Columbus--A bill to block state recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions, and partner benefits is headed to the Ohio Senate after passing the House on December 10.
The House passed the so-called �defense of marriage act� 73-23 during the body�s last session of 2003.
A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican Sen. Lynn Wachtmann on April 1. That bill had not been assigned to a committee.
When the Senate resumes January 7, it will take up the amended House version by sending it to a committee. Most likely this will be the Judiciary Committee on Civil Justice, chaired by David Goodman of Columbus.
Other possible committee assignments, which are made at the discretion of Senate president Doug White of Manchester, are the State and Local Government committee chaired by Sen. Kevin Coughlin of Cuyahoga Falls and the Insurance, Commerce and Labor committee chaired by Sen. Scott Nein of Middletown.
Benefits are denied, but not defined
The House bill was approved by the Juvenile and Family Law Committee by unanimous vote the day before it passed the full House.
It contained two amendments by committee chair Rep. Michael Gilb, a Findlay Republican. Gilb said these would clarify the bill�s language to show that the limitations placed on benefits available to non-married couples in Ohio are �limited to state actions, and not intended to affect local governments or private entities.�
Ohioans for Growth and Equality president Tim Downing, a Cleveland attorney, said Gilb�s amendments �pretty up the language, but don�t do anything.�
This is because it denies same-sex couples the �specific statutory benefits of legal marriage� but does not define them, he said.
According to Downing, this lack of a definition leaves all benefits given to gay and lesbian couples open to court challenges if they are normally given to married couples.
The �problem� of same-sex marriage
House debate on the bill began at 7:55 pm with its sponsor Rep. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati telling lawmakers that the �problem� of same-sex marriage is �much less hypothetical� than it was in 2001 when the House passed a similar measure. Seitz pointed to court rulings in Canada and Massachusetts allowing same-sex marriage.
�I�m not willing to divine to courts to determine what Ohio public policy should be,� said Seitz.
�I have heard a lot of myths about this bill,� said Seitz, �You don�t have to be married in Ohio to adopt, to inherit, or to assume custody, and this bill has no effect on these issues.�
Then he introduced an argument for the bill that had not been heard before.
Admitting for the first time that the bill goes beyond changing the current definition of marriage, Seitz said, �People ask why don�t you just stop there? If we just stop there, it would fix 3101.01 [the Ohio Revised Code section defining marriage], but it wouldn�t do a damn thing about benefits in other places in the code.�
�When the pension systems in this state were set up, do you really think they meant same-sex couples?� said Seitz. �Those pension funds aren�t exactly flush with cash, either.�
Four amendments fail
Democrats made four attempts to amend the bill. All failed.
The first was brought by Rep. Mike Skindell of Lakewood. He sought to make sure that the state excluded bereavement leave as a possible �specific statutory benefit of legal marriage.�
�We�ll see who�s compassionate,� Skindell said before entering the House chamber.
On the floor, Skindell pleaded with his colleagues to amend the bill so it could not be used to deny bereavement leave to unmarried couples.
Seitz quickly moved to table Skindell�s amendment and lawmakers agreed 57-38, effectively killing it.
Rep. Sandra Harwood of Warren then offered her amendment that had been rejected by the Juvenile and Family Law Committee the day before.
It would have deleted all of the bill�s �specific statutory benefits of legal marriage� language, leaving only a declaration that same-sex marriage is against the strong public policy of the state.
Harwood said that with the �statutory benefits� clause, the bill goes farther to deny rights and benefits to unmarried couples than any of the 37 other state �defense of marriage acts.�
Seitz: Pensions should be denied
Seitz argued with Harwood�s amendment by restating his objection to same-sex couples ever accessing state benefits or pensions.
�If we pass this bill,� said Seitz, �what [a same-sex couple] can�t say is that a surviving �spouse� should get pensions, especially when we�re crunched for money.�
�No one should collect pensions by a same-sex relationship,� said Seitz. �This bill provides belt and suspenders protection for our pension funds.�
Rep. Tim Grendell of Chesterland moved to table Harwood�s amendment. His motion passed 58-37.
�This bill will shame our state�
Rep. Tyrone Yates of Cincinnati offered the third amendment, deleting all references to civil unions and anything that could prevent domestic partner benefits, and softening the remaining definition of marriage from a strong public policy to a �clarification.�
�This is a very vexing bill,� said Yates. �I wish it were not here, but it is here.�
Yates spoke to Seitz�s Massachusetts references saying, �There was a time in Massachusetts when you had to be Anglican to marry.�
�If this passes, I hope in ten years we will look back and consider this very much in error,� said Yates.
