The showdown over civil unions continues to build in the Oregon legislature with only days remaining in the current session. The civil union bill, granting all the state rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, has passed the Senate with ease and was sent to the GOP-led house earlier this month.
Last week, House Speaker Karen Minnis called the bill to a hearing with virtually no notice, during a lunch period when few lawmakers were around. The ill was gutted, and replaced with a Republican-backed alternative that would offer a few benefits to so-called â€śreciprocal beneficiaries,â€ť a status that is not limited to same-sex couples and would not offer legal protections to gay and lesbian families. Minnis then consigned the mutated bill to the budget committee, effectively killing it for the year.
On Tuesday, the GLBT advocates at Basic Rights Oregon and their legislative allies reintroduced the civil union bill in the house, and called again for a floor vote. According to Rebekah Kassell, communications director for Basic Rights Oregon, there is nothing to stop Minnis from finding another way to avoid a vote, but with public sentiment strongly in favor of some recognition for gay couples, her continued obstruction will eventually cost her political points.
Minnis has insisted that the statewide vote in favor of a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage last November has rendered the issue moot. In fact, the amendment is silent on the subject of non-marital types of partner rights, and the Oregon house would be expected to pass civil unions if given the chance.
The Oregon legislative session was scheduled to end June 30. However, it has remained open pending the completion of the budget, which is now in its final stages. Kassell estimates that the loose ends will be tied up by the first weekend of August, giving gay allies a week or so to work the civil union bill and force Minnis to take a second stand.
Formal Description Of California Amendment Infuriates Anti-Gay Activists
Three different amendments to the California constitution have been introduced by two competing anti-gay activist groups, both of which hope to place their versions on the state primary ballot in June of next year. On Monday, one of the proposals was cleared by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office is required to assign official titles and descriptions to any proposed ballot measure.
Lockyerâ€™s title: â€śMarriage: Elimination of domestic partnership rights. Initiative constitutional amendment,â€ť triggered plans for an immediate lawsuit by the anti-gay crusaders at VoteYesMarriage.com.
The attorney generalâ€™s one-paragraph description of the lengthy amendment added to their outrage. In it, Lockyerâ€™s office noted that the amendment:
â€śVoids and restricts registered domestic partner rights and obligations, for certain same-sex and heterosexual couples, in areas such as: ownership and transfer or property, inheritance, adoption, medical decisions, child custody and child support, health and death benefits, insurance benefits, hospital visitation, employment benefits and recovery for wrongful death and other tort remedies.â€ť
The official title and summary is likely to impede efforts to gather signatures for this, the most draconian of the three proposals. â€śLockyer has dumped on us an inaccurate and prejudicial paragraph that is anything but impartial as the law requires,â€ť said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families and leader of VoteYesMarriage. On their website, Thomassonâ€™s group pledged to challenge the wording in court â€świthin the next few days.â€ť
Lockyer is expected to release the official title and summary for two other amendments as this issue goes to press on Wednesday. Drafted by the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund and others under the name Protectmarriage.com, these consist of two similar one-sentence amendments that restrict marriage but go no further. One reads: â€śA marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.â€ť The second reads: â€śOnly a man and a woman in a lawful marriage shall have the legal status of married spouses in California.â€ť Presumably, the authors will put their energies behind one of the two alternatives once they receive the go ahead from the attorney generalâ€™s office.
The different strategies reflect a factional split between the opponents of same-sex marriage, some of whom, like Thomasson, hope to preclude any possible recognition of same-sex couples in the future, while also dismantling the statewide domestic registry with its extensive marriage rights. Thomassonâ€™s website calls his proposal â€śthe true blue California constitutional amendment youâ€™ve been waiting for.â€ť
By contrast, the minimalist opponents are presumably seeking to undermine the pending court case that is headed eventually to the state supreme court. Even a simple one-sentence amendment would hamstring the seven justices, were it to pass before they had a chance to rule. Clearly, a simple one-sentence amendment would also have a far better chance of winning a majority at the polls.
Iranian Boys Executed For Sex Acts
Beginning our normally lighthearted column on a disturbing note, two Iranian teenagers were hanged in the Mashhad public square July 19 for the crime of consensual gay sex. The boys, one 18-year-old and another younger one, had been incarcerated and most likely tortured for 14 months prior to their execution. The news was first reported by Iranian Student News Agency, and their website posted pictures of the scene as well. Find the link yourself if you have a morbid fascination with such images.
Gay groups all over the world have reacted with shock, and although the story was reported in some foreign media, the U.S. mainstream press seems to have missed the news so far. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on Condi Rice to condemn the killings on Friday, but if she has, I havenâ€™t read about it yet.
Some other Iranian news agency reported that the boys had molested a 13-year-old, but itâ€™s not at all clear that this was the case. According to OutRage, the British gay activist group, some 100,000 citizens have been executed since the 1979 revolution, including roughly 4,000 gay men and lesbians.
