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January 23, 2004

Ohio bans marriage, state worker benefits

Columbus--A bill to block state recognition of same-sex marriages and bar state workers from getting partner benefits passed the Ohio Senate on
January 21.

The Senate passed the measure 18-15 after three hours of debate. Four Republicans joined all of the Democrats in voting against it.

�Someday, we will look foolish, and we should� for passing this, said State Sen. Dan Brady of Cleveland on the Senate floor. �This is nothing but bigoted legislation.�

The measure is intended to deny recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions made in other states and countries. But a statement that �specific statutory benefits of marriage� are against the �strong public policy of the state� prohibits domestic partner benefits for state workers, and may open the door for lawsuits against them in the private sector.

The bill now goes back to the House, which passed it in December, to approve two minor Senate amendments.

From there it goes to Gov. Bob Taft, who has said he will sign it into law if it does not interfere with private partner benefits.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro said he opposes the measure.

"I don't think it should be against the strong public policy of the state to show respect and a little bit of tolerance for all people, and that may include people who make a strong commitment to one another and who happen to be of the same gender," Petro told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A Republican, he is planning to run for governor in 2006.

The bill was sent to the Senate floor by the Finance and Financial Institutions committee, which passed it that morning one day after a nine-hour hearing on it.

�This bill shows the misguided priorities of the leadership of this state,� said State Sen. Eric Fingerhut of Shaker Heights at a press conference the day before.

Noting the crises the state faces in education and the economy that have not been addressed, Fingerhut said, �But in two days, they will rush through a bill that will tell the world what our priorities are.�

Fingerhut was joined by fellow Democrats Robert Hagan of Youngstown, Marc Dann of Youngstown, C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland, and Teresa Fedor of Toledo.

They said that Senate President Doug White did not follow Senate procedure when scheduling the bill and assigning it to a committee, in an attempt to rush it through.

While the Finance Committee has little to do with the bill�s subject, all five of the measure�s sponsors sit on the panel.

The bill was initially introduced in the Senate by Republican Senator Lynn Wachtmann last April 1 as S.B. 65. With little initial support, Wachtmann�s measure was never assigned to a committee.

Proponents of the bill then tapped Cincinnati Republican Rep. Bill Seitz to introduce an identical bill in the House, where support was strong.

Seitz had introduced the same bill in 2001. That attempt passed the House in October of that year, then died in the Senate. This year�s bill passed the House 73-23 in December and was sent to the Senate.

Most senators left hearing

During the Finance Committee hearing on January 20, a group of about 70 people held a vigil outside the Statehouse hearing room�s window. They could be clearly heard through the glass, shouting �Vote no on 272,� the bill�s number.

Inside the committee room, the hearings began at 1 pm with 136 people in the audience and a full committee present.

Nine hours later when the hearing ended, 24 witnesses had been heard: Seitz testifying for his bill, then 12 others supporting it and 11 opposed.

Three of the committee�s four Democrats, Fingerhut, Prentiss and Mark Mallory of Cincinnati, remained until the end. Only two of the eight Republicans, Ron Amstutz of Wooster and committee chair Bill Harris of Ashland, were left.

Before Harris adjourned the committee, Fingerhut said, �I want it to be on the record that the minority, who are opposed to hearing the bill, have been here, and that the majority, who are pushing for it to be voted on tomorrow, have not chosen to listen to the testimony. I want the chairman to convey that message to the president of the Senate.�

Opponents of the bill have accused Senate President Doug White of putting the controversial bill on a �fast track� in order to silence opposition and restrict deliberation.

Harris acknowledged the difficulty getting the information learned from testimony disseminated, adding, �It was the president�s position that the bill was discussed for some time now and had normal hearings in the House, so no more time was needed.�

He then said that the Defense of Marriage Act that died in the Senate in 1999 had begun a �long dialogue for some� on the issue. However, that bill was different from the current one and due to term limits, most current senators have been elected since 1999.

Ordinarily, bills get separate hearing days for opponents and proponents and additional time before committees vote on them.

