Boston--The legal waters of Massachusetts are being stirred in the aftermath of the state high court�s November 18 decision that found a ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional, and giving the legislature 180 days to change the law.
The city of Cambridge, home of Harvard University, came close to issuing marriage licenses a week after the Supreme Judicial Court ruling.
Two council members proposed that the city issue licenses immediately, but backed down after seeking legal opinions and being asked by gay and lesbian groups to wait for the legislature to act.
The city council unanimously approved a resolution on November 24 to being issuing licenses �as soon as legally possible,� according to a story in the Harvard Crimson.
One fear was that issuing licenses would draw legal action from Gov. Mitt Romney, who is opposed to same-sex marriages.
The state�s public health department had ordered cities not to issue licenses until after the 180-day period outlined in the ruling, which ends May 17.
Governor says civil unions will do
Romney and his attorney general believe that the court ruling has enough leeway to allow civil unions instead of giving same-sex couples full civil marriage, a stance that drew immediate criticism from gay equal rights advocates as well as supportive non-gay organizations.
�If one read the majority opinion, it leaves no doubt that what the court decided was that a person choosing another person to marry is a fundamental right,� Massachusetts Bar Association president Richard C. Van Nostrand told the Boston Globe. �I just don�t see any room in the opinion for the interpretation that the governor and Attorney General Thomas Reilly espouse.�
Polls show support
The Globe, meanwhile, has conducted a number of polls of both citizens and state legislators and found solid support for the court�s decision. The newspaper found even more opposition to a proposed state constitutional amendment that would not only ban same-sex marriage, but could also bar the state from recognizing civil unions or granting domestic partner benefits.
According to one Globe poll conducted with WBZ-TV, 50% of Massachusetts residents agreed with the court�s decision, while only 38% opposed it. Fifty-three percent opposed a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban marriage, while 36% supported it.
A majority also opposed the civil union compromise suggested by Romney.
The constitutional amendment will be considered by a joint session of the legislature on February 11. If it passes, it must pass again in the next legislative session, then be approved by voters no earlier than 2006.
In a poll of state lawmakers, 106 of the 200 legislators did not reply. Of those who did, two-thirds opposed a marriage amendment, although some said that they would support it if the language were loosened to allow civil unions.
Non-residents might not marry
In Vermont, where a similar ruling resulted in the passage of a civil unions law in 2000, nearly two-thirds of couples entering into the unions are from other states. But Massachusetts law permits out-of-staters to marry only if their home state�s laws would allow it.
No state currently allows same-sex marriages. In addition to Vermont�s civil unions law, California has a domestic partner registry that provides most of the legal benefits afforded to married couples.
There is, however, no legal definition of residency for the purpose of marriage in Massachusetts, and town clerks may be inclined to take couples� claims of residency at face value.
Church calls ruling a �national tragedy�
The Catholic church has also drawn battle lines. The state�s four bishops issued a letter referring to the court ruling as a �national tragedy.�
The letter, written by the archbishop of Boston and the bishops of Fall River, Springfield and Worcester, was to be read at all parishes in the state during November 30 masses. Some parishes, however, chose to leave copies of the letter in the church for people to pick up.
One priest was startled at the timing of the letter, which he called �hard to fathom� at a time when the church is trying to rebuild trust following the sexual abuse scandal, which hit Boston very hard.
Columbus--Stonewall Columbus is in sound financial condition and is considering a possible move, trustees told the community at the group�s annual board of trustees meeting.
The November 19 meeting had a special session to report to the community about Stonewall�s accomplishments in the past year and goals for the future.
Each of Stonewall�s sub-committees had a report to share with a question and answer session at the end.
Sue Josephs, who heads the facilities committee, said there �were a lot of hopes, plans, and schemes� for a new space for the Stonewall Community Center.
�Now what we need is the money,� she said.
Josephs said that in the next year there will be an intensified attempt to see what new direction could be taken. The options are building a new space, staying in the current one, or converting an existing structure into a new, permanent home.
