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August 20, 2004

Suit may keep repeal of Article 12 off ballot

 

Cincinnati--A lawsuit filed last week could keep a repeal of the city charter�s Article 12 off of the November ballot.

Citizens to Restore Fairness presented over 14,000 signatures on July 27 to repeal the article, which prohibits Cincinnati from passing any measure giving �minority or protected status� to gays, lesbians or bisexuals.

City council approved ballot language for the repeal measure August 4.

The group that campaigned in 1993 to enact the article sued the city and the Hamilton County Board of Elections on August 12, saying the language approved by the city council is inaccurate.

Action at an August 17 hearing may delay the case beyond the deadline for the November ballot, possibly resulting in a later vote on the measure.

Equal Rights No Special Rights Political Action Committee and its principal members Mark W. Miller and State Rep. Thomas E. Brinkman, Jr. want the court to grant a restraining order barring the ballot language and a preliminary injunction which would essentially give them control over what appears on the ballot.

ERNSR�s members are the same as Equal Rights Not Special Rights that passed Issue 3 eleven years ago, which became Article 12. The new PAC�s name omits the T in �Not.� Both are affiliated with the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values and its founder Phil Burress.

The new ERNSR will lead a campaign against the Citizens to Restore Fairness effort to repeal the measure.

CRF is not a party to the lawsuit, and none of its actions are in question. The ballot language was drafted by the Cincinnati solicitor�s office and approved 90 by city council, a body that includes ERNSR member Sam Malone.

It says, �Shall the Charter of the City of Cincinnati be amended to repeal Article XII, which prohibits the City from protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation?�

ERNSR objects to everything after the comma.

They are represented by attorneys David R. Langdon and his law partner Jeffrey A. Shafer, who do most of the anti-gay litigation for Burress� enterprises, joined by Cincinnati attorney Christopher P. Finney, whose practice includes election law. Finney has also served on the Hamilton County GOP executive committee and managed anti-gay Rep. Steve Chabot�s 1988 congressional campaign.

�The repeal ballot language is inaccurate and unfair,� says Finney�s motion to the court, �it takes the form of an argument, and it omits crucial information about the operation of Article XII (and thus of the effect of the repeal being sought).�

The language is further characterized by Finney as an �example of misleading, incomplete and partisan drafting.�

A hearing on the matter was held August 17 before Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Mark R. Schweikert.

The city was represented by assistant city solicitor Richard Ganulin. The county was represented by assistant prosecutor David Stevenson.

Before the hearing, Ganulin said the city realized that it had not handled the creation of the ballot language properly. He said the solicitor would direct council to repeal the August 4 ordinance and replace it with another that puts the exact language from CRF�s petitions onto the ballot.

While that move eliminated the possibility of a temporary restraining order, the matter went forward anyway because ERNSR objects to part of Ganulin�s new proposal.

The petitions circulated by CRF contain the actual text of their charter amendment and a descriptive title that is very similar to the existing ballot language.

Their amendment says, �Be it resolved by the people of Cincinnati that Article XII of the Charter of the City be repealed. This amendment to the City Charter shall in all respects be self-executing. Article XII shall be null and void and of no force and effect.�

ERNSR has no objection to that appearing on the ballot. Their objection is to the title, which says, �Charter Amendment--To repeal Article XII of the Charter of the City of Cincinnati, which prohibits the City from protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.�

According to Shafer�s statements to the judge, if the entire title language is approved by council, �We will be back before you.�

Shafer says that the term �sexual orientation� is �too broad� and that the title language is �politically helpful� an �erroneous, misleading representation of Article XII.�

CRF attorneys Scott T. Greenwood and Jennifer L. Branch were present but did not participate in the hearing.

�This is the same thing we did to [ERNSR] eleven years ago to try to keep Issue 3 off the ballot,� said Branch.

Branch and Greenwood were irritated that Shafer implied to the court that ERNSR was looking out for the rights of the 14,000 petition signers.

�Those were our petitions, not theirs,� said Branch.

Shafer and Langdon told the court that ERNSR wanted the measure on the ballot November 2, and said that the only way that could happen was if the court gave guidance to the city as to what acceptable language would be. This would eliminate their need to challenge the new language on its fairness and accuracy, they said, which would likely lead to an appeal by the losing side and more delay.

The election is expected to be close. CRF wants the descriptive language. ERNSR does not. Both will likely fight hard to get their way.

During a break, Ganulin said, �If we do it [ERNSR�s] way, then [CRF] will sue us.�

Stevens told the judge that the Board of Elections, which has the authority to accept or reject--but not alter--ballot language, must have their part done by 35 days before the election when absentee ballots go out.