Iâ€™m not sure that making this story my lead was a great decision. Weâ€™re not exactly in a position to make a smooth transition into, letâ€™s say, gay penguin or crazed lesbian killer news now, and as a matter of fact Iâ€™m not sure I can gracefully follow this with any of the items on my news list.
But we have no choice. This weekâ€™s list is a daunting collection of fairly serious and technical legal and political developments around the country, all of which Iâ€™d rather skip over in favor of gay penguins, deranged lesbians, or maybe one of those middle-aged German cannibals that pops up every now and again, napkin tucked under his shirt collar, neat packages of torso meat stowed in the freezer.
Peg O My Heart
Since I donâ€™t have any freak shows to inspire me, Iâ€™ll move instead to the situation in Wisconsin, where some members of the state legislature are trying to intervene in an ACLU lawsuit because they think Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager is a regular fag hag who wonâ€™t defend the state against the rabid homoshexshual activists bent on turning pink the waters of Lake Winnebago. Actually, the suit seeks domestic partner benefits based on the state constitution, and Lautenschlager says sheâ€™s perfectly capable of taking the â€śnoâ€ť side of the debate. Then again, lawmakers note, the AG turned up at a pride rally the other day, so whatâ€™s up with that?
The ACLU has asked the court to send the lawmakers and their creepy conservative legal buddies at the Alliance Defense Fund packing, based on the fact that they donâ€™t have standing to stick their pointy little noses into the case to begin with. More later, Iâ€™m sure.
Bored Of Directors
Now, letâ€™s hop over to Cleveland Heights, where a state court of appeals ruled July 14 that the cityâ€™s domestic partner registry was constitutional. Why, you might ask, did we not put this item in last weekâ€™s column where it belongs? Because our eyes glazed over just looking at the headline, thatâ€™s why.
Likewise, our lids are drooping over the story out of Pennsylvania, where GOP lawmakers are suing the Pennsylvania Benefits Employee Trust Fund board under the Sunshine Law, because the board members wonâ€™t consult openly about a plan to extend domestic partner rights to state workers. The board met on July 21, and voted unanimously to investigate the possibility of extending the benefits. But it sounds to me, from my casual perusing of a few scattered sources, that the outcome of that meeting did nothing to assuage the legislative anxiety, and that the lawsuit remained on track. In fact, there was a hearing yesterday (Monday), and I donâ€™t know what happened. Should I try and find out?
That was quite a professional dilemma there for a minute, but in the end I decided to move on.
Cox In A Box
Did I mention Michigan? This one is kind of interesting. The busy bees at the ACLU have sued Michigan, seeking a court ruling to define the scope of the recently-passed anti-gay state constitutional amendment. Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion telling Kalamazoo that it could not condition medical benefits for city staff on sexual orientation thanks to the amendment. The ACLU filed suit, insisting that the amendment, bad as it was, did not preempt domestic partner or other same-sex legal ties short of actual marriage.
The case was set to be argued this week when it became clear that Governor Jennifer Granholm, the formal defendant in the suit, disagrees with the anti-gay views of Mike Cox, who is theoretically obliged to represent her interests. Cox has now asked to be named as a defendant in the suit and have Granholm dismissed as a party to the litigation. Faced with this motion, Granholm has gone off to find her own lawyer, and the hearing has been postponed until August.
Well, it was something like that. I warned you about the list, didnâ€™t I? Not exactly titillating stuff, but surely itâ€™s important to be fully apprised of the arcane goings on in Midwestern political circles that mightâ€”when all is said and doneâ€” have had some miniscule tectonic impact on the fifty-year struggle for GLBT equality in America. Donâ€™t you agree?
You Go, Lambda!
I think I mentioned that I had some complicated legal news as well. Indeed, Lambda Legal Defense has added the New York State Department of Civil Service as a defendant in a lawsuit that was filed last April against a Long Island school district.
Yes, I see those raised eyebrows. What? Youâ€™re thinking. How could that be? More importantly, why? Why on Earth would Lambda want to amend its complaint against the Uniondale Union Free School District in this fashion? What the hell is going on?
Calm down. I will tell all. The suit was filed on behalf of two men who married in Ontario last October, Duke Funderburke, 72, and his partner of 42 years, Brad Davis, 68. Funderburke taught for years in the Uniondale blah blah school district, and he naturally wanted Davis to get spousal retirement benefits. The school refused. Then, after Lambda sued their butts, the district honchos cried and whined and pointed the finger of blame atâ€”you guessed it!â€”the New York State Department of Civil Service, which operates the Empire (benefits) Plan on behalf of state employees. The Department has now been dragged into Lambdaâ€™s net, and a victory will have a salutary effect not only on a few school teachers in Nassau County, but on all state employees that rely on the aforementioned Empire Plan.
Lambda has also won a custody case in Mississippi, where a woman had been ordered to keep her kids away from their HIV-positive aunt. Do those energizer bunnies ever stop?
Speaking of stopping, our time is apparently up thanks to a certain editor who for some strange reason insists on receiving editorial copy in a timely fashion. Next time: the new lesbian mayor of San Diego awaits us.
So to speak.