the social sciences literature that group performance does not depend on whether group members like each other," he said.

The study shows that in Israel, the soldiers do not harbor anti-gay feelings toward one another because homophobia is not part of the accepted culture as it is in the United States.

Belkin said his organization will continue to study militaries around the world "for the purpose of defeating the Colin Powells of the world the next time the issue is brought before Congress."|


World Pride opens in Rome

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

Rome�The hotly-contested World Pride festivities opened in Rome July 1 with such a show of force that organizers have raised their estimates from 200,000 attendees to 300,000.

In contrast, the Forza Nuova, a fascist group, gathered about 700 members for a June 30 anti-gay march, not including the police in riot gear sent to keep things orderly.

In a country torn between the sacred and the profane, the secular and the religious, straight men are reporting that they�re afraid to leave the house without their wives lest they be thought gay, and hotels, inns, and restaurants are looking at the gay crowds as their saviors from the poor business afforded them by the pilgrims coming to Rome for the Vatican�s Jubilee Year.

The Catholics and the gay civil rights movement are making for strange bedfellows. The liberal mayor of Rome, originally in favor of World Pride 2000, later did an about-face and suggested that perhaps plans should be scrapped for a march to the Colosseum A former Catholic bishop from France cancelled plans to appear in a panel discussion of homosexuality and religion before releasing a number of statements accusing the Vatican of trying to muzzle him.

Referred to as "rebel French bishop," Jacques Gaillot was fired by Rome from his position as Bishop of Evreux, in Normandy, for promoting tolerance of gays and lesbians, and promoting the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS.

Gaillot said that he was ordered not to speak at the World Pride conference, and that he would obey. The church, however, is missing an opportunity, he believes.

"The church is my home and my family," Gaillot said, "but I can�t help but be critical because no one must be left out. The Holy Year is the right occasion to hold dialogue and not to divide."

Gaillot was not the only prominent figure scornful of the Catholic church�s position on Pride. Lousewies van der Laan, a European Parliament deputy from the Netherlands, thought that the Vatican missed a chance to promote tolerance by protesting against World Pride.

"The Catholic church is providing a moral justification for people to promote hatred and social exclusion," van der Laan said in a news conference that included members of Amnesty International.

Siding with Gaillot, van der Laan, and the Pride organizers are restaurateurs and hoteliers across Rome. The increase of gay tourists in response to Vatican protests has offset the frugality of the pilgrims the Vatican is supposedly trying to protect from the tourists. The gay men and lesbians there for Pride are staying in nice hotels and eating rich meals; the pilgrims pack their own lunches and sleep in hostels and convents.

Reports of the numbers of pilgrims expected to visit Rome this year also seem to have driven other tourists away in droves. Tourism is down in the Golden City.

"World Pride is a good thing, especially with rich groups coming from the United States and the Scandinavian Countries," Antonella Compagnucci of the STO-Incoming travel agency told Reuters news service.

Amidst all the controversy, and the everyday financial practicality, of World Pride 2000, there have also been a number of celebrity comings-out. The first was Italy�s agriculture minister, who came out as bisexual. He was followed by fashion designer Egon Furstenberg.

World Pride itself is also drawing a number of celebrities. The opening ceremony, with the cutting of the rainbow ribbon, was held by Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who appeared in the latest James Bond film The World is Not Enough. Also scheduled to appear in concert are Geri Haliwell of Spice Girls fame, Gloria Gaynor and the Village People.

The World Pride celebration is scheduled to go through July 8, culminating in a march to the Colosseum that day. The city has still not given World Pride a permit for the march to go to the ancient structure, but organizers say they will march by it with or without a permit.

"We will get to the Colosseum, and we will get there cheerfully and calmly," Massimo Quinzi of the Italian gay group Mario Mieli told Reuters.


 

Agency drops state contract rather than hire gays

by Anthony Glassman
with wire reports

Frankfort, Ky.�Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, a child welfare organization that came under fire for their anti-gay employment policies earlier this year, has rejected a new state contract after the head of the state agency that employs them told the press that Kentucky would probably stop sending children there.

