Montr�al, Qu�bec--The province�s highest court on March 19 upheld a ruling that barring same-sex couples from marriage violates the Canadian constitution�s equal rights guarantees.
The Qu�bec Court of Appeal rejected the Catholic Civil Rights League�s attempt to appeal a 2002 Superior Court decision for same-sex marriage.
The ruling puts Qu�bec in with Ontario and British Columbia, where gay and lesbian couples began marrying after their high courts made similar rulings last year. About 75% of the Canadian population now lives in a province that allows same-sex marriage.
The Qu�bec case involves Michael Hendricks and Ren� Leboeuf, a gay male couple who will likely be the first same-sex marriage in the province.
Qu�bec requires a 20-day waiting period between the time a marriage license is issued and the time of the wedding. There is a way to waive the waiting period by making arrangements with the person who will solemnize the ceremony, so the province�s first same-sex weddings will occur in the next two weeks.
In the original decision, Justice Louise Lemelin ruled that banning same-sex marriage while allowing civil unions, as Qu�bec has for several years, amounts to �a version of the separate-but-equal doctrine. That appalling doctrine must not be resuscitated in Canada four decades after its much-heralded death in the United States.�
Lemelin suspended her ruling until July 12, 2004, to match lower court rulings in Ontario and British Columbia.
Ontario�s highest court ruled last June that marriage should be opened to same-sex couples immediately, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal followed suit, opening same-sex marriage to over half the population of the country.
Neither of the two decisions were appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the attorneys general of Qu�bec and of Canada refused to appeal the Lemelin decision.
The move rejected March 19 was the Catholic Civil Rights League�s attempt to appeal despite the lack of response from governmental authorities.
�This is a great day for Qu�bec and a great day for Canada,� said Bob Gallagher, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage. �The only question that remains is when all of Canada will benefit from equal marriage for same-sex couples.�
Other provinces have said they will wait until the federal government passes a national law allowing same-sex marriage. Parliament has sent four constitutional reference questions to the Supreme Court of Canada and won�t act until the court answers them, probably next winter.
The Qu�bec top court noted in its ruling that the attorney general of Canada had waived the delay given by Lemelin, which will allow marriage licenses to be issued to Qu�bec same-sex couples immediately instead of waiting until July.
�There�s nothing stopping other provinces from letting same-sex couples marry,� Laurie Arron, advocacy director of national equal-rights group �gale, said. �Since the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms, the equivalent of the U.S. Bill of Rights] applies across the country, the law must be that same-sex couples can marry across the country.���������������
Weddings continue on both coasts
Corvallis, Oregon--The bi-coastal frenzy over same sex marriages continues unabated, with Benton County, Oregon, halting all marriage licenses as clergy in New Paltz, N.Y., continue to marry same-sex couples despite the March 22 arraignment of two Unitarian ministers.
County commissioners in Benton County decided on March 22 to stop issuing marriage licenses to all couples, both opposite and same-sex, six days after voting 2-1 to begin issuing them to gay and lesbian couples. The same-sex licenses were to start March 24.
The county was going to follow the lead of Portland�s Multnomah County, which began issuing licenses to same sex couples on March 3. Over 2,500 couples have received licenses since then, and the weddings continue.
Benton County was faced with a threat from Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, who said he would sue the county if it began issuing licenses.
The county weighed three options: delaying the same-sex licenses, face the attorney general�s threatened suit, or pull out of the marriage business temporarily.
Court cases on fast track
Suits against Multnomah County for marrying same sex couples and against the state�s ban on same-sex marriage are being expedited in the court system, with preliminary Superior Court rulings expected by the end of April. The cases may then skip the appellate court level, heading straight to the state�s supreme court.
The top court on March 17 asked both sides to submit written arguments in the suit against Multnomah County, to be submitted by noon on March 22.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on March 19, representing three same sex couples who were challenging the constitutionality of the state�s ban on same-sex marriages.
