Gay USA News & Reports 2008 Aug-Dec

New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books reviews: Gay City News and Philadelphia Gay News

1 H.I.V. Study Finds Rate 40% Higher Than Estimated 8/08

1a U.S. grants asylum in Indonesian transgender case 8/08

2 Former prisoner gets legal backing for Sukarno story 8/08

3 Jamaican lesbian avoids deportation from Florida 8/08

4 Gold Medalist Cullen Jones On Chasing History 8/08 (non-gay background story)

5 Native Americans accept gay marriage 8/08

6 Gay Colorado Politician Heads Toward Election Milestone 8/08

7 Lesbian activist dies months after marrying long-time partner 8/08

8 Lesbian "hero and role model" Del Martin dies aged 87 8/08

9 HIV crisis worse than previously reported 9/08

10 New group to pressure US government on gay rights worldwide 9/08

11 Judge rules Florida’s ban on gay adoption is unconstitutional 9/08

12 Candlelight vigil to mark 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder 9/08

13 We All Forgot The Condom 9/08

14 Transsexual wins federal discrimination lawsuit 9/08

15 US accused of not overturning ban on HIV+ visitors 10/08

16 Persecuted in Africa, Finding Refuge in New York 10/08

16a Ohau — an American cultural paradise for ’tween genders 10/08

17 New Initiative Seeks to Train Gay Bloggers 10/08

18 11,000 same-sex weddings in Califonia since legalisation 10/08

19 Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut 10/08

20 Mum of murdered gay man honoured with Cronkite award 10/08

20a The Gay Mafia That’s Redefining Liberal Politics 10/08

21 Out gay man wins election to US Congress for Colorado 11/08

22 President-elect Obama mentions gays in his first speech to the nation 11/08

23 Lawsuits fly as gays fight California marriage ban 11/08

24 Gay equality rebuked as same-sex marriage bans pass in FLA and AZ 11/08

25 California’s same-sex couples assured their marriages are still legal 11/08

26 “Yes We Can, Unless You’re Gay” 11/08

27 Can gays be ‘fixed’? 11/08

28 A True Military Story 11/08

29 Eight Is Enough 12/08

30 Australia and US not signed up to UN decriminalisation declaration 12/08

31 Same-sex marriage bans lead to Day Without A Gay protests 12/08

32 Big Gay Inauguration Parade 12/08

33 Our Mutual Joy – Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture 12/08

34 New Jersey commission backs gay marriage over "unequal" civil unions 12/08

The New York Times

August 3, 2008

H.I.V. Study Finds Rate 40% Higher Than Estimated

by Lawrence K. Altman
Correction Appended
Mexico City – The United States has significantly underreported the number of new H.I.V. infections occurring nationally each year, with a study released here on Saturday showing that the annual infection rate is 40 percent higher than previously estimated. The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 56,300 people became newly infected with H.I.V in 2006, compared with the 40,000 figure the agency has cited as the recent annual incidence of the disease. The findings confirm that H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, has its greatest effect among gay and bisexual men of all races (53 percent of all new infections) and among African-American men and women. The new figures are likely to strongly influence a number of decisions about efforts to control the epidemic, said the disease centers’ director, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, and other AIDS experts. Timely data about trends in H.I.V. transmission, they said, is essential for planning and evaluating prevention efforts and the money spent on them.

Dr. Gerberding said the new findings were “unacceptable,” adding that new efforts must be made to lower the infection rates. “We are not effectively reaching men who have sex with men and African-Americans to lower their risk,” she said. Dr. Kevin A. Fenton, who directs H.I.V. prevention efforts at the agency, said, “C.D.C.’s new incidence estimates reveal that the H.I.V. epidemic is and has been worse than previously known.” A separate historical trend analysis published as part of the study suggests that the number of new infections was probably never as low as the earlier estimate of 40,000 and that it has been roughly stable overall since the late 1990s. C.D.C. officials said the revised figure did not necessarily represent an increase in the number of new infections but reflected the ability of a new testing method to more precisely measure H.I.V. incidence and secure a better understanding of the epidemic.

Dr. Philip Alcabes, an epidemiologist at Hunter College in Manhattan, raised questions about the validity of the findings. If they are true, Dr. Alcabes said in a statement, the agency has undercounted new H.I.V. infections by about 15,000 per year for about 15 years. “Therefore, there are roughly 225,000 more people living with H.I.V. in the U.S. than previously suspected,” he said. “The previous estimate was 1 million to 1.1 million.” A C.D.C. spokeswoman said Dr. Alcabes’s estimates were incorrect because the new figures could not be used to calculate the total number of people with H.I.V. The C.D.C. does not know the total number but is expected to determine it later in the year. The C.D.C., the federal agency responsible for tracking the AIDS epidemic in the United States, said its new monitoring system provided more precise estimates than were previously possible of new infections in specific populations. Infection rates among blacks were found to be seven times as high as for whites (83.7 per 100,000 people versus 11.5 per 100,000) and almost three times as high as for Hispanics (29.3 per 100,000 people), a group that was also disproportionately affected.

The C.D.C. has known of the new figures since last October, when the authors completed a manuscript and sent it to the first of three journals. But the agency refused to release the findings until they were published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. The first two journals rejected the authors’ request for a fast-track review. The paper is being published in the Aug. 6 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. The journal and the disease centers had planned to release it at a news conference on Sunday at the opening of the 17th International AIDS Conference here. But the paper was released on Saturday because the embargo was broken. A number of leading health experts have criticized the agency for not releasing the information earlier. On Nov. 21, C.D.C. officials told AIDS advocacy groups and reporters that the data would be released soon. In an editorial on June 21, The Lancet, an internationally prestigious journal published in London, severely criticized the disease centers for failing to release the information and said, “U.S. efforts to prevent H.I.V. have failed dismally.”

Dr. Gerberding, in defending the decision not to release the data earlier, said: “This paper has been scrutinized by some of the best statisticians in the country and is much better now than when we started this process. It was so complicated that even I, who has some expertise in this area, could not stand by it without making sure we had gone through the review process.” She added, “This is one of those examples where getting the external review process to really scrutinize the paper, pick it apart, build it back up, has in my opinion fundamentally improved it.” The delay, however, has also fueled criticism that the Bush administration, which has earned plaudits for spending tens of billions to fight AIDS in a number of highly affected countries, has not done enough to fight the disease at home.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was critical of the administration. “H.I.V. prevention has been underfunded and too often hindered by politics and ideology,” Mr. Waxman said in a statement released Saturday. He said the administration had reduced domestic spending against H.I.V. “Since fiscal year 2002, when adjusted for inflation, C.D.C.’s prevention budget has actually shrunk by 19 percent. The president has recently requested decreases in funding for H.I.V. prevention at C.D.C.” Mr. Waxman said he would soon hold hearings on why health officials had had “less and less money to actually get these programs to the communities that need them.”

Dr. Alcabes disagreed with critics who contend that the new numbers point to a failure of United States policy on AIDS, saying his conclusion was that “it looks like prevention campaigns make even less difference than anyone thought.” “H.I.V. incidence did not decline as much from the 1980s to the 1990s as we believed,” he said, “despite the dramatic increase in condom promotion and so-called prevention education.” The C.D.C. said the findings confirmed sharp declines in the number of new H.I.V. infections each year, from a peak of about 130,000 in the mid-1980s to a low of roughly 50,000 in the early 1990s. But the findings also indicate that the number of new infections increased in the late 1990s but has since remained relatively stable, with estimates of 55,000 to 58,500 in the three most recent time periods analyzed.

Dr. Gerberding said: “If there is any good news here, it is hard to report it, but there is a little bit in the sense that while incidence rates are certainly too high, they are stable. That is important because a stable number of new infections in a world that has got more and more people with H.I.V. and people with AIDS living in it suggests that we are keeping up with that pressure for transmission.” The revised figures are based on a new laboratory test that can distinguish between recent and long-standing H.I.V. infection, as well as on statistical measures and extrapolations. The test is done in the laboratory on left-over serum from the standard H.I.V. test after it shows that a person is infected. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the test, known as BED. Dr. Gerberding said that an earlier version of the new test was too crude to do the same kind of study earlier this decade. Despite the improvements in the test, she said, it is “not perfect yet.”

August 10, 2008

U.S. grants asylum in Indonesian transgender case

by Prodita Sabarini
The United States granted,for the first time, an asylum claim to an Indonesian transsexual last month, an activist said. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization Arus Pelangi founder King Oey, said that Michelle Saraswati, 42, formerly known as Michael Setiabudi, won her case at the San Fransisco Immigration Court in July.
Michelle, a graduate from Trisakti University school of architecture, came to the United States in 1998 as a gay man. She stayed illegally after her work visa expired in 2001 and after her asylum claim as a gay man was rejected in 2005.

In August 2006 she was arrested for violation of immigration rules. She appealed and her case was re-opened as a transgender. King acted as an expert trial witness by telephone, describing the quality of life of transgender people here. Lack of laws and legal recourse in Indonesia for transgender discrimination and limited employment opportunities for transvestites was her main justification to seek asylum in the United States. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah when contacted on the matter said that Michelle had been seeking asylum since 2001.

"We are still checking whether her claim has been granted or not," Faizasyah said. Fellow gay Indonesian Paul Amro Yuwono residing in San Fransisco, who helped Michelle in her case, told The Jakarta Post through email that support from the LGBT community in San Fransisco was strong. Their network succeeded in collecting money to bail Michelle out of jail. Paul said that he flew to Indonesia to collect letters from the LGBT community here and from friends to support Michelle’s case.

"I had a mixed reaction from them. Some of them were too scared to do so and some of them were angry at me for supporting this case. They thought I was being a traitor and (that) I looked down on my own country," Paul said in his email. "The only person who willingly helped to write a witness letter was a good friend of mine, Vina Gracia who is a transgender herself. She wrote a letter telling about her life struggle in Yogyakarta and Jakarta as a transgender," Paul said.

He added that support also came from Gaya Nusantara founder Dede Utomo, KRT Daud Wiryo Hadinegoro, film director Nia Dinata and other close friends in the GLBT Organization. Paul said that Michelle’s case could be a wake up call for the government to eliminate discrimination and do more to protect sexual minorities.

"They are loosing their own talented people. Michelle is an architect and soon she will take up a great job in a design and architecture company. Michelle is only one example. There are many Indonesians including GBLT and other minorities that have bailed out from Indonesia and are building a good life here in the United States," he said.

August 16, 2008

Former prisoner gets legal backing for Sukarno story

by Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta
When he learned that the Supreme Court had turned down the appeal against him lodged by the Yogyakarta prosecutor’s office, 81-year-old Soekardjo Wilardjito could not help praising God. The ruling, he heard from the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute last month, cleared him of charges that his story was a lie. And what a story: He claimed he witnessed former president Sukarno being held at gunpoint during the signing of the March 11, 1966, decree, known as Surat Perintah Sebelas Maret (Supersemar), which transferred power to Gen. Soeharto.

"My life is full of miracles from God. I faced many hard ordeals. … God always soothed me in His own way," Soekardjo told The Jakarta Post recently in his house in Gancahan village, in Godean, Yogyakarta. "It’s like I have nine lives. I should have died in 1966." Despite his age, Soekardjo still has a sharp memory. Clearly, he was able to mention important dates and the names of people involved in certain events.

The story that put him in the spotlight began on March 10, 1966, in Bogor Palace, West Java, where Sukarno lived. At that time, Soekardjo, a second lieutenant in the Army, was on duty guarding the palace. He said it was almost midnight when four high-ranking army officers — Maj. Gen. Maraden Panggabean, Maj. Gen. Basuki Rachmat, Brig. Gen. Amir Macmud and Brig. Gen. M. Yusuf — arrived at the palace. They wanted to see Sukarno, who was sleeping. As a presidential guard, Soekardjo dared to knock at Sukarno’s bedroom door. Sukarno got up and received the four officers in his working room. Soekardjo followed and took up his position behind the president. He recalled one of the Army officers handing over a pink portfolio with a letter from Soeharto. Sukarno, who was still in his pajamas, read it. He looked, Soekardjo said, hesitant. According to Soekardjo, Basuki pointed his FN pistol at Sukarno and said, "Just sign it, sir."

Sukarno re-read the letter and protested. "Bismillah. In God’s name, just sign it," Basuki said, still holding the pistol. "No time to revise it." It was here that Soekardjo stepped in, he said. "As a guard, I drew my loaded pistol. But the president told me not to take out my gun. `No, no’, he said." After Sukarno signed the letter, the four high-ranking military officers left in a hurry. Sukarno then told Soekardjo, "You must be careful. I have to get out of this palace." Sukarno was right.

At the palace the following night, Soekardjo did not resist when he was arrested by the Army and taken to the military detention center in Setia Budi, South Jakarta. He was held without trial until 1969, as he was reported to be a member of the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party. All his documents and his private house on Jl. Muwardi 2, West Jakarta, were seized. He claims that while in detention, he was repeatedly tortured. "I surrendered myself to God the Almighty. And He heard me. Some of the torturers later came to me to apologize, kissing my knee," Soekardjo said, showing his scars.

The beatings he received were such that he became paralyzed — he is now confined to a wheelchair — and lost his front teeth, thanks to a well-aimed rifle butt. In 1969, he was transferred to Yogyakarta. He was later taken to Luweng Ombo natural spring in Gunung Kidul where he was told he would be killed. But the truck carrying him had to return to Yogyakarta because there was such a long queue to reach Gunung Kidul. "God indeed loves me," said the former political prisoner. In Yogyakarta, Soekardjo was held in Fort Vredeburg, then being used as a prison, before being transferred to military police headquarters, and then to Wirogunan Prison.