Executive Director Kate Anderson said that Columbus� GLBT community has a lot of money.
�We sent 3� million dollars to Washington for HRC�s new home,� she said, �so surely we can find money to get Stonewall a new one.�
She said that it was important to send money to Washington, but that it was also necessary to keep money in Columbus.
The fiscal committee�s report assured the audience that in 2004, Stonewall will have a �significant surplus and be very financially sound.�
While Anderson said that she was pleased with the improvement in the financial status of her organization, she felt it was necessary to be even more financially secure.
Jack Miner, who heads the personnel committee, reported that in the past year Stonewall added two positions, a center coordinator and a health nurse. The two positions, according to Miner, have been invaluable to the community in expanding the services available to GLBT people in Columbus.
Don Laufersweiler, reporting on behalf of the nominating committee, said that this year �twenty-five people have indicated interest for four positions� opening up on the board of trustees. This, said Laufersweiler, �was a great thing� to add to an already excellent board.
The communications committee�s report, delivered by Rob Berger, summarized that Stonewall is trying diligently to work out a specific communications strategy for each event to attract the largest participation possible. The information technology communication committee reported that Stonewall has recently installed a new phone system and that the revamping of its web site was intended to attract more memberships online.
Development director Patrick Gallaway reported about the accomplishments of the development committee. Gallaway said that the committee was �reevaluating how much effort needed to go into each event� to draw the most people and funds possible.
In the last year, under the guidance of Kate Anderson, a race relations project was started to examine the nexus of the African American community with the GLBT one. Frankie Nowlin, who works with the YWCA, said that she has recently procured some funds from the United Way and Out Foundation to �take this process further� in expanding the �dialogue between the African-American and GLBT communities.� She said it was imperative to look at �the intersectionality of racism and homophobia.�
Anderson also reported on Stonewall Community Action Network, the political arm of Stonewall Columbus, which has its own board of directors. Noting November�s Massachusetts ruling on same-sex marriage, Anderson said that next year would be the year to deal with �the gathering storm and the incredible challenges coming up� in a backlash from the right. She said that there was an immediate need for �strategic planning and fund raising� to �continue making the small victories in the civil rights movement of GLBT folk.�
Anderson also said that �hate crimes are on the increase and we are under attack.� Anderson also stressed the importance of working in the next year to �educate our straight allies about equality and the denial of benefits masquerading as DOMA,� Ohio�s so-called Defense of Marriage Act,� now being considered by lawmakers.
Cleveland--People around the globe commemorated World AIDS Day on December 1, remembering those who have died and fighting for those afflicted with the most widespread plague in human history.
�In two short decades, HIV/AIDS has become the premier disease of mass destruction,� said Dr. Jack Chow, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization. �The death odometer is spinning at 8,000 lives a day and accelerating.�
While much of the attention of the media has been focused on developing nations in Africa and Asia, HIV continues to be a major concern domestically. An array of events across the region throughout the week are a testament to the ongoing effects of the disease on Ohio.
In Cleveland, a reading of Tony Kushner�s Angels in America Part II: Perestroika was held to benefit the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland on December 1, a day after gay author Michael Cunningham gave a presentation at the Cleveland Public Library presented by the Taskforce, as well as speaking at the organization�s annual �Voices Against the Silence� awards banquet.
In Covington, Kentucky, AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, AIDS Volunteers of Northern Kentucky, the Northern Kentucky Children�s Choir and other organizations held an observance on November 30. The following day, Zion United Church of Christ in Cleveland and the Trumbull County Area AIDS Task Force both held events.
The Columbus AIDS Task Force and the Columbus Health Department offered free rapid testing for HIV, and CATF presented a seminar entitled �Remember and Understand� twice on World AIDS Day.
After 16 years of World AIDS Day observances and two decades of ceaseless struggle by community activists and doctors, Ohio is still being hit hard by the disease.