The Defense of Marriage Coalition is also pursuing a state constitutional amendment to block same-sex marriage. The petition drive they were already undertaking would have altered state law, but the attorney general indicated that the matter pitted a ban against the state constitution�s guarantees of equal rights.
Mayor still barred from ceremonies
On the East Coast, legal battles over same-sex marriage raged on in the college town of New Paltz, where Mayor Jason West officiated over marriage ceremonies for 25 couples on February 27.
West was charged with performing marriages for unlicensed couples, which is against New York law. The state�s law does not, however, rule that such marriages are void, and courts have ruled that couples may still be considered married under the law even if they did not get licenses first.
West was stopped from marrying more couples by a temporary restraining order issued by New York Supreme Court Justice Vincent Bradley at the behest of a New Paltz trustee and attorneys for the Liberty Counsel, a Florida law firm known for backing religious right causes.
West attempted to have the order vacated, but a five-judge panel of the court refused to hear arguments.
The case is set to begin on April 7.
Two ministers arrested
Two Unitarian ministers, Rev. Kay Greenleaf and Rev. Dawn Sangrey, were arrested after they began marrying same-sex couples in West�s place. Their arraignment was held on March 22 amid protests.
Greenleaf was among six Unitarian clergy who married an addition 25 couples on March 20. The nuptials were originally going to take place at the Wave, a dance club in New Paltz. But state liquor authorities said that any illegal activity occurring in the bar could affect its liquor license.
The weddings were then moved to Lefevre House Bed and Breakfast, where one of the grooms was arrested for mooning anti-gay protesters as he arrived for the ceremony. Police waited until after the wedding to arrest him.
New Massachusetts initiative
In Massachusetts, marriage opponents aren�t waiting for the outcome of a constitutional convention�s effort to pass an amendment banning same-sex marriage. They are starting a petition drive to put an amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions before the voters in 2008.
An amendment would overrule a state high court ruling that it is unconstitutional to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. The court set May 17 for licenses to be issued.
�In the event the legislature either fails to act or passes a proposed amendment that includes civil unions, that is incrementalism, and I just can�t agree with that,� Rev. Michael Carl told the Boston Globe. �We will wait to see what the legislature does, and what [Gov. Mitt] Romney does. If the governor doesn�t act--I don�t want to make it sound like this is an ultimatum--then I will go ahead with my petition.�
A similar petition drive gathered enough signatures in 2002, but that year�s constitutional convention voted to adjourn without taking up the ballot initiative, effectively killing it.
This year�s convention, which recessed March 11 with an amendment given preliminary approval, is set to resume on March 29. It will look at several proposals that would all ban marriage but create civil unions, or leave them for the legislature to do later, or ban them altogether.
Licenses on, then off again
In Sandoval County, New Mexico, county clerk Victoria Dunlap on March 23 announced that she would begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses again, then quickly said she would not.
Last month Dunlap decided that she saw nothing in state law preventing same-sex couples from marrying, and issued 66 licenses to gay and lesbian couples before the New Mexico attorney general stopped her.
Dunlap was going to issue more same-sex licenses, but Attorney General Patricia Madrid said she would seek a restraining order against her if she did.
Madrid said in an advisory letter that marriage in the state is an opposite-sex institution, and the licenses already issued were invalid.
�The legislature is not willing to meet and define it or do anything about it,� Dunlap told the Albuquerque Journal. �If I could see there was deliberation or anything going on, this wouldn�t be necessary. I imagine the answer would still be in the courts.�
She suggested that couples themselves �see what you can do to change this� by going to the attorney general.
City says council member�s case is frivolous;
Cleveland--A Cuyahoga County judge will allow the Cleveland Heights domestic partner registry to continue while a suit against it proceeds on a faster schedule.
Cleveland Heights council member Jimmie Hicks Jr. is suing the city to stop the registry, passed by voters last November. He also asked for a temporary injunction against it until the lawsuit is decided.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Robert Glickman announced at a March 18 hearing that the motion for temporary injunction was withdrawn because the trial is less than two months away.
