I donât know where to start this news-packed week, so Iâll just dive in at random with the interesting detail that Mary Cheney has sold less than 6,000 copies of her autobiography, Now Itâs My Turn, over the first four weeks since its release. According to the Advocate, the lackluster sales dropped from 2,445 over week one, to 574 over week four. At that rate, Simon & Schuster will have a devil of a time covering the $1 million advance they forked over to the Veep progeny.
I have no sympathy for the publisher or the author. A million bucks! What were they thinking? Cheney deliberately stayed out of gay politics and avoided the limelight for the last five years, so what does she have to report thatâs worth seven figures? Coming out of the closet? Working for Coors? Meeting Heather? Most of us would be delighted to cobble together a few anecdotes from our equally fascinating lives for a fraction of the price.
But thereâs little time to luxuriate in Schadenfreude. I have to tell you about all the excitement over in the Pennsylvania senate judiciary committee, where lawmakers revised the text of their anti-marriage amendment and sent it to the senate floor. The stripped down proposal says only that marriage is between a man and a woman. It leaves off the mumbo jumbo in the version that passed the house last week, which also outlawed civil unions, domestic partner programs and lesbian potlucks.
This means that the house and the senate have to get on the same page, so to speak, before the 2005/2006 session ends in a few weeks. If they donât manage to achieve an entente, the amendment will die. (Cue: evil cackle) Under Pennsylvania law, an amendment to the constitution must pass two successive legislative sessions before reaching the ballot. Since said sessions are two years each, if the marriage foes have to start over, they wonât reach the ballot until 2010 at the earliest, a lifetime from now!
More Tedious Amendment News
Plodding along on the same dusty road, the Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments this week on a technical challenge to the anti-marriage measure that seems headed to the November ballot. Tennessee is another one of those states where a constitutional amendment must pass two successive legislative sessions. But Hark! There are further rules and regulations.
For example, lawmakers must give the voting public six months notice between the two elections in order for the electorate to take the amendment into consideration when they select a new legislature. In the case of the marriage amendment, lawmakers missed the deadline by a couple of weeks. Is their lapse enough to scuttle the amendment and force the bad guys to start from scratch in the Volunteer State? A lower court said it was no big deal. Weâll see what the justices say.
And finally, as far as this rubric is concerned, the Georgia Supreme Court is going to hear arguments in late June on the question of whether the Peach Stateâs existing marriage amendment is constitutionally flawed. A lower court recently struck the amendment on the grounds that it encompassed more than a single subject, pointing out that voters who might oppose marriage but support civil unions were effectively disenfranchised by the one size fits all amendment. Governor Sonny Purdue had a hissy fit and demanded immediate review by the stateâs highest court. The high court, in turn, obediently scrambled to put the appeal on a speedy schedule.
Thatâs more than enough amendment news for one week, even though I could generate more if I made an effort. Donât worry, I wonât.
Listen, have you ever heard of a âgay tax protestâ? Apparently there are two guys from North Carolina running around urging the rest of us to stop paying federal income tax as a statement against the U.S. governmentâs lack of recognition of same-sex unions.
âWe gays will gladly pay our taxes once the government stops discrimination against us and passes laws that allow us to marry the person we love,â say Charles Merrill, 72, and his partner Kevin Boyle, 52. âWe deserve the same federal and state benefits as other married citizens.â
I couldnât agree more. And I also want conjugal partner rights when I go to federal prison for tax evasion. Guys? Shouldnât you at least use a pseudonym?
Strangers to Paradise
This is officially church news week, since the Reformed Church of America, the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians are all having their synods, conventions or whatever they call them. The Reformed Church of America met June 8-13 for their annual General Synod in Iowa. The Episcopalians are getting together June 13-21 in Columbus for their triennial General Convention, thatâs every three years to you monosyllabists. And finally, the Presbyterians are headed for Birmingham June 15-22 for their biennial General Assembly.
Well, you canât accuse the deacons and beacons of using their various business meetings as an excuse to sneak a week of vacation in the tropics, can you? I wonder who selects the venues for these little get togethers. (âBrazil? He twirled a button, without a glance my way. âBut Madam, is there nothing else that we can show today?ââ)
At any rate, get ready for a barrage of confusing gay news stories about the zany goings on at (your favorite denomination here). I know the Episcopalians have to elect a new presiding bishop to replace the retiring Frank Griswold, who is stepping down in November after a nine-year stint at the head of the church.
I believe there are many many many other provocative and divisive questions facing all of these well-meaning conventioneers, most of them having something to do with the tenuous position of our vibrant GLBTLMNOP community members in their doctrinal formulae. But I see no need to descend into speculative detail at this precise moment when we can all just be patient and await the climactic final days of these conclaves. Why engage our limited attention span on a topic that appears to be sticking around for at least a fortnight, when we could focus instead on the masturbating judge?
