Legal move could delay vote on constitutional amendment
Columbus--Petitions for Ohio�s proposed amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions have been challenged in five counties, beginning a process that could keep the initiative off the November 2 ballot.
The challenges were filed August 24 in Fulton, Logan, Marion, Morrow and Sandusky counties.
Columbus attorney Don McTigue, who represents Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, says that challenges will be filed in at least 60 of Ohio�s 88 counties.
The amendment�s backers, the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, an enterprise of Cincinnati anti-gay activist Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values, submitted 391,928 petition signatures from all 88 counties on August 3.
If 322,899 are valid, the measure will go on the November ballot.
The purpose of the challenges is to find defects on the petition forms in order to disqualify them. The measure cannot go on the ballot if the validity of signatures in a single county remains unresolved.
McTigue is a veteran at challenging petitions. He also represents a group opposed to a one-cent reduction in Ohio�s sales tax spearheaded by Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
Blackwell�s group, Citizens for Tax Repeal, submitted signatures to put their measure on the ballot last fall. Due to McTigue�s challenges, they came up 2,081 short.
Challenging the signatures involves sending a letter of protest on behalf of two voters to the board of elections in each county. In this case, the voters are Melanie J. Essig and Sandra K. Essig, both of Columbus.
The letters list the disputed petition forms and the alleged violations each one contains.
Violations, detected by volunteers working for Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, include changes and alterations to the form, printed names where there should be a signature, incomplete addresses, duplicates and an incorrect count of signatures on each form.
OPC has organized sessions in Columbus and Cleveland for volunteers to review petition forms as they become available from the counties.
According to McTigue, once the county boards of election receive his protest letter, they have three days to file suit against the petitioners in the Common Pleas Court of that county.
At that point, he will present evidence against the signatures.
Cincinnati attorney David Langdon has said that he will defend the signatures on behalf of OCPM.
McTigue said Blackwell can join in the county suits and combine them into one, most likely in Franklin County.
Blackwell has not yet indicated his intentions.
McTigue said the challenges could last �two weeks or two months or longer.�
Absentee ballots are available to voters 35 days before the election, which in this case is September 28. If legal challenges are still pending by that date, the case would be made to postpone the matter until the next general election in November 2005.
New field director
Ohioans Protecting the Constitution campaign manager Alan Melamed announced August 24 that Mari Engelhardt has left the position as the campaign�s field director.
She will be replaced by John Farina of Lakewood, who left the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland August 13 to become OPC�s northeast Ohio coordinator. Farina will serve as acting field director.
56% support amendment
A poll released August 25 found that when language nearly identical to the text of the proposed amendment was put before likely voters, 56 percent said they would vote for it. Forty four percent said they would vote against it, and four percent were undecided.
The Ohio Poll, which is sponsored by the University of Cincinnati, was conducted from August 11-17 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent
Columbus--An Ohio Health Department conference is drawing fire for featuring speakers linked to anti-gay groups as well as for its �abstinence-only� focus on sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy prevention.
The health department�s Abstinence Education Program will host its 2004 Ohio Conference on Abstinence Education at the Columbus Hotel on September 24 and 25.
Speakers include Genevieve Wood, vice president for communications for the Family Research Council, a virulently homophobic, arch-conservative Christian organization.
With her is LaAnna Benn, executive director of Teen-Aid, an abstinence education web site that links to a number of pages on the site of Focus on the Family, another anti-gay group.
Also on the bill is Dr. Hal Wallis. He chairs the Physician�s Consortium, an organization that �reveals the explicit and pornographic nature of messages contained on government web sites, web sites of organizations funded by the federal government, and curricula promoted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.�
The only HIV-positive person on the program is Barbara Wise, who has a web site with her husband that focuses on their reconciliation through God after her adultery. The site�s weblog contains repeated references and links to Exodus International, an �ex-gay� umbrella organization with a history of leaders returning to the �homosexual lifestyle.�
The effectiveness of �abstinence-only until marriage� is disputed, especially for gay and lesbian teens for whom marriage is outlawed in 49 states.