In 1975 he was sent to Semarang; after three months he was transferred to Surabaya military detention center. He was there for two months and then spent another two months in Kalisosok detention center, also in Surabaya. He was then moved to Penjara Pohon Pule prison in Ambon, Maluku province, where he stayed until his release in 1980. "According to the wardens, they transferred me from one place to another because they found out I was telling other detainees about the hold-up incident back in March 1966. Maybe they thought my story was dangerous." His wife, Sih Wilujeng, and their nine children also suffered because of his imprisonment. Wilujeng lost her job as a nurse even though she was a recipient of a Guerrilla Star from the government. She took the children to her hometown in Yogyakarta where she worked as a laborer in her neighbor’s rice field.

Wilujeng recalled that in an effort to get a rice allowance for the family, she went to see the village chief to ask for a recommendation letter for Soekardjo as an army veteran. She was turned down cold, the village chief saying, "If I issued the letter, I would be the first person to be reprimanded." Wilujeng said nothing because the village chief was Notosuwito, the brother of then president Soeharto. "Everybody in Yogyakarta knew who Notosuwito was. Who dared argue while his brother was the president?" Soekardjo said. Soekardjo took his case to the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute in 1998. Before long, his story had reached the media.

The upshot was he was questioned by police, before being sent to the Yogyakarta District Court for allegedly spreading lies. After the court cleared Soekardjo of all charges on Nov. 21, 2006, the prosecutors lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court, which upheld the district court’s verdict. "It is true Sukarno was held at gunpoint. I revealed this in court," Soekardjo insisted. The Supreme Court ruling, according to Soekardjo’s lawyer, Budi Hartono from the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute, is a legal validation of the authenticity of Soekardjo’s story. Soekardjo could not stop thanking God for the decision. "I hope the government gives back what is mine, including my reputation, status, documents and house, as well as compensating me as an Army member who was being dismissed without any official discharge letter."

August 13, 2008

Jamaican lesbian avoids deportation from Florida

by Rachel Charman
A Jamaican lesbian living in Sunrise, Florida, has been allowed to stay in the U.S.A as she could be at risk of homophobic violence in Jamaica. Advocate reports that the woman, using her middle name Nichole maintain anonymity, was originally ordered to be deported following two drug convictions. Immigration judge Irma Lopez-Defillo deferred the order in the same ruling due to Jamaica’s criminalisation of homosexuality.

Lopez-Defillo said: ‘The general atmosphere in Jamaica is a feeling of no tolerance towards homosexuals in general, and as such, . . . the respondent’s life is definitely at risk,’ according to The Miami Herald.

Nichole, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 10 with her family, stated that being gay ‘is the worst thing you can be stricken with [in Jamaica]. ‘You basically have to live undercover.’ The case was handled under the United Nation’s convention against torture, preventing immigrants if it is likely that they will be tortured back in their country of origin. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 28,130 cases were filed under this statute, but only 449 asylum seekers were allowed to stay. The Department of Homeland Security, however, may still move Nichole to a country other than Jamaica. She plans to apply for legal residency in the U.S.A.

August 14, 2008

Gold Medalist Cullen Jones On Chasing History

Swimmer Cullen Jones is still relishing his first-place finish at the Olympic Games in Beijing. "I am on cloud nine since I’ve gotten the gold," he told NPR’s Farai Chideya. Jones helped the U.S. Olympic men’s freestyle swimming team secure a nail-biting victory on Monday, in what has been hailed as one of the most exciting races in the games’ history. He and teammates Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak and Garrett Weber-Gale set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle relay. Jones, 24, made history in another way: He became the second African-American swimmer to win a gold medal, following Anthony Ervin in 2000.

"I was shaking behind the blocks," he said, describing his restlessness before the race. "I was so nervous. It was my first Olympics, and I wanted to really perform well because I had three other guys that were depending on me to swim fast. But all the preparation, all the training that I’ve done prepared me for it." Those years of training came after Jones, at the age of 5, nearly drowned at a water amusement park. "I ended up passing out," he said. "I had CPR done, and I came back, and I was like, ‘What’s next?’ It didn’t even faze me."

But the incident underscores a grim statistic: Nearly 60 percent of African-American children can’t swim, and black children drown at a rate almost three times the overall rate, according to a study commissioned by USA Swimming. "I was devastated to see that blacks and Hispanics are almost three times more likely to drown than their counterparts," said Jones. "To think back to my story when I was 5, I could have easily been added to the number." It’s a cause Jones is now championing, increasing awareness about water safety and drawing new faces to the pool. "It’s kind of ironic that now I’m a gold medalist, and I’m in a position to help diversity in the sport."

August 21, 2008

Native Americans accept gay marriage

by Jamie Skey
The Coquille Indian Tribe on the southern Oregon coast, who are a federally recognised sovereign nation, are not bound by Oregon’s constitution, and so allow gay marriage amongst its members. The Coquilles (which tribal leaders prefer to pronounce KO-kwell) are probably the first tribe in the nation to legalise same-sex marriage, says Brian Gilley, a University of Vermont anthropology professor and author of the book, Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country. Many Native American tribes historically accepted same-sex relationships, Gilley says.
But after a lesbian couple married under an ambiguous Cherokee law in Oklahoma three years ago, that tribe’s council adopted a law banning same-sex marriage.

Other tribes across the nation, including the Navajos, the nation’s largest tribe, passed similar bans, he says. Because the Coquilles have federal status, a marriage within the tribe would be federally recognised. That would violate the Defence of Marriage Act, a law that says the federal government "may not treat same-sex relationships as marriages for any purpose." The federal government could challenge the Coquille law as a way of testing the limits of tribal independence. The tribe concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act may bar the tribe from conferring federal benefits or money on same-sex spouses, said Melissa Cribbins, assistant tribal attorney.

Ken Tanner, chief of the Coquilles said: "Native Americans are sensitive to discrimination of any kind. For our tribe, we want people to walk in the shoes of other people and learn to respect differences. Through that, we think we build a stronger community."

The new law establishes tribal rules for recognizing marriage, whether for gay or heterosexual couples. It will not take effect until the tribe also creates laws for divorce and child custody, tribal attorney Brett Kenney says. The seven-member tribal council expects to adopt such laws next year.

August 25, 2008

Gay Colorado Politician Heads Toward Election Milestone

by Deb Price, Creators Syndicate
In 2000, after being elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, Internet entrepreneur and philanthropist Jared Polis saw up-close the failure of public schools to meet the needs of new immigrant and homeless young people. Tapping into the inventiveness that made him rich in the e-commerce world, Polis founded two charter schools for immigrant and homeless youth, and spearheaded the passage of a state constitutional amendment to prevent cuts to K-12 education. But despite such successes in his 20s, Polis felt the high-stakes problems he most wanted to solve — troubled public education, unaffordable health care and a threatened global environment — couldn’t be solved from his home in Boulder.

So, when local Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Udall decided to run for U.S. Senate, the openly gay Polis decided to run for Congress. On Aug. 12, confirming a Denver Post headline — "Being gay not hindering Polis’ race" — Polis won the primary. All three Democrats supported gay marriage. "While I enjoyed worked on educational and environmental issues in the state, I really feel most of the issues we face are national in scope, and it’s at the national level that we’ll fail or succeed as a country," says Polis, 33. Polis is expected to be elected in the solidly Democratic district in November. That would make him the first openly gay man to win a seat in Congress as a non-incumbent.

Rising star Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., broke the glass ceiling in 1998 because she was already out before winning her congressional seat. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is the only other out member of Congress right now and chairs the House Financial Services Committee. Currently, there are 424 out lesbian, gay male, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elected officials, according to the Victory Fund.

Other key races to watch:

Oregon: Bisexual Kate Brown, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, has a strong shot at winning secretary of state, the second-highest elected position in the state. She’d be the nation’s first out LGBT secretary of state.

Texas: Lesbian Democrat Lupe Valdez is in a tough but winnable fight for re-election as sheriff of Dallas.

Michigan: Democrat Garnet Lewis, running for an open state House seat in the Midland-Saginaw area, is in a competitive race. "It feels like the stars are aligned," says the Central Michigan University administrator, who is focusing on education, the economy, energy and health care. Michigan is one of 20 states without an out gay state legislator.

But Polis’ breakthrough would be especially sweet. After all, Colorado is home of the 1992 anti-gay Amendment 2 and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the lead advocate of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. "It shows how far we’ve come that an openly gay candidate can win in a suburban district in Colorado," says Polis, who clasped the hand of his partner, Marlon Reis, in a touching moment on primary victory night that was captured in a photograph in The Denver Post. "This election cycle has definitely put a few chinks in the glass ceiling. … In our congressional district, we showed that sexual orientation is not seen by voters as a bar to public service."

Polis’ advance underscores how far voters have come in looking beyond sexual orientation for candidates with innovative ideas.

USA Today

August 28, 2008

Lesbian activist dies months after marrying long-time partner

by Janet Kornblum, USA TODAY
San Francisco — Del Martin, an author, lesbian rights activist and half of the couple who came to symbolize same-sex marriage, died Wednesday, two months after she made history by marrying her partner of 55 years. Martin, 87, died at a San Francisco hospital, two weeks after being hospitalized with a broken arm, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and a friend. Martin and her partner, Phyllis Lyon, dedicated their lives to fighting for gay rights, women’s rights and other civil rights, gaining respect and influence inside and outside the gay community.

Martin, Lyon Wed: Gay couples tie the knot in California

"The loss of Del Martin is a great loss for me personally, and for our entire community," said Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and longtime friend. "Del was an extraordinary woman. Her grace, courage and commitment were a source of strength to all who knew her." Lyon and Martin met in Seattle in 1950. In 1955, they co-founded the nation’s first lesbian group, the Daughters of Bilitis, and held the first national lesbian convention in 1960. They co-wrote Lesbian/Woman, a landmark book giving a positive portrayal of lesbianism.

Martin led a crusade to convince the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, which it did in 1973. She also wrote Battered Wives, a catalyst for the movement against domestic violence. On Feb.12, 2004, 51 years into their relationship, Lyon and Martin became the first couple to marry after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared gay marriage legal in his city, sparking a battle that ended at the state Supreme Court.

In May, justices overturned the state ban on gay marriage, and on June 16, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex San Franciscans to get married under the new edict — in a ceremony that garnered worldwide news media attention. Martin, who had grown thinner and more frail in the three and a half years since their first wedding, rose from her wheelchair for the ceremony, tears welling in her eyes as she said, "I do."

Newsom said in a statement, "The marriage marked an historic milestone on our country’s road to true freedom and equality. … Del laid the groundwork for all those who want a life of dignity, and we are forever in her debt." The future of gay marriage in the state is unclear. A November ballot measure would amend the state constitution to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman as valid. "Ever since I met Del 55 years ago, I could never imagine a day would come when she wouldn’t be by my side," Lyon said in a statement. "I am so lucky to have known her, loved her and been her partner in all things."

August 27, 2008

Lesbian "hero and role model" Del Martin dies aged 87

by Tony Grew
A woman who fought for LGBT rights from the McCarthy era to this year’s same-sex marriage breakthrough in California has died. Del Martin made headlines across the world in June when she and her partner Phyllis Lyon became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in California. They had been together more than 50 years. Her political awakening began in the 1950s, when she helped establish one of America’s first gay rights groups.

"It’s impossible to overstate Del’s importance in the struggle for LGBT rights and dignity," said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer. "When she and Phyllis started Daughters of Bilitis, they were nearly alone in Joe McCarthy’s America. Del Martin led the way for all of us who came later. Everything we’ve accomplished – marriage rights, anti-discrimination protections in the workplace, even the ability to visit our partners in the hospital – owes a vast debt to her work and example. Her quiet, bold courage and steadfast purpose have inspired us for half a century, and will continue to inspire us for many generations more. Our thoughts are with Phyllis and their loved ones."

In 1955 Ms Martin and Ms Lyon helped found America’s first lesbian organisation, the Daughters of Bilitis. Over the years, Pyllis Lyon and Del Martin became the unofficial ‘poster couple’ of the gay marriage equality movement. In 2003, filmmaker Joan E. Biren documented their lives in the film No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

They met in Seattle in 1950 while working for the same magazine. Two years later, they began a relationship and moved to San Francisco shortly afterward. Originally a social club for lesbians in San Francisco, Daughters of Bilitis went on to become the first nationally recognised lesbian advocacy group in the United States.

In 2004, after their first marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court, the National Centre for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union represented them as plaintiffs in the California marriage lawsuit that succeeded this May. After Ms Martin’s death was announced today Tammy Baldwin, one of only two out LGBT people in the US Congress, paid tribute to her.

"Del Martin holds a place of honour in the pantheon of American civil rights leaders," she said. "She was a hero and a role model to me and countless other LGBT women and men who seek nothing more and nothing less than full equality. I offer my deep sympathies to her beloved wife, Phyllis, and pledge to carry on the work that they began."

September 5, 2008

HIV crisis worse than previously reported

by David Hoskins
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that the number of HIV transmissions in the U.S. each year is significantly higher than previously reported. The CDC’s revision of its method for calculating HIV transmission rates paints a troubling picture of the government’s unwillingness to stem the spread of the virus, which causes AIDS. The CDC increased its estimate of new HIV transmission rates by 40 percent, to over 56,000 new cases each year.

AIDS activists have pointed out that the new numbers demonstrate the U.S. government is not marshalling the resources necessary to effectively counter the epidemic. The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project issued a statement saying, “This improved estimate means little if it does not serve as the spark to inflame our collective anger about the deadly neglect of an acute emergency.” The revelation that transmission rates are drastically higher than previously claimed comes at the same time data from the National Health Interview Survey show the rate of HIV testing leveled off after 2001.

The effect of the government’s failure to provide the funding and services necessary for HIV prevention and testing is compounded by the soaring cost of health care in the U.S. A recent Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey found that the cost of health insurance premiums more than doubled between 1996 and 2006. Workers now pay an average of $2,890 a year for family coverage, up from $1,275 in 1996. The share for single person coverage increased from $342 a year to $788 over the same period.

