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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 5, 2004

Wedding bells ring in a small New York town

New Paltz, N.Y.--The mayor of a small college town in New York pulled his state into the debate over gay marriage on February 27 as he married 25 same-sex couples.

A team of volunteers working the city�s phones created a waiting list for over 500 other couples eager to be wed by Jason West, the 26-year-old mayor who is the state�s first Green Party candidate elected to that post.

�What we�re witnessing in America today is the flowering of the largest civil right movement the country�s had in a generation,� West told a crowd outside city hall, about 75 miles north of New York City.

Gov. George Pataki immediately said that the marriages were not valid and his state health department asked Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to seek an injunction against further marriages being performed in the town.

Spitzer refused, arguing that there is no sign of immediate and irreparable harm being done in the village, a requirement for an injunction.

While Spitzer did not give an opinion on whether or not the marriages were permissible, the murkiness of New York�s marriage statutes may mean the couples are on solid legal ground.

The couples married by West did not have marriage licenses. The town clerk refused to give them out, and the Department of Health has barred clerks across the state from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Marrying couples that do not have marriage licenses is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and can result in a temporary suspension of the power to solemnize marriages. However, courts have repeatedly held that marriages performed without a license by someone who could otherwise marry the couple are still valid. Those court decisions would indicate that, while West may face penalties for his actions, the marriages are not illicit simply because of a lack of licenses.

Pataki�s office noted that family law in the state refers to �husband and wife,� arguing that the law means a man and a woman.

The law itself, however, is partly gender-neutral, not specifying that a husband is a man and a wife a woman.

The New York City Bar Association issued a paper stating that the state�s laws are vague enough that they could easily be interpreted as allowing same-sex marriage. Its state counterpart, however, has yet to weigh in on the subject, noting that the organization has only recently begun research.

�We as a society have no right to discriminate in marriage any more than we have the right to discriminate when someone votes or when someone wants to hold office,� West said. �The people who would forbid gays from marrying in this country are those who would have made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus.�

�The mayor took an oath to uphold the New York constitution,� said James Esseks, the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian and Gay Rights Project�s litigation director. �The constitution says �no person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws.� That means committed same-sex couples should not be shut out of the protections of marriage.�

�The mayor is simply doing what he is sworn to do: uphold the law,� Esseks continued.

Whether the courts will have the same view as Esseks, however, remains to be seen.

�The validity of the marriages and the legality of the mayor�s action will be determined in due course in the courts,� Spitzer said.

West is following the lead of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who on February 12 began marrying same-sex couples. Over 3,400 couples have been married in San Francisco since then. A clerk in Sandoval County, N.M. issued marriage licenses to about 50 same-sex couples on February 20, before the state attorney general stopped her.

 

 


Bush amendment support leads gay leader to quit GOP

Cleveland--A prominent northeast Ohio gay leader announced that he is leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democrats, citing President Bush�s support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

On February 26, John Farina, the public policy director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, emailed Cuyahoga County Republican Party leaders Jim Trakas and Michael Wise, telling them that he was resigning from his positions in the county party and from the GOP itself.

�It is with both sadness and anger that I must present to you my resignation, effective immediately, from any and all positions (Policy, Finance, Executive and Central committees, Lakewood Ward 4 leader) I hold in the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County,� wrote Farina, a former president of the Cleveland Log Cabin Republicans. �I will be submitting a letter to the Board of Elections withdrawing my name from consideration for Central Committee on March 2.�

�In fact,� he continued, �on March 2, I will be pulling a Democratic ballot--effectively ending my 20 year association with the GOP.�

�It comes as a result of President Bush�s official endorsement of a federal marriage amendment,� Farina told the Gay People�s Chronicle. �Knowing that the proposition was out there and seeing it happen was very powerful for me.�

�Enough was enough,� he concluded.

His letter to the county party leadership also expressed anger over support for the �Defense of Marriage� law passed last month.

�It was bad enough that my Republican friends in the Ohio Legislature, people who know me (and know better) and who I�ve vigorously supported, voted for a divisive, unnecessary and discriminatory so-called �Defense of Marriage� bill,� he wrote.