Human Rights Watch, an international organization, says that �abstinence only� education programs are inherently homophobic.
�Federally funded abstinence-only programs potentially harm all youth by suppressing important HIV prevention information. By their terms, they discriminate against gay and lesbian youth in additional ways,� reads a 2002 report on the group�s web site. �Given that same-sex couples may not legally marry in any U.S. state, abstinence-only programs implicitly teach that there are no safe ways for gay and lesbian youth to have a sexual relationship�now or as adults�thereby reinforcing the hostile environment that gay and lesbian youth experience at school.�
Ohio�s HIV prevention community was alerted to the anti-gay speakers by an Ohio Department of Health staff member who noticed them on the program with six other presenters, including two from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
�So far, other than creating a real storm up in top administration, [my e-mail] has resulted in some positive-sounding promises that the speakers will be given strict parameters as to what they will be permitted to speak about,� said the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. �They will be limited to the subject of abstinence only.�
She warned, though, �I can�t predict what the reality will be.�
Valerie Huber, director of the health department�s Office of Abstinence Education, confirmed that speakers will be restricted to the topic at hand.
�All speakers will be speaking specifically on abstinence education and no peripheral issues,� she said. �We�re not condoning anything of that sort.�
Others are offended by their appearance at a state-funded conference.
�It�s appalling to us that tax dollars are being used to host a conference featuring speakers like Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council, whose anti-gay policy goals are well known,� said Earl Pike, executive director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. �The people of Ohio should not have to foot the bill for a speaker like Ms. Wood, who regularly uses an intolerant interpretation of Christianity to push an agenda that would restrict the rights of gay and lesbian people, women, and others.�
�We have been particularly concerned that with the rapid increase in funding for abstinence-until-marriage initiatives, the needs and realities of LGBT people . . . are being completely ignored,� Pike continued. �The promoters of abstinence-until-marriage programs are silent on this point, and at the September conference, gay people will be, once again, invisible.�
�The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland is seriously considering having a presence at the September conference, so that some of the facts that will be suppressed--such as the reality that condoms do save lives--can be heard,� he concluded.
Rev. Bill Hardy, executive director of AIDS Resource Center Ohio in Dayton, agreed that a broader focus is needed.
�As an ordained clergy and HIV/AIDS professional, I believe that messages about abstinence and personal values--especially among youth--is one component of the educational process,� he said. �At the same time, additional scientific, factual information is vital if we are to address this individual and public health issue. The AIDS epidemic is one of the most devastating health pandemics in human history. To not use every possible means to prevent its spread and alleviate the suffering, death and devastation associated with it is inexcusable and unethical.�
�The problem isn't that we teach appropriate values,� Hardy continued. �It's teaching �values� that are too narrowly defined, or at the exclusion of other sources of truth, including scientifically-based information and strategies.�
Some states will not allow educators to discuss prophylactics at all, outside of curricular responses stressing the �actual human failure rate� of condoms. Not so with Ohio, Huber says.
�Our hands are really tied to stay within [federal abstinence education] guidelines,� Huber said. �Our programs cannot promote contraceptives as part of the federal mandate, but it doesn�t preclude discussion of condoms.�
�Secondary programs discuss more prevention options,� she noted, reiterating that her program has a specific and narrow focus. She also pointed to other state programs that specifically target LGBT youth with prevention messages that apply to them.
Even in Ohio, though, many of the organizations providing abstinence education are either religious, or disregard the specific needs of LGBT youth.
Melanie Howell, president of the Abstinence Educators� Network, was asked if �abstinence until marriage� meant that gays and lesbians, prohibited from marrying, should abstain until death.
�The risks are just the same whether someone is heterosexual or homosexual,� said Howell, �We�re saying it�s not worth the risk.�
Howell�s group receives over $945,000 in grants from the federal and Ohio governments.
Abstinence-only education has increased in government funding since 1996, when it was added without debate to a welfare reform bill. That funding stream is called Title V of the Social Security Act. For every four dollars that a state receives in federal funds for Title V, the state must provide three matching dollars.