The state�s largest agency caring for abused and neglected children, Baptist Homes received $12 million of its $21 million budget from the state last year.

The Cabinet for Families and Children, unanimously approved a new contract June 27 that held the organization liable for legal fees incurred by the state because of the Baptist Homes policy, and would enable the state to stop sending them children for any reason.

Cabinet secretary Viola Miller told a Kentucky newspaper on June 26 that it was possible that the agency might, even if the contract was renewed, stop sending the organization children in the future.

Baptist Homes president Bill Smithwick was infuriated by the decision.

"Our board of directors has decided that there is no reason to participate in a charade," Smithwick told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "We believe that state government, the Cabinet for Families and Children and Gov. Patton have decided that political correctness regarding the homosexual agenda is more important than traditional family values."

The group�s anti-gay stance came under fire when Alicia Pedreira, a lesbian social worker fired by the organization in 1998, sued both Baptist Homes and the Cabinet for Families and Children.

When she was fired, Baptist Homes told Pedreira, in writing, that her "admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values."

Pedreira�s lawsuit contends that this is a religious belief contrary to the profession of social work, and as such should not be supported with state tax dollars. She is suing under state and federal civil rights laws against religious discrimination.

The state Cabinet for Families and Children was also named because they provided taxpayer money to the organization.

Baptist Homes contends that gays and lesbians are not good role models for troubled and abused youth, who make up the majority of their referrals. In response to this, parents of troubled teens who had been counseled by Pedreira filed friend-of-the-court briefs testifying to her skill in helping abused and neglected youths.

Pedreira�s attorneys have said that they may drop the Cabinet for Families and Children from the suit now that Baptist Homes will no longer have a state contract.

Meanwhile, the state has begun the process of finding new foster homes for 340 children presently in the care of Baptist Homes. The group may also lay off about 460 workers.

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton said June 30 that he will try to get Baptist Homes to reconsider their decision.


 

Soulforce protests Episcopal convention; 74 arrested

by Eric Resnick

Denver--With the gay men�s chorus Harmony singing hymns and civil rights songs in the background, 74 Soulforce protesters were arrested July 4 at the General Conference of the Episcopal Church.

At issue at the ten-day Episcopal convention, which began the next day, is a proposal to codify the 2.4 million-member denomination's unofficial policy of letting each diocese decide the role of gays and lesbians in the church.

Soulforce works for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender acceptance in religious groups.

The Denver action was the fourth arrest for Soulforce this summer, and the first time when steel handcuffs were used on all the demonstrators.

"They hurt," said Soulforce co-founder Mel White, "but it was a good hurt."

All 74 were charged with disobeying a lawful order, which is a minor city ordinance, and released within a few hours. All will be notified by mail of their fines, which could be as high as $999 and one year in jail.

Soulforce has had similar actions at the United Methodist conference in Cleveland, the Presbyterian conference in Long Beach and the Southern Baptist convention in Orlando.

Those arrested included an Episcopal bishop, an Episcopal priest and Donna Red Wing of the Gill Foundation, which funds gay and lesbian groups. Most of the demonstrators were Episcopalians from the Denver area.

Inside the convention, the delegates debated issues of gay inclusion within the church. This year, that debate includes whether or not allow same-sex unions. But gay issues have been discussed by the Anglicans for 26 years. In 1979, the church said it was inappropriate to ordain practicing gays, but never made the ban part of church law.

Integrity International, a group of gay Episcopalians which advocates for gay inclusion within the church, points to many signs that the Episcopal church is accepting of gays and issued a press release distancing themselves from Soulforce.

At the Methodist and Presbyterian conferences, the denominations� gay groups embraced Soulforce�s presence.

Speaking for Integrity, Rev. Susan Russell said, "In the Episcopal church, gays and lesbians are not on the outside trying to get in, but on the inside exercising ministries vital to the church."

"We want to point out that while Soulforce lobbies from the outside, we speak from within the Episcopal church and have for over 25 years," added Russell.