�I now have the president . . . telling me we must sanction this type of discrimination in the Constitution of the United States of America. Quite frankly I�m sick over it,� the letter continues.

�So much for Mr. Bush being a uniter. I can think of no other time in our country�s history where the president has sought to so directly limit the rights of a group of Americans,� Farina said. �This is not a true conservative value, it is that of the radical right.�

In addition to his roles in the county party, the Log Cabin Republicans and at the AIDS Taskforce, Farina also works with AIDS Action, a national coalition of AIDS groups. He has also run for Lakewood City Council on three occasions, although he has yet to win office.

The Cleveland Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Bush in the 2000 elections. Farina�s struggle to keep the voice of the LGBT community heard within the Republican Party is over, ended by the president his group would not endorse.

�The party has been overtaken, both nationally and statewide, by hard right social conservatives that seem hell-bent on moving the country in reverse on civil rights--seemingly at the expense of more important issues such as fiscal responsibility,� Farina�s letter summed up. �At one time in history, the Republican Party was a leader in civil rights--that Republican Party no longer exists.�

�I always felt it was important to remain active and fight such blatant attempts at discrimination, but that effort is obviously futile,� he concluded.

 

 


California top court refuses to halt marriage licenses

San Francisco--As the number of same-sex marriage licenses passed 3,400 on February 27, the California Supreme Court refused to issue an injection to stop them.

In turning down Attorney General Bill Lockyer�s request the court ordered both sides to file briefs by in one week, on March 5.

Lockyer, a Democrat, had been involved in a battle of words with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the issue. Schwarzenegger referred to the situation in San Francisco as a crisis that could lead to rioting in the streets, and Lockyer countered that the governor was engaging in hyperbole.

Meanwhile, Lockyer finds himself under the same threat of recall as former Gov. Gray Davis, who was ousted last fall.

Ted Costa, head of an anti-tax group that spearheaded one of three campaigns to recall Davis, joined with Howard Kaloogian, a Republican hoping to run against Sen. Barbara Boxer. Kaloogian organized a second campaign to remove Davis from office.

Costa and Kaloogian said on February 24 that if Lockyer did not act swiftly to stop the marriages, which have been performed since February 12, they would start a recall effort against him.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who started the conflagration when he directed county officials to examine the changes needed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, lashed out at President Bush on February 28, after Bush ordered the Social Security Administration not to accept San Francisco marriage licenses for name changes on Social Security cards until the matter is resolved.

Bush�s directive includes both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

�The president is not only now discriminating against gay couples, he�s discriminating against straight people,� Newsom said in a town hall meeting that drew 1,000 people to the Castro district, the historical center of the city�s gay community.

Across the San Francisco Bay, the Oakland City Council heard a resolution calling on the Alameda County Recorder to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Counties issue marriage licenses. San Francisco has a unified city-county government, while Oakland is a city inside Alameda County. Therefore, Oakland can only request that the county issue licenses, while San Francisco can issue the licenses itself.

The resolution is expected to pass at the council�s March 16 meeting.

The city council of Berkeley, also in Alameda County, approved resolution like Oakland�s on February 17.

The same day that Rosie O�Donnell and her partner were married in San Francisco, Democratic presidential front-runners Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards were in Los Angeles for a debate.

Kerry criticized Bush on February 26 for his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, saying that the Constitution does not require states to recognize marriages performed in other states.

�He�s playing politics with the Constitution of the United States,� Kerry said.

Kerry does, however, support amending the Massachusetts constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying.

�I think the federal government should honor whatever decision is made by the states,� Edwards said.

Neither candidate supports full marriage rights for same-sex couples, but both are in favor of civil unions with most, if not all, of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage.


Rape suspect back in jail after mistaken release

Akron--An HIV-positive man accused of raping one man and beating another was re-arrested by Akron police February 24 having been mistakenly let out of the Summit County jail February 13.

Patrick Geiger, 35, was initially arrested October 2 on charges that he allegedly raped a gay 34-year-old University of Akron student at Geiger�s North Hawkins Ave. apartment on August 8.