For seven years, only California refused to accept Title V funding after it found abstinence education�s results unsatisfactory in the 1990s. In 2004, Arizona and Pennsylvania also rejected Title V funds.
Speaking in Davenport, Iowa, Aug. 24, Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear he does not support President George W. Bush�s drive to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Cheney�s lesbian daughter, Mary, was in the audience as he spoke. She is director of vice-presidential operations for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
Cheney was asked: �I need to know, sir, from your heart--I don�t want to know what your advisers think or even your top adviser--I need to know, what do you think about homosexual marriages?�
The vice president replied: �Well, the question has come up in the past with respect to the question of gay marriage. Lynne and I have a gay daughter so it�s an issue that our family is very familiar with. We have two daughters and we have enormous pride in both of them, they�re both fine young women and they do a superb job, frankly, of supporting us, and we were blessed with both our daughters.
�With respect to the question of [unintelligible word] relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everybody. People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. The question that comes up with respect to the issue of marriage is, what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government, if you will, to the particular relationship?�
�Historically,� Cheney said, �that�s been a relationship that�s been handled by the states. States have made the basic fundamental decision what constitutes a marriage. I made clear four years ago when this question came up in my debate with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that�s appropriately a matter for the states to decide and that�s how it ought to best be handled.
�The president has, as a result of the decisions made in Massachusetts this year by judges, felt that he wanted to support a constitutional amendment to define at the federal level what constitutes marriage, that his perception was that the courts in effect were beginning to change without the people being involved, without their being part of the political process--that the courts, in this case a court in Massachusetts, were making the judgment or the decision for the entire country, and he disagreed with that. So where we�re at at this point is, he�s come out in support of a federal constitutional amendment and I don�t think that, so far, it hasn�t had the votes to pass.
�There is the federal Defense of Marriage Act that passed in 1996 and, to date, it has not been successfully challenged in the court, and it may be sufficient to resolve the issue,� Cheney said. �At this point my own preference is as I�ve stated, but the president makes basic policy for this administration and he�s made it clear that he does in fact support an amendment on this issue.�
Cheney�s remarks come on the heels of recent comments by President Bush supporting partnership rights for same-sex couples.
On Aug. 12, CNN�s Larry King asked Bush, �What about the union of gays?� The president responded: �Well, that�s up to states, you know. If states choose to do that--in other words, if they want to provide legal protections for gays, that�s great. That�s fine. But I do not want to change the definition of marriage. I don�t think our country should--from the traditional definition of marriage that�s between a man or a woman.
�And I want to say something about this debate,� Bush added. �It is a debate that must be conducted with the greatest respect for people. And that my judgment--I think our society is great because people are able to live their lifestyles, you know, as they choose or as they�re oriented.
�You know,� he said, �people have said to me, well, if you�re gay, you can�t inherit because--and you don�t get the exemption from income tax. Well, my answer there is get rid of the inheritance tax forever, the death tax, which I�m trying to do. And there are ways to make sure gays have got rights. And you can do so in the law.�
Deputies stop activist from countering petitioners
Dayton--A gay civil rights activist was ordered on August 17 to stop trying to dissuade people from signing a petition for an Ohio constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage.
Joe Lacey, an auditor for Montgomery County, says that two deputies working security at the courthouse violated his right to free speech and broke state law.
Montgomery County Sheriff Dave Vore believes the situation got out of hand, but that �it was a bunch of nothing.�
A signature-gatherer approached Lacey to sign her petition. He turned it over and saw that it was a petition to force a vote on the proposed state constitutional amendment.
Lacey decided to stay and tell voters about the true nature of the petitions.
Overhearing his conversations, a second signature-gatherer came over and told him that as a supporter of same-sex marriage, Lacey should want a chance to vote on the issue �to decide once and for all,� according to a six-page complaint drafted by Lacey.
At this point, some people approached, and the signature gatherers asked them to sign the petition, saying that it was to put same-sex marriage on the ballot.
Lacey asked them not to sign, telling them that the petitions were to place a discriminatory amendment on the ballot.
The petition gatherers, both of whom had come from Florida to collect signatures for pay, accused him of interfering with their employment.