Government inaction potentially puts millions of lives at risk of HIV transmission and even death, especially when the costs associated with health care deny those living with HIV access to the quality treatment they need to prolong their lives and delay the onset of AIDS.
AIDS: an epidemic of oppression and bigotry
The AIDS epidemic has long affected the nationally oppressed as well as men who have sex with other men. In the 1980s gay and bisexual men were at such a disproportionately high risk of contracting HIV that AIDS was widely thought of as a homosexual disease.

Homophobia stopped President Ronald Reagan from acting to counter the disease until the epidemic was already widespread. It is estimated that by the time Reagan made his first public statement on AIDS in 1987, over 20,000 people, primarily gay and bisexual men, had already died. The only reason Reagan addressed the crisis at all was a mass backlash to government inaction initiated by a national gay-led grassroots movement.

During this same period it became apparent that AIDS had a disproportionate impact on the nationally oppressed, in addition to gay and bisexual men of all nationalities. As early as 1984 scientists recognized that the widespread incidence of AIDS in Africa was linked to heterosexual transmission. The international AIDS charity AVERT reports that by 1993 an estimated 9 million adults in sub-Saharan Africa were living with HIV. Some 1.7 million had full-blown AIDS. AVERT estimates that by 2007 more than 22 million Africans were living with HIV and over 1.3 million died from AIDS that year.

The legacy of colonialism and continued political interference by former colonial powers such as the U.S. and Britain in many of these countries has left African governments unable to adequately respond to the epidemic. Racist attitudes on the part of governments in the developed capitalist countries prevent the distribution of financial aid necessary to solve the pandemic.

National oppression has taken a disproportionate toll on communities living inside the U.S. as well. Each year more than 30,000 Black people contract HIV. This accounts for almost 54 percent of new cases. The Black AIDS Institute estimates that the number of Black people living with the AIDS virus in the U.S. exceeds the number of cases in Botswana, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Namibia, or Rwanda—six of the world’s worst-hit countries. The institute also estimates that a Black person living with HIV in the U.S. is 2.5 times more likely to die than a white person.

Latin@s living in the U.S. are also at higher risk of transmission. The CDC reports that between 2000 and 2004, AIDS prevalence increased by 31 percent among Latin@s, while whites showed only a 22 percent increase. There was a 7 percent increase in the death rate among Latin@s with AIDS during this same time period, while whites actually experienced a 19 percent decline.

Sexism adds yet another dimension to the AIDS pandemic. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2005 more than 17.5 million women worldwide were living with HIV. CDC statistics demonstrate that AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women aged 25-34 years in the U.S. Rape means HIV can be transmitted to women during nonconsensual sex. The slow development of female contraception effective in preventing the transmission of HIV robs women of the full control they need to protect themselves. Recent CDC studies even demonstrate that women are less likely to receive effective prescription treatments than men.

Pharmaceutical companies charge extortionate prices for the antiretroviral medicines HIV-positive people need to live a longer, healthier life. According to the World Bank the necessary prescription therapies can cost up to $1,000 a month. Internationally, drug companies routinely refuse to lower rates or allow the development of lower-cost generic alternatives. In turn the big pharmaceutical companies make billions while millions suffer and die. National oppression, sexism and homophobia continue to exacerbate the AIDS crisis both domestically and internationally. The unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted upon those living with HIV is rooted in the oppressive nature of the global capitalist system.

September 8, 2008

New group to pressure US government on gay rights worldwide

Bby Tony Grew
An openly gay former US Ambassador is to work as an adviser to a new coalition of gay and straight human rights groups. The Council for Global Equality wants the American government to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people across the world. "The Project demands that those who represent our country – in Congress, in the White House, in US embassies and in US corporations around the world – use the diplomatic, political and economic leverage available to them to oppose human rights abuses that are regularly directed against individuals because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression," the group states on its website.

Ambassador Michael E Guest retired from government service last December after more than 26 years as a form of protest against regulations that he considered as unfair to same-sex partners. The 51-year-old, who is openly gay, served as US Ambassador to Romania when President Bush took office. He will work as a paid consultant to the group, which will hold its first meeting in Washington DC on September 23rd. Mr Guest was the first out gay person to be confirmed by the Senate to an ambassadorial post.

In May the British government adopted an official programme to support the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in other countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued an ‘LGBT Toolkit’ to its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts. "The FCO fully supports equality in the enjoyment of human rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation," the document states. This provides the focus of FCO work on this issue."

The kit contains information on the official British policy on gay rights and instructions in how to "provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work." "Governments have an obligation to promote equality in the enjoyment of human rights, as well as not to discriminate in their application. Frequently there is discrimination in the enjoyment of key rights, even in countries where the criminal laws are neutral. Tackling this would require the building up of local coalitions of non-state actors to elaborate action plans for each country, as well as working locally with like-minded states. This would not just apply to issues like the state of the criminal law, but also to freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and privacy."

The ‘toolkit’ covers a wide range of issues, from decriminalisation, sexual health, reproductive rights and health education to bilateral work with other countries. The UK and France both support the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality. France, as President of the EU, has said it will present a declaration on the matter to the UN Security Council in December.

September 10, 2008

Judge rules Florida’s ban on gay adoption is unconstitutional

by Staff Writer,
A Curcuit Court Judge in Florida has ruled that an openly gay man can adopt a boy with special needs he has been fostering for the past seven years. The state is one of two in the US that explicitly bans gay people from adopting. The judge said that as the 31-year-old law singles out a group for exclusion it is "unconstitutional," reported the Miami Herald.
Mississippi and Michigan have explicit policies banning same-sex couples from adopting, while the legal situation is unclear in many other states.

Single gay or lesbian people and same-sex couples are banned from adopting in Florida. There are no specific restrictions on single gays adopting in any other state. Arkansas will vote on a ban in November. The Republican nominee for President of the United States declared his opposition to gay adoption in an interview in The New York Times last month.

Senator John McCain said: "I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don’t believe in gay adoption."

Democratic party nominee Barack Obama has pledged to work towards the elimination of discrimination against LGBT families if elected.

September 11, 2008

Candlelight vigil to mark 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder

by Staff Writer,
Ten years ago, all across the world, people kept vigil for a teenager who had been viciously attacked because he was gay. They lit candles and said prayers for Matthew Shepard, but their intercessions could not save him. The foundation set up in his memory has organised a public remembrance in Minneapolis.
"Ten years ago more than 1,100 of us gathered in Minneapolis and joined thousands of others around the world in candlelight vigils," said John Sullivan, a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Advisory Board.

The foundation was created by Dennis and Judy Shepard in memory of their 21-year old son, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson are both serving life in prison for his murder. "Together, we waited and hoped that Matthew would survive the brutal beating that ultimately caused his death. We are honoured that Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, chose to observe this significant date with us in Minneapolis. We’ll gather again, in a vigil marked by candlelight, words and music. Then, we’ll proceed to The Woman’s Club for the reading of The Laramie Project."

The play recounts the shock and confusion the citizens of Laramie, Wyoming, felt after hearing the details of Matthew’s assault and reflects the community’s strong desire to move forward after this tragedy. Matthew’s murder was a watershed moment in the perceptions of LGBT people in America. Then-President Bill Clinton tried to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian people in the aftermath of his death, but ultimately was defeated by Congress.

In May the US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180. The Senate approved the nearly-identical Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defence Authorisation bill on a voice vote. President Bush had indicated he would use his veto to block any attempt to extend federal hate crimes laws to LGBT people. The hate crimes provisions had been attached to a defence spending bill, but was dropped by the Senate because it could not attract enough support.

Next month’s candlelight ceremony is free and open to the public. Tickets for the reading of The Laramie Project at The Woman’s Club are $100 (main floor and front balcony) and $65 (rear balcony), all general seating. To purchase tickets, contact Warren Greene, Operations Director at The Matthew Shepard Foundation: 303.830.7400, ext. 11 or email


September 2008

We All Forgot The Condom

by David France
You may have heard that HIV infection is on the rise, or that the effort to develop a vaccine has dead-ended. But in recent years, with every new setback and breakthrough—including sensational word of a new “morning after” pill—gay men have been changing their behavior, adopting ingenious methods to keep the virus at bay. As a result, the one commandment of the past twenty-five years—always wear a condom—is fast becoming a relic

we pull paper slippers over our street shoes and stretch on surgical masks, limp hair caps, and two pairs of latex gloves before passing through a series of heavy doors and arriving finally at one marked with extensive warnings, which leads into the infectious-disease lab of J. Victor Garcia, Ph.D. I cannot disclose what the warning signs say, as I’ve been instructed by my chaperone, an administration official at the University of Texas, not to reveal anything that might allow the animal liberationists to pinpoint our location.

We pause outside the door and pull on a second pair of slippers, then more gloves, and step into white hazmat suits, fumbling our bloated fingers along the zipper. Paul Denton, one of Garcia’s research scientists, pushes the door open, and inside we are immediately struck by the distinctive smell of mouse meal. One wall is lined with white lab mice, dozens of them, each in a clear plastic cage, twisting their pink noses toward the sterile scent of our presence. They wear wire ear tags but are otherwise unremarkable. It’s not possible to tell by looking at them that they are not fully mouse, that they are, in fact, the rodent equivalent of Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Fly, the product of a cross-species mash-up that has rendered them only half mouse.

The other half is pure human.

In the two years since they humanized their first mouse, Garcia and his colleagues have published several technical papers on their creations. Each of the mice in this room carries a bit of human liver, a slice of human thymus, and a dose of human stem cells, all from the same donor. When implanted under the right circumstances, they combine to create a functioning, highly sophisticated human immune system. “Not like human,” Garcia explains. “Human. The thymus is human. The cells are human.”

Besides being profoundly unnerving, the significance of these mice to medical research is huge. For the first time, a broad range of experiments can be conducted on living human systems that ethically couldn’t be performed on people. Inside this secret room, on an unknown floor in this undisclosed location, Garcia and his lab crew are taking AIDS research to a place it has never gone before. Till now, no other animal besides man was susceptible to HIV—human immunodeficiency virus—a fact that has slowed research immeasurably. But these humanized mice can catch HIV just like we do. In experiment after experiment, they have been infected through anal or vaginal deposits of the virus, or through needle sticks. And left untreated, the disease progresses in them just as it does in us.

Denton draws my attention to three rodent habitats resting on a stainless-steel table under a special anticontamination hood. The little guy on the left, who is currently upside down and patrolling the ceiling with deep curiosity, has full-blown AIDS. “There is a lot of HIV in him,” Denton says. He couldn’t be more infectious than he is right this minute. The other two mice have been exposed to massive amounts of HIV and are being monitored to see if they’ll become infected, too. “We’ve been watching this one for four weeks,” Denton says, lifting one of the cages toward me. I bend down and look into the mouse’s small brown eyes. “He is still negative,” Denton says. “And that one is, too.”

Read entire article

September 19, 2008

Transsexual wins federal discrimination lawsuit

by Jesse J. Holland
Washington (AP) – A former Army Special Forces commander passed over for a job as a terrorism analyst at the Library of Congress because he was in the process of becoming a she won a discrimination lawsuit on Friday. U.S. District Judge James Robinson ruled that the Library of Congress discriminated against Diane Schroer of Alexandria, Va., by not giving her the job after the former David Schroer disclosed he would start becoming Diane before beginning the new job. "The evidence establishes that the Library was enthusiastic about hiring David Schroer — until she disclosed her transsexuality," Robinson wrote in his decision. "The Library revoked the offer when it learned that a man named David intended to become, legally, culturally, and physically, a woman named Diane. This was discrimination ‘because of . . . sex.’"

Advocates called the ruling groundbreaking because a federal judge has now ruled that discriminating against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination under federal law. "The court got it exactly right, sending a loud and clear message to employers everywhere: if you fire or refused to hire someone for transitioning, you are guilty of sex discrimination and may well find yourself liable," said Sharon McGowan, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who helped with the case. The Justice Department is reviewing the judge’s ruling, spokesman Charles Miller said.

Schroer sued in 2005 alleging sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. "It is especially gratifying that the court has ruled that discriminating against someone for transitioning is illegal," Schroer said after hearing about the decision. The Library of Congress and the Justice Department argued that discrimination because of transsexuality was not illegal sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. But Robinson disagreed. "The Library’s refusal to hire Schroer after being advised that she planned to change her anatomical sex by undergoing sex reassignment surgery was literally discrimination ‘because of . . . sex,’" the judge wrote.

Schroer said in the Army she was director of the classified group that tracked and targeted terrorists, and she briefed high-level officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney. After retiring from the military, David Schroer interviewed for the Congressional Research Service job at the Library of Congress and got an offer in December 2004. Schroer said during a lunch with Charlotte Preece, a Library of Congress official, he explained the upcoming medical transition to become a woman. Schroer testified Preece called the next day and said the position would not be a "good fit". The judge will decide on the penalties in the case later.

October 1, 2008

US accused of not overturning ban on HIV+ visitors

by Staff Writer,
A New York-based LGBT immigration pressure group has accused the US government of failing to follow a new policy on HIV+ people visiting the country. In July President Bush signed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Act, which lifts the ban on HIV positive people from entering the United States. The bulk of the legislation aims to fight AIDS in the developing world. At present any foreign national who tests positive for HIV is "inadmissible," meaning he or she is barred from permanent residence and even short-term travel in the United States.

Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it will issue regulations which purport to “streamline” the waiver application process for HIV-positive short-term visitors. "The timing of these regulations is deeply troubling," said Victoria Neilson, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. "In July, Congress issued a bipartisan message to this Administration – remove HIV as a barrier to travel and immigration. Instead of simply ending the HIV travel ban, the administration is again treating HIV differently from any other medical condition."

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who led the repeal effort in the House of Representatives, said: "I am disappointed that the Administration has decided to move ahead and finalise this rule to clarify the visa waiver process for HIV positive short term visitors to the United States. The rule itself remains fundamentally flawed because it is grounded on an unjust and discriminatory policy that has no basis in public health."