That day is September 28. State law also requires the language to be set and approved by the board to be sent to the state 60 days prior to the election, or September 3.

City council is scheduled to meet again September 1.

That timeline convinced the judge to intervene in the language drafting.

�I think the issue [of the ballot language] needs resolved prior to council�s opportunity to vote on it,� said Schweikert. �I disagree [with the city] that it is inappropriate for the court to rule because I understand that [ERNSR] has interest in getting this on the ballot. They could lose that right.�

Schweikert said he wants to hear from �parties who submitted the petitions or anyone who says [ERNSR] is not correct.�

Schweikert set another hearing for August 30. At that time, he will decide whether ERNSR is correct in its claim that Article XII does not prohibit the city from �protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation� or whether CRF�s petition language which says that it does, is correct.

That finding is not likely to please both sides, and could set the stage for appeals or additional suits that could prevent the repeal from reaching voters November 2.

 

 


Political storm surrounds
governor coming out

Trenton, N.J.--�My truth is that I am a gay American,� Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey said in an August 12 press conference, announcing his November 15 resignation from office and creating a political and social maelstrom in his state.

�I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony,� he continued. �It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.�

McGreevey made it clear that it was the affair, not coming out, that led him to resign.

�It makes little difference that as governor I am gay,� he said. �Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.�

Republicans in the state are pushing for the Democratic governor to resign immediately. Both an ad campaign and a lawsuit are seeking an end to McGreevey�s tenure before September 3, so that a special election can be held to choose his successor. After that date the Democratic president of the state senate, Richard J. Codey, will serve the rest of McGreevey�s term as acting governor until January 2006.

McGreevey, who often refers to his Catholicism in speeches, has publicly opposed same-sex marriage but signed a domestic partner bill into law earlier this year.

The Human Rights Campaign helped write his resignation speech, including a test of the �I am a gay American� line.

A poll showed the governor�s approval rating rose after his announcement, to 45% from 43% two weeks earlier.

The man with whom the 47-year-old McGreevey said he had an affair, Golan Cipel, says that he did not have a relationship with the governor. Rather, Cipel claims, he is a heterosexual who was sexually harassed by McGreevey, who put him in high-paying jobs for which he was far from qualified.

Cipel had threatened to file a sexual harassment lawsuit with cash demands up to $50 million being bandied about. By the time the governor decided to announce his resignation, Cipel�s attorneys said, negotiations were under way for Cipel to drop his threatened suit in exchange for $5 million.

Cipel, 35 and an Israeli citizen, first met McGreevey while the governor was on a trip there in 2001. McGreevey facilitated Cipel�s move to the United States. He first worked in a $30,000-a-year job arranged for him by one of McGreevey�s campaign contributors, who also functioned as Cipel�s sponsor for immigration purposes.

McGreevey then passed up former FBI director Louis Freeh for the position of the state�s homeland security advisor. He gave the job to his alleged paramour in January 2002, despite Cipel�s lack of qualifications, citizenship or security clearance.

After an outcry, McGreevey quietly moved Cipel out of the $110,000-a-year position to another state post, eventually getting him a $120,000-a-year job with a New York City public relations company, according to the New York Times. Cipel lasted a month there before moving to a political consulting firm at $150,000.

Al Jazeera news service, often accused of inciting violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, speculated that Cipel was a �honey trap� agent for Israel�s Mossad intelligence agency. He was a lieutenant in the Israeli navy and had worked in the nation�s New York consulate.

�With the knowledge of the ex-governor�s preference for men,� wrote John Anast, �Mossad activated Cipel to lure McGreevey into a compromising position for exploitation, extortion and blackmail purposes.�

While Cipel denies trying to extort money from the governor in exchange for his silence, the FBI is investigating him. McGreevey�s administration has been plagued by rumors of sweetheart deals and nepotistic appointments.

Cipel, meanwhile, has returned to Israel. His attorneys said that he is staying with family and considering whether to press on with his harassment suit. The statute of limitations for him to file one runs out August 30.

His only statements have been made to the Israeli press. He said that, while he did not mind being called gay in the media, he wanted to say on the record that he is, in fact, heterosexual.

 


State board approves wording of Ohio marriage issue

 

Columbus--The Ohio Ballot Board voted unanimously August 17 that the actual text of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages would appear on the ballot should it qualify.

This decision pleases the amendment�s proponents and angers opponents who say that the text alone does not adequately inform voters of what they are voting on.

