ACLU to file suit against Nebraskaís marriage ban
by Margery Beck
Omaha --The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union will file a federal lawsuit challenging the stateís new constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
The state ACLU board met November 18 and unanimously voted to file the lawsuit against the state to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment, which appeared on the Nov. 7 ballot and was overwhelmingly adopted by voters.
The ACLUís first move toward filing the suit will be to assemble a team of lawyers and identify potential plaintiffs in the case, said Tim Butz, director of the Nebraska ACLU.
"Itís going to be a fairly massive undertaking," Butz said. "I can safely say we wonít be filing the lawsuit the day after the election results are certified. I would expect it to be sometime in January."
The ban appeared on the Nov. 7 ballot as Initiative 416 and keeps the state from recognizing all marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or other similar relationships between same-sex couples.
It passed by 70 percent to 30 percent.
Butz is confident of a court victory, he said, but does not expect the battle between the two sides to be resolved for some time.
"When we win in district court, I fully expect Attorney General Don Stenberg to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals," Butz said. "When we win there, I fully expect Don Stenberg to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Weíre talking a long process, but an important process."
The Nebraska lawsuit is sure to be watched by other states that have enacted or proposed similar bans on same-sex marriage, Butz said.
"This is going to be the first fight of this magnitude," he said. "Nebraska is the first state to use such broad and vague language to limit the rights of gay and lesbian couples."
In response to the Nebraska ACLUís announcement, the organizer of the ban petition said November 18 that the Nebraska Coalition for the Protection of Marriage will not disband as it had earlier planned.
"We will be keeping the committee open," Guyla Mills said. Mills is director of the Nebraska Family Council and a lobbyist for the coalition. "We believe that we want to continue to speak to the issue. Weíre still confident that this will withstand any court challenges."
Mills is set to leave the state after Thanksgiving to go to Virginia, where she will work for Kerusso Ministries, an "ex-gay" group.
Mills plans to return to Nebraska every month for coalition meetings, she said.|
ĎOne man and one womaní language
by Sherri Chunn
Atlanta, Georgia--Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, removed his name from a "Christian Declaration of Marriage" on November 17, saying that the document could be misinterpreted as an attack on same-sex couples.
On the final day of the groupís annual General Assembly, Edgar said he should not have signed the declaration without the approval of the councilís 36 member communions. He offered a "personal apology to those I hurt by that signature."
"I realized over the last 24 to 48 hours that I made a mistake," Edgar said.
The declaration was signed November 14 by Bishop Anthony OíConnell of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention; Bishop Kevin Mannoia, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Edgar.
"Iím disappointed that Dr. Edgar and the NCC have withdrawn their names," said Mannoia. "We felt like this was a very strong table of unity on this particular issue of marriage which is so vital to our culture, and so Iím disappointed that theyíve chosen to withdraw from that document."
The declaration defines marriage as "a holy union of one man and one woman" and calls for "a stronger commitment to this holy union" and "practical ministries and influence for reversing the course of our culture."
A task force made up of representatives from each group--including the National Council of Churches--drafted the declaration.
Mannoia, who convened the task force, could not be reached for comment.
During the press conference issuing the declaration, Land said "broken marriages and counterfeit alternative relationships such as cohabitation and same-sex unions fail to impact and benefit society in the manifold ways that society is blessed by intact, committed heterosexual marriages."
Edgar said Landís interpretation of the declaration was not his intention.
"I support loving relationships between people. We donít condemn traditional marriages, but we also donít condemn unconventional relationships or relationships between loving, caring people," he said.
Edgar, in a letter to the others who signed the declaration, said, "A number of NCC member communions interpret the document more as a condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage. The fact that the declaration omits mention of same-sex unions is taken by some as proof that all of the signatories disapprove of such unions."
The NCC membership is divided on the issue of same-sex marriages and gay men and lesbians, and the council has no official position on it. But the council supports civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.