The state�s eight largest urban counties, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, Stark and Summit, contain 48% of the population, but have 69% of cases diagnosed since July 1999.
Also, while new treatments for those infected with HIV have radically decreased the mortality rate, infection rates continue to increase. The rise in overall number of people infected with the disease is putting a great strain on non-profit organizations that are seeing more clients but are having their budgets cut because of the difficult financial times.
The Ohio Department of Health estimates as many as 18,000 people living with HIV in Ohio, including those with full-blown AIDS. Almost 8,000 Ohioans have died of the disease since the department began tracking cases.
Marriage ban amendment is introduced in Senate
Washington, D.C.--Sen. Wayne Allard, a Republican from Colorado, introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment into the Senate on November 25.
The measure is intended to stop all court rulings for same-sex marriage nationwide, and prohibit any state legislature from allowing it.
It reads, �Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the Constitution of any State, nor State or Federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.�
The second sentence would likely invalidate civil unions and bar all domestic partner benefits.
The amendment was introduced in the House last May by Allard�s colleague Sen. Marilyn Musgrave, also from Colorado. it has 107 co-sponsors other than Musgrave in the House, but only four other co-sponsors in the Senate.
Not all conservatives, however, favor it.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, opposes both gay marriage and a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriages.
�If Massachusetts wants to do this, let Massachusetts do this,� he said, referring to the November 18decision by that state�s high court striking down its ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
�The issue is not about gay marriage, it�s about the rights of fellow human beings, and the focus on gay marriage is meant to be destructive,� he continued.
Simpson, like many conservatives, believes that the proposed amendment tramples on states� rights to define their own laws, a cornerstone of conservative ideology.
The gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans also strongly opposes the amendment, and threatened to withhold support from any legislator who backs it.
�The Constitution is a masterpiece of liberty and freedom,� Log Cabin executive director Patrick Guerriero said. �Corrupting this precious document to score cheap political points is frankly obscene. Writing discrimination into the Constitution is an affront to everything our founding fathers stood for.�
�True conservatives would never alter our Constitution for political purposes,� he continued. �On his own web site, Sen. Allard brags about his support of states� rights, yet when it comes to discriminating against loving gay and lesbian families, he suddenly feels compelled to have sweeping federal action.�
Allard�s web site reads, �On August 1, 2003, I introduced S. 1558, the Religious Liberties Restoration Act. The overarching theme of this bill is state's rights. [It] would allow each individual state to decide whether or not to allow the posting of the Ten Commandments, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and the use of the National Motto as expressions of our national heritage; national symbols of our nation's political and judicial heritage.�
Columbus--Nearly 50 people attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Goodale Park on November 20, capping off an inaugural week of activities surrounding it.
In past years, the vigil has been the only event marking the day. This year, a coalition of central Ohio groups organized a quartet of events to remember transgendered victims of violence and also to celebrate the lives and contributions of transgendered people.
Organizers included the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization, Stonewall Columbus, the Ohio State University GLBT Student Services office and others.
This year has seen the highest number of reported murders of transgendered people, with 38 deaths nationwide by the end of November. In 2002, 27 murders were reported for the entire year.
The increase is blamed on a number of factors, including heightened visibility of transgendered people, greater efforts to track crimes against the transgendered community, and a feeling on the part of the perpetrators that their victims are somehow less than human and therefore society will tacitly approve of their crimes.
�I was very pleased with how the week went,� said Brett Beemyn of the OSU GLTBSS office. �This was the first time we had tried doing more events around the Day of Remembrance. I was impressed with the attendance, especially at the two films.�
Beemyn referred to screenings of No Dumb Questions, a documentary about two young girls dealing with their uncle�s impending gender reassignment, and Just Call Me Kade, an in-depth look at the life of a transgendered Arizona teen.
Questions brought 24 people to the Hillel Center on OSU�s campus, while Kade drew 51. Staff ran out of evaluation forms at the screening, surprised by the large turnout.