A little later, a uniformed officer emerged from the courthouse, telling Lacey that the gatherers had the right to collect signatures. Lacey replied that he had the right to ask people not to sign.
Shortly afterwards, the petition gatherers left.
The next day, noticing that they were there again, Lacey took an early lunch and went to try to talk people out of signing the petitions.
One of the women accused him of following them the previous day. He said that he was simply heading to his office, proffering his county identification.
The first petitioner he had engaged the previous day went into the courthouse. She came out shortly afterward and told him that he was going to get in big trouble.
She then became fairly aggressive in trying to keep him out of conversations, moving herself directly in front of him to block potential signers� view of him.
At about 11 am, Deputy Patty Cavender and a male deputy emerged from the courthouse, and began questioning Lacey about his actions. They told him that the gatherers had a right to be there, to which Lacey replied he also had the right to ask people not to sign the petitions.
Cavender allegedly told Lacey that she had a �legal ruling� from Common Pleas Judge Mary Donovan saying that Lacey could not continue his actions. They took him inside and called his superiors at the county auditor�s office.
After ordering him not to engage the petitioners again, the male deputy escorted Lacey most of the way back to his office.
Lacey believes Cavender and the male deputy broke state law, which has a measure entitled �Interfering with Civil Rights.�
�No public servant, under color of his office, employment, or authority, shall knowingly deprive, or conspire or attempt to deprive any person of a constitutional or statutory right,� the law reads.
Lacey has not yet filed the complaint, pending a decision from his attorneys.
�When I did my own research of the law, this goes beyond just a complaint,� Lacey said. �I think there�s a definite law broken by the Sheriff�s Department.�
Vore said, �We did advise him that if he had any problem with any of my deputies, he could file an officer complaint and we�d investigate it.�
�It was my assumption,� said Vore, speaking of Lacey and the petitioners, �that everyone had followed the law� in regards to petition activity in front of the courthouse.
Petitioner draws complaints at Lake County fair
Painesville--A paid petitioner for the Ohio marriage ban amendment drew complaints from exhibitors at the Lake County Fair for his behavior.
Neighboring booths at the August 17-22 fair filed complaints saying Tom Shirer was �rude,� chased people away from their booths, and caused them to lose money. Vendors also complained that fair officials did little to make Shirer follow fair rules.
Shirer, of Augusta, Maine, said he was paid $1.50 per signature by Citizens for Community Values� political action committee. He was paid $2 a week earlier in Portage County, according to his statement on the petitions.
Christine Lawson of South Bend, Indiana said she and her husband, who operate a tattoo booth �lost hundreds of dollars worth of business� because of Shirer and will not return to the Lake County Fair.
Lawson and Shirer had booths located on the walkway between the main entrance and the midway with exhibitor buildings on each side.
�People won�t walk over here because they�re tired of him bothering them,� said Lawson, who said Shirer yelled at passers by and people stopped at nearby booths through a paper megaphone. Lawson added that when people stopped at her booth, Shirer called them away.
�He�s so vocal,� said Lawson, �If they say no to him, he continues to holler.�
Marion Gray and Cindy Smith of Madison had their tea and herbal remedy booth on the other side of Shirer. They said Shirer yelling at youths walking past the booths that gays were responsible for AIDS.
�The fair is a kids� event, and he shouldn�t be here doing this,� said Gray.
Travis Piche of Madison refused to sign the petition. He said Shirer yelled back at him, in front of children, �Why? Are you a fag?�
Reno Barber, an exhibitor inside a nearby building, filed a written complaint with fair directors August 20 pointing out four violations of fair rules, including Shirer�s sending people with pamphlets �up and down the fairway,� sending minors outside his booth circulating the petitions, and having signs on the walkway.
Fair rules and state law prohibit the passing of literature outside a booth, and doing business more than four feet from a booth.
Agricultural Society Secretary Al Diorio said he never saw or heard any complaints.