Yates said that in light of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which contains the equal protection clause, �this bill will shame our state.�
�Marriage is given by God�
Republican Ron Young of Leroy challenged Yates� amendment.
�We�re not dealing with lowering the drinking age, or with hunting or fishing,� said Young. �Traditional marriage is one of the pillars of our society, given by God.�
�God made male and female. We�re made for one another� said Young. �This is about creating an environment where children are naturally conceived and raised.�
Rep. Keith Faber, Republican of Celina, moved to table Yates� measure. The motion passed 63-32.
Yates then offered a fourth amendment, to insert a section defining same-sex domestic partners and to provide for the possibility that certain benefits could be extended to them.
Democrat Dan Stewart of Columbus spoke in favor of Yates� amendment.
�I remember when the GOP stood for less government and the idea that all men were created equal,� said Stewart.
Stewart presented a letter from NCR Corporation of Dayton denouncing the bill, and said, �What we are about to do here is just wrong.�
Republican John Widowfield of Stow moved that the amendment be tabled. His motion passed 67-29.
�It is about intolerance�
Minority Leader Chris Redfern of Catawba Island Township spoke against the bill, chiding Seitz�s statements about passing the bill for budgetary concerns.
�I�m glad to hear my Republican colleagues talk about this bill being about money,� said Redfern. �I thought it was about marriage.�
Redfern said the state fell all over itself to create no-fault divorce, and that, not same-sex marriages threatened traditional marriage.
�I find it offensive to think that the children growing up in GLBT households will get less than the house I grew up in,� said Redfern.
Minority Whip Dale Miller of Cleveland said, �People are going to read the bill in different ways. People will lose benefits they currently enjoy or find it difficult to get benefits they are entitled to with this legislation.�
Miller said the real threats to marriage are unemployment, domestic violence, lack of health insurance, and child abuse.
�We should deal with the real issues if we care about the sanctity of marriage,� said Miller.
Democrat Peter Ujvagi of Lucas County said, �This is a bill of intolerance.�
To the Republicans who killed the amendments, Ujvagi said, �We have tried motion after motion to focus the issue, and those are on your backs.�
�Don�t do a sleight of hand,� said Ujvagi. �This is not a defense of marriage bill, it is about intolerance.�
Gays pay into pension funds
Assistant Minority Leader Joyce Beatty of Columbus said, �Tradition is not on the table. We change marriage tradition about every decade.�
�This is really about culture, religion, and lifestyle, and I respect that,� said Beatty, �But don�t come to me with the disguise of something else.�
��In Columbus,� said Beatty, �we have homosexuals paying into those pension funds my colleague talked about. This is going to affect 250,000 Ohioans who pay into the tax base.�
After Beatty, House Speaker Larry Householder of Glenford ended discussion of the bill. It was 9:30 pm when the vote was taken.
Twelve Democrats vote for bill
All Republicans except Nancy Hollister of Marietta voted for the bill.
The 12 Democrats who voted for the bill are Mary Cirelli of Canton, Michael DeBose of Parma, George Distel of Conneaut, Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati, William Hartnett of Mansfield, Annie Key of Cleveland, Larry Price of Columbus, Derrick Seaver of Minster, Daniel Sferra of Warren, and Charles Wilson of Bridgeport, along with Harwood and Todd Book of Portsmouth, who had both attempted to amend the bill in committee.
�It was the nuns,� said Harwood after the vote. �I just kept envisioning the nuns ready to hit my hand with a ruler.�
�It is very popular in the district,� said Cirelli.
Rep. Sally Conway Kilbane, a Rocky River Republican with an openly lesbian daughter, voted for the bill.
�My daughter Sarah is very private,� said Kilbane. �I voted for it last time and it didn�t affect our relationship at all. It doesn�t create a difference in her life and it isn�t an issue.�
Kilbane said she trusts that Seitz is �honorable� and that he assured her that domestic partner benefits would not be affected.
Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chair Rep. Jim Trakas of Independence said before the session, �I plan to vote for the amendments the Democrats will be offering, then I will see what the bill looks like before I vote on it.�
Trakas voted against all the Democrat amendments except Skindell�s, and voted for the bill.
Columbus--Street preacher Charles Spingola and one of his followers pleaded no contest on December 10 to a misdemeanor charge stemming from burning a rainbow flag during a Pride parade.