A conference on transgender issues on November 15 drew 45 people, not including staff and presenters.
The only problem, according to Beemyn, was the narrow spectrum of people that came to the events.
�I guess the one thing I would say didn�t go as well as I would have hoped, is that we had the same people at all the events,� Beemyn noted, arguing that the events didn�t reach a wide enough audience. �I think that will be our biggest challenge for next year.�
Cleveland--Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich marked World AIDS Day by endorsing the entire AIDSVote.org platform to prevent and treat AIDS in the United States and globally.
Kucinich is the only presidential candidate who endorsed the entire platform. The eight other Democrats in the field each endorsed parts in their World AIDS Day statements.
Republican George W. Bush issued a proclamation, but no policy statements.
Officially launched December 1, AIDSVote.org, is an online collaborative of many not-for-profit HIV and AIDS service organizations for the twin purpose of informing presidential candidates about AIDS related issues, and the public on the positions each candidate takes.
Michael Kink, who is legislative counsel for Housing Works of New York, a founding organization of AIDSVote.com, said, �We appreciate Dennis Kucinich in his full endorsement of the platform.�
Kink said it is not the mission of the organization to grade each candidate�s plan, only to tell the public what their plans are.
�There is decent, real world thinking in all of the plans released today,� said Kink of all the candidates. �Kucinich is the only one endorsing the whole platform, but the others have taken chunks of it,� which he considers to be progress.
The platform is divided into the categories �America� and �World,� with ten and nine planks, respectively.
Planks for America include immigration laws that don�t discriminate against HIV positive people, prevention programs based on science, HIV/AIDS care in correctional systems, and a health care system that will fully address medical needs of those infected.
The platform for the world includes cancellation of debt of the world�s poorest countries, affordable generic drugs available worldwide, sexual empowerment of women and girls, and $30 billion over four years to prevent global AIDS.
At a Cleveland fundraiser later that evening, Kucinich told an audience of 350 about the need for universal health care in the United States, which he said would also help direct resources to people with HIV and AIDS.
�AIDS is the most serious health concern we know today,� he said. �Fighting it requires total dedication and total compassion.�
�We have the power to redirect the future of this country,� said Kucinich.
Tony Kushner�s epic AIDS drama to
At the end of the first part of Tony Kushner�s Angels in America, the Angel appears before her AIDS-ravaged prophet Prior and proclaims, �The great work begins!� Little did Kushner know that he was being prescient about the difficulties in turning his fantastic play into a film.
But soon, the most important AIDS play ever written is finally coming to a screen near you, albeit a small screen and via cable at that.
Tony Kushner�s two-part epic drama Angels in America has been referred to by several critics and scholars as one of the most important plays of the last century. Yet the film has had a tumultuous genesis, suffering form the on-again off-again syndrome of so many thoughtful and intelligent Hollywood projects.
Many directors, numerous actors, and various studios have been attached to the project. At one point Robert Altman was set to direct, at another the original Broadway cast was set to do the film.
But Angels is a heavy project, in more ways that one, to transfer from stage to screen. Its immense success on Broadway was somewhat of a surprise. Dramas are not favorites of the Great White Way, where most audiences are comprised of tourists looking for light, frothy fare, or deal-makers with business accounts who are not looking to score multi-millon dollar bonuses over the manic-depressive musings of Hamlet�s to be or not to be.
And yet a play about AIDS, death, gays, Mormons, Jews, anti-Reaganism, drag queens, race, anti-McCarthyism, Valium-addicted housewives married to closet homosexuals and dead Soviet spies was a blockbuster.
Not only was a serious drama embraced by a wide demographic, but audiences were often seeing both parts back to back in one evening or on one weekend. Eventually, both parts of Angels had a successful national tour, spreading its message and vision of hope and salvation from Milwaukee to Memphis and from Oklahoma to Oregon.