Seitz admits bill affects benefits

Seitz was the first witness and was on the stand for an hour and a half. His presentation was nearly identical to the one he made last year on the House floor.

Seitz cited Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands as the �emergency� requiring his bill. Same-sex marriages are recognized in all three nations.

Seitz also cited Vermont�s recognition of same-sex civil unions and that a New York court granted the surviving partner of a Vermont civil union standing to sue for malpractice as having the possibility of �dictating public policy to Ohio through judicial fiat.�

But, as he did in the House, Seitz mostly focused on the November Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court�s opinion changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, saying such recognitions open the door to recognition of polygamous unions.

After months of public denial that the bill affects partner benefits at all, Seitz said, �All we are trying to do with the benefits section is to prevent the possibility of unmarried folks to construe that benefits can be granted to them.�

�What�s the sense of urgency,� asked Fingerhut, �that we are having this extraordinary hearing? Has something occurred, like has someone made a claim on one of these benefits that it requires this urgency?�

�There�s no urgency,� replied Seitz. �No one has attempted to claim a statutory benefit they shouldn�t have.�

�Why shouldn�t we take the time to define statutory language in the code instead of doing it by a �go find� method with sweeping language that invites anyone to file a lawsuit?� asked Fingerhut.

�If we accidentally omit something, then we preserve their argument,� said Seitz.

�There are activist courts on both sides,� said Fingerhut. �It�s not funny, but it makes me smile that your testimony shows that you distrust the courts so much that you need to change the law to try to take things out of their hands, yet you are so sure of what the courts will do that you don�t bother to define terms.�

How about outlawing divorce?

Ohio Christian Coalition executive director Chris Long testified that God ordained marriage, and that it has since been �favored by civilization after civilization for procreation.�

Prentiss asked if Long�s group would favor an amendment to outlaw divorce. Long said the question was not relevant.

Committee chair Harris intervened and instructed Long to answer.

After hesitation, Long said, �It would have to be proposed for us to consider.�

Harris also interrupted �ex-gay� activists Greg and Cheryl Quinlan of Dayton�s anti-gay Pro-Family Network, telling them to focus on the bill and not on their �conversions out of the lifestyle.�

The Quinlans sat down without finishing their presentation.

Harris later stopped the testimony of proponent Ed Hammond for the same reason.

Openly lesbian Columbus Log Cabin Republican member Susan White testified, �If it is worth passing legislation to defend the �statutory benefits of marriage,� please have the forethought to enact a law that clearly defines all of its terms, limits its scope to stated purposes, and does not include vague points that would unnecessarily inject government regulation into the life of my family, or be subject to varied interpretations by opportunistic attorneys or activist judges.�

White then held up a plastic bag with documents she and her partner have drafted to protect their rights as a couple and their parenting rights.

�See these documents?� she said. �This is $3,500 worth of paper. We carry them everywhere . . . This bill could make these documents useless because a court could find that they are benefits of marriage, and against the strong public policy of the state.�

An anti-benefits suit already coming

Ohioans for Growth and Equality president Tim Downing testified that although Seitz says no one could file lawsuits against governments or corporations based on their policies going against the strong public policy of the state, people are already trying to do it.

He presented an intent-to-sue letter written to the city of Cleveland Heights by DOMA author and Cincinnati attorney David Langdon. The letter states Langdon�s intent to sue the city over its new domestic partner registry because �the ordinance is in direct contravention of Ohio�s marriage law.� [See next story.]

Business analyst Jason Lansdale, also a member of OGE, suggested that Ohio could be boycotted if the bill is passed.

Joel Flint of Columbus, a gay Statehouse employee, got reaction from legislators when he came out to them during his testimony.

�I work in the Statehouse education and visitor center,� said Flint. �I am the father of a 17-year-old son, I am an Episcopalian.�

�Some people are trying to skirt the federal Constitution, making sure some Ohioans aren�t affected by what goes on in the rest of the U.S.� said Flint.

