News Briefs

Canadian Conservatives May Fail to Nix Gay Marriage

Tory leader Stephen Harper, a vigorous opponent of same-sex marriage, was elected the new prime minister of Canada on a platform pledging to allow a free vote in Parliament on redefining marriage as between a man and a woman only. But the Conservatives’ failure to get an outright majority will limit his ability to win that vote or bring it up in the first place. The Liberals, led by Paul Martin who pushed through the federal law opening marriage to same-sex couples nationwide last year, were turned out in the wake of a scandal involving funneling money to their cronies and slush funding the opposition to a referendum on making Quebec a separate nation several years ago. Martin will step down as party leader.

Egale Canada, the LGBT rights group, cited a CBC/Environics poll that found 66 percent of the people who voted Conservative opposing another vote on the same-sex marriage issue. “Because Harper’s hold on power is so precarious and based on his proclaimed realignment from far-right to centre, the new prime minister is expected to restrain the extremists in his party,” the group said in a release.

“If the Tories turn back the clock on this human-rights issue, they may find that their newly-found popularity is short-lived indeed,” wrote Arthur Cockfield in a Toronto Star column.


Ocean County, NJ Reversal on Dying Lesbian Cop

The freeholders of Ocean County, New Jersey on Wednesday formally reversed their earlier decision to deny domestic partner benefits to Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a 24-year veteran of the county prosecutor’s office who has terminal lung cancer. Last October, Hester made a personal appeal to the freeholders to extend the benefits so that her partner, Stacie Andree, would be entitled to a $13,000 death benefit she will need to retain ownership of their home. Under a New Jersey domestic partnership law, enacted in early 2004, state government employees won such benefits, and local governments were given the option of extending them as well. The change in heart followed intensive lobbying by Garden State Equality, the state LGBT rights lobby, and the Gay Officers Action League, as well as a personal appeal from newly-elected Governor Jon Corzine, a Democrat.

At the freeholders’ meeting on January 18, Garden State Equality showed a video message from Hester. Even though some opponents of the benefits averted their eyes, the board several days later agreed in principle to change its position. The freeholders’ earlier recalcitrance—one board member cited “the sanctity of marriage” as his rationale—prompted other counties to move forward on extending benefits. Passaic County last week became the sixth to do so, with action in Atlantic County also expected. Steven Goldstein, Garden Equality’s chair, said that while lobbying for a recent strengthening of the domestic partnership law in Trenton, the Hester case “was mentioned by every legislator I talked to.”


National Confab on Gays in Black Church Hears Sharpton

The Reverend Al Sharpton keynoted the first summit of African-American gay folks and clergy in Atlanta last weekend, calling on the assembled to “turn up the heat” on gay issues in black churches and heal the “poisoned atmosphere” around them. The meeting was convened by the National Black Justice Coalition in response to black ministers who have increasingly played a more visible role against same-sex marriage during the past several years. The coalition has developed an ad titled “Offense Before God?” over a picture of black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with his wife, Virginia, who is white. The ad notes that, in 1967, the Thomases could not have married in many states, just as today same-sex couples can’t marry except in Massachusetts. “Using religion to justify discrimination is the real offense before God,” the ad concludes.


Washington State LGBT Rights Bill on Track

The House in Washington State passed a bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation 60-37 on January 19. It lost by one vote in the Senate last time around, but the reversal of a prominent Republican is expected to insure its victory in the upper house later this week. Several hundred activists rallied in support of the bill on Monday at the capitol in Olympia.


State Action on Same-Sex Marriage

Virginia’s draconian amendment against gay relationships moved forward. Rhode Island legislators introduced a bill to open marriage to gay couples. An amendment to ban gay marriage in Pennsylvania’s Constitution has 89 legislative co-sponsors out of 253 members of the joint House and Senate. And the American Civil Liberties Union is trying to stop such an amendment from going before Tennessee voters in November because adequate public notice of the effort was not given. Florida’s right wing is falling short in gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage on the ballot there.


L.A. Activist Betty Berzon Dies

Betty Berzon, lesbian activist and writer, has died at 78 after a long battle with cancer in Los Angeles. She is survived by her partner of 33 years, Terry DeCrescenzo, The Advocate reported. Berzon was the first women on the board of directors at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center and founded Southern California Women for Understanding, a lesbian group, in 1976. She is a former member of the board of National Gay Rights Advocates and led the Gay Academic Union. A psychotherapist, she is perhaps best known for a series of books on gay and lesbian relationships, including “Permanent Partners: Building Gay and Lesbian Relationships That Last.” “Betty always said, ‘You can’t go into a relationship without having reconciled your own self-esteem issues and your own embarrassment about being gay,’” DeCrescenzo told The Advocate.


Biber, Early Sex Change Doc, Dies at 82

Dr. Stanley Biber, who performed gender reassignment surgery more than 4,000 times and was among the first to do so in 1969, has died at 82. His office in small-town Trinidad, Colorado became a mecca for those seeking the surgery, The New York Times reported. It was his skill repairing harelips for children that alerted a social worker to his potential for performing the gender surgery, the newspaper said, though Biber was unaware what transsexual meant when one first visited him. An estimated 30,000 Americans have had the surgery.


Irish Jig on Gay Partner Rights

There were two major developments in the Republic of Ireland on recognition of same-sex partners. A committee representing all political parties recommended limited partner rights for gay and non-gay couples who live together, but did not favor altering the federal Constitution to change the definition of family to include them, saying the electorate would likely not approve such an amendment. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the prime minister, hinted that Ireland might be ready for UK-style civil partnerships, which kicked off in December in Britain. The Good Friday Agreement between the republic and Northern Ireland dictates that Irish people north and south enjoy the same rights. Niall Crowley, head of the Equality Authority that enforces the agreement, said the republic’s laws must be modified to ensure equality for LGBT Irish people.


Bush Squirms Out of “Brokeback”

President George W. Bush has been trying to dip a toe out of his bubble and actually allow unscripted questions to be asked of him at appearances. At Kansas State University, a student asked his opinion as a rancher of “Brokeback Mountain.” “You would love it,” the student said. Bush didn’t know what the hell to say. As the crowd nervously laughed, he said, “I haven’t seen it. I’d be glad to talk about ranching, but I haven’t seen the movie. I’ve heard about it.” Then Bush said, “I hope you go [more laughter], you know [laughter], I hope you go back to the ranch and the farm, is what I was about to say. I haven’t seen it.” For which he won some Kansas applause.


Hairspray: The Movie Musical

John Waters movie “Hairspray” became a hit Broadway musical and will now become a movie musical directed by Adam Shankman. Broadway World reported that while no casting decisions have been made, “John Travolta was announced as a strong candidate for the role of hefty hausfrau Edna Turnblad.” Harvey Fierstein, who originated the role of Edna, is now going to do it in Las Vegas for what is said to be the highest salary ever paid a stage performer. He is also developing a sitcom for Fox where he will star as “a blue-collar mother” who is “Roseanne-ish,” the Web site reported.


“Book of Daniel” Closed

NBC’s “Book of Daniel,” a saucy drama about an Episcopal pastor (Aidan Quinn) and his family that included a gay adult son (Christian Campbell) and regular visits by Jesus Himself, was abruptly canceled after three weeks on the air after right-wing religious groups, stations, sponsors, and critics dumped on it. The show was created by an out gay man, Jack Kenny, who said he was “proud” of it and “all who took a chance on a project that spoke to them.” Donald Wildmon, of the American Family Association, crowed, “This shows the average American that he doesn’t have to simply sit back and take the trash being offered on TV.” He claimed his group generated almost 700,000 e-mails to NBC protesting the show.