Spingola, 48, and Thomas Meyer, 49, doused a rainbow flag with flammable liquid while standing on a sidewalk along the route of the Columbus Pride Holiday parade on June 23, 2001. Police officers had told the men not to set the flag on fire.
The men were each fined $100 and court costs, which totaled about $300. The maximum penalty for the first-degree misdemeanor is 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Franklin County Environmental Court Judge Harland Hale said that the city attorney�s office asked for the lower penalty to expedite the plea.
A plea of no contest means that the accused does not admit his guilt, but also does not deny the facts of the case.
Hale then found the men guilty, and imposed the fines.
Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr., then sitting as environmental court judge, ruled in November 2001 that the men�s actions constituted free speech, protected under the First Amendment.
On March 20, 2002, the Tenth Ohio District Court of Appeals overturned Pfeiffer�s ruling, saying that regulating open burning �is unquestionably within the city�s constitutional power.�
Spingola was acquitted earlier of charges of assault and aggravated menacing stemming from the incident.
Andrea Critchet, head of security for the parade, had alleged that Spingola splashed her with fluid from the flag and threatened to light it.
After the acquittal, Spingola filed a defamation suit against Critchet and Stonewall Columbus, which produces the Pride parade and festival, accusing them of damaging his ability to earn a living as a street preacher.
Stonewall Columbus has filed a motion for summary judgment in that case, and the court is expected to act on it early next year.
Spingola has been involved in several incidents stemming from his anti-gay street preaching. In 1998, he was in a fistfight with Kent State University students when he tried to preach on a plaza in front of the student center. The area had been reserved for a rally against his anti-gay messages, and violence broke out when students tried to remove his belongings from the area.
In 1999, Spingola climbed a flagpole in front of the Ohio Statehouse, tearing down a rainbow flag that was flying for the Pride Holiday.
He was found guilty of criminal damaging and served five days in jail, but he was acquitted of ethnic intimidation charges.
He was also arrested in Wisconsin in 2002 for allegedly attempting to strangle a gay University of Wisconsin student.
�Obviously, we�re happy that the case has been resolved,� said Scott Varner of city attorney Pfeiffer�s office. �This case has taken an extended amount of time because there were questions about the charge.�
�We�ve always believed,� Varner explained, �that this was not about freedom of speech but about safety. Mr. Spingola endangered people by burning the flag in the middle of a crowd.�
According to Judge Hale, Meyer has moved to Tucson and Spingola is working in California, although he was in town for his court date. He also attended a December 3 hearing in the Ohio House of Representatives on a bill to ban state recognition of same-sex relationships.
Trenton, N.J.--New Jersey stands poised to extend many marital rights to same-sex couples after the state Assembly and a Senate committee both approved a domestic partner bill on December 15.
In the Assembly, the bill squeaked by 41-28, with nine abstentions. It got the minimum number of votes needed to pass.
The same day it passed the Assembly, it came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill now goes to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, which meets next on January 8. If it passes that panel, it moves on to the Senate floor.
Gov. James E. McGreevey supports the bill and has indicated that he will sign it if it passes the legislature.
In addition to covering same-sex couples, opposite-sex couples over the age of 62 would also be able to register as domestic partners. Senior citizens often risk losing pension or some Social Security benefits if they marry.
Conservatives have seized on the opposite-sex availability as a point of contention, arguing that it discriminates against younger heterosexuals.
The bill requires the state to provide insurance benefits to domestic partners of state employees. A clause that would require private companies to follow suit was changed to simply allow it.
In addition, domestic partners would grant medical decision-making powers, hospital visitations, state income tax benefits and exemptions from inheritance taxes.
To be declared domestic partners, neither member of the couple can already be married or in another domestic partnership. The couple must live together, share financial responsibilities and not be related to one another.
The couple would then file an affidavit of domestic partnership with a registrar. To end a domestic partnership, they would have to file in Superior Court and go through a proceeding similar to a divorce.
�I think this is one of the most significant issues we will deal with this term,� Sen. Robert J. Martin told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Two other states now have domestic partner laws that include some or most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. California�s measure, passed in September, takes effect in 2005. Vermont�s civil union law was passed in 2000.
Ohio top court may hear McDonalds AIDS bias case
Columbus--The Ohio Supreme Court has been asked to decide if a man forced out by McDonald�s after they dicovered he has AIDS should be given the $5 million a jury awarded him for wrongful discharge.