Prentiss responded, �The real bottom line is what this bill is going to do to people.�

Four amendments weren�t debated

The Finance Committee reconvened the morning of January 21, then quickly recessed until the bill�s proposed amendments arrived from the Legislative Services Commission and senators got a chance to look them over.

Democrat C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland offered four amendments to the legislation. Three of them were immediately tabled by Sen. John Carey of Wellston. These would have deleted the �statutory benefits of marriage� language, allowed state universities to offer domestic partner benefits to employees and protected bereavement leave for gay and lesbian state workers.

Prentiss� fourth amendment, clarifying that the bill does not impede the rights of state employees to bargain for benefits collectively, passed without objection.

Three of Ohio�s largest public employees unions, the Ohio Education Association, the Service Employees International Union and the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, all oppose DOMA because it could inhibit their ability to bargain for domestic partner benefits.

A technical amendment was offered by Harris and seconded by Steve Austria of Beavercreek to ensure that all parts of the Ohio Revised Code reflect the 1991 elimination of common law marriage in the state. It passed without objection.

The committee then voted 7-5 to send the bill to the floor of the Senate, with the four Democrats present and Republican Sen. Steve Stivers opposed.

Asked why no discussion was allowed on the amendments, Harris replied, �It was my judgment to table them.�

Stivers said he opposes the bill because �the statutory benefits language is poorly drafted. It was either written by someone new to the English language or someone who has another agenda.�

�There are too many unintended consequences,� said Stivers.



Hicks takes new action to stop partner registry


Cleveland Heights--A Cincinnati attorney noted for his work on behalf of anti-gay groups has joined with a city council member in a last-ditch attempt to stop the city�s new domestic partner registry.

Attorney David Langdon sent a letter to Cleveland Heights law director John Gibbon on January 15, requesting that Gibbon seek an injunction to halt the registry and contending that it violates state marriage law.

�This firm represents Jimmie Hicks, Jr. in his capacity as a taxpayer of the City of Cleveland Heights,� the letter states.

Councilmember Hicks was a leader of the opposition to the registry ordinance, which was passed by voters last November.

Hicks referred all questions to Langdon.

�He�s really the point person, not me,� Hicks said.

The letter asks Gibbon to request a court to �enjoin the City from the further abuse of its corporate powers and the misapplication of funds that is entailed by the enactment and operation of the Ordinance.�

It is the first step in a possible taxpayer action against the registry. If Gibbon does not halt the registry, Langdon and Hicks can ask a court to force him to.

Gibbon would not comment, other that to say he told Langdon that he would investigate and get back to him in two weeks on whether or not he would file for the injunction.

Meanwhile, the registry will open as scheduled at 9 am on Monday, January 26.

Taxpayer actions are used to combat government wrongdoing and corruption. While they are often brought by citizens� groups, Hicks is currently the only taxpayer signed on to this one.

Langdon sent a similar letter to the Cincinnati city solicitor last March to begin a taxpayer action opposing the city�s new gay-inclusive hate crime ordinance.

A month after he sent the letter, Langdon filed suit in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court when Cincinnati Solicitor J. Rita McNeil would not file for an injunction against the measure.

The court threw out the suit on December 22, saying the three taxpayers Langdon represented did not have standing to challenge the ordinance because they were not charged with any hate crime.

Langdon may take a similar course in Cleveland Heights, filing suit in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court if Gibbon does not act against the registry.

Langdon did not return several calls to both his office and cell phone, so it is not clear how he believes the ordinance violates Ohio law.

The measure establishes a registry of same-sex and opposite sex domestic partners, but gives no legal standing or financial benefits to the couples who register.

Fees paid by the couples cover the entire cost of the registry, with no tax money spent.

Although he is trying to stop the registry, Hicks joined the rest of council on January 20 in voting unanimously to set the fees for it. City manager Robert Downey had recommended that the registry cost $50 per couple for city residents and $65 for those from outside of Cleveland Heights.

Hicks drew a distinction between approving the fees and his opposition to the voter-approved registry itself.