�There was nothing filed in the secretary�s office,� said Diorio. �They must have filed with [John] Muranko, the concessions and exhibit manager, which is how it is supposed to happen.�
Muranko, who was an early signer of Shirer�s petition, twice tried to dissuade this reporter from investigating and photographing Shirer.
Lawson, Gray, and Barber expressed concern that the fair did not remove Shirer after the first couple of days.
On the evening of August 20, two teens who said that they were under age 18 said that they worked for Shirer and that he paid them $1.00 per signature.
Later that evening, deputies escorted the two away after they were heard yelling, �Save a cow, stab a queer.�
Petitions at the booth August 21 were not filled out properly. A youth who solicited signatures did not fill out separate forms to be circulated under his name.
Shirer had not completed the forms for himself, either. Sections that must be filled out before the forms are circulated, including his name, how much he is paid, and the date, were left blank.
�When [Shirer] was gone, we watched the kids filling them themselves with fake names and addresses,� said Lawson.
Shirer would not comment. Neither would Agricultural Society president Robert Dawson.
Kyle, a gay 17-year-old from Eastlake who asked that his last name not be used, said he was approached to sign a petition by one of Shirer�s hired youths. When he declined, he was called a fag.
�I can�t believe some of the things they are saying,� said Kyle. �They have a stand here to remove our freedoms.�
Columbus--Proponents and opponents of State Issue 1, a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and prohibit the state from legally recognizing any unmarried couple, have submitted their official arguments for and against the measure to the Ohio Ballot Board.
The arguments stake out the campaign messages they will use if the measure qualifies for the November ballot.
The board voted unanimously August 17 to put the actual text of the amendment on the ballot, instead of summary language.
That decision pleases the amendment�s proponents and angers opponents who say that the full text alone does not adequately inform voters of what they are voting on.
The ballot board, which is chaired by Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, then designated Barry Sheets of the anti-gay Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, the measure�s sponsors, to write the 300 word argument for the proposal.
Blackwell has acknowledged telling the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign that he would help them with the anti-marriage efforts in Ohio. He also testified in favor of a federal marriage ban amendment before a U.S. Senate committee in July.
Ohio�s constitution requires that petitioners submit the argument 75 days before the election, which was August 19.
The constitution makes no provision for opponents to submit an argument.
However, Sheets missed the statutory deadline, saying it was done on purpose.
�We didn�t feel we wanted to allow the opposition five extra days to look at our language,� Sheets told the board according to Gongwer News Service, �so they could write theirs in response to ours.�
In response, Blackwell forfeited the board�s right to draft the argument for the amendment when the panel met August 23. Instead, proponents and opponents were each to submit one by 5 pm the next day.
At that meeting, the initiative was designated �State Issue 1� by the board.
This angered Senator Greg DiDonato, who sits on the Ballot Board. DiDonato, of Dennison, is the Senate Democratic leader.
�These people want to amend our constitution, the foundation of our Democracy,� said DiDonato. �They come in here openly admitting that they�re playing politics with the Constitution. It isn�t right. I think we need to look at closing this loophole, so groups that purposefully miss their deadline can�t be chosen by the Ballot Board.�
OCPM submitted their argument for Issue 1 at 4:54 pm, six minutes before the deadline.
The measure�s opponents, Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, filed their argument against the amendment 25 minutes before the deadline.
Arguments reveal campaign messages
These are the official arguments for and against State Issue 1, an Ohio constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. They were filed with the Ohio Ballot Board by the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage (for the amendment) and Ohioans Protecting the Constitution (against it).
The arguments will be published in a daily newspaper �legal notice� advertisement in each Ohio county. They also illustrate the messages the campaigns will use.
For the amendment
explanation and argument in support of marriage protection amendment (issue 1)
Vote YES on Issue 1 to preserve in Ohio law the universal, historic institution of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and to protect marriage against those who would alter and undermine it.
WHAT ISSUE 1 DOES:
� Issue 1 establishes in the Ohio Constitution the historic definition of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
� Issue 1 excludes from the definition of marriage homosexual relationships and relationships of three or more persons.
� Issue 1 prohibits judges in Ohio from anti-democratic efforts to redefine marriage, such as was done by a bare majority of the judges of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which ordered that same-sex �marriage� be recognized in that state.