That Kushner has written a tour de force is undeniable. This critic, for one, is grateful and glad that both parts are finally seeing the light of cinematic realization due to the bravery of HBO. It is in the capable hands of director Mike Nichols and an A-list cast to die for including Merryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and Mary Louise Parker. They are joined by Jeffrey Wright, Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman, Patrick Wilson and James Cromwell, with featured performances by Michael Gambon and Simon Callow.
Kushner has adapted his own Tony-and Pulitzer Prize-winning play as a two-part, six-hour movie.
Mike Nichols is a perfect fit for Kushner�s deep writing coupled with dark humor and existential angst. Nichols directed his first film, Who�s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by gay scribe Edward Albee, in 1966. Nichols is also familiar with gay territory having produced a successful remake of La Cage Aux Folles.
Al Pacino has the enviable joy of playing the scenery-chewing Roy Cohn in the film of Angels. That he has agreed to work on the small screen is a testament to the allure of the role and to Kushner�s writing. Cohn, himself gay and Jewish, virulently hated gays and Jews. He was Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy�s right hand man in the 1950s, and later a behind-the scenes power broker. He denied he was gay until he died of AIDS in the 1980s.
Meryl Streep, a two-time Academy Award winner and a recipient of 13 Oscar nominations, plays Hanna Pitt, the Mormon mother of closeted Joe Pitt. Streep is familiar with gay films herself, most recently The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham�s novel, where she plays the ex-lover of a gay man dying of AIDS.
Streep gets to flex her acting muscles here not simply as a mother who learns, albeit difficultly, to come to terms with her son�s sexuality and dissolving marriage, but also in another role as Ethel Rosenberg, a woman convicted of spying by Cohn. In Kushner�s play, Rosenberg haunts Cohn, reminding him that what goes around, comes around.
Another actress who fills multiple roles in Angels is Emma Thompson, who is the Angel in the play but also has two other roles.
Mary-Louise Parker is Harper Pitt, the wife of Joe Pitt, a woman riddled with guilt, unrequited love and a Valium addiction that would make Judy Garland seem clean and sober by comparison.
Kushner�s raison d��tre in writing the part of Harper is to show that in repressing and oppressing gays, innocent women get dragged along too. Harper has hallucinations in the play and makes up �friends to talk to,� including a travel agent aptly named Mr. Lies.
Jeffrey Wright is the only one from the original Broadway cast in the film. He plays Mr. Lies and Belize, a colorful and sassy ex-ex-drag queen and nurse. Belize allows Kushner to raise issues about how race, class and gender intersect with sexuality in the complex fabric known as America.
The young and handsome Justin Kirk, who won the Obie Award for Terrence McNally�s queer Love! Valour! Compassion! and starred in the film version, portrays the AIDS-afflicted Prior Walter. Prior is the prophet of Kushner�s play and of the new millennium, and he takes the audience along on a moving and earth-shattering odyssey in a plague-filled age searching for its own salvation, for its own redemption.
It�s good to see that while supporters of Ronald Reagan managed to squelch CBS�s biopic on him, Kushner�s film, a searing indictment of the Reagan administration�s homophobia and AIDS-bashing, will see the light of day.
It is fitting this year, shortly after World AIDS Day, that this epic rumination on AIDS will find a global audience via cable. Kushner leaves audiences questioning what we are willing to do to end the plague, and more importantly, are we willing to resuscitate the angels within us--those better parts of ourselves that are dying under the heavy burdens of disease, homophobia, fundamentalism, and hate.
Sadly, Kushner�s proclamation, �The great work begins,� seems like a stuck record, because each new day, the work gets heavier and the efforts have yet to begin in earnest. The new millennium is upon us. The great work still remains undone.
Part 1, Millennium Approaches, debuts Sunday, December 7 at 8 pm, followed one week later by Part 2, Perestroika. Both chapters will be replayed on HBO and its sister network HBO2 over the weeks following their debuts.
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