New Briefs

Scalia Affirms Ban on Gay Relations

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is still chafing over the high court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision declaring the nation’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional despite his stinging dissent. Asked about it at a forum at the University of Freiberg, Switzerland, Scalia said, “Question comes up: is there a constitutional right to homosexual conduct? Not a hard question for me. It’s absolutely clear that nobody ever thought when the Bill of Rights was adopted that it gave a right to homosexual conduct. Homosexual conduct was criminal for 200 years in every state. Easy question.”

Rosie: Gays Can Solve Foster-Care Problem

While the Vatican and some states are working to ban gay people as adoptive and foster parents, Rosie O’Donnell sees lesbians and gay men as the answer to the crisis in foster care. An article in New York magazine said, “O’Donnell’s life’s dream is to revamp the nation’s foster-care system.” O’Donnell told the weekly, “The gay community can help solve the foster-care problem, because they are dying to parent and they know what it’s like to be unwanted.” Rosie is the mother of four children with her wife, Kelli Carpenter O’Donnell.

ESPA Hosts Marriage Community Meeting

The Empire State Pride Agenda has announced plans for a gathering dubbed as a “community meeting: winning our freedom to marry in New York State” for Wednesday, April 19. The announcement comes in the wake of a March 24 Gracie Mansion meeting at which Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg strategized about advancing the gay marriage issue with roughly a dozen LGBT leaders, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda executive director, was specifically excluded from that meeting. The Pride Agenda meeting will include the participation of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Freedom to Marry, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Lambda Legal, Mano a Mano, the National Black Justice Coalition, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Latino/a Coalition for Justice, and the LGBT Community Center.

Joe Tarver, an ESPA spokesman, said that the group will reach out to the mayor’s office to see if it wishes to participate.

The April 19 event will run from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Community Center, 208 West 13th Street in Manhattan.

Domestic Partner Registry for Suffolk; Bill Pending in Nassau

Once a conservative Republican bastion, the Suffolk County Legislature in neighboring Long Island voted 13 to 5 for a domestic partner registry for same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples, so that public and private employees can document their relationships. The county began providing domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2004 by order of County Executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, who said he will sign the new law.

The Empire State Pride Agenda assisted in drafting the measure. Democratic Majority Leader Jon Cooper, who is gay, was the chief sponsor of the bill.

In neighboring Nassau County, the Democratic Majority Conference introduced a bill last week that would establish a similar registry.

Russ Feingold: Out for Same-Sex Marriage

Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, is the first major presidential contender for 2008 to come out in favor of same-sex marriage. “Gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have access to the same rights, privileges, and benefits that straight couples currently enjoy. Denying people this basic American right is the kind of discrimination that has no place in our laws, especially in a progressive state like Wisconsin,” where voters will decide on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships this November.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, commended Feingold for “taking the ethically and morally correct stand for marriage equality—no equivocating, waffling, or hairsplitting.”

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the leading contender for the 2008 Democratic nod, supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages, though she opposes an amendment to the federal Constitution barring same-sex marriage.

GOP Senators Tout Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment

Pressed by their religious right base to do something to advance the dormant federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and, quite possibly, civil unions, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist scheduled another vote on it for early June. This week, the Senate Republican Policy Committee issued a report on “Why a Marriage Amendment is Necessary,” which stated, “The greatest fallacy of the same-sex marriage debate is the well-meaning but naïve belief that Congress need do nothing and that the American people will sort the question out on the state level.” The report referred to a coalition of groups such as Lambda Legal Defense and Evan Wolfson’s Freedom to Marry as a “cabal” out to destroy traditional marriage. The amendment needs 60 votes to get to the floor of the Senate and could not even muster a simple majority two years ago.

Ohio Senator Mike DeWine, who opposed a state constitutional anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004 that passed easily, promised last week to take a lead role in trying to get the federal amendment passed. Republican DeWine is up for re-election this year.

California Gay Couple Takes on DOMA

Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, a gay couple in California, are arguing before the U.S. Ninth Circuit that their inability to marry is a denial of their rights under the United States Constitution. National legal groups such as Lambda Legal do not support their suit lest an unfavorable federal precedent be set while they are fighting for gay marriage rights at the state level. A positive decision from the liberal Ninth Circuit could also put some juice into the right-wing campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage. Jon Davidson, Lambda’s legal director, told the Associated Press, “You’re more likely to win at the Supreme Court if you’ve done your homework.”

Connecticut: 700 Unions

Since Connecticut instituted civil unions last October 1, more than 700 same-sex couples have gotten hitched. The new law gives all the rights and responsibilities of married couples, but bars same-sex couples from marriage. According to the Hartford Courant, 416 of the couples are female and 285 male. The pace of unions is behind that of civil unions in Vermont and same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Stephen Davis and Jeffrey Busch of Wilton told the newspaper that they got a civil union to protect their three-year-old son, but don’t feel that they had much to celebrate because they are forbidden to marry. They are plaintiffs in a suit to win that right in Connecticut. In Hartford, the first dissolution of a civil union was granted to a male couple recently.

Arizona Moves to Restrict Gay Adoptions

An Arizona State Senate committee voted 16-13 this week to give married couples preference over singles in adoption, severely limiting the opportunity of same-sex couples, who cannot marry there, and singles to adopt. The bill goes to the full Senate; if passed there, it would then have to be reconciled with the House version. Efforts to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot this November are said to be in trouble. Despite active support from the Catholic Church, organizers are far short of the 183, 917 valid signatures they need.