Nation joins seven others in recognizing same-sex couples
by Rex Wockner
Berlin--The lower house of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, passed a two-part gay "life partnerships" bill on November 10.
Part one gives registered couples spousal rights and obligations in areas such as tenancy, inheritance, hospital visitation, health insurance, immigration, child custody and alimony.
Part one does not need approval from the more conservative upper house of parliament and will become law in a few months.
Part two, which equalizes gay couples in areas such as taxation and welfare benefits, does need approval from the Bundesrat, and faces a tough battle there.
"Our long struggle for equal rights of lesbian and gay partnerships has been acknowledged and has now succeeded," said Manfred Bruns of the German Lesbian and Gay Association. "The debate in the parliament today and all opinion polls prove there is an overwhelming majority among politicians and in the society for the legal recognition of lesbian and gay partnerships. The tenth of November is a historical day for lesbians and gays in Germany."
Lawmakers from the governing Social Democrats and Greens used their lower-house majority to push through the measure. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government had promised to pursue the goal after ousting Helmut Kohl, a conservative, in 1998 elections.
The changes would allow same-sex couples to exchange vows at local government offices and require a court decision for divorce.
"The long years of discrimination are over," declared Greens leader Kerstin Mueller, whose party has led the push for the changes. "Lesbians and gays today get their rights."
But conservatives, who have denounced the plan as "Marriage Light," could still scuttle the bill’s second part when it reaches the upper house of parliament next month, and are weighing whether to ask the country’s highest court to rule the plan unlawful.
Conservatives hold a majority in the Bundesrat, where Germany’s 16 states are represented.
The Vatican denounced the German parliament for "legitimiz[ing] a moral disorder."
Such laws "disfigure the divine project of matrimony, damage the family, and produce negative effects on society and on new generations," the Vatican said.
Elsewhere, gay and lesbian couples have nearly all rights of marriage in Denmark, France, Greenland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the U.S. state of Vermont.
Beginning in January, same-sex couples in the Netherlands will have access to full marriage under the regular marriage laws.
by Eric Resnick
Akron--A man is listed in good condition at Akron General Medical Center following a November 5 shooting outside the gay bar Cocktails that nearly claimed his life.
Patrick Holcomb 31, of Akron was shot and suffered a bruised spinal cord and internal injuries when three men approached the car driven by his partner James Masi, 37, of Akron as they were leaving Cocktails’ parking lot. A third passenger, Jeff Correll, 39, of Canton was not injured.
Police have arrested three suspects, Albert Luckert, 28, Charles Forame, 27, and Timothy O’Dell, 18, all of Akron. They were arrested November 11 and charged with one count each of felonious assault and aggravated robbery.
At 1:20 am November 5, the suspects approached the car, which was driven by Masi, pounded on the windows, and demanded that the three men get out of the car. When they tried to drive away, the shot wounding Holcomb was fired. It is unclear at this time which suspect fired the shot.
Masi drove the car to nearby Akron Children’s Hospital where Holcomb was treated, then transferred to Akron General Medical Center.
Cocktails has a video surveillance system, but no amount of security can prevent all violent crimes, said the club’s owner.
"They’re just random acts of violence because of the environment we’re in," said Brian Lyons. "Even if I had a guy sitting there . . . it wouldn’t have helped them."
Akron police do not believe the crime was motivated by anti-gay bias.
"It looks like a carjacking," said Captain Elizabeth Daugherty, noting that nobody reported any behavior associated with hate crimes. "There were no slurs and no anti-gay remarks."
Daugherty could not yet determine if there was any belief that the suspects were looking for gay victims, which may surface as the investigation continues.
"I am just really pleased to tell you that we made arrests in this case," said Daugherty.
The arrest was facilitated by videotapes from security cameras in the parking lot.
"The Akron Police Department was there twenty minutes after I called, and had the tape to the lab by Monday," said Lyons. "They give us great support."
"The detective spent two hours on Sunday with me talking about what we could do to make things better. He didn’t care what kind of bar he was in."
One of the victims has since returned to the bar.
"He said, ‘You can’t let the bastards win’," remarked Lyons. "Pat is a friend of mine, and I told him, ‘You can’t let Pat be scared to live his life’."
Anthony Glassman contributed to this story.
Washington, D.C. police enclosed an area in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with yellow tape, then peacefully arrested everyone who remained inside it after two warnings. All were later released after paying a fine. Photo: Eric Resnick
by Eric Resnick
Washington, D.C.--In an attempt to convince the American Catholic bishops to make the church more inclusive of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, the interfaith group Soulforce and the gay Catholic group Dignity USA joined in an act of civil disobedience during the bishops’ annual conference.