Land said he was surprised when he learned Edgar was going to sign the declaration, which he said he always understood to be an affirmation of heterosexual marriage.
The National Council--comprised of mainline Protestant, black Protestant and Orthodox denominations--has been a leading voice in the movement for Christian unity, or ecumenism, for more than 50 years. But most Christians in the United States are not in the council.
"If the price the NCC demands for ecumenism is the inclusion and acceptance of same-sex marriages, that will never happen, and never is a long time. Thatís not open for discussion within the evangelical, the Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic communions," said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Conventionís Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
by Anthony Glassman
Atlanta--The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force held its 13th annual "Creating Change" conference November 9-12, bringing over 2,000 people to this southern city for more than 200 workshops and a number of demonstrations.
Opening the event with a keynote speech was Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.ís widow and a longtime supporter of gay and lesbian equal rights. She spoke to the gathered crowd of the intrinsic connection of all people, and urged everyone to work together for LGBT rights.
One of the themes of the conference was the interconnection of oppression, the ties between homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, and especially racism. The first demonstration during the conference was a march to a nearby park to rally the state to remove the Confederate battle flag, with its reminder of institutionalized racism, from the state flag.
Later rallies honored the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and pressed for fairness in the presidential election recount in Florida, an ongoing drama that may decide the course of gay and lesbian rights for the next four years.
The first plenary session covered the direction of the movement following the perpetually-contested presidential election and illustrated the racial diversity of the gay community. Joo-Hyun Kang, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project, Margarita Lopez, the first lesbian Chicana to be elected to public office, Phill Wilson, founder of the National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum and the African-American AIDS Policy and Training Institute all took the stage. The meeting was moderated by Elizabeth Toledo, the executive director of NGLTF, and Joan Garry, head of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
The closing keynote address was given by Columbia University history and political science professor Dr. Manning Marable. He is one of the founders of the Black Radical Congress, and one of the founding directors of Columbiaís Institute for Research in African-American Studies. Marable spoke to the conference, as did Mrs. King, on the subject of progressive coalition-building in the 21st century.
The conference was also used to unveil NGLTFís Policy Instituteís newest paper, "Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Facing Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders." The paper will be distributed to over 1,400 policy makers and organizations at every level from municipal to federal. The paper deals with the as many as three million LGBT people who are 65 years or older, and the trials that face them in a society where children are expected to take care of their elderly parents, while the majority of these elderly LGBT people are childless. It also covers discrimination in federal laws regarding taxes and benefits, as well as bias against gays from caretakers.
The 14th annual Creating Change conference will be held in 2001 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
by Eric Resnick
Cambridge, OhioóA court has taken three children from their father partly because of the fatherís cocaine use, but also because a male babysitter had a sexual relationship with the father 11 years ago, when he was 16.
The three boys, ages 8, 7, and 5, have been taken from their openly gay biological father, Thomas Fouty of Cambridge, by Guernsey County Children Services. Cambridge is about 70 miles east of Columbus, near the junction of Interstates 70 and 77.
Foutyís attorney, Nancy Grimm of Kent, mailed a notice of appeal November 20 to attempt to overturn the November 7 order by Guernsey County Juvenile Court Judge Blaise Urbanowicz awarding Children Services permanent custody of the boys and clearing the way for them to be adopted.
The boysí mother and Foutyís ex-wife, Christina Sindeldecker, has shown the court no interest in her sons and is not a factor in the proceedings. Fouty had a "final visit" with his sons October 27.
The permanent custody order resulted from a matter begun in December, 1999 when Children Services was awarded temporary custody of the boys due to Foutyís occasional use of cocaine and that Fouty has bipolar disorder, a treatable mental illness. Fouty believes that action was initiated by Sindeldeckerís parents.
Fouty was incarcerated from May to August of this year for attempted possession of cocaine, and was placed on a court-supervised plan of reunification with his sons.
But the court appears to have the most trouble with Fouty leaving the boys under the supervision of a family friend two years ago.