�What tonight was about, was the city manager and his staff,� Hicks said. �It was based upon what the legislation said we needed to do. The city manager�s recommendation talks about fees.�

He continued, �If the legislation said that the city manager had to hang up a green, red and blue flag, they would have hung up a blue, red and green flag. I mean, they just obeyed what the legislation told them to do.�

During the council meeting, council member Nancy Dietrich said, �The partner registry will be open for business at 9 am, Monday, January 26 on the second floor of city hall. This is the first legislation I have known since I have been on the council that was the result of a citizen initiative, so this is certainly an example of democracy at work.�

�And to me,� she continued, �I was thinking this afternoon how fitting this is that we are doing this tonight because I think of it as an expression of the justice and the opportunity for all that we celebrated last night at the Martin Luther King commemoration.�

Eric Resnick contributed to this report.

Bush stops just shy of backing marriage ban amendment

State of the Union decries judges �forcing their arbitrary will�

Washington, D.C.--President George W. Bush called for marriage to be defined solely as between one man and one woman during his State of the Union address on January 20, but stopped short of calling for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The president did, however, say that such a measure may become necessary if courts try to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

In addition to supporting his positions on giving federal money to religious institutions that provide social services, the war on terror, increasing funding for abstinence-only sex education and other issues, close to the end of the speech, Bush spoke about marriage.

�A strong America must also value the institution of marriage,� he said. �I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization.�

Bush took pains to point out that the current federal �Defense of Marriage Act,� passed in 1996, was signed by Bill Clinton.

�That statute protects marriage under federal law as a union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states,� he continued.

�Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people�s voice must be heard,� he said. �If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.�

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in November ruled that barring same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional. The legislature has until May 17 to rectify the situation. A similar ruling in Vermont led to that state�s civil unions law, while similar rulings in Hawaii and Alaska resulted in amendments to the states� constitutions banning same-sex marriage.

Both gay and anti-gay groups found fault with Bush�s statements on same-sex marriage.

The vociferously anti-gay Family Research Council argued that Bush was too late out of the gate on the matter.

�Sixty-four days ago the Massachusetts state supreme court tossed a cultural time bomb into the public square where they mandated the legislature to create homosexual marriages,� FRC president Tony Perkins said in a press release. �Disappointingly, this evening in his State of the Union address, President Bush promised to help the families of America--after the bomb goes off and the damage is done.�

�The president should immediately call upon Congress to pass an amendment this year to the Constitution codifying into law what history and nature has taught us--marriage is between a man and a woman,� he continued.

LGBT organizations, however, were furious that the president used his pulpit to attack same-sex couples.

�Last night, President Bush emboldened right-wing extremist groups to fight for Congressional passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment,� said Patrick Shepherd, president of the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats. �If successful, this Constitutional mandate will institutionalize second-class citizenship for LGBT people and formalize an apartheid system that separates straight people and LGBT people. This is quite a stretch for a guy who didn�t even win the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election.�

�We need a president who will unify this country, not divide it,� Shepherd concluded.

His outrage was echoed by Dave Schulz, the treasurer and former president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Northwest Ohio in Toledo.

�I have a problem with his stance on it, because how can he respect us when he doesn�t even mention us,� Schulz noted. �He�s being intellectually dishonest in this whole debate, and it�s kind of disheartening.�

�I think a lot of it has to do with politics, but the way he�s handling it is demeaning to gay men and lesbians,� he opined. �It�s not a very conservative approach; conservatives want to create stable families, and he doesn�t have the moral currency to take a stand.�

�If they want to protect the sanctity of marriage, they should tighten the divorce laws, talk about the high divorce rate instead of scapegoating gays.�

Human Rights Campaign president and former Massachusetts legislator Cheryl Jacques took issue with Bush�s reference to �activist judges.�

�The courts have long played a key role in helping to ensure that all Americans enjoy equality under the law, even when it has run contrary to popular opinion,� she said. �For example, Brown v. the Board of Education, which ended �separate but equal,� and Loving v. Virginia, which knocked down interracial marriage bans, were both controversial in their time, but today we know that the courts did the right thing.�


Claim of officer targeting gays is false, court says

Cuyahoga Falls--A gay man has been convicted of falsely charging that a police officer stopped his car because of its rainbow flag sticker.