The November 13 act occurred when 280 protesters blocked the entrance to the basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere.
Police arrested 104 people, including 12 Ohioans. Those arrested were charged with "incommoding," the total blockage of free passage to a public place, a minor municipal offense that carries a fine of $50.
Soulforce has held four other civil disobedience protests this year, in Cleveland; Long Beach, California; Denver, Colorado and Orlando, Florida. Each demonstration was to attempt to influence the leaders of a Christian denomination to make their churches more inclusive of LGBT members. Each act has resulted in arrests.
Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a distinguished civil rights leader, joined Soulforce and Dignity in the Washington protest. Coffin was among the 104 arrested.
Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality is often contradicted by the church’s political activity against equality for LGBT people.
The church teaches that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and can never be approved.
The Catholic church has taken stands against same-sex parenting and adoption and gay teachers. Dignity is not permitted to meet on church property. It has been a major source of financial support for so-called "defense of marriage" initiatives. It entered a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Boy Scout’s fight to ban gays.
But the church also stands by its teaching that homosexual people must be treated with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and "unjust discrimination toward them should be avoided."
All this leads to great variations in how gay and lesbian Catholics are treated by individual dioceses and parishes, with some more affirming than others.
Dignity USA has been unsuccessfully attempting to get the bishops to resolve these issues for nearly 30 years.
Prior to this protest, two letters were sent by Soulforce to the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Texas asking that the bishops "take a few small steps toward reconciliation and understanding," including opening church property to Dignity USA, serving the Eucharist, apologizing for the injustices of the past, and to appoint a committee to work with LGBT Catholics to bring the issue before the full body of bishops.
Each request was denied by the bishops. Fiorenza wrote, "Those of us who believe that we are bound by the teaching about homosexuality which we find in Scripture and constant Church teaching often feel it is we who are demeaned and looked down upon. Our contemporary culture is skeptical of absolute truth. We feel that we [the bishops] have been the subject even of hatred and violence . . ."
"Yet we love them," Soulforce founder Rev. Mel White said at a press conference, "more than they love us." Then White called for Roman Catholics to no longer cooperate with the church until the bishops take action.
"That includes no tithes and no organ music," said White.
Unlike the other Soulforce demonstrations where high level clergy who support LGBT equality were among those arrested, there were no active Catholic clergy present.
Bishops knew when the arrests were taking place, but did not acknowledge what was happening in their meeting in any way. However, a statement was presented later that day by Bishop Joseph Galante informing the bishops that he and Bishop A.J. Quinn met with representatives of Soulforce and Dignity on November 11.
Marianne Duddy, the executive director of Dignity, said she thought the meeting could lead to progress at some later time.
A group of pro-gay Catholics were denied communion in the basilica, after an announcement that the Eucharist would be denied to any who tried to take it as a form of protest.
The bishops joined leaders of other, mostly fundamentalist, Christian denominations at a joint press conference announcing a "Christian Declaration of Marriage," which states, "We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God’s help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last a lifetime."
Soulforce and Dignity USA stood in vigil outside the conference’s hotel until it ended November 16.
Phoenix, Arizona--The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America dedicated the first national memorial to acknowledge the service of gays and lesbians in the military on November 11, Veteran’s Day.
The memorial is the first donated by a gay or lesbian organization in any of the 115 National Memorial Cemeteries in the 39-state system.
Wally Straughn and Franc Gaxiola, who were instrumental in the local effort, both decided that the best way they could exorcise memories about being in the service was to do something positive for everyone who has served his or her country. The two say creating the memorial was part of putting some painful memories behind them.
"It could be dangerous to be openly gay," said Straughn, who kept his homosexuality a secret during his five-year Navy stint during the 1970s. "At first, as a veteran, I wanted nothing to do with the military."
Gaxiola, vice president of a local gay veterans organization, said his group agreed it wanted "an all-inclusive statement on the memorial."
"It’s for all veterans, not just for gay and lesbian veterans," he said.
The memorial cost about $5,000 to create and place in Arizona’s National Memorial Cemetery. Gaxiola said the money was raised "in small increments from hundreds of veterans, straight and gay, at social events at clubs and bars."
Other veterans groups have accepted the new memorial as appropriate and dignified.
"I don’t see any controversy in this," said Mary Ellen Piotrowski, Arizona commander of the American Legion. "They’re honoring all veterans, and that is perfectly all right."
Gaxiola said the memorial symbolizes the wishes of gay soldiers who "just want to be considered a part of the military.