Pump Not, Lest You Be Judged
You recall the masturbating judge, donât you? For some reason, the scenario has been unfolding for a couple of years now, beginning in July 2004 with the initial accusations against Creek County Oklahomaâs Judge Donald Thompson. Thompson was accused of masturbating on the bench, literally, during a murder trial. Hizzonner increased his secret fun by using a penis pump. Witnesses at the trial recall hearing the strange woosh woosh sounds coming from the judicial podium.
But it wasnât just one incident. As the press reported vividly at the time, Judge Thompson was âremoved from the bench for using a male enhancement pump, pleasuring himself and oiling his nether regions during court proceedings.â His longtime clerk told authorities she had picked up the detritus of Thompsonâs one-man band on several occasions, including tissues and slimy debris. She also saw him in action.
Thompson, a 59-year-old father of three, was eventually brought up on several felony charges of indecent exposure, but for whatever reasons, his trial has been repeatedly delayed. According to the Associated Press reports, the moment of reckoning finally arrived last Monday, when jury selection began in the case. Thompson continues to insist he was wrongly charged, and that the pump was a gag gift from a friend. Oh, and I forgot to mention heâs also facing a misdemeanor count of posting what the AP described as âlewd photosâ of himself and another woman on a Web site.
Judge Thompson makes the âmile high clubâ look like a goodnight kiss, nâest-ce pas? I will definitely be watching the denouement. By the way, the AP took it upon themselves to mention some of the other judges who have run afoul of the ethics code. My favorite was a West Virginia Circuit Court Judge who was forced to resign in 1997 after the âbiting the nose of a defendant.â
California High Court To Review Benitez
Hey! Talk about breaking news. I just got a call from Lambda spokesman Mark Roy, who says the California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of the Benitez case. This is the case of a woman, Lupito Benitez, who went to a Southern California fertility clinic in order to conceive in 2001. After a lengthy process, the doctors abandoned Benitez at a crucial stage, citing their Christian objections to inseminating a lesbian.
Believe me, the lawsuit has been all over the map. Up to the appellate court (we won). Back to the lower court (we won). Back to the appellate court (we lost). And again to the appellate court, which uphold its own ruling twice. The appellate court sent the case back to the lower court in March, at which point Lambda petitioned the state supreme court to take review, and pronto.
In the course of the litigation, the doctors have changed their story, first admitting that they declined to treat Benitez because she was gay, and later insisting it was in fact because she was unmarried. The appellate court not only bought the new motive, but appeared oblivious to the fact that discrimination based on marital status is just as illegal in California as discrimination based on sexual orientation. And most importantly, of course, underlying the whole mess is the fractious tension between free religious expression and civil rights laws that threatens to intensify with each new step forward in the march to equality. Oh, I just reread that pompous sentence. Sound the trumpets!
By the way, Benitez and her partner have had two or three kids in the court of all this, so the ultimate ending is a happy one.
There are quite a few other legal developments that might interest you this week.
The ACLU went to trial on a case involving a recalcitrant school district in Georgia. The district chose to end all non-curricular school clubs rather than acknowledge a gay straight alliance, but guess what? Some of those other clubs have snuck back into action, so the ACLU will hold the districtâs feet to the fire.
A California appellate court ruled in favor of a non-biological lesbian mother. That was something of a no-brainer for the unanimous panel since the state supreme court basically leveled the playing field between straight and gay parents in a trio of cases late last year.
The Missouri Attorney General has thrown in the towel on case involving a lesbian foster parent, who needed a victory at the appellate court in order to win the right to foster. Mr. General was planning to take the case to the state supreme court, but has changed his mind due to developments I have no time to report. And in another foster parenting case, the ACLU is about to face the Arkansas Supreme Court, in a case that challenges the Hee Haw Stateâs administrative ban on gay foster parents.
So Sue Me, Sue Me , What Can You Do Me?
Now, what did I tell you? I knew youâd be interested! But thereâs one more piece of legal news I have to relate. The dateline is Rochester, New York. The case is a damages suit against an AutoZone store and two of their employees, who were robbed at gunpoint by one Dana Buckman, 46. The staff overpowered Buckman, took his gun, chased him out of the store, and beat him up with a pipe. Buckman escaped, but was arrested a week later. Now, Buckman is suing the employees and the AutoZone store, claiming physical injuries and emotional distress.
Calling Ally McBeal! Or maybe Denny Crain. Is there anything for which we cannot sue these days? Can I sue you, my readers, for forcing me to be late for a dinner party tonight as I struggle to complete this column? Can you sue me for inadequate news coverage? Perhaps for failing to mention the fight over civil union rights in the Australian Capital Territory? Or skipping the news about the Dutch diplomat who was transferred out of Estonia along with his mixed-race husband? Letâs just call it even.