Same-sex couples started tying the knot under the United Kingdomâ€™s new Civil Partnership Act Dec. 19. The act grants registered couples all the rights and obligations of marriage.
â€śThis landmark measure ends the situation where same-sex relationships were invisible in the eyes of the law, denied any recognition of their commitment,â€ť said Prime Minister Tony Blair. â€śIt gives gay and lesbian couples who register their relationship the same safeguards over inheritance, insurance and employment and pension benefits as married couples. No longer will same-sex couples who have decided to share their lives fear they will be denied a say over the partnerâ€™s medical treatment or find themselves denied a home if their partner dies.â€ť
Grainne Close and Shannon Sickels were the first to do the deed as regular registrations kicked off (a couple where one partner was gravely ill were allowed to â€śwedâ€ť before the actâ€™s start date). Close and Sickels, who is American, got â€śmarriedâ€ť at City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as fundamentalist Christians and gay-rights supporters yelled at each other outside.
â€śThis is about making a choice to have our civil rights acknowledged and respected and protected, and we could not be here without the hard work of many queer activists and many individuals from the queer community,â€ť Sickels told reporters.
The ceremonies began in Scotland the next day and in England and Wales the day after that. Sir Elton John, 58, and longtime partner David Furnish, 43, were among the first to tie the knot, in the royal town of Windsor, at the town hall where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married.
Furnishâ€™s father Jack called it â€śone of the happiest days of my life.â€ť His mother, Gladys, said, â€śIâ€™m very proud.â€ť
A star-studded reception costing more than $1.7 million followed the ceremony. John and Furnish made no remarks as they exited the hall. Nearly 700 other same-sex couples registered Dec. 21 as well.
Same-sex couples have access to full marriage in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and Massachusetts. South Africaâ€™s highest court recently legalized same-sex marriage but gave legislators one year to make the necessary legal adjustments.
Partnership or civil-union laws that grant registered same-sex couples some, most or all rights and obligations of marriage are in force in Andorra, the Australian state of Tasmania, the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Vermont.
Czech Lower House Passes Partnership Bill
The Czech Republicâ€™s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, voted 86 to 54 in favor of a same-sex registered-partnership law Dec. 16. Seven deputies abstained and 53 were not present for the vote.
The measure now moves to the possibly less-friendly Senate. If it passes there, it would advance to President Vaclav Klaus for his signature. If the Senate rejects the bill, the deputies could override the Senate with an absolute majority of 101 votes in the 200-member chamber.
The legislation was favored by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubekâ€™s Social Democrats and many Communists but opposed by the Christian Democrats, who are part of the three-party governing coalition.
Latvia Bans Same-Sex Marriage
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga signed legislation amending the nationâ€™s constitution to ban same-sex marriage Dec. 21. The measure passed Parliament 65 to six with nine abstentions on Dec. 15.
Latvia already had a law prohibiting gays from marrying but conservative politicians feared it might not stand up to challenges from the European Union. The European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association denounced the amendment.
â€śAs an EU member state, Latvia is acting contradictory to and disrespectfully to the principles of equality and non-discrimination agreed and confirmed by various EU treaties,â€ť said Executive Director Patricia Prendiville. â€śNot only has Latvia now a discriminatory constitutional provision motivated solely by homophobia, but Latvia is still the only EU member state which did not ban sexual orientation discrimination in employment as required by the EU employment equality directive.â€ť
Polish Parade Ban Was Illegal
An administrative court in Poznan, Poland, ruled Dec. 14 that Poznan Mayor Ryszard Grobelnyâ€™s banning of Novemberâ€™s gay pride parade violated both Polish and European law. Grobelny had cited â€śsecurity concernsâ€ť in blocking the march. Local media reports did not say what penalty Grobelny might face for the infraction.
Despite the ban, a few hundred people marched anyhow. They were harassed by members of the group All Polish Youth, who shouted â€śLetâ€™s gas the fagsâ€ť and â€śWeâ€™ll do to you what Hitler did with Jews.â€ť
Police intervened near the end of the march, roughed up several marchers, and arrested and interrogated more than 65, who were later released.
Tel Aviv To Build Gay Community Center
The city of Tel Aviv has approved spending $900,000 to establish an official gay and lesbian community center. The initial outlay will be used to renovate a building to house the center.
The city also committed to spending $67,000 a year to fund the facility. The funding is structured so that future city administrations cannot cancel it.
The project was spearheaded by City Councilor Itai Pinkas, who told Ynetnews: â€śBy building this center, Tel Aviv joins an honorable club of advanced cities like New York, Los Angeles and Paris. I thank the mayor, who was a full partner in the initiative and understood the communityâ€™s needs. ... This municipal building is designated to serve as the place where the community members will find the core of their lives.â€ť
The center will offer, among other things, exhibitions, cultural events, concerts, workshops, classes, health services, HIV support groups, youth groups, legal aid, social services, a library and a kindergarten.
Chinese Police Shut Down Gay Festival
Police shut down the first Beijing Gay and Lesbian Culture Festival as it opened Dec. 16, saying organizers had failed to secure permission to hold the events.
The festival initially was scheduled for the Factory 798 arts complex in the Dashanzi area of Beijing. But on Dec. 14, the Public Security Bureau banned the organizers from that site. The organizing committee, some of whose members reported police surveillance, then moved the festival to the private On/Off bar, which police raided as the festival kicked off.
The officers reportedly ripped down signs and decorations, videotaped attendees and closed the bar for a week. The festival was to feature three days of exhibitions, seminars, plays and movies.
Assisted by Bill Kelleyq