"We don’t want special treatment," he said, "just acceptance and equality."
Pennsylvania court voids
Erie, Pennsylvania--The state Superior Court ruled November 8 that people in same-sex relationships cannot adopt their partners’ children, a decision one judge said could invalidate many adoptions in Pennsylvania.
The 6-3 ruling came in the cases of two couples: two men from Erie and two women from Lancaster County near Philadelphia. In each case, one member of each couple was already the legal parent of the children and the legal parent’s partner sought joint custody.
But the judges said the state’s Adoption Act only allows someone to jointly adopt a partner’s children if the parent and partner are married.
In the majority decision, Judge Correale Stevens said the court did not base its decision on the couples’ sexual orientation, but rather on the fact that the couples were not married. Gay marriages are not legally recognized in Pennsylvania.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Debra Todd wrote that courts in 14 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have already allowed same-sex couples to adopt. She said the majority opinion by the Superior Court would invalidate those adoptions.
"Our court’s decision today, in effect, will deny hundreds of other children throughout our commonwealth the legal benefits of parenthood," she wrote.
Todd also said both partners should be allowed to adopt the children because the children could benefit from having two parents to provide them with medical and insurance benefits.
"Appellants have already established a real family, albeit one that does not meet the traditional definition accorded by society," she wrote.
Allowing the partners of the legal parents to adopt the children would guarantee them guardianship of the children if the legal parents died. It would also allow their insurance policies to cover the children.
Christine Biancheria, a Pittsburgh attorney who represents the Erie men, said they will likely appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has never ruled on the issue. The men, who have been together for 18 years, have received support from gay civil rights groups across the country.
"It’s likely that we will continue to pursue this because the decision is clearly harmful not only to the children in this case, but to children all over the state, and that is not something we can easily accept," Biancheria said. "It is a case about children’s rights."
One of the men legally adopted the children days after they were born. His partner has helped raise the children from the time of their adoptions.
In the case of the other couple, one woman conceived twin boys with a sperm donor. The mother and her partner, who have been together for 17 years, raised the boys together.
Louisville, Kentucky--A federal court has upheld a verdict for a Spencer County girl who was sexually harassed because she was perceived to be lesbian.
The November 6 ruling could have a far-reaching impact on the way students are disciplined for harassing gay and lesbian classmates, the girl’s attorney said.
Alma McGowen, now 19, said that despite her repeated complaints, school officials did nothing to stop the harassment, which began in the sixth grade and persisted through middle school.
In 1996, Oliver H. Barber Jr., McGowen’s lawyer, filed a lawsuit against the Spencer County Board of Education in U.S. District Court in Louisville. It was filed under Title IX, which requires schools to provide equal opportunities for boys and girls, and said McGowen was deprived of her right to public education.
The lawsuit was one of the first of its kind in the country, and the legal theory has since been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar sexual-harassment case in Georgia.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the $220,000 verdict for McGowen.
"It tells superintendents within the Sixtth Circuit and puts on notice superintendents throughout the United States that they have got to do more than tell kids to shut up," Barber said.
The decision has national significance because it further defines, under the Supreme Court ruling, when courts may find school officials at fault for failing to act effectively against sexual harassment of students, said Doris Ng, a staff lawyer for Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco public-interest law firm for women and girls.
"The court really makes it clear that if you do something and it doesn’t work, you need to do something else," Ng said. "That’s where the school system failed--they didn’t take stronger measures to try to make it stop."
Evidence at the trial showed that school officials in this rural county near Louisville did nothing to stop the harassment other than to talk to the culprits, the appeals court said.
Robert Chenoweth, a lawyer for the Spencer County school board, said he plans to meet with the board to discuss the ruling, and members have not decided whether to appeal it. He said he believes school officials acted appropriately.
In McGowen’s case, students called her names, touched her, struck her and asked her for sex on a regular basis, according to the opinion by a three-member appeals panel. Once a student stabbed her in the hand with a pencil and another time, when McGowen was in the seventh grade, a group of students held her and pulled off her blouse while a boy began to take off his pants and threatened to rape her, the opinion said.
The boy who stabbed her hand boasted to her later that school officials talked to him but he didn’t get in trouble because he was the son of a school board member, the opinion said. Another student, the school principal’s nephew, confronted McGowen in front of other students and demanded to know if she was gay.
On one occasion, an assistant principal advised McGowen that boys were flirting with her because she was cute and said she should "Be friendly," the opinion said.
McGowen, whose mother is a German immigrant, left school at age 15 after a boy told her he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and planned to burn her house down.
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