The measure also bans civil unions and prohibits the state from legally recognizing any unmarried couple. Its backers submitted 391,928 signatures August 3 to put it to a vote. If 322,899 are valid, the measure will go on the November ballot.

The board�s approval was �a foregone conclusion� said Alan Melamed, who heads the opposition campaign, Ohioans to Protect the Constitution.

Melamed submitted alternative language that described how the amendment affects other areas of law including property and contracts between unmarried couples.

His text was 37 words longer than the original.

The board is legally allowed to condense--but not expand--the text from the petitions circulated by the measure�s backers, the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage. That text is the amendment itself. A summary written by OCPM was removed after Ohioans to Protect the Constitution�s parent group sued, saying it was not fair and accurate.

The amendment reads, �Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.�

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, chairs the board. Two Republicans and two Democrats make up the balance.

Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato and citizen Thomas R. Winters are the Democrats. Republican State Sen. Jay Hottinger substituted for State Sen. Randy Gardner who could not be present. He was joined by Republican citizen William N. Morgan.

Attorney David Langdon spoke for OCPM. Melamed and attorney Don McTigue represented the amendment�s opposition.

Langdon said the measure�s title, �The Marriage Protection Amendment� will not appear on the ballot.

�That�s editorial. It has no place on the ballot,� said Langdon.

Melamed told the board that their purpose was to see to it that voters know what they are voting on, and that he thought the board was not true to their purpose by accepting the amendment itself as ballot text.

That prompted an exchange between Melamed and Blackwell, who cracked that Melamed�s longer version brought to his mind the legal craftiness of Bill Clinton.

Melamed responded that he had not promised any presidential campaign that he would help their efforts getting the amendment passed.

Blackwell has admitted to telling the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign that he would help them with the marriage efforts in Ohio. He also testified for a federal marriage ban amendment before a U.S. Senate committee in July.

A meeting was set for August 23 for the board to determine who will write the 300-word summary that is published in newspapers around the state.

The state legislature is responsible for the summary. However, legislative leaders have declined the opportunity, leaving it up to the board.

The board has already accepted a summary from OCPM. McTigue argued that OPC should write the opposing summary. Langdon said he has no objection to that.

Melamed said he will submit his summary August 18, hoping it will be accepted.

 


California top court voids 4,161 marriages

Ruling covers only mayor�s authority to allow them; marriage ban itself will be decided later

Sacramento, Calif.--The California Supreme Court on August 11 invalidated 4,161 same-sex marriages, ruling that San Francisco�s mayor overstepped his authority by ordering them to be performed.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, infuriated by President George W. Bush�s call during his State of the Union address for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, on February 12 ordered San Francisco County clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

San Francisco, which has a joint city/county government, married same-sex couples until the state�s Supreme Court issued an injunction halting the marriages on March 11, when over 4,000 same-sex couples had wed.

The Supreme Court�s decision does not rule on the constitutionality of California�s ban on same-sex marriage, but only on whether or not Newsom had the authority to order that the marriages be performed.

California voters in 2000 passed Proposition 22, which states, �Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.�

Newsom believes that the law violates the state constitution�s equal protection clause, which he used as justification for acting outside of existing marital law.

When the Supreme Court issued its March injunction halting the marriages, it agreed to separately hear cases challenging the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban itself.

Four cases were swiftly filed, which have since been combined into one. Two of the suits were filed against Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who does not personally oppose same-sex marriage and is a likely contender to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2006. One of these suits was filed by the city of San Francisco, the other by 12 couples who were denied marriage licenses.

A third case, this one against the city of Los Angeles, was filed by Metropolitan Community Church founder Rev. Troy Perry and activist Robin Tyler. The fourth suit was filed by a San Francisco attorney.

Briefs in those cases are due early in September, and the court will hold a hearing on September 8 to determine how to proceed.

In the August 11 ruling on Newsom�s action, two dissenting Supreme Court justices argued that the San Francisco marriages should have been left intact until the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriages is decided.

The majority, however, ruled that, since Newsom exceeded his authority, the marriages carry no legal weight.

While the ruling was upsetting for the couples, California refused to register the marriages. Thus, neither the state nor the federal government had granted any benefits to the couples, many of whom wanted to use their marriages to push for other legal protections.

�This is an extremely sad day for the more than 4,000 same-sex couples who were married in San Francisco earlier this year,� said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

He warned that, despite claims of victory from same-sex marriage foes, this ruling was very narrow.

�As usual, our opponents are deliberately misstating what this decision is about to energize their constituents and to try to demoralize those committed to full equality under the law,� he noted.

