News Briefs

New York: No Quick Decision on Same-Sex Marriage Suits

The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest, declined to accept a direct appeal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of the decision of Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan’s ordering New York City to start letting same-sex couples obtain marriage licenses. The high court said the case must first go to the Appellate Division.

Bloomberg said that the Court of Appeals decision “unfortunately will not give the gay and lesbian community clarity on this important issue as quickly as I had hoped,” but he was under no legal obligation to appeal the lower court ruling. Had he not, same-sex marriages in New York City could have commenced on March 11.

The mayor also said, “In the event the courts deem these marriages impermissible under existing law, we will work with the community and our state legislators to change that law.”

There are several same-sex marriage cases pending in the state now. There is no guarantee that the Court of Appeals will take any of these cases, but it is widely presumed that they will eventually be consolidated and adjudicated by the high court.

NY Supports Gay Marriage

A poll of New York State residents, commissioned and released Wednesday by the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), the state’s gay rights lobby, found for the first time that a majority of residents support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The poll, conducted by Global Strategy Group, found that 51 percent of New Yorkers support marriage for same-sex couples while 42 percent do not. A similar poll conducted last year found a narrower 47-46 percent support for gay marriage. This year’s poll also found overwhelming support for other measures of protecting gay and lesbian families—72 percent in support of providing child custody rights, 83 percent in favor of providing legal authority to make decisions about a deceased partner’s burial and 72 percent in favor of civil unions.

“These findings confirm that New Yorkers are fair people who understand that equality applies to everyone,” Alan Van Capelle, ESPA’s executive director said. “This is good news for same-sex couples and their families.”

He noted that the improvement in New Yorkers’ view of gay marriage came amidst a national backlash that has led voters in many states in the past several years to put gay marriage bans into their constitutions.

“The national attack campaign being conducted against our families by the conservative and religious right does not appear to be fooling anyone here in New York,” he said.

Connecticut Civil Union Bill Advances

Connecticut is poised to become the first state to enact civil union legislation in the absence of an order from a court. The measure passed the State Senate 27-9 on Wednesday and is expected to pass the House, though a vote has yet to be scheduled. Both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats.

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said that she supports civil unions in concept, but wants a clause that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, something the Legislature is unlikely to do. She has not said, however, that she will veto the bill without the clause, the Hartford Courant reported.

The civil union bill would allow same-sex couples to obtain all the rights and responsibilities of married couples without the name of marriage, an approach first instituted in Vermont in 2000. Gay lobbyists had been holding out for a bill opening marriage to gay couples, but compromised.

Three Republican legislators and the Catholic bishops conference, all opponents of the civil union bill, demanded that action on it be postponed until after the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Senate Pres. Donald Williams rejected the plea, saying, “I think they were sincere, but I’m sincere, too. We need to do our job in the state of Connecticut and that’s what we’ll do.”

Task Force Decries Americans’ “Silence and Inaction”

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, spoke out this week in the wake of the Kansas loss and the wave of anti-gay votes around the country.

“Our nation is continuing to witness something that has not happened since our Constitution was first ratified in 1791—essentially a national referendum inviting the public to vote to deprive a small minority of Americans of rights that the majority takes for granted and sees as fundamental.

“Not only are these amendment votes unjust and immoral, so is the silence and inaction of so many people who see themselves as enlightened, unprejudiced, and supporters of equal rights for all people. As the cascade of lies pours forth from the America’s anti-gay industry, we need, we expect, and morality demands that people of faith and good will all across the nation to speak out in the same way and with the same vehemence as they would if it was another minority under attack. If they do not, they will look back 20 or 30 years from now with deserved shame.”

Safe Restroom Access for Transgender NYers

One of the most contentious issues facing people of transgender experience is whether they are allowed to use public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. This week, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund reached the first-ever settlement under the New York City Human Rights law guaranteeing such access. The suit was brought by transgender activists Justine Nicholas and Pauline Park against Advantage Security, which discriminated against them in restroom use.