The appeal was filed December 4 by Russell Rich of Akron asking the high court to reinstate a 2002 jury verdict against the fast food chain. Rich says that the Eighth Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cleveland was wrong to reverse the verdict and order a new trial.
Columbus attorney Paige Martin, who represents Rich, said the appeal is �discretionary� in that the high court may not want to hear it, but she set forth three constitutional reasons why they should.
McDonald�s has 30 days to convince the high court it should not hear the case.
�The case lacks merit in truth and in law,� said McDonald�s spokesperson Bill Whitman. �We feel confident that the truth will come out, and we want to proceed in court , not in the media, and when we do, it will show that McDonald�s did nothing wrong.�
If the court agrees with Martin, both sides will file briefs and give testimony. The process will take about a year if the court hears the case.
Martin argues that the court of appeals denied Rich his rights of due process by allowing procedural and factual matters to remain unresolved.
One of the matters was whether or not an issue of health insurance was subject to summary judgement. Rich claimed that McDonald�s lied when they told him his health coverage would not be affected by his pre-existing AIDS condition.
The trial court dismissed the claim, saying the Ohio law it was brought under is pre-empted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which sets the federal standards for health insurance and pension plans.
Martin argued that Ohio law is not pre-empted by ERISA, and even if it is, the Ohio court has jurisdiction to hear the claim.
This matter, which was cross-appealed by Rich when McDonald�s appealed the verdict, is the key to Rich being awarded punitive damages on top of the $5 million awarded him based on the cost of his medication for the rest of his life.
�Since Mr. Rich proved that McDonald�s acted with a conscious disregard for his rights under Ohio and federal discrimination law, he was entitled to a charge on punitive damages,� argued Martin.
According to Martin, Rich took a promotion from a franchise McDonald�s where he had health insurance to a corporate position after he was told that he would not be denied coverage due to any pre-existing condition.
�Even though it was a promotion,� said Martin, �he would not have left McDonald�s of Hudson where he had coverage for a corporate position where he did not, knowing he had AIDS.�
�His damage now is that he will never be able to get coverage anywhere,� said Martin. �How could it be that the court of appeals didn�t rule on this issue?�
Martin also asked the court to resolve a dispute between two civil court rules governing jury instructions and interrogatories.
According to Rich�s request for a high court hearing, the trial judge gave his and McDonald�s lawyers a day to submit proposed jury instructions. The next day, they were told to work out the differences in their versions.
The morning afterward, the judge met with the attorneys to discuss the instructions, and got a surprise.
�McDonald�s ambushed the trial court by submitting 100 new pages of jury instructions which contained half a dozen charges it had already agreed were irrelevant to the issues in the case,� said Martin. They also asked the court to give 43 written interrogatories to the jury, according to Martin.
The judge found McDonald�s interrogatories �verbose and confusing� as well as late, and did not allow them under one of the civil court rules.
The appeals court reversed the verdict against McDonald�s saying they should have been able to submit them, according to the other, conflicting rule.
Martin said that if the Supreme Court doesn�t hear the case and it goes back to the trial court by spring, it will just end up in the court of appeals again by fall.
McDonald�s has not paid Rich any of the award to date.
He does not qualify for Medicaid and relies on drug assistance programs to pay for his medications. These are not reliable, and sometimes Rich does without, causing his body to build resistance to the treatment.
Rich�s friends have organized demonstrations in front of McDonald�s outlets, the latest held December 6 at the Howe Road store in Cuyahoga Falls.
Sioux City, Iowa--A former state legislator filed a request December 14 with the state�s supreme court to overturn a divorce granted to two lesbians who had a Vermont civil union.
Woodbury County District Judge Jeffrey Neary was presented with a traditionally worded request for the dissolution of the relationship and signed it on November 14, not realizing the two people on the form were women.
Kimberly J. Brown and Jennifer Perez went to Vermont in March, 2002 and were joined in a civil union.
When the genders of the petitioners was pointed out to him, however, he declined to rescind the decree, citing the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution.
That clause reads, �Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.�
Without it, interstate extraditions and taxation would be impossible. It also enables protection orders to transfer across state lines and allows drivers with a valid license in one state to drive in another state.
�I�m not making a decision about whether I either agree or disagree with same-sex unions,� Neary told the Des Moines Register. �I clearly look at this as a dispute between parties that in some way I�m going to have to solve.�
Charles Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center and one of the architects of an early version of the state�s �defense of marriage� legislation, filed the papers asking the court to overturn Neary�s decision.