Glickman, who is retiring June 1, set a trial date of May 14.
The judge also ruled on the city�s motion to set Hicks� security bond for costs at $100,000. He set it at $1,000, saying he did not want to set a precedent so high.
The city also asked Glickman to levy sanctions against Hicks and his attorneys for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Glickman did not rule on that motion, and it is still pending.
Hicks filed his taxpayer action to stop the registry on February 19. He claims in the suit that the partner registry is �an abuse of corporate power� by the city of Cleveland Heights, and that the �city does not have the authority to implement or administer� the registry.
Hicks is represented by attorneys David Langdon and Jeffrey Shafer of Cincinnati. Langdon is the author of the Ohio �defense of marriage act� signed into law February 6 by Governor Bob Taft. He also represents the anti-gay Citizens for Community Values of Cincinnati.
Langdon filed a similar action against the city of Cincinnati last year when it passed a hate crime law protecting gays and lesbians. That case was dismissed December 22 because the plaintiffs had no standing to bring it. Langdon appealed that dismissal March 2.
Hicks is also represented by the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Arizona, is a large law firm that assists with cases to advance its religious world view. Its founding ministries include Focus on the Family, Coral Ridge Ministries, and Campus Crusade for Christ, all of which are overtly anti-gay.
According to Hicks� statements in the daily Plain Dealer, the fund is paying all of his costs in the suit.
Ohio law requires that a person bringing a taxpayer action put up security, either as cash or a bond, to cover the city�s costs of the litigation in the event that the taxpayer loses the suit.
The law allows the judge in each case to set an appropriate amount of security to be put up.
Cleveland Heights asked the court to set Hicks� security at $100,000, saying �[Hicks] and his attorneys have filed a frivolous claim� and �the costs of defending these actions . . . may meet or exceed $100,000�
Cleveland Heights Law Director John Gibbon told Glickman that when Langdon sent him a letter in January asking him to bring suit against the city, �I investigated with care and I responded with care. There is no basis for this claim.�
Langdon countered that the Ohio legislature intended the security to cover the court and clerk costs, not attorney fees.
Langdon also said that Gibbon was asking the court to determine the case frivolous for the purpose of setting the fees, which he said would be improper.
Langdon asked that the security be set between $100 and $500, adding, �Mr. Hicks is of modest means.�
Glickman asked Gibbon about precedent for such a high security.
�Wouldn�t this discourage people from bringing taxpayer actions?� asked Glickman.
Gibbon replied that it would not, repeating his belief that Hicks� case is frivolous.
Glickman nodded when Gibbon spoke, but said, �It�s troubling to grant this request due to the precedent it could establish.�
Glickman set Hicks� security at $1,000, adding, �If the city finds precedent to go higher, I will reconsider.�
If needed, a trial will be held May 14, and the opinion rendered before Glickman steps down.
Ban amendment is reworded before Senate hearing
Washington, D.C.--Congressional supporters of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage have altered their proposal to deflect criticism that it would prevent states from establishing civil unions.
The new wording was unveiled on March 22, one day before the Senate Judiciary Committee held a third hearing on the amendment.
The original wording read, �Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.�
The new version replaces the second sentence with, �Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.�
Proponents of the amendment argue that the new wording would allow state legislatures to create civil unions. Opponents had said the �nor state or federal law� clause prohibited them, as well as domestic partner benefits.
Both agree the new language would bar court rulings like Vermont�s, which led to civil unions, or Oregon�s for partner benefits. Supporters say that it is to keep �activist judges� from forcing same-sex unions on states.
Civil rights and equal marriage advocates still staunchly oppose the amendment, even with the new wording, arguing that it would entrench discrimination in the Constitution.
They also point out that it has a slim chance of gaining the two-thirds majority needed to pass Congress.
At the Senate committee hearing on March 23, the two main sponsors of the amendment testified, Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Both are Colorado Republicans.
