VOLUME 3, ISSUE 352 | Dec. 23 – 29, 2004

News Briefs

American Soldier Kills Iraqi after Sex

Pvt. Federico Merida, 21, has been convicted of murdering Falah Zaggam, a 17-year-old Iraqi private, after consensual sex. He was sentenced to in September to 25 years in prison. The details of the case were withheld until now by officials at Forward Operating Base Danger, pending approval by a general.

Last May, Merida shot Zaggam while they were on guard duty together, riddling him with 11 bullets. Merida told investigators that Zaggam had demanded money at gunpoint, then said the young Iraqi forced him to have sex, and later settled on a “gay panic” defense, claiming he lost it after having consensual sex. Eventually, Merida pled guilty to murder without premeditation in exchange for a sentence of no more than 25 years, with a dishonorable discharge.

“He was found not guilty of dereliction of duty for having consensual sex while he should have been guarding the camp,” the News Observer in his home state of North Carolina reported.

Major Robert Carver of the North Carolina National Guard said he hoped that the sentence “demonstrates to the Iraqis” that “the rule of law was applied.”


FedEx Won’t Recognize Massachusetts Married Gays

Several major corporations, including FedEx and General Dynamics, are refusing to provide health benefits to same-sex spouses of their employees, citing federal insurance laws that give them that option, the Boston Globe reported.

A spokesperson for FedEx told an employee who applied for the benefits for her spouse, “FedEx is not discriminating against you because of your sexual orientation. Rather the company is following the terms and conditions of its benefits plans” set by federal law.

Other self-insured companies in Massachusetts, including Gillette, are supplying same-sex spousal benefits. Some companies that were providing domestic partner benefits to their gay employees, such as the New York Times, which owns the Globe, are requiring their Bay State workers to get married if they want to keep them.


Newfound Marriage Rights in Newfoundland

Add Newfoundland to the Canadian provinces and territories allowing same-sex couples to marry. The provincial Supreme Court ruled in favor of two lesbian couples that had applied for marriage licenses and were rejected.

“We vowed to be married by Christmas,” Jacqueline Pottle said of her partner Noelle French, “and now it’s going to come true.”

Tom Marshall, the justice minister for Newfoundland, ordered the immediate issuance of licenses to gay and lesbian couples who apply for them. But like the national justice minister, he is toying with the idea of allowing civil marriage commissioners to opt out of marrying same-sex couples if they have religious objections, the CBC reported. No word on whether Catholic commissioners ever refused to remarry divorced people, something to which their church objects.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in an area taking in about 90 percent of the Canadian population and no civic officials have yet been exempted from having to perform them. The national same-sex marriage bill is due to be voted on in February and stands a good chance of passage at the moment.


South Africa Goes Canada Route in Legalizing Gay Marriage

Just as Canadian leaders referred the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage to their Supreme Court, the government of South Africa is approaching its Constitutional Court on the issue rather than taking parliamentary action first. Last month, the Supreme Court of Appeal in South African ruled that gay people have the right to marry. South Africa’s constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The South African government also has a Law Reform Commission that is to report on the issue of same-sex marriage early next year.


Thousands Register in New Jersey

The domestic partner registry in New Jersey that went into effect in July has signed up 2,640 gay couples and 42 unmarried opposite-sex older couples (62 or older) through December 15.

Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality said many gay and lesbian couples are holding out for same-sex marriage rather than becoming domestic partners, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.

Women are outpacing men at the registrar’s office, with 1,582 lesbian couples and 1,058 male couples signing up.


California Domestic Partners Law Cleared for Take-Off

A right-wing demand for an injunction against California’s comprehensive domestic partners law was rejected by the state’s Court of Appeal, allowing it to go into effect on New Year’s Day.

The case, however, will be heard by the appeals court, with briefs due in January. A trial court ruled that the law was valid in September.

The conservative activists are arguing that the law violates the ban on same-sex marriage passed by California voters in 2000.


Virulent STD Hits San Francisco

The San Francisco Department of Public Health has issued an alert to the gay male community about the emergence of a “rare and potentially debilitating sexually transmitted disease” called LGV, a form of chlamydia that can scar the genitals and colon “and can produce a swelling and bursting of lymph glands near the groin,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. A disease normally seen only in impoverished tropical countries, there was a recent outbreak in Holland. But none of the four San Francisco men who have the bug had been to the Netherlands.