Michael Swoape, 21, of Cuyahoga Falls pleaded no contest January 2 and was found guilty of making a false allegation of peace officer misconduct, a first degree misdemeanor.

Swoape was fined $163 in Cuyahoga Falls Municipal Court on the charge. He also paid $127 to get his car out of impound and had to buy new license plates. The court ordered him to write an apology to the officer within 30 days.

Officer Mickey Snyder pulled Swoape over at 10 pm on November 22 after a routine check of his license number showed a state confiscation order on the plates.

�I pull all cars with rainbow stickers over,� Swoape said Snyder muttered �under his breath� when Swoape asked him why he was stopped on Portage Trail at Fourth Street.

Swoape filed a written complaint that evening, alleging he was targeted because of the sticker.

The entire incident was video and audio recorded by the cruiser�s dashboard camera. Both men�s voices were picked up by Snyder�s lapel microphone, but no rainbow sticker comment is heard on the tape.

�To us this is a serious complaint [against an officer] and we looked into it,� said Police Captain Thomas Pozza, who charged Swoape with the false allegation crime.

Pozza acknowleges that Cuyahoga Falls has had a reputation for police profiling, but added that with a new chief and new captains, who were installed after a scandal, �we�re trying to do things right.�

Pozza said that if the video camera had not been in the car, the complaint would have gone in Snyder�s file and could have been used to impeach his testimony in a future gay-related case.

After viewing the tape, Pozza concluded that �nothing in the complaint made by [Swoape] was true.�

Pozza said this was the first time Cuyahoga Falls has charged someone with falsification under this law.

�We needed to send a message to the public and to the officers,� said Pozza, �We�re quick to take action if an officer screws up, and to stand up on their behalf when they are wrongly accused.�

Swoape described the matter as �one big huge misunderstanding.�

�I thought he said what I wrote down,� said Swoape, �and someone shouldn�t be charged with a crime for an error.�

Swoape said he thought the form he filled out was �just a complaint, not a charge� against the officer.

However, the bottom of the form has a description of the law and says, �if the complaint is unfounded, I could be charged criminally.�

Swoape said he was not aware of the license suspension that prompted Snyder to stop him, and he prevailed on that matter in court.

Swoape said the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles apparently sent him a routine letter to produce proof of insurance, which he did not get because he had moved. When he did not respond to it, the BMV suspended his driving privileges.

Swoape said he doesn�t fault Snyder for pulling him over, given the information the officer had.

�I probably could have won if I would have pleaded not guilty, but it would have cost a lot of money,� said Swoape.

Swoape said the BMV has not refunded the money he paid to get his car out of impound, even though they were found to be wrong.

Pozza said he hopes that Swoape�s prosecution �in no way discourages the public from bringing complaints against officers if they perceive to have a complaint, but we don�t need to make stories up.�

How the candidates stand on LGBT issues

With the Ohio Democratic presidential primary five weeks away, the Gay People�s Chronicle asked each candidate�s campaign about issues of interest to the LGBT community.

Carol Moseley Braun, profiled last week, dropped out of the race after that issue went to print. Rep. Richard Gephardt announced his exit after his fourth place finish in Iowa, behind Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Ohio�s Rep. Dennis Kucinich finished fifth, followed by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Moseley Braun and Rev. Al Sharpton.

In part two of a three-part series, we profile the second group of candidates, in alphabetical order.


John Edwards

Freshman senator John Edwards of North Carolina has little record with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and has taken few public positions on LGBT issues.

Following an initial e-mail saying that the Gay People�s Chronicle�s request for information was �forwarded to the appropriate people,� the Edwards campaign did not respond to additional email or phone requests.

Edwards has been critical of other Democrats who, he says, want to �duck the values debate� that is important to Southern voters. He says they are trying to force the political debate beyond the �guns, God, and gays� rhetoric that resonates among conservatives.