Integrity spokesperson Scott Larsen pointed out that all of the three most recently appointed deans of cathedrals are openly gay, including the Very Rev. Tracey Lind of Cleveland�s Trinity Cathedral.

White, who is an Episcopalian, as is his partner and Soulforce co-founder Gary Nixon, said that nearly 30 years of debate on this issue is long enough and that Integrity is not telling the whole story.

"Like the other liberal denominations," said White, "the Episcopal church has been taken over by the fundamentalists. It has become corrupt."

White points out that in the Episcopal church, the bishops determine how gays and lesbians are treated within the individual diocese.

"For every example of just bishops Integrity holds up, there are examples of homophobic ones, including the bishop in Orlando that fires priests for doing same-sex unions, and the bishop in Houston that organizes church operations in third world countries promoting intolerance and mistreatment of gays."

"After 26 years, how can we be embarrassed by more discussion?" asked White.

Larsen concedes that the church is "fragmented, depending on where you live."

The church has decided to postpone action on gay inclusion until it meets again in three years.

"I have grown tired of watching these discussions from the inside. The fundamentalists won here by postponing action another three years," said White. "Just like in the other denominations, it�s all about money, the rise of fundamentalism, and the holy grail of unity."

"Because the leaders of Integrity have been seated at the table for so long, they are not seeing what is going on in their own church," said White. "This church is turning against all of us."

"They need to pull back from the table, and lose their blessings that come with it, and go to the edge of justice without those benefits as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. did," said White of Integrity.

White pointed out that Integrity spent the last three months attacking the Soulforce action.

"They let it be known that the only way we could cooperate with them was not to come," said White.

According to White, Integrity President Michael Hopkins is going to bring him up on charges before the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.

Hopkins was not available for comment.

However, Integrity did arrange for a Denver TV station to air a debate between themselves and Soulforce, which Soulforce declined.

"Instead of portraying us as the �other side,� let them attack the injustices within the church," said White.

Soulforce will stage another action at D.James Kennedy�s Reclaiming America for Christ conference in Ft. Lauderdale September 30.


High court decision may be hollow victory for Boy Scouts

by Eric Resnick

In the week following the Supreme Court�s decision giving the Boy Scouts the right to discriminate against gays, the organization and its primary funding sources are under increasing fire from many sectors of American culture.

The Akron Beacon Journal criticized the Boy Scouts noting that its stance "has marginalized the organization."

The Associated Press observed, "The Scouts have squandered a reputation for tolerance and face an erosion of public support."

Governments with gay and lesbian civil rights laws will likely need to sever ties with the Boy Scouts or face litigation. Corporations are deciding whether or not to follow the lead of Levi Strauss and Co. and stop contributions to the Boy Scouts.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Matt Coles of New York predicted that a nationwide movement, "church by church, business by business, town by town" will gradually cut community ties with the Boy Scouts and edge them into the ranks of ideological right-wing groups.

About 60 percent of Boy Scout troops are chartered by churches. The United Methodists have the most, accounting for 12.5% of all scouts. The Mormons follow with 12.2% and the Roman Catholics are third with 10.5%. The Catholic church and the Mormons filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court in favor of the Boy Scouts. The United Methodists filed briefs on both sides, but condemned the Boy Scouts practice as "discriminatory."

The Unitarian Universalist Association has assailed the Boy Scouts on two grounds: its stance on gays and its unwillingness to admit atheists and agnostics.

"Many of us look to the Scouts to serve the function of civic eduaction," said Unitarian president Rev. John Buehrens. "That�s the basis for their congressional charter and their access to public facilities. But if they are now a private organization with a homophobic standard, I believe those things ought to be called into question."

Both the Boy Scouts and the United Way are trying to keep the Supreme Court decision as low-key as possible. The United Way is the primary funding source for the Scouts.

The Boy Scouts issued a modest press release thanking "parents, volunteers and friends of Scouting who have supported us in this case and others. We respect other people�s right to hold differing opinions and ask that they respect ours."

Spokespeople at the national headquarters of the Boy Scouts ignored numerous requests for comment for this story.