Fouty, 27, openly admits that Merrill "Skip" Randalls, now 60, had a sexual relationship with him and his younger brother Dustin, each beginning when they were 16. Fouty insists that in both cases, it was he and his brother that initiated and pursued the relationship with Randalls.
The age of consent in Ohio is 18. While sex with a person age 15 or under is a felony, sex between a 16-year-old and someone older than 20 is a misdemeanor, said Cleveland attorney Edele Passalaqua.
Fouty left the children alone at night with Randalls during a week in 1998 while he was in Florida. During the day, the boys were supervised by Foutyís cousin, a woman.
No improper conduct occurred on the nights the boys were with Randalls. He has never been convicted of any sex offenses.
"It was a bad choice," said Fouty. "I realize that was a bad choice now."
The court accepted testimony from Foutyís sister, Angel Daniel, 17, challenging Foutyís credibility.
Fouty had legal custody of his sister since their motherís death in 1997. Fouty said that at the time of her court appearance, his sister was mad at him for not allowing her to have a 28-year-old boyfriend. Daniel was also under Children Services supervision at the time.
Fouty said that after the proceeding severing his rights to his sons, Children Services wanted to return custody of Daniel to him, which he refused.
Guernsey County Children Services refused to comment, saying all aspects of this case were confidential.
But while on the stand, Daniel and Fouty gave opposing testimony as to the nature of scar tissue found on the oldest sonís ear, and took her word over his. Daniel said that she thought Fouty bit the ear, which Fouty denied.
Daniel also alleged that Fouty terrorized the children and neglected their care.
Grimm said that the cause of the scar on the boyís ear is unclear, and the only evidence the court considered was the testimony of Daniel.
"This case is not about the cocaine use that happened a year ago," said Grimm, challenging the finding that Fouty did not follow his reunification plan. "Tom did not have the full year to demonstrate he was working on his plan because it only started when he got out of jail in August."
Grimm also cites a 1999 change in Ohio law reducing the time from two years to one that parents have to change their lives in accordance with their plan as working against Fouty.
"It sounds good, but what we find is that parents who canít get all their Iís dotted and their Tís crossed as they put their lives back together lose their children because the court is required to either return or terminate parental rights after one year," said Grimm.
Grimm says Fouty was following his reunification plan.
"The major issue here with the court is Tomís perception that it is okay for Randalls to be alone with the boys. That is what troubles the court the most," said Grimm. "And if it had not been homosexual relationships, that might not be a factor."
Cambridge attorney Samuel Raptis has been appointed the boysí guardian ad litem. He did not return calls for comment.
Foutyís appeal will be set in 90 days.
by Ross Sneyd
Montpelier, Vt.--A lawsuit seeking to overturn civil unions for same-sex couples has been thrown out by a Superior Court judge without a trial.
Judge Matthew Katz said that the taxpayers, legislators and town clerks who sued did not have "legal standing" to press their case. He granted the request by the attorney generalís office to dismiss the case before it went further.
"Even if any of the plaintiffs could demonstrate standing, taxpayersí and legislatorsí claims are not within the courtís subject matter jurisdiction. They present only a . . . political question," Katz wrote. "Town clerks simply fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted."
Four taxpayers, eleven legislators and three town clerks sued in early summer, seeking to prevent the law from going into effect as scheduled on July 1.
Judge Stephen Martin, who was presiding in Washington Superior Court at the time, turned down two separate requests to halt implementation until the lawsuit could be heard. He said there was no imminent irreparable harm to those who sued.
In the ensuing months, there was an exchange of legal arguments through written filings. The attorney generalís office argued that the case didnít even warrant a trial and Katz agreed.
The judge issued his decision on Oct. 24 but news of it got lost in coverage of the campaigns and the election.
The legislators, taxpayers and town clerks still could appeal the decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, but lawyers for both sides said nothing had been filed with the high court as of November 10.
Katz rejected all of the arguments in the lawsuit.