�Our nation�s history is a story of steady progress achieved by people working together to eradicate discrimination from our laws and institutions,� said People for the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. �Every battle against discrimination has encountered resistance. Every fight for equality has faced setbacks.�

�But the deeply-rooted American values of freedom, fairness, and equality under the law will be victorious in the end,� he opined.

 


 

A hit and a miss

Two films with the same producer
couldnt be more different

Openly gay producer Scott Rudin has had many hits and some misses. His career can be summed up with the title of a Clint Eastwood movie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

He has 45 producer and executive producer credits to his name in the last fourteen years, not including films still in production. Among these are queer-themed films like In & Out, written by gay playwright Paul Rudnick, along with Addams Family Values and The Stepford Wives, wonderful collaborations between the two. He also produced Iris, The Hours and Wonder Boys, based on the Michael Chabon novel.

Unfortunately, he also has Marci X, Twilight and White Sands on his curricula vitae, so knowing he produced a film can�t always be taken as a sign of quality.

Two films with his imprimatur are currently in theaters: M. Night Shyamalan�s The Village and Jonathan Demme�s remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

The Village�s Cherry Jones is one of the finest and most well respected stage actresses of her generation. An openly lesbian performer, Jones made awards and television history of sorts when, upon winning the 1994 Tony for Best Actress for The Heiress, she thanked her partner in the acceptance speech. These days that may seem commonplace, but for Jones, who came out in 1980 at the start of her career, this was a big, big deal.

Jones reunites with Signs director Shyamalan in The Village. Here she plays spinster Mrs. Clack in this tale about fear, security, and the need to quell panic at all costs.

Shyamalan, Indian by origin, broke out as a bona fide box-office superstar director with his haunting and mesmerizing Sixth Sense. He followed that up with the less-than-stellar yet redeemable Unbreakable and the completely awful Signs.

The Village doesn�t quite approach the dismal depths of Signs, but it is no Sixth Sense either.

Shyamalan has become so obsessed with living up to the breathtaking twist of Sixth Sense, that he is caught in a terrible rut. The Village takes a brilliant idea and gets so bogged down in trying to outwit its audience that the film falls flat over and over again, like many of its characters running from the �terror� that mysteriously haunts their village.

This film, more so than any other he has directed, makes a love story central to its plot. Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard) falls in love with the stoic Lucius Hunt (played by the enigmatic Joaquin Phoenix). Ivy is blind, allowing Shyamalan to raise the stakes of his misguided sense of suspense and audience manipulation.

Howard turns in an effective debut performance, but audiences will scream, not out of terror, but out of sheer boredom at the perpetual tears she sheds--she cries when she is scared, she cries when she is happy, she cries when she is being terrorized and she cries when she is feeling lovey-dovey with Lucius. In short, she either has a tear-duct malfunction or glycerine was cheap and abundant on Shyamalan�s set.

Phoenix, who also made Signs with Shyamalan, acts his heart out here but he has nowhere to go, like the characters trapped in the village of Covington, Pennsylvania. His part is written feebly as are most of the others. Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt act well but they too have little to do in this film. Another wasted talent is Michael Pitt, who most recently portrayed the bisexual Matthew in the mediocre Dreamers and was stellar in Hedwig as the confused boyfriend.

Jones turns in a solid performance as always as the pipe-smoking, tough spinster who speaks her mind and is always forthright. Jones has said in interviews that she created a character background for Mrs. Clack that was lesbian and rather complex. If only Shyamalan had as much respect for his characters as she does.

Plot and character development here have taken a back-seat to his obsession with twist endings. He has put out a feeble movie that is not even mildly terrifying, the bad plot and writing nowithstanding.

What Shyamalan does well here is with the visuals. He has always used colors very strongly and he is amply aided by Roger Deakins� masterful cinematography. Deakins paints pictures with his camera and the lighting and his work steals the show from the tepid story.

The film�s central idea about how fear is used to manipulate a community by some of its own members is a fantastic route for cinematic inquiry, particularly in the post-9-11 era. The idea that sometimes the real monsters are not just from outside, but also lurk within us, is a powerful theme. The fear of outsiders and �the others� is a very contemporary one, especially to GLBT people. The idea of a community isolating itself at all costs is very reminiscent of the Bush doctrine.

Yet, with all the power of these ideas behind him, Shyamalan makes a dopey film about a blind girl who journeys through a scary forest in search of medicine.

It is interesting that there was an embargo against critics seeing the film and reviewing it before its release. Disney, which produced the film, claims it was to keep the twists airtight. It was more likely because they were worried that poor notices might have chased moviegoers away.