State Sen. Neal Schuerer called the decision �judicial activism at its worst.�
Civil unions are only recognized in Vermont, but two-thirds of the unions performed in the state were for people from other states. To dissolve a civil union in Vermont, at least one member of the relationship must live in the state for a year.
A Connecticut judge ruled in 2001 that he had no authority to dissolve a civil union created in Vermont, and an appeals court upheld the ruling. The matter was dropped, however, when one member of the couple died in 2002.
Last spring, a district judge in Texas granted a judgment to dissolve a civil union, but later rescinded the judgment under pressure from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
According to New York�s Gay City News, a West Virginia judge granted two women a divorce at the end of 2002. Noting that the Vermont law establishing civil unions clearly stated that it was not marriage, which is reserved for one man and one woman, he said, �The parties are citizens of West Virginia in need of a judicial remedy to dissolve a legal relationship created by the laws of another state.�
That divorce decree was apparently not appealed.
There is no word yet on whether the Iowa Supreme Court will hear the Sioux City case.
Dramatic treatment of New Yorks club kids murder pushes the envelope
Based on the book Disco Bloodbath by James St. James, Party Monster is a classic tale of a young gay man moving to New York, trying to reinvent himself, finding success and then losing it all.
The focus of this lurid and disturbing film is the friendship between Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) and James St. James (Seth Green), two mismatched kids who meet in New York in the late 1980s and form a bizarre friendship. St. James is the smarter of the two, but Alig is the quicker study. St. James initiates Alig into the New York club life, and Alig in turn gathers around him kindred spirits, the kids who had been teased and bullied in school. These lost souls become the Lost Boys to Alig�s Peter Pan, and Alig becomes the king of the club kids, very rich, but very warped on drugs.
Based on a true story, Party Monster tells of how few are able to resist Alig�s star power, including Peter Gatien (Dylan McDermott), the powerful club owner who indulged Alig as though he were his own son. Alig becomes one of the most successful party promoters in New York City, while giving birth to the �club kid� phenomenon that gave Geraldo Rivera so many memorable shows in the mid-�90s.
Also caught in Alig�s seductive web is Angel Melendez (Wilson Cruz), a drug-dealing newbie who looks up to Alig as though he is a god. Alig�s behavior becomes increasingly outrageous, culminating with the March 1996 disappearance of Melendez. When a legless torso is found in the Hudson River, the friendship between Alig and St. James is tested. As in life, no party lasts forever.
Alig bragged about the murder before Melendez� body had been found. His associates thought he was joking, but a police investigation revealed the deadly truth behind Alig�s braggadocio. He is currently serving a 10- to 20-year sentence.
The story is not new to filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. It is based on their documentary of the same name, which premiered at the Sundance festival, then went on to win an Emmy award.
Bailey and Barbato have been open about tackling topics of sexuality. Pornography: The Secret History of Civilization reveals how vital a force smut has been throughout history. From the Waist Down (VH1) told the story of sex and music. They are currently executive-producing a variety of documentaries exploring gay themes such as Homo High for MTV, Gay Hollywood for AMC and Was Hitler Gay? for HBO. They also went Sundance with their documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Lesbian producer Christine Vachon (Poison, Swoon, Go Fish, Kids, Safe and I Shot Andy Warhol) once again tackles gay subject matter that is edgy, relevant and done with high artistic standards. Her co-producer Bradford Simpson has also been involved with other queer films including Velvet Goldmine, Boys Don�t Cry and Far From Heaven.
Macaulay Culkin, who came to fame in the Home Alone films, breaks away from that image completely here as a club kid gone psychotic. It is a brave piece of casting that works for the most part and his look and persona are both beguiling and scary.
Seth Green is quirky enough for the part of Michael�s mentor, and yet is allowed to do things here he hasn�t had a chance to do in other films. Chloe Sevigny made her film debut in Kids, and went on to win an Oscar nomination in Boys Don�t Cry. Sevigny is one of the best actresses of her generation, and here she uses her acting chops to their fullest. Natasha Lyonne, who has done many queer-related films, is also good, and out actor Wilson Cruz (Party of Five, My So-Called Life) gets to play fabulously flamboyant here.
The film is directed well and tries to push the envelope visually. Even though it is set in the past, there is an eerie resemblance to club life in 2003. The dress may be different, the drugs may be more synthetic, but the self-destructive nature seems to remain universal. Above all, Party Monster is a cautionary tale about the downside of fame, flamboyance and fitting in at all costs.
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