LGV, or lymphogranuloma vernerum, is easily treated with three weeks of antibiotics if caught early.


Wisconsin Alone in Big Ten In Not Offering DP Benefits

Now that Penn State has decided to give its employees domestic partner benefits, the University of Wisconsin at Madison is the only school in the Big Ten to deny lesbian and gay staff this coverage, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Wisconsin, despite being the first U.S. state to ban discrimination against gay people, has a law prohibiting such benefits.

School officials said that the policy hurts the school’s “competitive edge” in recruiting professors and are—dare we say?—badgering the state to overturn it. The city of Madison provides such benefits to municipal employees. The university is trying to make up for the benefits gap by offering gay employees “soft benefits” for their partners, such as gym memberships and other kinds of insurance.

This coming year, the Wisconsin Legislature will take up a second vote on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, which if approved would move it to a voter referendum.


Support for Gays in Military Not As Strong as Year Ago

A new Gallup Poll found that 63 percent of Americans favor allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, up from 40 percent in 1993 when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was enacted by the Clinton administration, after it abandoned plans to allow for opening up the service.

However, last December 23, a poll jointly released by Gallup, CNN and USA Today put the number of Americans supporting open service by gay and lesbian soldiers at 79 percent.

Among regular church-goers in this year’s survey, 49 percent supported lifting the ban, with 73 percent of those who seldom or never attending religious services in favor.

“It seems inevitable that military law will yield to the public’s will at some point in the near future,” Heather Mason, contributing editor for The Gallup Organization.

The U.S. Army Court of Appeals recently overturned a heterosexual sodomy conviction for Army Spc. Kenneth Bullock based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision ending state sodomy laws—a sign that the exclusion of gay soldiers may be on its way out, too.


Married Couples Donate Returned License Fees to Legal Fund

Two-thirds of the same-sex couples married last March in San Francisco are declining the opportunity to have the $82 marriage license fee refunded to them, instead opting to let the city put the money into a fund to overturn the ban on gay marriage in court. Some couples also paid the city $62 for a civil ceremony and 4,000 ordered certified copies of their licenses for $13 each.

More than 4,000 marriages among gay and lesbian couples in San Francisco, which began when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the marriage bureau to them, were overturned by the California Supreme Court in August.

Since then, more than a thousand couples have responded to a letter from City Assessor Mabel Teng asking if they wished to receive their money back or donate it to the legal fund. Those who do not respond by January 21, 2005 will also see their fees go into the legal fund.

Newsom recently told CNN that he was not concerned about the impact his same-sex marriage stance would have on his political future, saying he had no desire to be a career politician and that “some of the most miserable human beings I have ever met are in politics.”


Victory in Secaucus

A gay couple who were harassed out of their home by the town Fire Department across the street from them in Secaucus, New Jersey has the right to sue under the state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Judge Lordes Santiago of Hudson County ruled. The men have since moved to Jersey City.

Secaucus town officials had argued that the law only protected gay people from housing discrimination that involved denial of a lease. After the ruling, the town agreed to mediate with the gay men, their attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said.


Minnesota Group Sues for Right to Place Kissing Ad

GLBT/Pride Twin Cities is suing the Minneapolis Star Tribune for refusing to run their gay pride ad depicting two men kissing. The group had tried to negotiate with the newspaper’s management, but talks broke down. A spokesperson for the daily said, “We are disappointed that GLBT would take this action after we have partnered with them, sponsored their events and supported their core principles for many years.”


Queer as Rosie

Rosie O’Donnell is set to appear as a character in three episodes of the Showtime series “Queer as Folk” next year. She is a fan of the show and wanted to make a guest appearance, but turned down the offer to become a regular cast member because of her desire to spend more time with her family, reported.

O’Donnell will play “an abused wife who flees to Pittsburgh to start a new life,” the site said, and will work as a waitress in the eatery run by the Sharon Gless character.