Geiger pleaded not guilty to the charges October 6 in Akron Municipal Court. Following the victim�s October 9 testimony before the grand jury, the case was bound over to Summit County Court of Common Pleas as a felony.

However, due to prosecutorial errors and difficulty getting the DNA evidence processed, Akron City Prosecutor Leonard Hazlett asked Common Pleas Court Judge James Murphy to dismiss the case February 10 for lack of a speedy trial, with intention to re-indict and re-arrest.

Geiger, then under house arrest, was unable to raise the $50,000 bail in the first case.

However, the day before the dismissal, Geiger allegedly kidnapped and assaulted another man, 42, bruising his ribs and puncturing a lung. The alleged victim lives in the same apartment building.

Geiger was arrested and arraigned on the charges from the second incident February 11 by Akron Municipal Judge Annalisa Stubbs Williams, who, under advice from Hazlett, ordered a signature bond because the $50,000 bond from the first case was still in effect.

Deputies at the Summit County jail, however, appeared to have confused the two bonds February 13, and released Geiger.

Geiger�s whereabouts were unknown for ten days, and he missed a court date related to the first case February 23, one day prior to his re-arrest. Police officers took him into custody at his apartment.

The student is relieved that Geiger is back in custody, saying that the time he was free was �frightening� and �appalling.�

�The fact that he did it again proves he�s every bit the animal I said he is,� said the student. �I want him locked up for a long time.�

He noted that an HIV antibody test taken in February was negative.


Racism and homophobia compared by author Boykin

 

Cincinnati--Conservatives who consider gay and lesbian marriage illegitimate are using a �weapon of mass distraction� to divert attention from more important issues, social activist and author Keith Boykin charged February 23.

Speaking on the University of Cincinnati�s main campus, Boykin countered arguments against same-sex marriage, saying that soon �gays and lesbians will be allowed the right to marry, and people will get used to it.�

Those who continue to oppose it, he added, �will find themselves on the wrong side of history.�

Boykin called phrases such as �God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve� complete �idiocy.�

He said the issue is being used to distract the nation from the 43 million Americans with no health insurance, the 2.3 million newly unemployed, and those killed or wounded in the Iraq war.

Author of One More River to Cross, Boykin came to UC to speak about social issues here in the Queen City. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, was editor of the school�s Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and was a special assistant in the Clinton administration.

�Blacks were oppressed during slavery [and they] could not marry. Now, gays and lesbians are the most oppressed group of people in our society today,� he told the audience.

In a talk he calls Your Blues Ain�t Like Mine: Reconciling Homophobia and Racism, Boykin stressed the two most important commandments outlined by Jesus in the New Testament, to love God wholly and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Boykin said that while �black churches are the most homophobic,� many are �homo-tolerant.�

He challenged those who use the Bible�s Leviticus, which lumps eating pork and sea animals without fins and scales under the same banner of abomination as �a man lying with a man.�

Boykin described the need for �unconditional love,� illustrating this with his mother�s reaction when he told her he was gay. She was silent for a few moments but then said, �I just want you know that I love you.�

Boykin added a coming out tip.

�There was something very dramatic about the coming out process that I didn�t want to go through,� he said. �If you tell the right people, you don�t really have to tell all people. I learned that when I had the courage to be open and honest, people accepted and respected me more.�

He said that his grandmother was not as accepting. When she met Boykin�s boyfriend, she hinted that she might die earlier from thinking about their �lifestyle.� Eventually, though, she took pride in her grandson�s achievements.

Boykin analyzed sexual orientation, saying it �does not necessarily equal sexual behavior. It is possible to have a sexual orientation without sexual behavior.�

To make his point, he polled the audience. A majority claimed sexual orientation, with a minority claiming current involvement in sexual behavior.

Like blacks, gays are often targets of discrimination, Boykin said, calling �fear as the root of discrimination.� He noted that fear is linked with scarcity and lack, while love is coupled with abundance, where everybody wins.

�The presence of [homophobic] fear becomes less and less important,� he said.