Political observers have said that a loss in Southern primaries would end Edwards� campaign.

Edwards� web site has little on LGBT issues, and to find that requires an extensive search. The most prominent item is a statement denouncing the anti-gay Rev. Fred Phelps for trying to erect monuments in public places declaring that Matthew Shepard had gone to hell.

Edwards was absent from a July candidate forum sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign.

His HRC legislative score has improved from 71 percent in 2000 to 100 percent in 2002. The lower score resulted from Edwards avoiding co-sponsorship of the gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

As a presidential candidate, Edwards has said he supports laws ending workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and hate crimes.

Edwards was the keynote speaker of the Atlanta HRC dinner last May.

�I want to be very clear,� he told the audience there. �I will listen to you. I will work with you and I will fight to protect your rights and to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.� noted that Edwards� Atlanta appearance was �an improvement over the response he got in Los Angeles last year [2002] at a gay political breakfast� where he was �uninformed and uneducated.�

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Edwards strongly opposes same-sex marriage, but also opposes an anti-marriage amendment to the Constitution.

Edwards, however, has no position on the federal �defense of marriage act� and is unclear on whether or not he supports civil unions.

In a response to an NGLTF survey, Edwards said, �I believe gay and lesbian relationships should be treated with respect and should be extended benefits under the law.�

Then, Edwards told the Boston Globe that �the issue should be left to individual states.�

CNN has reported that Edwards favors gay men and women serving openly in the military.


John Kerry

Sen. John Kerry�s presidential campaign focuses on issues of national security and foreign policy.

Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, first stepped into the public spotlight at age 26 when he testified against the war asking, �How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?�

As a senator, Kerry testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee many more times. His 1993 testimony against the ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers put him at odds with many Senate colleagues.

Former Assistant Attorney General Eldie Acheson, an openly lesbian campaign advisor and longtime friend of Kerry, said his military experience, seeing the discrimination gay soldiers faced on the battlefield and upon returning home, helped raise his consciousness.

Acheson said Kerry thinks �don�t ask don�t tell� is no better than the outright ban that preceded it.

As a freshman senator, Kerry sponsored the first gay equal rights legislation ever introduced in that body, the Civil Rights Amendments Act of 1985, which would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and credit.

Kerry was one of only 14 senators who voted against the 1996 federal �defense of marriage� act, giving him a perfect Human Rights Campaign legislative score since 1995.

Since entering the Senate, Kerry has voted against the LGBT community three times, including an amendment to restrict schools from using materials that �promote homosexuality� early in his career.

Kerry supports the current gay and lesbian Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Local Law Enforcement Act federalizing anti-gay hate crimes. He is a co-sponsor of the Permanent Partner Act to allow same-sex couples to sponsor their partners for immigration. He supports legislation to include families headed by same-sex partners in family and medical leave, and eliminate the federal taxation on domestic partner health insurance coverage.

Acheson, who worked on judicial nominees for President Clinton, said Kerry �would approach judicial nominations very much like Clinton did, looking for judges who understand fairness and have a commitment to rights of individuals.�

Kerry supports civil unions for same-sex couples, but not civil marriage.

�He doesn�t think the country is ready for it, is my guess,� said Acheson, �and he doesn�t want to cause a negative reaction that would set matters backwards.�

Immediately after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court�s decision changing the definition of marriage, Kerry issued a statement on the court�s �allowing same-sex unions in the state.�

Emphasizing his opposition to gay marriage, Kerry said, �I have long believed that gay men and lesbians should be assured equal protection and the same benefits.�

Kerry appoints openly gay people to positions in his campaigns and his office. In addition to Acheson, Kerry�s campaign includes former U.S. Consul General to Bermuda Bob Farmer as its treasurer, and former Small Business Administration director Fred Hochberg, both Clinton appointees.

Kerry strongly condemns the Bush administration AIDS prevention policies, which favor abstinence-only programs over science, which Kerry calls �zealotry� and �embarassing.�




Twins on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Ohio premiere of Raised in Captivity sends laughter
and rippling through the audience

�I am inertia given human form,� moans Sebastian Bliss, who hasn�t felt anything in 11 years, since his boyfriend died of AIDS.