� Issue 1 restricts governmental bodies in Ohio from using your tax dollars to give official status, recognition and benefits to homosexual and other deviant relationships that seek to imitate marriage.
WHAT ISSUE 1 DOES NOT DO:
� Issue 1 does not interfere in any way with the individual choices of citizens as to the private relationships they desire to enter and maintain.
� Issue 1 does not interfere in any way with government benefits granted to persons in non-marital homosexual relationships, so long as the government does not grant those benefits to such persons specifically for the reason that the relationship is one that seeks to imitate marriage.
The wisdom of the ages tells us that marriage between one man and one woman is critical to the well being of our children and to the maintenance of the fundamental social institution of the family. Please vote to preserve marriage on November 2, 2004.
Please Vote YES on Issue 1, the Marriage Protection Amendment.
Against the amendment
The Ohio Marriage Amendment. It�s Not What You Think.
It Hurts Families.
If passed, Issue 1 will eliminate rights, benefits and protections for all unmarried couples in Ohio. Claims that it merely restates Ohio�s long-standing definition of marriage are untrue. Even Defense of Marriage Act author State Representative Bill Seitz said the amendment is poorly written and too ambiguous. Governor Taft and Attorney General Petro say it goes too far.
While claiming to protect Ohio families, Issue 1 actually punishes:
� Senior couples living together to protect pension benefits
� Unmarried couples seeking to jointly own property
� People who receive health benefits from domestic partner plans
� Unmarried women seeking maternity leave
� Adopted children of unmarried couples
If this amendment passes, even an unmarried person�s right to leave property to a partner can�t be recognized by Ohio courts.
Referring to leaders behind the amendment, the Canton Repository said . . .
�They make no bones about wanting to make life as difficult as possible for all couples, gay or straight, who don�t toe their moral line.�
It Hurts Ohio�s Economy.
Leading economic and legal experts agree that Issue 1 would have a negative impact on our struggling economy. The editorial page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer stated in a recent editorial that this amendment would cost the state thousands of jobs, and help perpetuate Ohio�s �long and relentless dive to the bottom.�
Crain�s Cleveland Business summed up the economic impact by stating, �The ability to offer such benefits [domestic partner benefits] is a critical tool to many companies and universities in Ohio. The article concluded the editorial by saying . . .
�Regardless of your feelings about gay marriage, this amendment deserves to be defeated because it is anti-business and anti-competitive.�
VOTE NO ON ISSUE 1. PROTECT OHIO FAMILIES AND JOBS.
A queer icon celebrates the talents of her
Tell a female friend�more specifically a lesbian, music-loving friend�that you�re set to interview k.d. lang, and then brace yourself. What follows will be an onslaught of gushing praise and then proclamations of not-so-thinly veiled envy. Then your friend will promptly instruct you on what to ask the popular singer and gay icon, and she�ll also proceed to wax rhapsodic about lang�s current concert tour (which, of course, said female friend did not miss), in which lang is treating fans to some of her best-loved tunes as well as many of the offerings from her brand new release, Hymns of the 49th Parallel.
These days, k.d. lang is delivering a very personal side of herself�and an aural tour of her homeland. That�s because the Alberta native�s aforementioned album is a celebration of the work of Canadian songwriters. Yep, lang is giving props to her native turf by showcasing the richness of its musical talent. As she says, it�s about time.
�A year or so ago when I was doing the press for my concert tour with Tony Bennett and for our record, A Wonderful World,� begins lang. �Tony would talk about growing up in Astoria, Queens in the same area as Louis Armstrong, and what that meant to him. And he would rave about singing these songs from the American songbook. That really started to get me thinking about Canadian composers, and how no one�s actually ever acknowledged them before. And the more I thought about my musical heritage, it was like �Oh my God� There are so many really great songs!��
Hence, Hymns of the 49th Parallel. On the emotional new release, lang pays homage to fellow Canadians, including such legendary artists as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen, as well as some who might still be considered emerging talents, like Jane Siberry, Ron Sexsmith and Bruce Cockburn.