Shyamalan is a director of great potential, not just at the box office, but also artistically. He should take a break from bending his talent into knots over twist endings and go make some fluffy musical or slapstick comedy. Then he can come back, mind cleared, and make films from the honesty of his heart and talent. It served him brilliantly in Sixth Sense and it will in the future, if only he will listen to it.

On the other hand, Jonathan Demme, a director who chooses his projects very carefully, gave audiences the path-breaking film Philadelphia in an age when mainstream Hollywood refused to treat gay subjects seriously and when Tinsletown preferred to pretend that AIDS didn�t exist.

Demme�s claim to critical and mass appeal came with his spooky yet intelligent Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and the compelling Anthony Hopkins. Even though this film was criticized by some activists for perpetuating the stereotype of gay serial killers, Demme and Lambs could not be silenced.

Now Demme brings audiences a compelling feature in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate.

The 1962 original, starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, was a stark film about the American culture that came about during the times of the Red scare.

Demme�s remake is more vivid, more frenetic, but then so are the times against which he sets the background of the film. Demme updates the film from the Cold War to the War Against Terror.

The film is filled with political malfeasance and corporate corruption. Ben Marco (Denzel Washington, who was also in Philadelphia as the homophobic lawyer who has a change of heart) and Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) served in the first Gulf War together and are harboring some dark secrets and even darker nightmares.

In this age of terrorism, Shaw, who returned from Iraq with a Congressional Medal of Honor, is picked to be the running mate in a presidential election. His mother, Senator Eleanor Shaw (the superlative Meryl Streep) is a powerful, creepy political operative who doesn�t know the meaning of the word no.

She wheels and deals like a master puppeteer and she crushes opponents under her designer heels like the vermin and pests they are to her. Sen. Shaw is also in cahoots with Manchurian Global, a business conglomerate that profits from wars and the military-industrial complex on a worldwide scale.

Manchurian has planted chips in Raymond, Ben and other soldiers to control their minds and eventually have a plant in the White House.

The film follows Marco�s discovery of the chips and his desire to find the truth. Meanwhile, Raymond is mostly oblivious and Eleanor whirls about the political landscape like a dervish, trying to maintain control of her political empire.

Jeffrey Wright is effective as Al Melvin, one of Marco and Shaw�s fellow soldiers who is having the worst time with the implanted chips and the ensuing nightmares from Iraq. A consummate actor, Wright has a small but pivotal role. Melvin leaves behind a notebook of drawings and ruminations about what might have truly happened in Iraq and Marco uses this to get at the truth. Wright won a Golden Globe for his work as the drag queen Belize in HBO�s Angels in America. Here he is perfect as a lost soul, searching for someone who will believe.

Washington is better than he has been in a long time. He plays his role with restraint and dignity, as Marco falls deeper and deeper into this surreal, Alice-In-Wonderland hole.

Jon Voight as the good, ethical, Senator Jordan is also compelling in a small role as is Kimberly Elise.

But the film belongs to Meryl Streep as the evil, manipulative and Oedipal mother and senator. Her politician is an acid-tongued manipulator who knows exactly which buttons to push and when to push them. She dresses to kill and she kills to win. Streep takes this role and runs with it, creating a �Mommie Dearest� for contemporary audiences that will not soon be forgotten and one that will set the standards for other villains to come.

She steals every scene. In one she merely crushes ice with her teeth and tells a whole story with a simple gesture. In another, she works a room of politicians so expertly that they and the audience are left gasping for air.

Demme�s directing is strong for the most part, although the film does get a bit tedious towards the end. Stronger editing would have made it even more compelling. Tak Fujimoto�s cinematography is vivid and packs a punch. Fujimoto works in extreme close-ups for much of the film and it works well to transport us into the dueling egos and mind frames of the characters in conflict.

Demme�s film is as scathing an indictment of the Bush regime as Michael Moore�s Fahrenheit 9/11, although Demme doesn�t name the parties to which his characters belong. The movie excoriates extremist politicians willing to do anything to make a buck and profit from war. Manchurian Global may as well be Dick Cheney�s Halliburton or George Bush, Sr.�s Carlyle Group--Manchurian also gets no-bid contracts from the government and tightly controls the president�s office.

The biggest flaw with Demme�s film is the ending, which is a cheap shot at trying to give evil its comeuppance.

The Manchurian Candidate is a cautionary tale, particularly in this election season, when the struggle of good and evil is clearly in the balance. The film warns its audience about the dangers of brainwashing, particularly by ruthless corporations and immoral politicians. Of course, some would say it is the audience that has been brainwashed into believing the politicos are evil.

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