Immigration Equality said that under the new rules a short-term traveller must meet twelve stringent criteria "that impose unnecessary burdens on HIV+ travellers and continue to stigmatise those living with HIV. Some criteria are inconsistent with current medical knowledge of HIV transmission and treatment." Visitors who take up the waiver do not have the right to apply for a green card from within the United States – even if he or she marries a U.S. citizen.

Department of State consular officers will make decisions on waivers without sending them to DHS for approval. "We are on the eve of lifting this ban once and for all. Why is the Administration setting new waiver requirements in stone now?" said Ms Neilson. "The time has come for this Administration to finish the job that Congress started this summer. It’s time to lift the HIV ban." The ban originates from 1987, when fear about the spread of the disease led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special visa.

The New York Times

October 6, 2008

Persecuted in Africa, Finding Refuge in New York

by KirkK Semple and Lydia Polgreen
Pape Mbaye gets a lot of attention. Even in jaded New York, people watch the way he walks (his style defines the word sashay) and scrutinize his outfits, which on a recent afternoon featured white, low-slung capris, a black purse, eyeliner and diamond-studded jewelry. And he likes it. “I’m fabulous,” he said. “I feel good.”
Mr. Mbaye, 24, is an entertainer from Dakar, Senegal, known there for his dancing, singing and storytelling. But while his flamboyance may be celebrated in New York, he attracted the wrong kind of attention in West Africa this year, and it nearly cost him his life.

In February, a Senegalese magazine published photographs of what was reported to be an underground gay marriage and said that Mr. Mbaye, who appeared in the photos and is gay himself, had organized the event. In the ensuing six months, Mr. Mbaye said, he was harassed by the police, attacked by armed mobs, driven from his home, maligned in the national media and forced to live on the run across West Africa. In July, the United States government gave him refugee status, one of the rare instances when such protection has been granted to a foreigner facing persecution based on sexual orientation. A month later, Mr. Mbaye arrived in New York, eventually moving into a small furnished room in the Bronx that rents for $150 per week. It has a bed, air-conditioner, television, cat and pink walls.

“There’s security, there’s independence, there’s peace,” he said of his new country. But even as he has begun looking for work, with the help of a few Senegalese immigrants he knows from Dakar, Mr. Mbaye is largely avoiding the mainstream Senegalese community, fearing that the same prejudices that drove him out of Africa may dog him here. One recent evening, while visiting close family friends from Dakar who live in Harlem, he recalled a shopping trip to 116th Street, where many Senegalese work and live. There, he said, he was harassed by a Senegalese man who ridiculed Mr. Mbaye’s outfit and threatened him.

“He said, ‘If you were in Senegal, I would kill you,’ ” Mr. Mbaye said, gesturing with his arms, his voice rising. “I have my freedom now, and that man wanted to take it.” The United States does not track how often it grants refuge to people fleeing anti-gay persecution. But Christopher Nugent, an immigration lawyer with Holland & Knight, a Washington law firm where he is a senior pro bono counsel specializing in refugee and asylum cases, said that in the past decade he has heard of only a handful.

The government also does not track the number of persecuted gay men and lesbians who are granted asylum, but experts in the field say the number is higher than those granted refugee status. (Asylum is granted to people already in the United States, while people outside the country must seek refugee status.) Mr. Mbaye’s case was exceptional because his fame made his situation particularly perilous, said Mr. Nugent, who represented Mr. Mbaye in his petition. “He was vilified in the Senegalese media as being the face of the sinful homosexual, and he had scars to show,” he said.

For the past few years, anti-gay hysteria has been sweeping across swaths of Africa, fueled by sensationalist media reports of open homosexuality among public figures and sustained by deep and abiding taboos that have made even the most hateful speech about gays not just acceptable but almost required. Gay men and women have recently been arrested in Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, among other countries. “In most countries there is poverty and instability, and usually homosexuality is used as a way of shifting the attention from the actual problem to this thing that is not really the problem but can distract the public,” said Joel Nana, who is from Cameroon and who works for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Pape Mbaye (pronounced POP mm-BYE) had been living the Senegalese version of the high life for some time. He worked principally as a griot — a singer and storyteller invited to weddings, birthday parties and other events to perform traditional songs, dance and tell stories. By West African standards, it earned him a good living. He had performed at parties for wealthy and famous Senegalese, had two cars and a driver, an overflowing wardrobe and an apartment in a fashionable neighborhood decked out with rococo gold-leaf-encrusted furniture. Mr. Mbaye, who said he had known he was gay from a young age, seldom tried to hide his sexuality, often wearing makeup and jewelry in public.

Though Senegal passed an antisodomy law in 1965 that forbids “an improper or unnatural act with a person of the same sex,” homosexuality has traditionally been quietly tolerated in Senegal, particularly among the creative class of musicians and artists that is so central to Senegalese culture. But the publication of the gay wedding photos on Feb. 1 dovetailed with a recent surge in anti-gay sentiment, a trend partly fueled by some conservative Islamic leaders, sending Mr. Mbaye on his harrowing odyssey.

On the morning after the article’s publication, Mr. Mbaye and several gay friends were arrested by the police, who held them for four days. During his detention, Mr. Mbaye said, he was questioned about his participation in the marriage ceremony, which he asserted was a party, not a wedding. Under diplomatic pressure from the Netherlands and Denmark, the Senegalese authorities released Mr. Mbaye and his friends. The singer said the police told him and his friends that they should go into hiding. “The police cannot guarantee your security because the entire society will be out to get you,” a police official said, according to testimony that Mr. Mbaye would later give to Human Rights Watch.

While he was in detention, his apartment was looted and anti-gay graffiti was scrawled on the wall of the building, he said. He and several gay friends fled to Ziguinchor in south Senegal, but in mid-February, a mob wielding broken bottles, forks and other weapons stormed the house and beat them, Mr. Mbaye said. Mr. Mbaye spent the next several weeks moving from one safe house to another before fleeing to Gambia on May 11. Several days later, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia vowed to behead all homosexuals in his country. Mr. Mbaye immediately returned to Dakar.

But he was discovered and chased by a crowd, as local news media reported his return. He sought sanctuary at the offices of Raddho, a human rights organization based in Dakar, which put him in the care of Human Rights Watch. “I am like a hunted animal,” Mr. Mbaye said during an interview while he hid out in a Dakar hotel. Human Rights Watch helped Mr. Mbaye assemble his refugee application and get to Ghana, where he sought help from the American Embassy in Accra, the country’s capital.

While in Ghana, Mr. Mbaye said, he was attacked again, this time by knife-wielding Senegalese expatriates who had discovered he was there. The assault, which left him with wounds, probably accelerated the review process for his application, Mr. Nugent said. (Confidentiality regulations forbid United States immigration officials from discussing the case.) Mr. Mbaye received his refugee status on July 31, and he arrived at Kennedy Airport on Aug. 18 carrying several suitcases and a Chanel handbag. A few weeks later, he received his Social Security card and work authorization permit. He hopes to resume his career, though he acknowledges that until he improves his English, he will have to perform in French and Wolof, an African language. He also dreams of getting a modeling contract.

In the meantime, he said, he will do just about anything. “I would like a job in a restaurant or a hotel or a club or in perfume or in makeup,” he said. “But no bricklaying.” Mr. Nugent has been posting notices on Internet mailing lists serving the gay community in search of sponsors to help Mr. Mbaye find work, including in gay nightclubs. Mr. Mbaye seems undaunted. At his friends’ home in Harlem, he celebrated his newfound freedom. “I want to live with the gays!” he said as his hosts laughed. “Pape Mbaye is American!

October 03, 2008

New Initiative Seeks to Train Gay Bloggers

by Rebecca Armendariz
Mike Rogers, a blogger who gained notoriety for outing closeted Republican officials, is spearheading a new initiative to support training and funding for the next wave of gay bloggers.
Rogers recently established the program, called the LGBT Bloggers & Citizen Journalist Initiative, with a $50,000 grant from philanthropist Jonathan Lewis. Lewis is the son of Peter Lewis, one of the founders of Progressive Auto Insurance. Jonathan Lewis awards an annual scholarship through the Point Foundation’s National LGBT Scholarship Fund.

Rogers said the goal of the LGBT Bloggers & Citizen Journalist Initiative is to bring the online world together with traditional organizations that are sometimes lagging in the technology department. Rogers said the initiative’s driving force is best encapsulated by a quote from Pam Spaulding, a lesbian blogger who writes at Pam’s House Blend: “You can ignore us, but we are journalists, we are activists, it’s all one now.” Rogers said that other progressive movements have been more effective in quickly disseminating their messages.

Citing this year’s killing of Lawrence King, the gay California teen who was shot Feb. 12, Rogers said fewer people online knew about that than last year’s “Jena 6” controversy, in which six black Jena High School students in Louisiana were charged with attempted murder for attacking a white student after a noose was found hanging from a campus tree. “How do we strengthen our voice so that when one of our young people is murdered, it becomes just as big of a story?” he said.

The initiative will begin with a December summit of 50 bloggers and representatives of gay rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which are sponsors. “The Human Rights Campaign understands the importance of online organizing, commentary and activism,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, in a statement. “This venture will help create a synergy between organizations and new media never before seen in our movement, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

HRC donated $5,000 to the initiative, and the Victory Fund gave $2,500. The two groups will also co-host a networking party for bloggers and staffers the weekend of the summit. Rogers projects that with other individual donations, funding will reach $70,000 by the conference. HRC and the Victory Fund each maintain their own blogs, HRC Back Story and

Rogers, who writes online at, said he’s now seeking 35 people to participate in the three-day summit, which begins Dec. 5. Participants receive round-trip flights to D.C., hotel accommodations and free meals. More information is available at Members of progressive organizations, Capitol Hill staff and community leaders will meet with bloggers to help establish personal relationships, Rogers said.

The goal of the meetings, Rogers said, will be to facilitate partnerships for future projects, such as live-blogging events that are coordinated by the organizations. Denis Dison, the Victory Fund’s communications director, said that he handles bloggers the same way he handles traditional journalists in terms of supplying information and maintaining relationships to share his group’s message. “It’s vital to keep up a relationship that’s somewhat symbiotic,” he said. “If you’re not a part of [the blogosphere] as an organization, then your message doesn’t get out as quickly as it needs to.”

Dison said that the relationships between bloggers and organizations, though, won’t compromise the bloggers’ role of serving as a watchdog. “I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve had to go to a blogger and ask them to set the record straight on something if they’re criticizing us,” Dison said. “I definitely don’t think the relationship ‘protects us,’ but it does let us plead our case.”

October 7, 2008

11,000 same-sex weddings in Califonia since legalisation

by Staff Writer,
New research published in Los Angeles today has revealed that estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have married in California in the first three months since gay weddings were ruled legal in the state. The Williams Institute estimates that the number same-sex couples in the state has increased to 109,000, or 14% of the US total, and there are 861,000 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults living in California. Same-sex couples live in every county in California, constituting 9 of every 1,000 households.

San Francisco has the highest percentage of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals at 14%, followed by Humbolt (5.6%), Lake (5%), Santa Cruz (5%), and Sacramento (4.3%). Voters in California will consider a ballot measure on election day in November that would alter the state constitution and "eliminate right of same-sex couples to marry." In May the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriages in the state.

The Court voted 4 to 3 to strike down the ban. Opponents of gay marriage raised more than a million signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. The research from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law revealed that five counties account for nearly 80% of the estimated 11,000 same-sex couples: Los Angeles (2,719), San Francisco (2,708), San Diego (1,689), Riverside (1,247), and Alameda (475).

These are all counties known to have large and visible lesbian and gay populations and are also attractive tourist destinations for both in- and out-of-state weddings. The Williams Institute also published three new research studies providing demographic and economic information for the 109,000 same-sex couples in California. The first study, an analysis of recent data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, shows that nearly 25% of same-sex couples in California are raising more than 52,000 children.

“Clearly, same-sex couples who seek legal recognition are in enduring relationships,” said Gary Gates, Senior Research Fellow at the Williams Institute and co-author of all three studies. " While lesbians are more likely to be in a cohabiting partnership than are gay men, gay men nonetheless have longer duration relationships, especially those who have sought official registration, 12 years average duration for gay men compared to 9 years for lesbians."

The third study, published in the journal Review of Economics of the Household, reveals that the usual predictors of marriage, economic factors like education and income, do not have as strong an impact in predicting which lesbian and gay couples will seek registered domestic partnership.

Click here to read the research papers.

The New York Times

October 11, 2008

Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut

by Robert D. McFadden
A sharply divided Connecticut Supreme Court struck down the state’s civil union law on Friday and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Connecticut thus joins Massachusetts and California as the only states to have legalized gay marriages. The ruling, which cannot be appealed and is to take effect on Oct. 28, held that a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and a civil union law intended to provide all the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples, violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities. “Like these once prevalent views, our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection,” Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote for the majority in a 4-to-3 decision that explored the nature of homosexual identity, the history of societal views toward homosexuality and the limits of gay political power compared with that of blacks and women.

“Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice,” Justice Palmer declared. “To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”

The ruling was groundbreaking in various respects. In addition to establishing Connecticut as the third state to sanction same-sex marriage, it was the first state high court ruling to hold that civil union statutes specifically violated the equal protection clause of a state constitution. The Massachusetts high court held in 2004 that same-sex marriages were legal, while California’s court decision in May related to domestic partnerships and not the more broadly defined civil unions. The Connecticut decision, which elicited strong dissenting opinions from three justices, also opened the door to marriage a bit wider for gay couples in New York, where state laws do not provide for same-sex marriages or civil unions, although Gov. David A. Paterson recently issued an executive order requiring government agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The opinion in Connecticut was hailed by jubilant gay couples and their advocates as a fulfillment of years of hopes and dreams. Hugs, kisses and cheers greeted eight same-sex couples as they entered the ballroom at the Hartford Hilton, where four years ago they had announced they would file a lawsuit seeking marriage licenses. One of those couples, Joanne Mock, 53, and her partner, Elizabeth Kerrigan, 52, stood with their twin 6-year-old sons, choking back tears of joy and gratitude. Another plaintiff, Garret Stack, 59, introduced his partner, John Anderson, 63, and said: “For 28 years we have been engaged. We can now register at Home Depot and prepare for marriage.”

