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July 16, 2004

Marriage amendment goes down to defeat

After three days of rhetoric, measure dies as predicted

Washington, D.C.--By a vote of 50 to 48, the U.S. Senate defeated a motion to end debate on a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. The vote stopped the measure itself from coming to the floor any time soon.

The July 14 vote occurred after 30 hours of debate over three days. Six Republicans voted with 43 Democrats and one independent to defeat the measure.

Ohio�s two senators, Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, both Republicans, voted in favor of the amendment.

Two senators were not present for the vote: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts and his running mate John Edwards of North Carolina. Three other Democrats voted for the measure, including Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

The procedural �cloture� vote was called by Republicans, who knew they lacked a simple majority of votes on the amendment itself, let alone the 67 needed to send it to the House. Democrats fought for, but did not win a motion for an �up-or-down� vote on the amendment itself. Republicans, led by anti-gay Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, objected.

The proposal voted on was not the original amendment, either. It was substituted July 7 by sponsor Wayne Allard, R-Colo. joined by 17 Republican co- sponsors and Georgia Democrat Zell Miller.

The original amendment, also sponsored by Allard, differed slightly from the one acted on, which didn�t get enough votes to get out of the Judiciary Committee. That measure was originally drafted by the Alliance for Marriage, an anti-gay Virginia coalition made up of conservative religious groups.

The Alliance backed the 2001 attempt at a similar amendment that died without any action from the House. Its director Matt Daniels said at a July 12 press conference in anticipation of the defeat, �We always assumed we won�t win the first vote in the Senate,� promising to continue to push for it as the public reacts to other states being �forced� to recognize the same-sex marriages from Massachusetts.

Human Rights Campaign President Cheryl Jacques acknowledged that.

�The battle does not stop here,� Jacques said. �We will continue to educate members of congress and support those who are GLBT friends� expecting that the amendment will return.

Amendment supporters argued that marriage, defined as one man and one woman, is �ideal� for children, and that nothing else should be recognized by government. They also talked about procreation.

�We cannot give the title of marriage to those who cannot perform the task,� said Alliance for Marriage member Roy Innis representing the Congress for Racial Equality. �I�m afraid [that if same-sex marriages are recognized] the United States will become like France, where failure to produce children has led to tax dollars paid to heterosexuals to produce children.�

Similar sentiments were expressed on the Senate floor by Republicans Santorum, Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Most of the three days of rhetoric by amendment supporters before the vote bashed the judicial branch of government in general, including last year�s Lawrence v. Texas U.S. Supreme Court decision banning sodomy laws and the �four unelected judges in Massachusetts.�

Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma said, �The U.S. Supreme Court signaled its support for same-sex marriages in Lawrence v. Texas and we must act before courts define traditional marriage out of existence.�

Santorum said, �Courts are the secret weapon of those who want to change our culture.�

Nearly every senator who spoke in favor of the amendment used charts and graphs with the work of Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Foundation.

Kurtz authored �The End of Marriage in Scandanavia� and �Beyond Gay Marriage,� both of which appeared in the Weekly Standard, a neoconservative publication. Kurtz testified on the amendment before the Judiciary Committee in April.

Kurtz says same-sex marriage and liberal recognition of same-sex couples in Europe is responsible for a rise in out- of-wedlock births there.

�Scandanavian gay marriage has driven home the message that marriage itself is outdated, and that virtually any family form, including out-of-wedlock parenthood, is acceptable,� wrote Kurtz.

Kurtz is widely discredited among social scientists and economists, some of whom refer to his work as �smoke and mirrors� and argue Kurtz�s claims are �widely exaggerated.�

Inhofe also cited an essay by Barbara Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of the National Marriage Project, which he said proved that �children of gay parents were more likely to end up completely dependent on the state.�

HRC operated a �rapid response center� at the Capitol to help GLBT-friendly senators respond to what was said on the floor. But staffers did not attempt to refute Kurtz and Whitehead�s claims, said HRC spokesperson Barbara Menard.

Acknowledging that allowing those claims to stand will make it more difficult to defeat future amendments, Menard said, �This is about getting through the immediacy of this vote, which is less about same-sex marriage and more about protecting the sanctity of the Constitution.�

�There are not many members supportive of same-sex marriage rights,� said Menard, �so we need to kill this amendment and keep educating the American people.�

Of those who spoke against the amendment, which included Democrats and Republican John McCain of Arizona, only Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts spoke in favor of same-sex marriage.

�I happen to be one who supports the court decision in Massachusetts,� said Kennedy. �I�m proud of [the four justices].�

Calling the amendment a �sham,� Kennedy said, �It could not be clearer that the Republican leadership has brought up this proposal for pure politics, not for its underlying merits. They are hoping to use the issue to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country solely for partisan advantage.�

That sentiment was echoed by nearly every other senator who spoke in opposition, including Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who also accused the majority of failing to discuss matters of homeland security.