Jack A. Johnson, executive of the Buckeye Council in Canton, which serves scouts in Ohio and West Virginia, said he�s happy that the court case is behind them.

"Now we can focus on the mission of Scouting," he added.

Johnson added that so far, the scouting community he serves is happy with the outcome. He said he is not thinking whether or not the decision will have any backlash against the Boy Scouts.

"My focus is on serving the youth," he said.

Johnson doesn�t believe that his council will lose funding or status due to the decision.

"If those things should occur, then you should have this conversation with me again," he said.

The United Way of Central Stark County, the largest single funder of the Buckeye Council, is being equally vague in response.

"Our volunteers haven�t had a chance to review [the ruling] yet," said spokesperson Chris Eagon.

For 2000, the United Way of Central Stark County gave the Buckeye Council $148,645. In contrast, the Great Trail Girl Scouts, who do not discriminate against anyone, received $34,956. United Ways across the country have similar allocation disparities between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.

Eagon said the volunteer board of the United Way looks at things like community need and management structure in making allocation decisions. "No agency is cut more than 50 percent in any given year," he added.

Eagon repeated that the volunteer board would hear concerns of constituents, then make its decision regarding Boy Scout funding.

Boy Scout supporters are predicting the organization will not suffer financially as a result of backlash from this ruling.

"Any money that has been lost has been more than made up by private supporters who are thrilled to see at least one major organization upholding what they see as traditional moral standards," said Patrick Reilly of the Capital Research Center in Washington, which promotes charitable giving to conservative and pro-business causes.

"The Scouts get a lot of support from Christian churches," said Reilly, "and clearly that will continue."

"To characterize the Scouts as far right is tantamount to categorizing apple pie as anathema to America. The Scouts are as American as you can get," concluded Reilly.

Attorney George Davidson of New York, who argued the case on behalf of the Boy Scouts, praised the Supreme Court�s decision.

"This is the strongest affirmation of freedom of association ever in the court�s history," he said. "Since 1910, people have made a decision on whether or not to associate with the Boy Scouts and I believe that will continue to be the case."

Senior staff attorney Evan Wolfson of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, who argued the case on behalf of ousted Eagle Scout James Dale said, "As the Boy Scouts use the term �freedom of association,� it means discrimination, and that is how Chief Justice Rehnquist was pleased to use it."

Wolfson called the Boy Scouts� freedom of association claim "absurd." "At Lambda, we believe in the right to free association, too, but the way Rehnquist has defined it in this case is the same way the term has been used in the past against blacks and women."

"Time will tell what the courts will make of this ruling," said Wolfson regarding the future of gay and lesbian civil rights cases. "Any 5-4 decision is a red flag, and no single case ends everything."

Wolfson is not concerned that the case will effect how the court defines public accommodations. "In handing down this decision, the court glossed over its own case law regarding public accommodation, so how it will view this thin, low opinion made in haste to boost the Boy Scouts remains to be seen."

Wolfson added, "Now that they have won the right to the [homophobic] label, nobody said the Boy Scouts must continue the policy. The talk now needs to be not on whether or not they have the right, but on what they are doing with it."

"It�s time to go beyond debating legalities," said Wolfson, "and get to the fact that what the Boy Scouts are doing is hurting gay kids."

Stonewall Cincinnati executive director Doreen Cudnik said she has already heard from her constituents and gay allies asking for information about where the Boy Scouts get their funding and what they can do about the Supreme Court decision.

"We�re in the process of doing our homework," said Cudnik. "Our people recognize that the Scouts have set themselves up as an anti-gay organization and if public places like public high schools are giving space to the Boy Scouts, there could be a problem."

Cleveland Lesbian-Gay Center executive director Linda Malicki said, "We must all challenge the Boy Scouts on this policy wherever we can." She added that one church has told her they will soon be announcing their decision to drop Boy Scout programs.

"It is important that the James Dales of the world continue to fight this battle," added Malicki.

Cudnik concluded, "Hopefully, the Boy Scouts will become a footnote in history because of what they set themselves up to be."

 

 

 

 

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