Religious and conservative groups called the ruling an outrage but not unexpected, and spoke of steps to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, blamed “robed masters” and “philosopher kings” on the court. “This is about our right to govern ourselves,” he said. “It is bigger than gay marriage.” But the state, a principal defendant in the lawsuit, appeared to be resigned to the outcome. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that she disagreed with the decision, but would uphold it. “The Supreme Court has spoken,” she said. “I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision, either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution, will not meet with success.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said his office was reviewing the decision to determine whether laws and procedures will have to be revised — local officials will issue marriage licenses to gay couples without question, for example — but he offered no challenge and said it would soon be implemented. The case was watched far beyond Hartford. Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey all have civil union statutes, while Maine, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws that allow same-sex couples many of the same rights granted to those in civil unions. Advocates for same-sex couples have long argued that civil unions and domestic partnerships denied them the financial, social and emotional benefits accorded in a marriage.

The legal underpinnings for gay marriages, civil unions and statutory partnerships have all come in legislative actions and decisions in lawsuits. Next month, however, voters in California will decide whether the state Constitution should permit same-sex marriage. The Connecticut case began in 2004 after the eight same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses by the town of Madison. Reflecting the contentiousness and wide interest in the case, a long list of state, national and international organizations on both sides filed friend-of-the-court briefs. The plaintiffs contended that the denial of marriage licenses deprived them of due process and equal protection under the law.

While the case was pending, the legislature in 2005 adopted a law establishing the right of same-sex partners to enter into civil unions that conferred all the rights and privileges of marriage. But, at the insistence of the governor, the law also defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Arguments in the case centered on whether civil unions and marriages conferred equal rights, and on whether same-sex couples should be treated as what the court called a “suspect class” or “quasi-suspect class” — a group, like blacks or women, that has experienced a history of discrimination and was thus entitled to increased scrutiny and protection by the state in the promulgation of its laws.

Among the criteria for inclusion as a suspect class, the court said, were whether gay people could “control” their sexual orientation, whether they were “politically powerless” and whether being gay had a bearing on one’s ability to contribute to society. A lower-court judge, Patty Jenkins Pittman of Superior Court in New Haven, sided with the state, denying that gay men and lesbians were entitled to special consideration as a suspect class and concluding that the differences between civil unions and marriages amounted to no more than nomenclature. The Supreme Court reversed the lower-court ruling.

“Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal,” Justice Palmer wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Justices Flemming L. Norcott Jr., Joette Katz and Lubbie Harper. “The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.” The court said it was aware that many people held deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions about marriage and homosexuality, and that others believed gays should be treated no differently than heterosexuals. But it said such views did not bear on the questions before the court.

“There is no doubt that civil unions enjoy a lesser status in our society than marriage,” the court said. “Ultimately, the message of the civil unions law is that what same-sex couples have is not as important or as significant as real marriage.” In one dissenting opinion, Justice David M. Bordon contended that there was no conclusive evidence that civil unions are inferior to marriages, and he argued that gay people have “unique and extraordinary” political power that does not warrant heightened constitutional protections.

Justice Peter T. Zarella, in another dissent, argued that the state marriage laws dealt with procreation, which was not a factor in gay relationships. “The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry,” he wrote. About 1,800 couples have obtained civil unions in Connecticut since the law was adopted three years ago, although gay-rights advocates say the demand has slowed. They cite complaints that the unions leave many people feeling not quite married but not quite single, facing forms that mischaracterize their status and questions at airports challenging their ties to their own children.

But marriage will soon be a possibility for gay couples like Janet Peck, 55, and Carol Conklin, 53, of West Hartford, who have been partners for 33 years. “I so look forward to the day when I can take this woman’s hand, look deeply into her eyes and pledge my deep love and support and commitment to her in marriage,” Ms. Peck said.

Sharon Otterman and Christine Stuart contributed reporting.

October 16, 2008

Ohau — an American cultural paradise for ’tween genders

by Daniel A. Kusner – Life+Style Editor
Waikiki — On a recent Sunday night, a white convertible pulls up to the porte cochère of the Outrigger Hotel. In the front seat are Shevon Matai and her cousin Tiare Fidao: two buxom ladies with hibiscus flowers in their hair. We drive to nearby Kapiolani Park and head to Queen Surf, Waikiki’s “gay beach” where Shevon unfolds a hand-woven blanket that’s bigger than most studio apartments.
While the Hawaiian sunset dips into the Pacific horizon, my friendly tour guides teach me how to correctly pronounce fa’afafine (fah-fah fee-nay). It’s a term from Shevon and Tiare’s homeland: Samoa. Fa’afafine roughly translates to “like a woman.”

Although their tiny village is 2,600 miles southwest of the Queen’s Surf beach, Samoa and Hawaii are part of the Polynesian Islands chain. Since Honolulu is Polynesia’s largest urban sprawl, many fa’afafine thrive on American soil. And these ladies are dramatically different from their transgender sisters living in the mainland. “In America, there’s so much discrimination. It doesn’t make any sense,” Shevon says. “In Samoa, we are treated with love, respect and honor. ‘Fa’fafine’ isn’t a disgraceful term. In fact, we are the cornerstones of our families.”

Shevon teaches Polynesian tribal choreography at the University of Hawaii, where she’s also getting her masters degree in English Second Language. At the age of 7, she realized that she might be different from her two brothers — and had more in common with her six sisters. “There is no ‘gay’ in Samoa,” Shevon tells me. “There’s fa’fafine.”

Before the London Missionary Society tried to merge its Biblical beliefs into Samoan culture (circa 1840), the fa’fafine were always thought to keep families united. In Samoa, they serve as schoolteachers, choirmasters, babysitters, community service workers and caregivers for elderly relatives. Since the fa’afafine understand both the male and the female, they become a mutual connection between genders. And like the “Miss Jay” coach from “America’s Next Top Model,” fa’fafine instruct women how to be alluring and graceful. “And we also teach the horny boys in our village how to fuck a woman,” Tiare chimes in.

It’s true, Shevon says. “But we don’t have intercourse the way gay men do: There’s no penetration. We face each other, and cross our legs in a certain way, and the man fucks us between our legs. It’s wonderful.” Shevon says Samoan culture could never disown a family member because they’re gay. Since their island is only 27 square miles, it would be difficult to stay out of each other’s way. Samoan families are big — where 10 or more siblings are common. So a clan with a fa’fafine or two isn’t rare. Before arriving in Waikiki, my research told me that, depending on birth order, some male members must become fa’fafine for the family’s sake — even if they’re not homosexual or effeminate. Shevon says that theory has been discredited.

Both Tiare and Shevon have lived and worked in the continental U.S. and say they don’t have much in common with drag queens or the transgender community. “In Samoa, we would never think of becoming ‘showgirls.’ In America, transgender is considered ‘fringe.’ I grew up thinking I needed to go to school and be a strong professional. Nothing less,” Shevon says. But Shevon and Tiare say American gay culture has influenced their aspirations. They’ve both considered sexual reassignment surgery but say they enjoy their original plumbing way too much.

“In America, everything has to be categorized. I just came across a new term: ‘non-op transsexual.’ That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Shevon says. “Transgender, drag, fa’fafine — they’re all older than American categories. Just look at daVinci’s ‘Mona Lisa.’” Now in their fourth decades, Shevon and Tiare still dream about starting families and marrying men — “But straight men. We’re not attracted to men who like other men,” Tiare explains. They mostly identify as women. But both Shevon and Tiare say their brothers and fathers refer to them by their boy names. All the women in the family call them by their fa’fafine names. Since the fa’fafine are expected to take care of elderly relatives, what happens when parents die? Because they can’t marry, are their inheritance rights forfeited?

“Not at all. After all, like our passports say, we are biologically male. So in the eyes of the law, we are treated as men,” Shavon says. While fa’fafine are considered exotic creatures in the continental U.S., they say one Samoan fa’fafine became famous for a while: “Shalimar” Seiuli. Before her mysterious death (she fell from her fifth floor apartment in Los Angeles), “Shalimar was famous as the hitchhiking beauty whom Eddie Murphy picked up in his Toyota land cruiser,” Shavon says.

Hawaii also has a Polynesian term for “dual gender” individuals: mahuwahine — mahu for short. That term is broadly used to refer to all transgenders and even gays. However, the dual-gender mahus aren’t as fully accepted by society as their Samoan fa’fafine — especially when it comes to securing professional work. But two famous and successful mahu celebrities are making a big splash: Hawaiian native Candis Cayne, who stars on “Dirty Sexy Money,” and Oahu resident Thomas Beatie, the married female-to-male transgender who became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl over the summer.

October 24, 2008

Mum of murdered gay man honoured with Cronkite award

by Tony Grew
Judy Shepard is among the recepients of this year’s Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award, it has been announced. SInce the murder of her son ten years ago, Mrs Shepard has become a leading advocate for gay rights. With her husband Dennis she created The Matthew Shepard Foundation in memory of their 21-year old son, who died as a result of an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in October 1998. Matthew was badly beaten and left to die, tied to a fence, in freezing conditions. Aaron James McKinney and Russell Arthur Henderson are both serving life in prison for his murder.

The Walter Cronkite Faith & Freedom Award recognises individuals whose actions have embodied the values of civility, tolerance, diversity and cooperation in the advancement of public dialogue and public policy on traditionally controversial and divisive issues. It is named in honour of the veteran news broadcaster. Mr. Cronkite will present the awards at a ceremony in New York City on November 11th.

Other honorees this year are Asra Nomani, who led the Pearl Project, an investigation into the murder of Daniel Pearl, who was a guest at her home in Pakistan when he was kidnapped and killed in 2002, and Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership. The award is presented by the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, an organisation dedicated to championing religious freedom by respecting individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy.

It has 185,000 members across the US from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition. Matthew’s murder brought the issue of hate crimes against LGBT people to greater public attention in America. Then-President Bill Clinton tried to extend federal hate crime legislation to include gay and lesbian people in the aftermath of his death, but ultimately was defeated by Congress.

In May the US House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180. The Senate approved the nearly-identical Matthew Shepard Act as an amendment to the Department of Defence Authorisation bill on a voice vote. President Bush had indicated he would use his veto to block any attempt to extend federal hate crimes laws to LGBT people.

The hate crimes provisions had been attached to a defence spending bill, but was dropped by the Senate because it could not attract enough support. The Democratic candidate for President in the US elections in November, Barack Obama, has promised to "place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act." Earlier this month Mrs Shepard urged all Americans to vote.

"Much work is left to do to make the world an accepting place," she said. "The level of ignorance is astounding. The continuing belief that what happened to Matt was not a hate crime and the notion that ‘special people shouldn’t have special rights’, is beyond my comprehension. The level of ‘hate’ is frightening. Our family and the Foundation staff are committed to doing all they can to ensure the message – ‘erase hate’ – is one that is known to the community and its allies as well as those who are trying learn more about the Foundation and the LGBT community at large. It is ignorance that ultimately results in hate and that may escalate into physical violence. The only way to combat that ignorance is to educate and tell our stories."


October 31, 2008

The Gay Mafia That’s Redefining Liberal Politics

by John Cloud / Beverly Hills
A few weeks before Virginia’s legislative elections in 2005, a researcher working on behalf of a clandestine group of wealthy, gay political donors telephoned a Virginia legislator named Adam Ebbin. Then, as now, Ebbin was the only openly gay member of the state’s general assembly. The researcher wanted Ebbin’s advice on how the men he represented could spend their considerable funds to help defeat anti-gay Virginia politicians.

Ebbin, a Democrat who is now 44, was happy to oblige. (Full disclosure: in the mid-’90s, Ebbin and I knew each other briefly as colleagues; he sold ads for Washington City Paper, a weekly where I was a reporter.) Using Ebbin’s expertise, the gay donors — none of whom live in Virginia — began contributing to certain candidates in the state. There were five benefactors: David Bohnett of Beverly Hills, Calif., who in 1999 sold the company he had co-founded, Geo-Cities, to Yahoo! in a deal worth $5 billion on the day it was announced; Timothy Gill of Denver, another tech multimillionaire; James Hormel of San Francisco, grandson of George, who founded the famous meat company; Jon Stryker of Kalamazoo, Mich., the billionaire grandson of the founder of medical-technology giant Stryker Corp.; and Henry van Ameringen, whose father Arnold Louis van Ameringen started a Manhattan-based import company that later became the mammoth International Flavors & Fragrances.

The five men spent $138,000 in Virginia that autumn, according to state records compiled by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Of that, $48,000 went directly to the candidates Ebbin recommended. Ebbin got $45,000 for his PAC, the Virginia Progress Fund, so he could give to the candidates himself. Another $45,000 went to Equality Virginia, a gay-rights group that was putting money into many of the same races.

On Election Day that year, the Virginia legislature stayed solidly in Republican hands; the Democratic Party netted just one seat. But that larger outcome masked an intriguing development: anti-gay conservatives had suffered considerably. For instance, in northern Virginia, a Democrat named Charles Caputo (who received $6,500 from Ebbin’s PAC) had beaten a Christian youth minister, Chris Craddock, by an unexpectedly large margin, with a vote of 56% to 41%. Three other candidates critical of gays were also defeated, including delegate Richard Black, who had long opposed gay equality in Richmond. Black had had no single donation as large as the $20,000 that Ebbin’s PAC gave his opponent. "This was my ninth election campaign, and it wasn’t unusual to have homosexuals involved," says Black, who now practices law. "But it was different, certainly, in degree. There had not been a concerted influx of money from homosexuals as a group before."