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Lawyers given more money in case of demoted TG cop

 

Cincinnati--The lawyers who represented a police officer demoted for being transsexual were awarded an additional $226,237 in fees for achieving an �extraordinary result� in a civil rights case said to be �undesirable.�

U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott ordered on February 27 that the city of Cincinnati had to pay civil rights attorneys Jennifer Branch and Alphonse Gerhardstein the additional fees plus be reimbursed $25,387 fronted in the case. The original amount awarded the attorneys was $301,650.

A year earlier, to the day, a jury awarded transsexual Cincinnati police officer Philecia Barnes $320,000 following an eight day trial. The jury found that the city demoted Barnes because she is transsexual.

Barnes, formerly male and Phillip, was put under the toughest scrutiny of any sergeant candidate ever, according to Police Chief Tom Streicher at trial.

Barnes became the first sergeant candidate in the city�s history to fail probation. She was demoted in June 1999, after scoring 18th out of 150 applicants on the exam and having a clean 18-year record as an officer. Barnes also completed a master�s degree in social work and is assigned to the unit that deals with mental health.

At the trial, Assistant Police Chief Ron Twitty testified that he twice told Barnes, who had arched eyebrows and long nails, to look and act more masculine.

The jury award was under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the later court rulings extending it to cover discrimination by sex stereotyping.

�This was no average Title VII sex discrimination case but one in which Barnes� counsel were extremely creative in fashioning her case as a Title VII or Equal Protection case based on failure of a public employee with to conform to sex stereotypes and in proving discrimination based on gender identity,� wrote Dlott. �The novelty and difficulty of this question, combined with the immense skill requisite to conducting this case properly, merits an enhancement.�

Federal law allows prevailing attorneys to collect enhanced fees for the novelty and difficulty of the legal questions, the skill required, the �undesirability� of the case, and other factors due to the relatively low monetary amounts often awarded in such cases, and to encourage attorneys to represent those who have been discriminated against.

Affidavits by Cincinnati attorneys Kenneth Faller and Paul Tobias state that they are aware of very few lawyers locally or nationally who would have taken the case.

Dlott�s ruling allows Gerhardstein to collect $350 per hour based on his 26 years experience, and Branch, who focuses on civil rights and poverty litigation, to collect $250 per hour.

A third attorney, Robert Laufman, is to be paid $300 per hour, paralegals paid $65 per hour, and law clerks paid $50 per hour.

After losing the case, the city argued that the rate charged by the attorneys was too high and that the hours billed were too many and not justifiable.

Cincinnati Solicitor J. Rita McNeil called the decision �inappropriate� and said the city would appeal.

Gerhardstein, who represented the Equality Foundation of Greater Cincinnati in its unsuccessful 1998 attempt to have Article 12 of the city�s charter found unconstitutional, said the city has itself to blame.

He said if they had not discriminated against Barnes in the first place, then fought so hard against her in court, the loss to taxpayers would be much lower.

Dlott is requiring that the city post a bond in the amount of $873,725 attorney fees plus the amount to go to Barnes, before the matter can be appealed.

Barnes has not been paid anything yet, though she elected to take $140,000 front pay instead of returning to the rank of sergeant. That decision was in part due to the city�s inability to protect her from future discrimination under Article 12.


 

Two Ohio DOMA Democrats lose in primary elections

Columbus�Two Ohio House Democrats who voted for the so-called �defense of marriage act� were defeated in the March 2 primary election.

The DOMA legislation, signed into law on February 6, restates that Ohio marriages are limited to one man and one woman and denies benefits to all unmarried partners, same-sex and opposite-sex.

Mike Mitchell defeated first term Rep. Larry Price by 173 votes with the endorsement and help of the LGBT Stonewall Democrats of Central Ohio and the 21st Century Democratic Families political action committee. The vote was 6213 to 6040.

Price was one of 14 Democrats who crossed party lines and voted for the DOMA bill.

�In the end it was our support that made the difference because it was so close,� said Stonewall Democrats spokesperson Chad Foust. �Community leaders know it. The Democratic Party knows it. Larry Price knows it.�

Foust said the endorsement and help given to Mitchell was savvier than to be about a single issue.

�[Price] thought we�d be around the neighborhoods waving the rainbow flag and it never happened,� said Foust.