Civil War over Lincoln-is-Gay Book

“The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” arguing the 16th president was gay, won’t hit bookstores until next month, but the dispute over its contents has broken wide open. It was written by the late C.A. Tripp, who once worked with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey—reason enough for the right wing to distrust him.

Tripp’s collaborator, journalist Philip Nobile, had a falling out with him during their work together and is now saying that the book is a “fraud,” even though Nobile does believe that Lincoln was gay.

Tripp’s research is supported by Jean Baker, author of a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, who wrote the introduction to Tripp’s book, and is being attacked by David Herbert Donald, a Harvard historian and author of “We are Lincoln Men.”

Tripp asserts that Lincoln’s homosexuality is proved by four years he spent sleeping with Joshua Speed in Springfield. He cites a gay male marriage poem Lincoln wrote as a teen and a relationship with the captain of his guard while president, among other things.


Utah—Yes Utah—Looking at Partner Rights

Utah was the first state to pass a Defense of Marriage Act and enacted a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and any “substantial” rights for any other union. But now Republican State Sen. Greg Bell, who represents Fruit Heights, is putting forth legislation for “mutual dependents,” including relatives living together, that would confer such rights as hospital visitation, making end-of-life decisions and inheriting co-owned property without going through probate court.

Governor-elect Jon Huntsman, also a Republican, campaigned in favor of the partner legislation. His spokesman told the Salt Lake Tribune, “ What’s important to us is that we not base it on sexual preference or lifestyle choices,” but on “economic dependency.”

Gordon Storrs, the chairman of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, is on Huntsman’s transition team.


Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Congressman Ed Schrock, 63, a conservative Republican from the Tidewater area of Virginia, did not seek re-election after Mike Rogers’ website posted tapes of him soliciting sex from “discreet” men through a gay phone service. But Schrock is not leaving the Capitol. He is going to work as a staffer for Rep. Thomas Davis, another Virginia Republican, on the House Government Reform Committee.

Schrock never addressed the issue of the sex tape, but did show up to vote in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and forbid state courts from granting marital benefits to gay couples.


Housing for Old Gays and Lesbians in L.A.

Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing is planning an $18.6 million building in Hollywood with 104 units for older LGBT folks with 30 percent of the units set aside for people who are homeless, at risk or who have HIV/AIDS. The group just received a $1 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation for the project, set to open in summer 2006. Wallis Annenberg, the vice president of the foundation, also kicked in $200,000 of his own money to build a pool for the gay elders at what will be called Encore Hall.

It will be “the nation’s first nonprofit affordable housing development that includes a community service center supporting the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender older adults—both residents and nonresidents,” KNBC reported.


Merry Christmas from the Holy Father

Pope John Paul II used the holidays to take another shot at gay relationship recognition. “Attacks on marriage and the family, from an ideological and legal aspect, are becoming stronger and more radical every day,” the pontiff said. “Who destroys this fundamental fabric causes a profound injury to society and provokes irreparable damage.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican is getting ready for its “inspection” of U.S. seminaries, first proposed when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke open several years ago. Bishop John Nienstedt, chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation, said it would look at “how seminarians approach celibacy and chastity—either in relationship to heterosexuality or homosexuality—or the temptations or inclinations people have.”

A senior Vatican official told the Associated Press, “The issue is, what is the definition of homosexuality?”


Apology for Franco

I can’t imagine something like this happening in the U.S. Congress anytime soon, but last week, the president of the Spanish Parliament, Manuel Martin, stood up and officially apologized for “the suffering of homosexuals during Franco’s years,” offering them “moral recognition and support,” UK reported. The chamber then erupted in “spontaneous and prolonged applause,” the news site said.

Spain is set to open up marriage to gay couples in 2005.


Bishop Robinson Retreats

Out gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson has offered to compromise with his worldwide church, much of which was opposed to his consecration last year. Anti-gay bishops are saying that they will not attend international meetings if he is seated at them. Robinson says he would reduce his role at the Lambeth Conference, next set for 2008, though it is unclear whether he will even be invited by the Anglican Communion to participate. He says he might accept observer status rather than a seat at the table.

“I hope I will be invited,” Robinson told the Associated Press. “I hope all of the African bishops will be there, because I think that’s the way forward.”

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