The group that donated the money to use against Black and the others is known as the Cabinet, although you won’t find that name on a letterhead or even on the Internet. Aside from Bohnett, 52; Gill, 55; Hormel, 75; Stryker, 50; and Van Ameringen, 78, the other members of the Cabinet are Jonathan Lewis (49-year-old grandson of Joseph, co-founder of Progressive Insurance) and Linda Ketner, 58, heiress to the Food Lion fortune, who is running for Congress against GOP Representative Henry Brown Jr. of South Carolina. Ketner’s is something of a long-shot bid — her district has been reliably Republican for years — but recently Congressional Quarterly described her "suddenly strong run" against Brown as "the biggest surprise" in this year’s House races. Ketner, who was invited to join the all-male Cabinet as a way of diversifying it, declined to discuss her role in the group.

Among gay activists, the Cabinet is revered as a kind of secret gay Super Friends, a homosexual justice league that can quietly swoop in wherever anti-gay candidates are threatening and finance victories for the good guys. Rumors abound in gay political circles about the group’s recondite influence; some of the rumors are even true. For instance, the Cabinet met in California last year with two sitting governors, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, both Democrats; political advisers who work for the Cabinet met with a third Democratic governor, Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle. The Cabinet has also funded a secretive organization called the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), which a veteran lesbian activist describes as the "Gay IRS." MAP keeps tabs on the major gay organizations to make sure they are operating efficiently. The October 2008 MAP report notes, for example, that the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force fails to meet Better Business Bureau standards for limiting overhead expenses.

According to the online databases and, the seven members of the Cabinet have spent at least $7.8 million on political races since the beginning of 2004, although their true level of giving is doubtless far higher, since — which is run by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics — does not capture all contributions to PACs (for instance, the Cabinet money that went to Ebbin’s PAC in 2005 doesn’t show up on the website). The Cabinet spends at least as much each election cycle as does the PAC run by the Human Rights Campaign, the world’s largest gay political group. And yet the Cabinet has operated in stealth, without accountability from watchdogs. (The Cabinet does not subject itself to MAP analysis.)

Cabinet spending shows up in races all over the country where pro-gay candidates have a good shot. For instance, Bohnett, Gill and Van Ameringen have given $143,000 this year to New York Democrats, who are within two seats of controlling the state senate. A Democratic New York legislature would likely approve equal marriage rights. (Read "Why Gay Marriage Was Defeated in California.")

The Cabinet’s Gill and Stryker have seen their money achieve remarkable results in their respective states, Colorado and Michigan. (a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts) reported that in 2006, Stryker gave "at least $6.4 million to candidates or political committees in at least a dozen states, including Michigan, where he can boast that Democrats gained a majority in the state house for the first time in 12 years." Some Cabinet members also donated tens of thousands of dollars in certain Iowa and New Hampshire races in 2006, when Democrats regained control of both states’ legislatures. Those states’ Democratic majorities now ensure that, among other things, efforts to amend the Iowa and New Hampshire constitutions to ban same-sex marriage will fail.

And yet the Cabinet is noteworthy not only because its treasure begets political influence but also because its very existence shows how dramatically the culture wars — and liberal politics as a whole — have changed in the past decade. Next summer gays will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the 1969 Manhattan demonstrations that began when cross-dressers angry about police raids at the Stonewall bar began throwing bottles and punches. Today, though, the street movement is basically defunct. And increasingly, the center of gay power is moving out from Washington toward the interior — toward powerful foundations like those run by Stryker in Kalamazoo and Gill in Denver. Since the beginning of 2001, Stryker’s foundation, which is called Arcus and has offices in both the U.S. and the U.K., has given away $67 million, about three-quarters to gays and about one-quarter to apes. (Stryker, who got a pet monkey as a gift when he was young, is a major donor to the conservation of ape habitats.)

The Cabinet is emblematic of a larger shift on the left since 2004 in the direction of big-money politics, a shift most clearly seen in Barack Obama’s refusal of public financing for his campaign. The Cabinet is only one of several flush, members-only liberal groups that have formed since 2004, the most famous (and richest) being the Democracy Alliance, whose sponsors include billionaires George Soros, Peter Lewis (father of Cabinet member Jonathan) and Pat Stryker (sister of Cabinet member Jon). That raises questions: What does a civil rights movement look like in an era of massive wealth? Can you still inspire a grass-roots movement when all the street troops know that the billionaires can just write bigger checks? And is it possible that the left has become a movement as coldly obsessed with money as it always assumed the right was?

Gays may see the cabinet as powerful, almost numinous, but its own members see themselves as largely unorganized and highly independent. "It’s a group of people who like and respect each other and their opinions," Ray Mulliner, a longtime Hormel adviser, told me recently. "It’s nothing more than like-minded donors getting together to share strategies." When I mentioned that similar organizations on the right had received press scrutiny — I was thinking of the Arlington Group, a coalition of movement conservatives — Mulliner angrily rejected the comparison: "You have no reason to be curious about this. You’re going to write a piece that’s going to start a fire that needs to get put out, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to put it out," he said.

The Cabinet first came together three or four years ago, according to Van Ameringen, as a "meeting place" for donors who wanted to use their money with greater strategic acumen. Gill got the idea for the group after he and Lewis attended a Democracy Alliance meeting. The donors felt they could accomplish more for gays if they shared information rather than operate as "silo" givers. Some members were frustrated that the established gay movement in Washington hadn’t made greater progress in a society rapidly coming to see homosexuality as a mere variation rather than a moral degeneration. Today it’s difficult to find a gay organization that has not enjoyed the Cabinet’s largesse. In 2007, for example, Stryker’s Arcus Foundation gave away $11.8 million as part of its Gay and Lesbian Program. The money reached both big-name groups like the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (which got half a million dollars) and little organizations like the Actors Theatre Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., which got $25,000 to produce a play called Seven Passages: The Story of Gay Christians.

The web of connections among the Cabinet members is complex. All the other members have donated the maximum amount allowed to Ketner’s congressional campaign. Gill, Lewis and Stryker employ political advisers — respectively, Denver attorney Ted Trimpa; Paul Yandura, who worked in the Clinton White House’s political-affairs office; and Lisa Turner, a former political director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee — who regularly speak with one another and with others who work for Cabinet members.

There’s nothing illegal about the Cabinet’s coordination of its members’ giving, according to Lawrence Noble, campaign-finance expert with the Washington-based firm Skadden, Arps. The contributions would be illegal only if the members agreed to give up control of their donations entirely or coordinated them directly with a campaign. There’s no evidence of either; several people associated with the Cabinet made clear that its members make their donations without anyone’s review. And yet as the National Review’s Byron York has pointed out, Americans were horrified to learn during Watergate that Richard Nixon’s friend Clement Stone had donated an outrageous $2 million in cash to the President’s campaign. Cabinet members have spent at least five times that amount in various races in the past four years; the Soros-backed Democracy Alliance has spent probably 50 times that amount.

Still, it’s hard to argue that the left in general and gays in particular should sit on their hands while foes outspend them. Strategically, the Cabinet makes sense; most people who defend its secrecy offer a Machiavellian understanding of ends and means. "I could lose a lot of sleep about it, and I do wonder why they have abandoned [gay] organizations that have a 35-year track record in order to have their own operations," says a seasoned Washington gay activist. "But if that’s the way the rules of the game are being played, I need to maneuver within what the realities are."

The larger question is what role wealthy groups like the Cabinet will have in reshaping the politics of the left. There’s been a great deal of (largely self-congratulatory) talk among liberals about the progressive movement’s success in using new technologies to harness the netroots, to use the fashionable liberal argot. But there has been less reflection about what impact the great gobs of Sorosian money will have on the movement. Michael Fleming, a Los Angeles political macher who advises Cabinet member Bohnett, worries that rank-and-file gay people — the ones who might have picked up a rock at Stonewall — are increasingly relying on billionaires to cut checks. "Where is the outrage?" he asks.

The answer is that outrage has given way to smugness, the kind of self-satisfaction conservatives displayed after electoral successes in 1980 and 1994. Groups like the Cabinet and the Democracy Alliance suggest a new kind of moneyed progressivism, one that shows little of the class discontent that animated earlier strains of leftist thought. Is this a sign of maturation — throwing off radical excesses — or capitulation, a surrendering to the idea that efforts to reduce the power of money in our democracy have failed? Probably a little of both. For its part, the Cabinet seems poised to prod the gay movement into being sleeker, faster, more tactical. When the remaining veterans of Stonewall march down Fifth Avenue next summer, those shimmeringly romantic, slightly foolish days of 1969 will have never seemed so distant.

November 5, 2008

Out gay man wins election to US Congress for Colorado

by Tony Grew
Jared Polis has become the first out gay man elected to the US Congress as a non-incumbent. He won Colorado’s second Congressional District in the House of Representatives, beating Republican Scott Starin. Mr Polis will become the sixth openly gay person to serve in the House of Representatives when he takes office in January. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat elected from Wisconsin in 1998, was the first out gay person to be elected to the House as a non-incumbent. Fellow Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts announced he was gay in 1987 after having served several terms in the House.

Various representatives came out, such as the late Gerry Studds, a Democrat of Massachusetts, former Congressman Steve Gunderson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and former Congressman Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona. No openly gay or lesbian person has yet been elected to the US Senate. There were other LGB winners last night. Kate Brown became the first openly LGBT Secretary of State in America and the second-highest ranking elected official in the state of Oregon.

Brown is openly bisexual. John Perez became the first openly gay person of colour elected to the California Assembly. Lupe Valdez was reelected to a second term as sheriff of Dallas County, Texas. First elected in 2004, Valdez was the first woman, the first Latina and the first out lesbian ever to win the post. On the night Barack Obama won the Presidency, the Democrats picked up seats in both Houses, which they already controlled. It is thought they will pick up six seats in the Senate.

November 5, 2008

President-elect Obama mentions gays in his first speech to the nation

by Tony Grew
Change has come to America – that was the message from the next President of the United States. Barack Obama appealed for unity and paid tribute to his Republican opponent Senator John McCain. In his first words to the country since his election just an hour ago, the President-elect made a direct reference to the diversity of America – including gay Americans.

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dreams of our founders are alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," he said. "It’s the answer told by lines that stretch around schools and churches, in numbers this nation has never seen. By people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives. Because they believed that this time must be different. That their voices could be that difference. It is the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans who send a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states – we are and always will be the United States of America."

The President-elect won states this evening that voted Republican in 2004, among them Virginia, Florida and Colorado. Barack Obama took the election when he accumulated the required 271 electoral college votes after he won California and Washington state. He is expected to win more than 300 overall. Earlier he took Pennsylvania and Ohio, states that voted Republican in 2004, and swept up other states of electoral and historic significance. President-elect Obama took New Mexico, next to his Republican rival Senator John McCain’s home state of Arizona, and Iowa, a state that is more than 95% white. Veteran Senator Joe Biden will be the next Vice President.

November 5, 2008

Lawsuits fly as gays fight California marriage ban

by Tony Grew
The votes have not all been counted yet, but that has not stopped lesbian and gay rights groups filing lawsuits challenging the validity of Proposition 8. Californian voters backed the ballot measure yesterday. With 96.6% of precincts reporting, 5,235,486 or 52.2% are in favour of eliminating the right of same-sex couples to get married. 4,800,656 (47.8%) voted no. Prop 8 was placed on the ballot in response to a California Supreme Court ruling in May allowing same-sex marriages.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Centre for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group – lesbian and gay Californians.

Proposition 8 also "improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities." According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organising principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

"The California Constitution itself sets out two ways to alter the document that sets the most basic rules about how state government works," the groups said in a statement. "Through the initiative process, voters can make relatively small changes to the constitution. But any measure that would change the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by the legislature before being submitted to the voters. That didn’t happen with Proposition 8, and that’s why it’s invalid."

The lawsuit was filed today in the California Supreme Court on behalf of Equality California and 6 same-sex couples who did not marry before Tuesday’s election but would like to be able to marry now. “Historically, courts are reluctant to get involved in disputes if they can avoid doing so,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of NCLR. “It is not uncommon for the court to wait to see what happens at the polls before considering these legal arguments. However, now that Prop 8 may pass, the courts will have to weigh in and we believe they will agree that Prop 8 should never have been on the ballot in the first place.”

The groups said they are confident that the state will continue to honour the marriages of the 18,000 lesbian and gay couples who have already married in California.

November 5, 2008

Gay equality rebuked as same-sex marriage bans pass in Florida and Arizona

by Tony Grew
The election of Barack Obama may signal a brighter future for gay and lesbian Americans, but it seems marriage will still not be an option in at least two major states. Ballot measures to ban gay marriage passed in Florida and Arizona. With more than 90% of results in from Califorina, it appears that the four month window in which same-sex marriages were legal is to be closed. The race is too tight to call at this stage.
Voters in Arkansas approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents – gay and lesbian people were the target of the campaign.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee, said the "homosexual agenda agenda uses children to advance the goals of special interest groups. Homosexuals in California, Connecticut, Washington, DC, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont have successfully used adoptive or foster care children to advance their agenda. "Activists in these states have already secured passage of laws that support adoption or foster care by homosexuals."

It is unclear how the California result will affect the more than 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who remain legally married. It is the first time a ban on same-sex marriage has been approved by voters in a state where such marriages are already legal. In Florida, the question on the 2008 ballot called for an amendment to the state’s constitution regarding civil marriage: "Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognised."

Opponents say similar amendments in other states are being used to take away benefits from public employees and dissolve domestic partnership registries used to provide health care benefits and pensions. Supporters say that it provides protections against judges "imposing" gay marriage as they did in California. With 99% of votes counted, Amendment 2 has 62%, just 2% over the threshold needed to change the Florida state constitution. In Arizona, a similar measure designed to stop activist judges from granting equality to all citizens was adopted in a statewide ballot. 30 states now have a definition of marriage written into their constitution.