�I was a prisoner in my mother�s life. I was miserable,� cries his twin sister Bernadette Dixon a while later.

These emotional malaises are at the center of Nicky Silver�s Raised in Captivity, which is having its Ohio premiere at Dobama Theater in Cleveland Heights.

The openly gay Silver�s works have been a central Ohio mainstay for years. At least four of his plays have been produced in Columbus, including Free Will & Wanton Lust last year. Dobama originally tried to bring Raised to the stage a year ago, but the show was cut due to the financial difficulties throughout the arts world.

Now it�s here, and audiences should be glad. An odd mix of humor and intensity, Silver�s play deals with the twins, Sebastian and Bernadette, who see each other for the first time in years at their mother�s funeral.

Sebastian is aloof, afraid to feel, afraid of other people�s emotions. Bernadette is nothing but emotion, prone to go off on crying jags at a moment�s notice and little or no provocation.

Having left home at age 16 to attend Yale University, Sebastian was an infrequent visitor to his family�s lives. Seeing him at the funeral, his sister is desperate to bring him back into her life.

With a husband who�s as big a lunkhead as Kip Dixon, her brother, however emotionally detached, would be a breath of fresh air.

Sebastian escapes onto the couch of his psychologist, who is a classic example of the saying, �Physician, heal thyself.� The woman is nuts. He breaks off his therapy, sending her spiraling into psychosis.

Sebastian does, however, have one emotional outlet: He has a pen pal, a convicted killer who is serving a life sentence. Eventually, Sebastian breaks down and hires a hustler, an act that leads to a visit from his dead mother and a reunion with his sister before the climax and denouement.

In a typically pleasing presentation by Dobama, director Russ Borski makes great use of the intimacy of the basement performing space on Coventry, bringing the audience to the grave of Mrs. Bliss, into the offices and living rooms of the characters. The theater might not be able to handle a full production of Les Mis�rables, but for an intimate show like this, it�s perfect.

As for the cast, they�re marvelous. Tyson and Tyler Postma as Sebastian and Bernadette are wonderful. It�s quite a treat to see siblings playing siblings on the stage, since they bring a lifetime of experience to the role.

Mr. Postma resembles Terry Kinney, who played Tim McManus on the HBO series Oz. Postma is as good an actor, and the two characters also had trouble with emotional connections, an odd convergence of actors and characters.

Ms. Postma makes the most of one of the most annoyingly needy characters around, constantly clutching at her brother, grasping, trying to drag him back into her life.

As her husband Kip, Sean Derry is pretty amusing. Kip is a dentist, although he hates teeth, and wants to be an artist, although he only uses white paint. Yes, the character�s an idiot, but he�s loving and well-intentioned.

Jeff Staron presents two very different, yet heartbreakingly similar characters as both the convict pen-pal and the hustler. Both are damaged by their pasts, and Sebastian loves one and wants to love the other. As Dylan Taylor Sinclair, the killer, he�s Southern and apparently well-mannered. As Roger, the hustler, he�s just, well, kinda hot.

Finally, one of the jewels in the production�s crown is Juliette Regnier. While an actor should never be judged by her spouse, it�s apparent that husband Michael Regnier (Mrs. Bob Cratchit�s Wild Christmas Binge, Shopping and Fucking) is not the only one in the family with massive amounts of talent. As both the psychologist and Sebastian and Bernadette�s mother, Regnier carries herself with such dignity, mirth and skill that it would be difficult to believe she�s the shortest member of the cast, were it not for the fact that she spends most of her time standing near the other cast members. One might suppose the two Regniers together might have produced a couple of super-actor children. Only time will tell.

The Ohio debut of Nicky Silver�s Raised in Captivity runs through February 8 at Dobama Theater, 1846 Coventry Rd. in Cleveland Heights. Their box office can be reached at 216-9323396. For more information, log onto

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