Giving opposing testimony were Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was intimately involved with the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. Lewis is also a Democrat.
�I ask the question, where would we be as a nation if Congress in 1954 radically amended our constitution to uphold segregation or the separate-but-equal doctrine?� Lewis said. �I further ask, where would we be as a nation if Congress in 1967 had made it unconstitutional for interracial couples to marry?�
Opponents of same-sex marriage bristle at comparisons to bans on interracial marriage. The �anti-miscegenation� laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967, after being on the books in many states since just after the Civil War.
�The Allard amendment could potentially deny important state court decisions such as the Vermont civil union decision and the Oregon domestic partnership decision,� Lewis continued. �And restricting rights of certain individuals would set a dangerous and historical precedent.�
�Amendments to the Constitution are very rare and only done to address critical public policy needs such as abolishing slavery and extending the right to vote to women, African Americans, and young people,� he pointed out. �Mr. Chairman, I ask you and members of this committee to think long and hard before altering America�s most important document for the sole purpose of restricting the civil rights of some of our citizens.�
Frank took the rare tack in Congress of bringing his own life into the debate, asking why it was necessary to amend the Constitution because his nature told him to go home to the man he loves.
�All we are saying is: Please, can't we in our lives do this?� he told the silent committee. �When I go home from today�s work and I choose because of my nature to associate with another man, how is that a problem for you? How does that hurt you?�
He also said that election-year politics is driving the debate over the amendment.
The House of Representatives will hold its first hearing on the Federal Marriage Amendment on March 30. Details will be available at http://www.house.gov/judiciary, and the hearings will be broadcast over the internet.
Bothell, Wash.--A lesbian Methodist minister was cleared by a church jury on March 20 of charges that she violated church law by being in a same-sex relationship.
The charges were brought after Rev. Karen T. Dammann came out to her regional bishop. He consulted his superiors, who ordered her to be brought to trial.
The Book of Discipline, the law of the denomination, states that homosexuality is �incompatible with Christian teachings.�
The prosecution believed that the case was a simple one, and called only one witness.
Dammann�s defense, however, called nearly two dozen witnesses, including Scripture and Methodist legal experts, who argued that the Bible and the Book of Discipline present vague and contradictory statements on homosexuality.
�We need to be careful about creating rules that exclude people,� Rev. Robert C. Ward, Dammann�s counsel, told the jury during closing arguments on March 19. He urged jurors to hold to church teachings on inclusion and justice, not to the letter of church law.
�You are faced with a choice to make love practical, to make love plain, and to do what is right,� Ward said.
The church �did not present sufficient clear and convincing evidence to sustain the charge,� the jury�s verdict read.
Eleven of the 13 jurors ruled for acquittal; the other two were undecided.
Damman married her partner of nine years in Portland, Oregon earlier in the month. She is on leave as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, about 100 miles east of Seattle.
Dammann is now free to be assigned to a church. Had she been found guilty by the church trial, she could have been defrocked.
Her trial comes a month before the denomination�s quadrennial conference, which will be held this year in Philadelphia. Four years ago, when it was held in Cleveland, the church�s stance on homosexuality became a major issue.
Dammann�s acquittal does not indicate a sea change in the Methodist church�s views on homosexuality, however. The Pacific Northwest region of the church is perhaps its most liberal, and leaders there have petitioned the larger church for years to ease restrictions based on sexual orientation.
March was a bit dyslexic this year. It is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but the beginning of the month was lovely, the middle was vile, and the end can�t come soon enough.
March is also Women�s History Month, a time to reflect on the great accomplishments of the �fairer sex,� from Eleanor of Aquitaine�s desire to rule her kingdom to Eleanor Roosevelt�s actual stewardship of the county while her husband�s health spiraled ever downward.
Musically, however, women are not only an integral part of history, but also the present and future. Lesbians and bisexual women have been at the forefront of popular music from the days of the Harlem Renaissance.