�This has no chance of passage,� said Vermont independent James Jeffords, �so why are we here?� Hillary Clinton of New York accused amendment supporters of ignoring existing state laws against same-sex marriage, calling the amendment a �rush to judgement.�

McCain insisted that no constitutional amendment should be a political matter, and said the amendment was �antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.�

�A federal marriage amendment will not be adopted by Congress this year, nor next year, nor any time soon until a majority of Americans are persuaded that such a consequential action is vitally important as the proponents feel it is today,� said McCain.

 

 


Ohio State workers get partner benefits

Columbus--�We have been for a long time behind our peer institutions,� said Brett Beemyn, head of Ohio State University�s GLBT Student Services office. �I was afraid we were going to be the last Big Ten school to offer domestic partner benefits.�

Beemyn�s fear was put to rest on July 9, when OSU trustees quietly passed full domestic partner benefits for employees of the university, following similar actions by Ohio University, Miami University and Cleveland State University. It made OSU the second-to-last Big Ten college to offer domestic partner benefits; Penn State still does not.

Same-sex domestic partners of school employees will qualify for an array of university-funded insurance benefits beginning with the fall term. Opposite-sex domestic partners may be enrolled under an employee�s health plan beginning in January 2005, but the university is not subsidizing that coverage.

�I think it�s a good thing, long in coming,� Beemyn noted. �We lost some very good people who didn�t come here or left because of this issue.�

OSU executive vice president Barbara Snyder believes that 50 to 100 faculty and staff members will sign up for the benefits.

Miami University and Ohio University both announced on June 25 that they would begin offering domestic partner benefits to opposite-sex couples. Cleveland State University, following clauses in three union contracts, then joined the ranks of state schools offering benefits.

Three of the unions at CSU, professional staff, the professors� union and the employees covered by the Communications Workers of America, have �me too� clauses in their contracts, stipulating that if any other public university in the state offers the benefits, CSU will as well.

The vice president for administration at CSU, Joe Nolan, said, however, that the benefits will soon be extended to all university employees, regardless of union.

�We think [CSU] continues to be an excellent place of employment where we offer benefits on the basis of fairness and equity,� said Nolan, �and we believe that we will be able to recruit more competitively for employees.�

While no other schools have yet announced plans to extend their benefits, they are all aware of the changes going on around the state.

Bowling Green State University is currently studying the issue in the faculty senate, according to assistant vice president of human relations Rebecca Ferguson. However, what action will be taken is still unclear.

�At this point, we don�t know,� Ferguson said. �It�s a very collaborative campus. We look at it, we talk about it, we debate it.�

She said that the faculty senate�s working group is reaching out to other constituencies on campus, and will distribute surveys in the fall when the bulk of the student body returns. After collecting data and listening to opinions, the group will issue a report and the school�s actions will be based on that.

Regardless of what eventual action BGSU will take, Ferguson finds the actions of the other schools exciting.

�We�re very pleased to see action has been taken at four of our sister institutions, and we look forward to that report,� she noted. �You can�t have been doing human resources for a long time and not have dealt with this issue, because it�s a deterrent to recruitment.�

The four state schools join 62 other Ohio employers with the benefits, including eight private colleges and universities.

While a so-called �defense of marriage act� passed in February bars Ohio and its agencies from granting benefits to same-sex couples, the measure contains an exception for state universities.


New Jersey partner law takes effect

Trenton, N.J.--�It kind of validates that we�ve been together ten years and deserve the same rights as everyone else,� said Cathy Schenone as she and her partner Michele Tollefson registered with the state on July 10.

New Jersey�s� domestic partnership law took effect that day, granting new rights to gay and lesbian couples.

About 500 same-sex couples registered on the first weekend of the law. However, no opposite-sex unmarried senior citizen couples registered, the only other group that qualifies for domestic partner status.

Originally, supporters of the measure, passed by lawmakers and signed into law last January, wanted domestic partnerships open to all adults. Opponents argued that the cost would be prohibitive and it would cause financial havoc. Eventually, the bill was pared down to include same-sex and senior couples.

The benefits extended by the law include hospital visitation and medical decision-making power, the ability to file a joint state tax return with a $1,000 domestic partner deduction, exemption from inheritance taxes when a partner dies and state pension benefits. The law also requires insurance companies to offer domestic partner benefits, but does not require private companies to offer them to their employees.

To dissolve a domestic partnership, the couple must go before a Superior Court judge and prove adultery, drug or alcohol abuse, dissolution of the relationship for 18 months or extreme cruelty. The law does not provide for the division of assets when a domestic partnership is dissolved, however. The law does not have any provisions for children born during the domestic partnership.

Also, domestic partners are not responsible for each other�s debts.