November 6, 2008

California’s same-sex couples assured their marriages are still legal

by Tony Grew
Despite the success of a ballot measure to change the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, legal gay and lesbian weddings performed in the state are still valid. The California Supreme Court ruled in May that same-sex couples had the right to get married. An estimated 18,000 gay and lesbian couples took advantage of their new rights until election day on Tuesday.
Voters in the state approved Proposition 8, which will change the constitution and deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

With 100% of precincts reporting, 52.5% or (5,387,939) voted in favour and 47.5 (4,883,460) against. Opponents of Prop 8 claim "there are more than 3 million and possibly as many as 4 million absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted." The California Secretary of State is expected to reveal today how many votes are yet to be counted as well as where they are from.

In August Jerry Brown, the California Attorney General, told the San Francisco Chronicle: "I believe that marriages that have been entered into subsequent to the May 15th Supreme Court opinion will be recognised by the California Supreme Court. I would think the court, in looking at the underlying equities, would most probably conclude that upholding the marriages performed in that interval before the election would be a just result."

Gay rights group Equality California and leading LGBT legal groups agree that the marriages performed between June 16th and the passage of Proposition 8 are still valid in the state of California and must continue to be honoured by the state. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Centre for Lesbian Rights have filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court urging them to invalidate Proposition 8. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group – lesbian and gay Californians.

Proposition 8 also "improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities." The groups also claim that radical changes to the organising principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

"There is absolutely nothing in the language of Proposition 8 to suggest that the initiative would apply to couples who have already legally married," they said in a joint statement. Unless the language of an initiative specifically says that it is to be applied retroactively, California’s courts have been very reluctant to do so, especially when the newly passed measure is in such stark conflict with existing constitutional provisions. Although it is extremely unlikely that California courts would apply the initiative retroactively, the proponents of Proposition 8 may file a legal challenge trying to invalidate the marriages of those who married before Proposition 8 possibly passed. We remain committed to ensuring that all the couples who married in California continue to receive the legal protections and to have their marriages respected as required under California law and will vigorously fight any attempts to take rights away from couples and families."

Among the couples who got married between June and November were TV star Ellen Degeneres and her partner, actress Portia Di Rossi and Star Trek actor George Takei and partner Brad Altman.

Posted by Daily Queer News

November 11, 2008

“Yes We Can, Unless You’re Gay”

Radio Netherlands – In Los Angeles, several thousand people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the banning of same-sex marriage. One of the signs carried by a protester proclaimed: “Yes we can, unless you’re gay,” a reference to a slogan used by President-elect Barack Obama during his presidential campaign.

Since residents of Los Angeles voted for the ban on Tuesday, there have been almost daily demonstrations in the city. The vote overturned a decision by California’s Supreme Court, which ruled in May that refusing homosexuals the right to marry violated the state’s constitution. Many other US states have enacted similar bans. Only two, Massachusetts and Connecticut, allow same-sex marriage.

Read Entire Story

The Salt Lake Tribune

November 12, 2008

Can gays be ‘fixed’? – U. psychologist says group distorting her same-sex research

by Brian Maffly
A national group that advocates "treatment" of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher’s work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation – a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.
Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual-identity studies suggest a degree of "fluidity" in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH President A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond’s research as evidence that gays’ sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment – much to Diamond’s dismay.

"If NARTH had read the study more carefully they would find that it is not supported by my data at all. I bent over backward to make it difficult for my work to be misused, and to no avail. When people are motivated to twist something for political purposes, they’ll find a way to do it," Diamond says in a videotaped interview posted on the Internet. Diamond made those remarks two weeks ago as Californians were debating Proposition 8, the divisive ballot measure that mandates marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged members to give time and money to the successful campaign, triggering a cascade of criticism and protests. Diamond’s comments specifically targeted Encino, Calif., psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of NARTH and the author of "Healing Homosexuality" and "A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality."

"You know exactly what you’re doing," says Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender studies, in the video. "There’s no chance this is a misunderstanding or simply a different scientific interpretation. . . . It’s illegitimate and it’s irresponsible and you should stop doing it." Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH’s citation of her work. "NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice," Byrd says. "If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else."

Diamond, who has never met Byrd, said in an interview that NARTH "cherry-picks" findings or references from her work that appear to support their position. Her denunciation of NARTH was instigated by Truth Wins Out, a New York City-based watchdog that patrols social conservative groups’ use of social science in support of hot-button agendas. "They use these fake statistics and distort science to support bigotry and discrimination. It’s important to take these tools away from them," founder Wayne Besen says.

NARTH is based in Nicolosi’s California office but maintains an office in the same downtown Salt Lake City building as Evergreen International, a Mormon faith-based group that encourages gays to abandon same-sex attraction. While the two groups do not advertise their association, NARTH’s sole paid staffer last year was Evergreen’s executive director, David Pruden, according to tax documents.

NARTH is no stranger to controversy. One past president, the late psychiatrist Charles Socarides, campaigned for years against the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to discontinue listing homosexuality as a mental illness. The American Psychological Association likewise maintains a stance of deep skepticism toward reparative therapies that seek to convert patients to heterosexuality.

"To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective," the APA says on its Web site. "Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons."
Diamond goes even further.

From Robaire Watson

November 2008

A True Military Story–I never encountered the slightest discrimination aboard my warship

by Robaire Watson (US Navy, retired)
My name is Robaire Watson and I’m a gay military veteran. Who’s been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for 18 years. I spent 6 years in the military as an openly gay man. At age 23 I joined the Navy in search of adventure. Being a gay man I was determined that I wasn’t going to allow the military to change my view point of life. My story isn’t about the latest trend or the latest hot actor, or the latest hot trick, it’s about the importance of being who you want to be! Who needs to serve in silence? I just want to bring a positive ground breaking story to the forefront.

I grew up in a primarily white small Texas town and the middle child of a Southern Baptist family. I was in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, played high school football for a brief time. I always knew I was gay. After high school, I earned money for college by working in the oil fields. I studied design and fashion merchandising in Dallas at Wades School of Design. I joined the US Navy in 1989 and served six years through two enlistments until 1995.

Being openly gay in the military and not receiving threats to my life, allowed me to keep my integrity. I never felt the need to tell anyone on my command that I was gay or introduce them to my boyfriend. I always felt that people knew I was different, just by the way I conducted myself. When you show others respect, they show you respect in return. I was a US Navy Ship’s barber who served aboard the USS Kansas City as it traveled the seas promoting freedom during the Gulf War and Operation Southern Watch–off the coast of Somalia in 1993, traveling to Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Dubai, Jebel Ali, UAE, British Columbia, Mexico, and the Philippines during my two enlistments. I’m black and openly gay and never encountered the slightest discrimination aboard this warship.

I have never forced my sexual preference on anyone. I don’t want someone who’s straight doing that to me. When the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law was passed, my shipmates told me, "Watson, we don’t have to ask and we don’t have to tell." I had a group of gay friends on the USS Kansas City. We were the gay version of "Sex and the City" onboard the ship. We were known as the Fierce-Four. Our personal lives were better than any episode of Queer as Folk. My friends said because of me. They were able to be themselves without prejudice. I took several of my shipmates to gay bars & dance clubs. Not because it was my idea, it was because they ask me too!

I dated a Ensign and a Lieutenant, while in the military. I also dated a Major in the United States Army and also a Marine. All the following military men who came across my life had to keep their personal life a secret. It’s not about being an officer in the military or subjecting yourself to starring in a skin flick to get your point across, about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s knowing that you have a job to do and a mission to accomplish. You can’t allow your sexual preference to interfere. The government needs to worry about those individuals who they allow to enter the military, who haven’t been outside the county line and refuses to except someone who’s different. These type of people want to judge you, based on their religious beliefs. If you can’t except me for my race or sexual preference. This means you want be there for me in a time of war.

I’m very fortunate that I was able to be openly gay and live my life accordingly during active duty. I want other men and women who enter the armed forces who are gay to be able to live their lives just as openly as their straight counterparts and when they become veterans to be treated with dignity and respect. I’m very proud to have done my duty serving my country."

Thank you,
Robaire Watson

The New Yorker

December 1, 2008

Eight Is Enough

Changes California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
—Ballot summary, Proposition 8.

by Hendrik Hertzberg
You might think that an organization that for most of the first of its not yet two centuries of existence was the world’s most notorious proponent of startlingly unconventional forms of wedded bliss would be a little reticent about issuing orders to the rest of humanity specifying exactly who should be legally entitled to marry whom. But no. The Mormon Church—as anyone can attest who has ever answered the doorbell to find a pair of polite, persistent, adolescent “elders” standing on the stoop, tracts in hand—does not count reticence among the cardinal virtues. Nor does its own history of matrimonial excess bring a blush to its cheek. The original Latter-day Saint, Joseph Smith, acquired at least twenty-eight and perhaps sixty wives, some of them in their early teens, before he was lynched, in 1844, at age thirty-eight. Brigham Young, Smith’s immediate successor, was a bridegroom twenty times over, and his successors, along with much of the male Mormon élite, kept up the mass marrying until the nineteen-thirties—decades after the Church had officially disavowed polygamy, the price of Utah’s admission to the Union, in 1896. As Richard and Joan Ostling write in “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise” (2007), “Smith and his successors in Utah managed American history’s only wide-scale experiment in multiple wives, boldly challenging the nation’s entrenched family structure and the morality of Western Judeo-Christian culture.”

“Mormons Tipped Scale In Ban On Gay Marriage,” the Times headlined the week after Election Day, reflecting the views of proponents and opponents alike. Six and a half million Californians voted for Proposition 8, and six million voted against it—a four-point margin, close enough for a single factor to make the difference. Almost all the early canvassers for the cause were Mormons, but the most important contributions were financial. The normal political pattern is for money to get raised in California and spent elsewhere. This time, Salt Lake City played the role of Hollywood, rural Utah was the new Silicon Valley, and California was cast as flyover country. Of the forty million dollars spent on behalf of Prop. 8, some twenty million came from members or organs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some conservative commentators, who didn’t have much else to gloat about, dwelt lingeringly on what they evidently regarded as the upside of the huge, Obama-sparked African-American turnout. “It was the black vote that voted down gay marriage,” Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News, insisted triumphantly—and, it turns out, wrongly. If exit polling is to be believed, seventy per cent of California’s African-American voters did indeed vote yes on Prop. 8, as did upward of eighty per cent of Republicans, conservatives, white evangelicals, and weekly churchgoers. But the initiative would have passed, barely, even if not a single African-American had shown up at the polls.

Still, this was a fight that should have been won, and after the initial shock—which tempted a few gay and lesbian voices to blame blacks for what O’Reilly credited them with—California’s gay activists and their straight allies, judging from their online postmortems, have begun to direct more criticism at themselves than at their opponents. They were complacent: early polls had shown Prop. 8 losing by double digits. Their television ads were timid and ineffective, focussing on worthy abstractions like equality and fairness, while the other side’s were powerfully emotional. (Also dishonest—they implied that gay marriage would threaten churches’ tax exemptions, force church-affiliated adoption agencies to place children with gay couples, and oblige children to attend gay weddings—but that sort of thing was to be expected.) Barack Obama, like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, had come out against Prop. 8, yet the No-on-8 forces let Obama’s popularity be used against them: a mass mailing suggesting that the Democratic nominee was for it went essentially unanswered.

The defenders of equal access to marriage, in other words, think their problem was tactical—“messaging,” not substance. They are probably right. In the days after the election, tens of thousands of people, gay and straight, took to the streets of cities and towns throughout the country in spontaneously organized protest. But the mood at these gatherings, by all accounts, was seldom angry; it was cheerful, determined, and hopeful. From 1998 to 2006, bans on same-sex marriage were put on the ballot in one state or another thirty times, and twenty-nine times the people voted for them. This year, in addition to California, Florida passed a ban; Arizona, which in 2006 had been the one exception, reversed itself and did the same; more cruelly, Arkansas approved a ballot measure depriving gay men and lesbians of the right to adopt children. But all this has about it the feel of a last stand.

Four years ago, Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign worried that its undoing would be the fact that as governor of Vermont Dean had signed a bill allowing gays and lesbians to form civil unions; that turned out to be the least of his troubles. Now large majorities of Americans favor laws under which same-sex couples have all or most of the same rights as couples of opposite sexes, and five states, including California, have enacted them. Gay marriage itself is legal, and not terribly controversial, in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 1993, most Americans thought that open homosexuals shouldn’t be permitted to serve in the military; now three-quarters think that they should. And the polls show that the younger you are the more likely you are to favor equal treatment of gays and straights in every area of public and private life. The Field Poll, one of California’s most respected, found last month that while the state’s over-sixty-fives oppose gay marriage by a thirty-point margin, the under-thirty-fives favor it by thirteen points—and it’s hard to think of a reason that getting older should change their minds.

Like a polluted swamp, anti-gay bigotry is likely to get thicker and more toxic as it dries up. Viciousness meets viscousness. “Look,” Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, said the other day (on the air, to Bill O’Reilly), “I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence. . . . I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact.” For diversity’s sake, he added that “the historic version of Islam” and “the historic version of Judaism” are likewise menaced—which is natural, given that gay, secular, fascist values are “the opposite of what you’re taught in Sunday school.”

This sort of sludge may or may not prove to be of some slight utility in the 2012 Republican primaries, but it is, increasingly, history. A couple of days before the California vote, the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Wildermuth noticed a “No on Prop 8” sign on a front lawn. The lawn and the sign belonged to Steve Young, the football Hall of Famer and former 49er quarterback, and his wife, Barb. Steve Young is a graduate of Brigham Young University, which is named for his great-great-great-grandfather. The Youngs still belong to the Mormon Church. “We believe all families matter and we do not believe in discrimination,” Barb Young said. “Therefore, our family will vote against Prop 8.” It wasn’t enough this time. But the time is coming.

December 5, 2008

Australia and US not signed up to UN decriminalisation declaration

by Tony Grew
Several nations with sizable gay communities have not signed up to a declaration on the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality to be presented at the UN this month. The French initiative is backed by all EU nations along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Ukraine, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the Americas the most notable absence is the United States. Canada has signed up alongside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay. Three African nations – Gabon, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau – are committed to the declaration alongside New Zealand, Israel, Armenia and Japan.