The taxpayers said they would suffer because the civil unions law allows gay and lesbian couples to access the same state-conferred benefits as opposite-sex couples get when they marry.
Katz disagreed, saying that they "allege at best a generalized harm and speculative causation."
The lawmakers, including prominent civil unions opponents Reps. Oreste Valsangiacomo and Nancy Sheltra, said that a betting pool should have invalidated the law. Fourteen House members wagered among themselves, at $1 a pop, about how many votes the bill would get on the day it won preliminary approval.
Katz said that should have been a matter for the legislative branch, not the judiciary. "Especially where the separation of the branches is in issue, such linguistic acrobatics must be eschewed," he said.
Under the new law, town clerks must issue licenses to couples seeking to enter a civil union, just as they must issue them for couples planning to marry.
Three town clerks said that would violate their religious beliefs because they believe homosexuality is immoral. Katz said the law allowed clerks with such beliefs to appoint an assistant who had no moral qualms. He went on to say that laws must be carried out without regard to religious beliefs.
"Assuming that town clerks have a sufficient religious belief, they still may not become a law unto themselves and hold the stateís neutral and generally applicable laws hostage to those beliefs," he wrote. "The alternative would permit, for instance, a Family Court judge who believes that marriage is a sacrament to undo the laws of divorce, or a Muslim commissioner of banking to apply the Koranís proscription against lending money at interest. Individual public officers cannot refashion the law in this manner; rather they promise to uphold it."
San Juan, Puerto Rico--Britainís plan to scrap anti-gay laws in its five Caribbean territories has islanders fuming about imperialism and immorality, but apparently resigned despite their anger and opposition.
"There is nothing we can do about it," said Orlando Smith, a legislator in the British Virgin Islands.
London has tried for years to cajole the territories--Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos--into changing the anti-gay laws themselves. But facing opposition from residents of the islands, the British government has decided to go ahead and make the change itself, officials say.
Roger Cousins, the deputy British governor in Anguilla, said he expects the British Parliament to change the territorial laws around the end of the year. And the British Broadcasting Corp. reported this week that London is preparing to make the move before Christmas. It quoted from a letter written by Overseas Territory Minister Patricia Scotland to a member of Parliament.
The laws in question make gay sex illegal, and the punishments vary from territory to territory. The laws are rarely enforced, though the Cayman Islands turned away a gay cruise ship last year.
Britainís government says the anti-gay laws violate international human rights agreements it has signed. It has the power to unilaterally revoke the statutes, but had avoided doing so in an effort to be diplomatic with its territories.
"We simply canít be seen to have territories with laws that violate these agreements," Cousins said.
Fearing a popular backlash, the territoriesí governments have long resisted pressure to revoke the anti-gay statutes in their own legislatures.
"Because of our deeply religious people, we cannot simply stand up and propose a law in the assembly to legalize homosexuality," Anguilla Chief Minister Osbourne Fleming said.
Politicians and religious leaders in the region said the disagreement reveals a widening cultural gulf between what they condemned as an increasingly atheist Britain and its faraway Caribbean territories populated mainly by people of African descent.
Several former British colonies also have refused to change their anti-gay statutes, including Jamaica, where gay couples have been turned away from some resorts. In the Bahamas, a cruise ship carrying lesbians was met by protesters waving signs that read, "No gay ships."
Part of the urgency behind the British governmentís decision stems from the European Union, whose charter on human rights forbids member nations and their territories from having anti-gay laws on their books.
by Scott Thomsen
Phoenix, Arizona--An Army general rejected November 15 rejected a state representativeís appeal of the Armyís decision to dismiss him for being gay.
Major Gen. John L. Scott, the commanding general of Rep. Steve May, Mayís unit, backed a military panelís recommendation that the lieutenant be honorably discharged for violating the militaryís "donít ask, donít tell" policy.