The result is a thrilling collection of classics, old and new. Mitchell�s �A Case of You� is performed with striking tenderness, Cohen�s �Hallelujah� is a sensual, cleansing experience, and Siberry�s �Love is Everything� is a transcendent testimony to passion�and to lang�s unmatched vocal power.
The songs are rendered with rustic honesty�on most numbers lang�s singing with just a piano, some strings, maybe a guitar, and the full impact and depth of the music. As she did on her previous cover album, Drag, lang imbues each tune with her own, pure imprint. This time, however, it�s not about creating a torchy concept album.
�I really believe that part of a vocalist�s job is to cultivate standards,� she explains. �But the tricky thing about cultivating a Canadian songbook is that it is largely based on works more from the more-recent, contemporary era. You�re working with beautiful songs by artists who have already indelibly put their stamp on them. So, it took me a long time to really get to the conceptual and emotional place where I could justify performing these songs. But it sort of hinged on the idea that these songs are like spirituals. Some of them are songs that I grew up with and they�ve had a direct impact on my construct, my musical DNA. That�s kind of why I approached them from a pure, direct perspective and didn�t try to change them or get too clever with them. I stripped everything away and, for the most part, just sang them from a purely emotional perspective.�
Lang is also quick to acknowledge that she enjoys the freedom that performing other people�s songs allows her, stressing that a cover permits her to immerse herself in the tune in a unique way.
�I guess because when I�m singing them I don�t have the fear of being the songwriter. Although I think it�s really important for me to do both,� she explains. �In order for me to be an interpreter I have to experience the pain and anguish of being a songwriter. And vice versa; to be a good songwriter, you have to understand what it is to sing a song. So, really, I like doing both. And I�m not sure if I�m a great songwriter, but I think it�s a very important aspect of myself.�
Of course, another of her important aspects�and one that�s been prevalent ever since she posed with Cindy Crawford on� that infamous Vanity Fair in 1993�is that she is an unapologetically out lesbian performer. But these days, thanks to her candor and her consistently acclaimed work, lang is known simply as a musical icon�who also just happens to be a gay one.
�I really think it�s just due to perseverance,� lang says. �When I came out and I went through all I did, I did it understanding that it essentially would be this kind of cultural wave . . . My position was just to be steady and try to have as much elegance and grace as possible, while never shying away from the gay question. I knew people would get used to the fact that I�m gay and there�d be no weirdness about it, and that eventually the focus would be back on the music.�
It can�t have hurt that lang has largely managed to keep her personal life, well, personal. That�s not by design, she says. She�s just not one to seek out the limelight when she�s not onstage.
�You know, I have always been kind of quiet,� says the singer. �For me, a really good time is, say, walking through back alleys in a city I don�t know, just by myself. Or going to the beach with my dogs. I�m low-key. I�m happy going to the farmer�s market and picking up organic stuff for dinner. That�s a good night for me.�
House and hearth aside, lang is still also very much at home onstage. And it�s heartening each time she looks out into the audience and connects with her ever-widening fan base. Over the last decade, she has managed to broaden her audience in a way that most artists of her generation only dream of. These days, a k.d. lang concert is likely to be full of those who love the star�s pop offerings (on discs like Ingenue, All You Can Eat and Invincible Summer) as well as die-hard country fans from her Shadowland days, and maybe even their parents, who dig her take on the standards. And lang couldn�t be more pleased.
�The Tony Bennett record definitely expanded my audience,� lang enthuses. �Plus, the fact that I�m getting older has changed that, too. And the more relaxed people are with the lesbian issue, the wider my audience gets. It�s always been my aspiration to have really dynamic audiences, so that it�s completely diverse and all over the place, because that�s how I think of my music.�
As a performer who�s segued from a gay community favorite to that of a mainstream star�and who�s sure to reach more fans with her new disc�she�s grateful for all who take the time to listen. �It�s really been wonderful to look out at my shows and see hardcore dykes sitting beside an old [straight] couple,� laughs lang. �That makes me really happy.��