Of course, with the rise in popularity of folk music in the 1960s, queer women really rose to the fore. Janis Joplin�s bisexuality is the stuff of legends, and some of those early pioneers are still active.
Four recent albums present a century of experience in the music business among four acts: the Indigo Girls, Tret Fure, Fruit and Susan Morabito. Folk, rock, dance, they�re all represented here by acts old and new.
The Indigo Girls, having risen to the heights of fame in the 1980s and representing the coming-out music of a generation of grrls, are back with a new album, All That We Let In.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers continue to be a formidable duo, sticking to their guns and presenting another album with the trademark Indigo Girls sound. The songs may change, but the heart remains the same.
Of course, as they grow and evolve, so does their music. Note the ska feel to track 2, �Heartache for Everyone.� They also brought in Joan Osborne for guest vocals on track 11, �Rise Up.�
What makes this album truly worthy, though, it what has kept Ray and Saliers in the spotlight for two decades: solid songwriting skills and the lush harmonies of two women who are truly comfortable together.
The Australian band Fruit, who will be in Cleveland on April 21 at the Beachland Ballroom, beat the Indigo Girls by one: they have three queer women in the band. They also have two boys who are cute, but without a call or e-mail to their management in Australia, their sexual orientation is unknown.
However, their Cleveland tour date will be an acoustic trio of just the women, so the boys don�t really matter anyway.
The combination of Susie Keynes, Sam Lohs and Mel Watson are truly a force to be reckoned with, combining the beautiful harmonies that are so much the mark of the Indigo Girls with a more bluesy feel. Of course, the addition of Yanya Boston on drums and Brian Ruiz on bass gives the group a touch of masculine energy, but it is still very much the three women who make the band what it is, as evidenced by the album Live at the Basement.
There�s an odd feel to this album, perhaps owing to the fact that Australian bands always have a sound that is just slightly different than that of their cousins in the States and the U.K. The members all made their way to Adelaide in different ways and at different times, but their coming today was truly fortuitous. They might not be the next INXS, but they could be the next big thing.
Since longevity is an admirable quality, the next artist should probably be worshipped, having started her career in the early 1970s. She�s worked with Spencer Davis, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, and probably most famously with Cris Williamson.
Yes, she is the iconic Tret Fure, back with a new album, My Shoes.
She also has a new emporium in Madison, Wisconsin, like her record label named after her song �Tomboy Girl.� The store is online at www.tomboygirl.com, but that�s beside the point.
Her new album continues the thirty-year streak of great music that has issued forth from Fure. In addition to what is regularly thought of as folk, there are other elements present, like the Celtic feel on �L.A.� and �Bigger Than I.�
Also intricately woven into the album are Fure�s political sensibilities, covering issues ranging from marriage to war, although on second thought those two are more closely connected now than they probably should be.
Finally, a look to the future: techno. Susan Morabito, everyone�s favorite lesbian house DJ, is back with Party Groove: Blue Ball Volume 3.0. Anyone making a �blue balls� joke will be taken out and hung.
A benefit for the Sapphire Fund, a Philadelphia LGBT health support organization, the Blue Ball is the city�s premier circuit party, and Morabito, in the vernacular, �rocked the party.�
Starting out with Layo and Bushwacka�s �Deep South,� which includes samples of both Bessie Smith and Nina Simone, Morabito takes the listener on a journey through the multifaceted landscapes of house music, blending aural textures with skill, verve and style.
�My creative inspiration comes from the passion I feel about the music I�m playing, the unconditional love, belief and understanding from my family and friends, and the dancers and listeners who understand and appreciate what I�m about,� she said. �I approached this CD by choosing a selection of songs that illustrate where I am currently in my evolution, both as a listener and an artist.�
While keeping close ties to the past, either through similarities to earlier works, as is the case with the Indigo Girls and Tret Fure, sampling earlier songs as Morabito does, or simply rocking out like Fruit, all these artists will be the soundtrack to future stories of women�s history.
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