In a letter written the day before, Scott said he based his decision on a review of the separation boardís records and an analysis by military lawyers. He said he also took into consideration the arguments in Mayís appeal, which included a letter signed by 108 members of Congress who opposed the dismissal.
"My review of that document found no grounds to disapprove or alter the findings and recommendations of the board as submitted," Scott wrote.
May, a Republican who was re-elected November 7, had been open about his homosexuality since his first campaign for elected office in 1996.
He acknowledged his sexuality during legislative debate in February 1999, while arguing for extending health benefits to same-sex partners. He was an honorably discharged civilian at the time but was called back to the Army a few weeks later, during the Kosovo crisis.
May said he has raised $25,000 to cover legal expenses.
"My intention is to continue to serving in the Army until I am forcibly removed," May said. "Iím not going to be fired from my job for who I am or what I said."
"But this whole thing is not about me," he said. "This policy places our nation and our citizens at risk. This policy hurts the readiness of our military."
The panelís recommendation now goes to the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of Defense and President Clinton for final action.
by Anthony Glassman
Human herpes virus 8, or HHV8, the virus that can cause Kaposiís sarcoma in people with compromised immune systems, is most likely spread through kissing, according to a study performed at the University of Washington and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, led by Dr. John Pauk, tested 39 gay men who had HHV8 but not Kaposiís, also referred to as KS. Thirty percent showed the virus in saliva samples and mouth swabs, whereas only one percent showed HHV8 in genital or anal samples. The levels of the virus were also much higher in saliva samples where they were present than in semen samples.
Not surprisingly, the study also found that deep kissing appeared to be more likely to transmit the virus than surface kissing.
Thirty to fifty percent of people with HIV who also contract HHV8 eventually develop KS. Kaposiís causes purplish lesions to develop on the skin and in the mouth, and can spread to internal organs.
Until the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, KS, though present for centuries in Africa and the Mediterranean, was almost unheard of in the United States.
HHV8 is similar to other herpes viruses like Epstein-Barr, which causes mononucleosis. Other forms of herpes viruses cause shingles (herpes zoster) and cold sores (herpes simplex), as well as chicken pox and genital herpes.
In people with intact immune systems, few forms of herpes cause visible symptoms; most are held in check by the bodyís defenses. When the immune system is compromised, as is the case with HIV infection, these viruses come to the fore, explaining the visibility of KS and shingles in gay men with HIV.
The researchers also say HHV8 is still largely confined to gay men in the United States, which is why kissing has not yet spread it among heterosexuals.
Fairmont, West Virginia--A lack of jurors has postponed the trial of a Marion County teenager charged in the death of a gay, black man.
Jared Wilson, 18, of Grant Town, was scheduled to go on trial Nov. 29 in Ohio County Circuit Court on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Arthur "J.R." Warren, 26, also of Grant Town.
Marion County Circuit Judge Rodney Merrifield canceled the trial after Ohio County Circuit Judge Martin Gaughan told him there werenít enough jurors available during the current court term, said Carol Harris, Merrifieldís secretary.
Harris said Merrifield, who was not re-elected in the Nov. 7 election, decided to let Circuit Judge-elect David Janes handle all future scheduling. Janes takes office on Jan. 1.
Wilsonís co-defendant, David Parker, 18, of Grant Town is still scheduled to be tried Dec. 11 in Raleigh County Circuit Court in Beckley.
Both are charged with first-degree murder in the July 4 death of Warren.
Police say the boys, who both were 17 at the time, repeatedly punched and kicked the slightly-built Warren, then ran over him four times with a Camaro to disguise the injuries as a hit-and-run.
A hearing is scheduled Monday in Marion County Circuit Court on several defense motions. One motion challenges statements that Wilson and Parker gave to police.
Defense lawyers allege that Marion County Sheriffís Detective C.L. "Chip" Phillips did not properly notify the boys of their right to an immediate detention hearing. The defense also alleges that Phillips delayed taking the boys from Grant Town to the courthouse so he could elicit the confessions.
Phillips has denied the allegations.
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