To register, couples must live together in New Jersey, unless they are out-of-state residents who work for the state of New Jersey. Couples cannot register if they are related or if one or more member is already married or in a domestic partnership.

While many people spoke for the law on the basis of equitable benefits for same-sex couples, there was no testimony before the legislature on the necessity of the measure for elderly opposite-sex couples. However, many senior citizens are reluctant to remarry for fear of losing pension benefits from spouses who have died or Social Security survivor benefits. Domestic partnerships do not jeopardize those funds.

New Jersey joins five other states that recognize same-sex couples: Massachusetts, the only state to allow same-sex marriage; Vermont with civil unions; California with a domestic partner law that will expand next January to resemble civil unions; Hawaii, where a 1998 law was limited by a court but is still in effect; and Maine, whose new partner law takes effect July 28.

Despite the new benefits, some activists warned that equality has not been achieved in New Jersey.

�When a new law gives you some rights, even though they�re not many, you take them,� said Garden State Equality head Steven Goldstein. �But if any politician thinks that we should be grateful over getting these few rights when in fact we should be getting full equality, then those politicians are out to lunch.�

Goldstein said the domestic partner law moved gays from �third-class citizens to second-class citizens.�

Others New Jersey residents are seeking full marriage.

Ten same-sex couples filed suit against the state on March 12 after they were turned down for marriage licenses. Attorneys for the couples responded on June 17 to the state�s filing in the case, which requests the suit be dismissed.


Court orders Oregon to register same-sex licenses

Salem, Oregon--The Oregon Court of Appeals on July 9 ordered the state to register thousands of same-sex marriage licenses issued earlier this year, but the final say on the marriages� legality is still in the hands of the state supreme court.

The state began recording the licenses that day, but officials said those marriages will still not be considered valid until the top court rules on them.

Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on March 3, eventually giving out 3,022 before being halted by the courts in April.

Benton County commissioners voted to join Multnomah, but then decided to stop issuing marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, once the issue went to the courts.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden originally ordered the state to register the licenses, while also telling the county to cease issuing them until the matter was fast-tracked to the supreme court. Attorneys for both the county and the state had issued opinions that the state�s law restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples would probably be found in violation of the state constitution.

Opponents of same-sex marriage are working to invalidate any such ruling. They turned in 244,000 signatures on June 30 to put a state constitutional amendment barring the unions on the November ballot. Only 100,000 were needed, and the state has until August 1 to validate them.

The appellate court�s order to register the licenses was issued without an accompanying opinion. This was to help fast-track the question to the state�s supreme court, said administrative law Judge Gretchen Miller of Eugene, who married her partner in March.

�It suggests to me that the Court of Appeals meant what they said in those last couple of cases that we were all relying on, and that they thought that�s what the constitution says and means,� she told the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard. �At this point I�d say that we�re up to--if I�m counting correctly--five serious legal opinions that say that�s what the constitution means, and no--zero--serious legal opinions of any equivalent source of analysis or depth that say the opposite.�

 


 

Surfs up! Grab a knife!
Twisted summer spoof comes to Wall Street

Columbus--Playwright and performer Charles Busch has gone big time recently with two hot Broadway shows.

His Tale of the Allergist�s Wife had a very long and successful Broadway run and even toured the country. It ran for 777 performances on Broadway and won Busch the Outer Circle Critics John Gassner Award and received a Tony nomination for Best Play. He wrote the book for the Boy George musical Taboo, produced by Rosie O�Donnell. And last year his film Die Mommie Die!--a satire on 1950s melodramas--won him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003.

But before he became so famous, Busch was a theatrical cult hero as a drag performer and playwright of such hits as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom (which ran five years and is one of the longest running plays in off-Broadway history) and Psycho Beach Party.

The latter will be presented in Columbus by Eye Stop Productions, a theatrical company that made its debut last year with Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

Psycho Beach Party asks what happens when a sweet young thing with a troubling multiple personality disorder decides to take surfing lessons. This play is an affectionate spoof combining the beach movies of the 1960s with the oeuvre of Hitchcock. The play was made into a film starring William Gibson and Busch, who wrote in a new role for himself as a cop--in drag of course.

�The play combines elements of yesterday�s surfer movies with today�s slasher films and thrillers,� says Eye Stop artistic director Anthony Peeples. �In other words, it�s mindless, campy fun--perfect for summer audiences.�

Peeples was invited by the owners of Wall Street Nightclub to bring new forms of entertainment to the gay club after they saw his Vampire Lesbians of Sodom last year at the now-defunct Short North Playhouse.

Psycho Beach Party will be presented at the Wall Street Nightclub, 144 N. Wall Street, Friday through Sunday, July 23--August 1. Show times are 7 pm, with 2 pm matinees on Sundays. Tables for four can be reserved for $40. General admission is $15; students pay $10.

For tickets and information, contact 614-2997667 or e-mail info@eyestop.org.

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