In a building where Nicholas was taking the Graduate Record Exam, Nicholas was approached by an Advantage guard and ordered to show an ID verifying her gender. “I felt humiliated,” she said.

Park said she was “menaced” by Advantage guards at the Manhattan Mall in Herald Square as she exited the women’s room. The guards demanded to know her gender. Park has gone through this before, but said, “the experience of being singled out and harassed in such a public place was still very upsetting to me.”

City law forbids discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

Michael Silverman, director of the Legal Defense group, said, “With this victory, we have the first clear pronouncement that the New York City Human Rights Law protects transgender people from harassment and other forms of discrimination when they use restrooms.” He said the commission recognized “that denying a person the safe use of restroom facilities represents a fundamental violation of that person’s civil rights.”

In the settlement, Advantage agreed to train its staff on the restroom policy and pay $2,500 to each plaintiff.

ACLU Backs T-Shirts for Gay Rights

In Missouri, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on behalf of LaStaysha Myers, 15, a straight student at Webb City High School who was twice sent home for wearing homemade T-shirts proclaiming “I support gay rights!” and “Who are we to judge?”

In Ohio, the civil liberties group wrote to school officials at Dublin Junior High School where a student was told to remove a T-shirt that said, “I support gay marriage.” Administrators claimed it offended other students. The next day, 20 students showed up wearing -shirts with similar slogans in solidarity with the disciplined student. They, too, were told to remove the shirts or go home, even though there is ample precedent in the school for shirts with slogans on issues from abortion and religion to the presidential campaign.

Jeff Gasmo of the ACLU of Ohio said, “For the censorship to be legal, the speech itself must be genuinely disruptive—it can’t just be censored because someone finds it offensive or it generates discussion or the administration worries that it might cause controversy.”

Lawmaker Wants “Indecency” Violators Jailed

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, isn’t satisfied that Congress has upped the fine for “indecency” on broadcast TV and radio to $500,000 and is going after performers as well as programmers. “I’d prefer using the criminal process rather than the regulatory process,” he told a group of cable executives this week.” He added, “Aim the cannon specifically at the people committing the offenses, rather than the blunderbluss approach that gets the good actors.”

Cable company representatives met with Rep. Ted Stevens (D-Alaska) Monday, trying to dissuade him from his attempt to impose the same indecency rules on cable TV and satellite radio that apply to broadcast media. They proposed more effective blocking technology instead, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Kansas Bans Marriage, Benefits for Gay Couples

The voters of Kansas went 70-to-30 percent on April 5 for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, the 18th state to do so with 17 more in the pipeline. Forty-one states, including Kansas, already limit marriage to man-woman couples in law. Ever since the Massachusetts high court decision in 2003 opening marriage to gay couples, more and more states have been scrambling to make sure no court in their state will either do the same thing or order them to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.

The Kansas amendment limits marriage to heterosexual couples and says, “No relationship, other than a marriage, shall be recognized by the state entitling the parties to rights and incidents of marriage.” Increasingly, amendments passed across the country contain clauses like that, outlawing government entities including state universities from providing domestic partner benefits. The amendment being considered in Massachusetts, however, would define marriage as between a man and a woman but mandate civil unions be made available to gay couples with the same rights. And the Texas Legislature is resisting including a ban on all partner rights in an anti-gay marriage amendment. Two-thirds of both houses there need to approve an amendment before it can go to the voters.

Steve Brown of Kansans for Fairness, told the Kansas City Star on Tuesday, “Eventually, moderate Kansans are going stand up and say they’ve had enough.”

With virtually no hope of victory, national gay groups didn’t spend much on the campaign. The total budget for the pro-gay side was $50,000, with $5,000 donated by the Human Rights Campaign and $13,000 by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The anti-gay side raised $153,000, with two-thirds of that coming from the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order.