VOLUME 3, ISSUE 331 | July 29 – August 04, 2004


News Briefs

Gay Name Changes Denied

When Donald Smith married Arthur Henneberger in May in Massachusetts, Smith, a resident of Springfield, changed his last name on the marriage license to that of his spouse. But the National Passport Center is refusing to acknowledge the new last name, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

But Donald Henneberger’s name change was acknowledged with a new card from the Social Security Administration. His representative in Congress, Richard Neal, has advised him to first go to probate court to have his name changed, but the clerk there told him that his last name already was Henneberger because of the marriage. It has already cost him $180 in court fees, the Associated Press reported, expenses that would never be incurred by a heterosexual spouse—and the mess has not yet been cleared up.

Suffolk Offers Domestic Partner Benefits

Suffolk County, at the east end of Long Island, will become the latest county in New York to offer its employees health benefits for domestic partners and their children. The policy change was worked out between labor unions and the county during contract negotiations this month and was approved by a unanimous vote of the county’s labor-management committee. Benefits will be made available beginning September 1.

The policy change reflects a parliamentary victory by Democratic County Executive Steve Levy, elected last fall, over the opposition of the Republican-controlled County Legislature. Despite the efforts of Jonathan Cooper, a gay Democrat in the County Legislature, the Republican majority has previously refused to consider union demands that Suffolk’s 19,000 current and former employees be offered such benefits. However, Levy was able to leave the decision in the hands of the County’s labor-management committee, in which his appointees hold sway, when the committee estimated that the cost of the additional benefits would be minimal. The county will examine the impact of the policy change 18 months after it goes into effect.

Ross Levi, the government affairs and public policy director for the Empire State Pride Agenda praised Levy “for his decision to take this big step towards full equality for all county employees and their families by having the county sit down with labor and approve domestic partner health benefits.”

ESPA had supported Levy’s candidacy in last fall’s campaign, during which the Democrat promised to enact the new policy.

According to ESPA, Suffolk County joins neighboring Nassau County, New York City, Westchester County, Rockland County, Albany County and the cities of Albany, Rochester and Ithaca in offering domestic partner health benefits to employees. New York State has offered such benefits to its employees for the past decade.

French Same-Sex Marriage Annulled by Court

France allows gay and straight couples to obtain a Civil Solidarity Pact, sometimes called “marriage lite.” But the court just annulled the nation’s first same-sex marriage performed by the mayor of Begles in Bordeaux on June 5. It was between Stephane Chapin and Bertrand Charpentier, who say they will appeal the ruling.

The government of French President Jacques Chirac condemned the gay wedding, declaring it null and void and suspending the mayor.

Oregon Will Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

Oregon already has a law prohibiting same-sex marriage, but voters will also face a constitutional amendment banning it on the November ballot. More than 3,000 same-sex marriages have already been performed in Multnomah County, with many of those couples seeking statewide recognition of their licenses via lawsuits. In April, a circuit court judge ordered certification of the licenses, but the state has appealed.

Twelve states are now taking up ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions. Thirty-nine states, but not New York, have already passed laws banning gay nuptials.

Florida DOMA Challenge Challenged

The first challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is being attacked by gay legal rights groups and is seeing some of the plaintiffs withdraw from the case. Ellis Rubin, a Florida lawyer previously involved in anti-gay political activities, has filed the DOMA challenge in that state on behalf of an Metropolitan Community Church minister and her partner, among others.

Rubin once filed suit against the Dade County gay rights law, the Texas Triangle newspaper reported. Rubin is now billing himself as repentant and more capable of brining these cases because he is heterosexual.

Mary Bonauto, of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who successfully argued the Massachusetts marriage case, told the newspaper “she hopes to avoid a confrontation in federal court for as long as possible, in order to allow the momentum for same-sex marriage to build throughout the states.” Florida courts have been notoriously inhospitable to gay rights cases, recently upholding the state’s infamous law against gay adoption.

Spanish Support Same-Sex Marriage

Gay Divorce Backed by Canada

After the first same-sex couple filed for divorce in Toronto last week, there was some question about whether they were covered under Canada’s Divorce Act, since same-sex marriage is only recognized in four Canadian provinces but not yet nationally.

But this week, Canada’s Justice Department said that excluding gays and lesbians from the definition of “spouse” in the divorce act would be unconstitutional.

The divorcing couple had been together for ten years and filed for separation only a week after their marriage. Some believe it was a case meant to test the access of gay couples to the divorce act. It could also be that the couple wanted the structure of the act to help them divide their property. But the couple has not yet been identified in court papers.

The attorneys representing each of the two women, appearing on National Public Radio on July 28, insisted that their clients fully intended to spend their lives together when they got married, but that an irreparable rupture in the relationship happened during the following week.

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