But according to Foust, the DOMA vote, which was emphasized by the Stonewall Democrats, and Price�s votes for Gov. Bob Taft�s budgets, emphasized by Mitchell, was enough to make voters believe Price was �really a Republican.�

The 26th House district is heavily Democratic, so Republican Kenneth Besser, who got a total of 1978 votes is a token challenger.

�This was the race,� said Foust. �Mike Mitchell will represent the 26th District come January 2.�

The DOMA vote also figured in the removal of sophomore Rep. Mary Cirelli of Canton.

Cirelli was soundly defeated by William J. Healy II, who got 7168 votes to Cirelli�s 4754. Craig Massey and Thomas Robinson also ran the race getting 1695 and 627 votes, respectively.

Cirelli had previously been supported by the LGBT community and had the endorsement of the Ohio National Organization for Women in 2002.

Cirelli�s vote for DOMA, which was publicized through letters to the editor of the local daily newspaper, helped erode that support.

Healy made appearances at LGBT events and at gay bars in the district, arousing the anti-gay forces.

Flyers, which had no disclaimers or sources printed on them, appeared on cars at the very large Canton Baptist Temple February 29. They urged people not to vote for Healy or presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich because they support gay marriage.

Healy calls DOMA �ridiculous� and said he opposed it, but took no position on same-sex marriage.

Like Mitchell�s district, the 52nd is heavily Democratic. Healy is expected to easily defeat Republican Mandwel Patterson in November and take the seat.

Ohioans for Growth and Equality Chair Tim Downing said, �The defeat of Cirelli and Price sends a clear message to others who voted for discrimination that they can be replaced.������ |


 

Holy artwork, Batman!

A dynamic duo is among creators exploring the nexus of comics and art

Queer artist Andy Warhol and his prot�g� Jean-Michel Basquiat are only two of the artists whose work is featured in the exotic pastiche of pop and cartoon art currently on display at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus.

Keith Haring, who died of AIDS in 1990, is also featured in the exhibition. Haring�s work, playful and quirky, has moved out of the hallowed spaces of museums and been widely used in corporate icons, ads and marketing.

�Splat! Boom! Pow! The Influence of Cartoons in Contemporary Art� is an exhibition of nearly 70 works of art using cartoon imagery. This colorful show will run until May 2, marking the only Midwestern stop on its national tour. �Splat! Boom! Pow!� is being exhibited in the Wexner Center�s downtown galleries at the Belmont Building, 330 West Spring St., while the center receives a facelift on the Ohio State University�s main campus.

This exhibition, organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, is a survey of the impact of cartoons on contemporary art. But it is also chronicle of the social and political issues of the past 40 years, like American commercialism, the Vietnam War, sexism and racism.

Thus, the seemingly fun and frolicksome techniques of cartoon imagery are applied by these artists to issues that are anything but. The tension between technique and context makes this show a must see, especially in times like ours where sexism, racism and homophobia are rampant and where the Vietnam War�s ghosts are haunting the killing fields in Iraq. Thus, not only is this show a historical one, but it also is relevant and prescient about the current world.

The show features works in a variety of media�painting, photography, sculpture, and video�by more than 30 emerging and established artists, including Roger Shimomura, Elizabeth Murray, Roy Lichtenstein (who got his BFA degree at Ohio State), Dara Birnbaum, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Kenny Scharf, and Henry Darger.

The curators of �Splat! Boom! Pow!� have divided the exhibition into three sections, each addressing the varying modes of communication and differing methodologies borrowed by contemporary artists from the world of comics and cartooning. Above all, this is a wonderful show that deals with the complexities of the American identity in colorful, playful and meaningful ways.

A number of related events have been planned by the Wexner for this exhibition, including panel discussions, seminars and other opportunities to meet with some of the leading voices in the contemporary art world. See the Wexner site www.wexarts.org or call 614-2920330 for more information.

The gallery opens at 11 am Tuesday through Friday, closing at 6 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday 9 pm on Thursday and Friday. It is open from noon to 6 pm on weekends. Admission to the gallery is free. Walk-in tours are provided Thursdays at 6 pm and Sundays at 1 pm.

 

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