Louis Georges Tin, the founder of the Inernational Day Against Homophobia, is behind the universal decriminalisation declaration. He met with Rama Yade, France’s minister of human rights and foreign affairs, earlier this year. In September she confirmed that she will appeal at the United Nations for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality. Until the end of 2008 France will speak for all EU member states at the UN General Assembly, as they hold the rotating Presidency of the European Union. The French initiative on decrminalisation will take the form of a solemn declaration from UN states, rather than a vote in the UN on the matter. France will submit a draft declaration at the UN General Assembly between December 15th and 20th. The British government already advocates universal decriminalisation.

More than 80 countries outlaw same-sex relations in all circumstances. The maximum punishments range from a few years jail to life imprisonment. In nine countries, or regions of countries, the mandatory punishment for homosexuality is death by execution. More than 50 nations have signed up to support the initiative, but the Vatican has attacked it and claims that as many countries have not signed up, it they are in the right.

"It’s not for nothing that fewer than 50 member states of the United Nations have adhered to the proposal in question while more than 150 have not adhered. The Holy See is not alone," a Vatican spokesman said earlier this week. The Holy See does not have a vote at the UN, but its observer has tried to claim that "states which do not recognise same-sex unions as ‘matrimony’ will be pilloried and made an object of pressure," as a result of the declaration.

Mr Tin said: "If your government has not yet signed the text, and if you think it is relevant to ask them, you could then lobby the Foreign Ministry in your capital. It might be also useful to copy any message to your country’s Ambassador at the United Nations. You can explain that it is a declaration (it is not compelling), it is only about decriminalising homosexuality (there is no link with marriage) and that more than 50 countries have already signed. If your government has already signed the text, you may ask them to contact other close friend states. For instance, Canada and UK might contact other countries of the Commonwealth, Mexico and Spain might contact other countries of Latin America.

December 5, 2008

Nepal’s gay MP to address international leadership conference

by Tony Grew
The 24th annual International Gay and Lesbian Leadership Conference is underway in Washington DC

Among the guest speakers are prominent lesbian politicians Oregon Secretary of State-elect Kate Brown and US Representative Tammy Baldwin, and Sunil B Pant, the only gay member of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly. The Leadership Conference, which began yesterday and finishes on Sunday, "will convene openly LGBT elected, appointed and community leaders from across the US and around the world." It will feature workshops, discussion panels and keynote addresses aimed at helping openly LGBT public leaders become more informed and effective.

Speakers include: Zvonimir Dobrovic, director of Croatia’s Queer Zagreb Festival, which was attacked by fascist protesters earlier this year; Michael Guest, the first openly gay man to be confirmed by the US Senate to serve as a US Ambassador; and New York City House Speaker Christine Quinn, who has been tipped to replace Hillary Clinton as US Senator from New York.

Edmond Rhys Jones, Human Rights Officer at the British Embassy in Washington, will take part in a panel discussion on the topic: "LGBT Issues in Global Human Rights: Can the US Help? The US State Department regularly uses its influence to expand human rights around the globe, but it has been reluctant to include LGBT rights in its diplomatic portfolio. Could the US follow the lead of allies like Great Britain in pressing for basic human rights for LGBT people everywhere?" Mr Pant, founder of Blue Diamond Society, was named in May as one of five representatives of the Communist Party of Nepal-United in the 601 member new constituent assembly.

The Maoists are the largest party with 220 seats. Maoist insurgents, who fought a ten-year guerrilla war against monarchist forces at a cost of over 12,000 lives, finally signed a peace agreement with the new democratic government in November 2006. LGBT people joined the Maoist rebels and others to protest in a democracy movement against the king, demanding a freely elected, secular government.

King Gyanendra eventually relinquished sovereign power to the civilian government and elections were finally held for a new assembly on 10th April. Gays and lesbians in the Himalayan kingdom previously suffered persistent persecution from security forces during the absolutist rule of King Gyanendra. The harassment of lesbian, gay and trans people continued at the hands of Maoist rebels. The assembly will draft a new constitution, decide the fate of the monarchy and govern Nepal for the next two years.

Mr Pant is a hero to many gay activists across the world. On a visit to India last month he said: “We have moved from being a marginalised and persecuted lot who were thrown out of homes, schools and jobs to people who have human rights and are now protected by the police, the same people who once harassed us. In Nepal, the LGBTI communities were part of the campaign for garnering votes for the Communist Party of Nepal. They approached me to campaign and I managed to secure 15,500 votes. It makes a statement that LGBTI people are interested in matters of politics and governance and not just sex. The campaign not only gave LGBTI issues visibility but a platform to negotiate for rights. It is one thing to clean up the city and stop transgenders from begging but one must provide them with alternative means of living. India is a very big country and a single strategy may not work. However, I’m sure it won’t be long before a political party will tap the LGBTI vote bank¯there are millions of untapped votes."

In May 2007 the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission gave its Celebration of Courage award to Mr Pant.

December 9, 2008

Same-sex marriage bans lead to Day Without A Gay protests

by Staff Writer,
A novel form of civil protest will be practised by gays in the US tomorrow. For those angry at bans on gay marriage passed on November 4th, Election Day, in California, Arizona and Florida, tomorrow is the Day Without A Gay. The idea is that lesbian and gay people should "call in gay," to show how important they are to the economy.

Day Without a Gay

"Gay people and our allies are compassionate, sensitive, caring, mobilised, and programmed for success," said the organisers. "A day without gays would be tragic because it would be a day without love. On December 10th, 2008 the gay community will take a historic stance against hatred by donating love to a variety of different causes. On December 10th, you are encouraged not to call in sick to work. You are encouraged to call in "gay"- and donate your time to service."

The idea of ‘calling in gay’ could be an issue in the 30 states where lesbian, gay and bisexual employees have no legal protection against discrimination at work. The organisers have provided a list of other activities that may not involve coming out in the workplace.

December 14, 2008

Big Gay Inauguration Parade

by DJ Scotty Quick
I guess we really are witnessing the dawn of a new era. The Washington Blade has reported that for the first time in American history, openly gay musicians and performers will be marching in Obama’s inauguration parade.
According to the D.C. LGBT paper, the Inaugural Committee asked members of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA) to march in the inaugural parade on January 20th. Bill Clinton had allowed gay groups to perform their music on the sidewalk during his inauguration, but not to march in the parade.

The 177-piece LGBA band will join groups from across the country as well as from the Armed Forces in the historic parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, which follows President-elect Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Capitol. LGBA members said that an email they received mentioned that there were spots for musicians, flags, twirlers, honor guard and banner holders. Their official costume will be a silver baseball-style jacket and blue berets. The Lesbian and Gay Band Association, founded in Chicago in 1982 by seven member bands, has grown to 34 member organizations in the United States, Canada and Australia.


December 15, 2008

Our Mutual Joy – Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture
. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

by Lisa Miller Newsweek
Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

The battle over gay marriage has been waged for more than a decade, but within the last six months—since California legalized gay marriage and then, with a ballot initiative in November, amended its Constitution to prohibit it—the debate has grown into a full-scale war, with religious-rhetoric slinging to match. Not since 1860, when the country’s pulpits were full of preachers pronouncing on slavery, pro and con, has one of our basic social (and economic) institutions been so subject to biblical scrutiny. But whereas in the Civil War the traditionalists had their James Henley Thornwell—and the advocates for change, their Henry Ward Beecher—this time the sides are unevenly matched. All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.

The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: "The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition."

To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else’s —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. "Marriage" in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God’s will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for." Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn’t God say, "Be fruitful and multiply"? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either. The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women).

The apostle Paul echoed the Christian Lord’s lack of interest in matters of the flesh. For him, celibacy was the Christian ideal, but family stability was the best alternative. Marry if you must, he told his audiences, but do not get divorced. "To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband." It probably goes without saying that the phrase "gay marriage" does not appear in the Bible at all.

If the bible doesn’t give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on "Homosexual Practices," the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, "possibly because it did not result in true physical ‘union’ (by male entry)." The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as "an abomination" (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who "were inflamed with lust for one another" (which he calls "a perversion") is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery. In his book "The Arrogance of Nations," the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. "Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all," Elliott says. "He’s talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We’re not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We’re talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God." In any case, one might add, Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.

Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument). Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as "the man and the woman." But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice." The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.

Marriage, specifically, has evolved so as to be unrecognizable to the wives of Abraham and Jacob. Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands’ frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th. (In the NEWSWEEK POLL, 55 percent of respondents said that married heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouses are more morally objectionable than a gay couple in a committed sexual relationship.) By the mid-19th century, U.S. courts were siding with wives who were the victims of domestic violence, and by the 1970s most states had gotten rid of their "head and master" laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Today’s vision of marriage as a union of equal partners, joined in a relationship both romantic and pragmatic, is, by very recent standards, radical, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History."

Religious wedding ceremonies have already changed to reflect new conceptions of marriage. Remember when we used to say "man and wife" instead of "husband and wife"? Remember when we stopped using the word "obey"? Even Miss Manners, the voice of tradition and reason, approved in 1997 of that change. "It seems," she wrote, "that dropping ‘obey’ was a sensible editing of a service that made assumptions about marriage that the society no longer holds."

We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs. Gay men like to point to the story of passionate King David and his friend Jonathan, with whom he was "one spirit" and whom he "loved as he loved himself." Conservatives say this is a story about a platonic friendship, but it is also a story about two men who stand up for each other in turbulent times, through violent war and the disapproval of a powerful parent. David rends his clothes at Jonathan’s death and, in grieving, writes a song:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
You were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
More wonderful than that of women.

Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men. What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.

In addition to its praise of friendship and its condemnation of divorce, the Bible gives many examples of marriages that defy convention yet benefit the greater community. The Torah discouraged the ancient Hebrews from marrying outside the tribe, yet Moses himself is married to a foreigner, Zipporah. Queen Esther is married to a non-Jew and, according to legend, saves the Jewish people. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, believes that Judaism thrives through diversity and inclusion. "I don’t think Judaism should or ought to want to leave any portion of the human population outside the religious process," he says. "We should not want to leave [homosexuals] outside the sacred tent." The marriage of Joseph and Mary is also unorthodox (to say the least), a case of an unconventional arrangement accepted by society for the common good. The boy needed two human parents, after all.

In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, cites the story of Jesus revealing himself to the woman at the well— no matter that she had five former husbands and a current boyfriend—as evidence of Christ’s all-encompassing love. The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: "There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, "is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness."

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow. Terry Davis is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Conn., and has been presiding over "holy unions" since 1992. "I’m against promiscuity—love ought to be expressed in committed relationships, not through casual sex, and I think the church should recognize the validity of committed same-sex relationships," he says.

Still, very few Jewish or Christian denominations do officially endorse gay marriage, even in the states where it is legal. The practice varies by region, by church or synagogue, even by cleric. More progressive denominations—the United Church of Christ, for example—have agreed to support gay marriage. Other denominations and dioceses will do "holy union" or "blessing" ceremonies, but shy away from the word "marriage" because it is politically explosive. So the frustrating, semantic question remains: should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are? I would argue that they should. If we are all God’s children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married "for their mutual joy," explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That’s what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: "Being with one another in community is how you love God. That’s what marriage is about."

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God’s knowledge of our most secret selves: "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for "Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad." Let the priest’s prayer be our own.

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With Sarah Ball and Anne Underwood

December 16, 2008

New Jersey commission backs gay marriage over "unequal" civil unions

by Staff Writer,
A commission set up to study the effect on same-sex couples, their children and other family members of being provided civil unions rather than marriage has issued its final report. The New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission (NJ-CURC) was established by the state Legislature pursuant to the Civil Union Act, which took effect in February 2007. Civil unions were introduced in New Jersey after the state Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to equal civil rights.

The court left it up to the state Legislature whether that would mean marriage or civil unions. The commission studied all aspects of the Act and concluded that civil unions are unequal.

"We, the thirteen members of the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission, unanimously issue this final report, containing a set of recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature of the State of New Jersey," the report read. "After eighteen public meetings, 26 hours of oral testimony and hundreds of pages of written submission from more than 150 witnesses, this Commission finds that the separate categorisation established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children. In a number of cases, the negative effect of the Civil Union Act on the physical and mental health of same-sex couples and their children is striking, largely because a number of employers and hospitals do not recognise the rights and benefits of marriage for civil union couples."

The commission said that civil unions send "the same message that racial segregation laws wrongfully sent. Separate treatment was wrong then and it is just as wrong now. "The Commission is compelled to issue its final report now because of the overwhelming evidence that civil unions will not be recognised by the general public as the equivalent of marriage in New Jersey with the passage of time."

The Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, backed the commission’s conclusions. "While this administration is focused squarely on the economic crisis for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that this issue of civil rights must be addressed sooner rather than later," he said. Opponents of gay marriage have attacked the commission’s conclusions. "The CURC’s argument that redefining marriage would not cause any economic fallout is laughable, and the insinuation that children would somehow benefit from society equating same-sex unions to marriage is sadly false," said Toni Meyer, Director of Research for "traditional family" group the New Jersey Family Protection Council.

"Society should not be equating same-sex unions to marriage, because they are not equal in benefit to anyone. In Scandinavia, where same-sex unions have been legal longest, government data shows that same-sex unions break up at a significantly higher rate, valid research shows that children raised in these households are more confused about their sexual identity, and more likely to be promiscuous, and LGB youth are more likely to experience teen pregnancy."

The first state Governor to come out as gay was from New Jersey. Jim McGreevey made his dramatic announcement at a televised press conference four years ago, telling reporters : "My truth is that I am a gay American." He made a public confession of an affair with his former homeland security advisor, Golan Cipel and left office two months later, in November 2004.

Gay marriage is legal in two US states, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It was legal in California after a state Supreme Court decision in May. Voters in the state approved a ballot measure denying same-sex couples the right to marry in November. The ballot’s legality is being challenged in the state Supreme Court.