VOLUME 3, ISSUE 326 | June 24 - 30, 2004
The New York State Legislature has adjourned without a state budget now a record three months late, but also without the Republican Senate voting on a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that would have defined marriages as open only to heterosexual couples.
Last week, the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) issued an urgent alert that the Senate was contemplating a vote on the proposal this past Tuesday, the last day of its official session, despite the fact that there is little chance that it would make any headway in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
But, according to ESPA, Republican senators during the past week were deluged with calls from concerned constituents urging them to vote no on DOMA, and that the pressure had a discernible impact. Reports from those making calls indicated that in response to the escalating number of anti-DOMA calls, some Senate offices changed their response from indicating support for the measure to voicing uncertainty about their position.
“We want to thank the community for taking responsibility for reaching out to their legislators to prevent a DOMA on the last day of the Legislature’s scheduled session,” said Alan Van Capelle, the Pride Agenda’s executive director. “It’s only because LGBT people and their allies reached out to elected officials in both houses that there was no DOMA vote. And it will only be due to such pressure in the future that we will keep New York as one of only 11 states in this nation that hasn’t defined marriage as an institution limited to couples of one man and one woman.”
Pride Agenda efforts during the past week focused on areas represented by Republicans who might be vulnerable to Democratic challenge, including Long Island, Westchester, Syracuse, and Rochester. Gay pride celebrations in each of those communities gave ESPA the ability to reach large numbers of potential callers.
The DOMA issue plays out against a background in which major private corporations headquartered in New York are weighing whether to offer same-sex couples married in Massachusetts, whether in-state or out-of-state, the spousal benefits given married heterosexual employees.
Now that the budget is settled in New York City, the City Council will take up two major lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in its June 28 meeting. The Dignity in All Schools Act is expected to pass overwhelmingly after several weeks of negotiations with the Bloomberg administration over the content of the anti-bullying bill, which includes protections against harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. During the hearings in the Council’s Education Committee, the administration voiced opposition to the measure.
The Council is also expected to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the Equal Benefits Bill that was passed 43-5 last month. Out lesbian Christine Quinn, the Chelsea Democrat, has consistently indicated that she has the support of Speaker Gifford Miller in ensuring that the Council achieve the two-thirds vote necessary for a veto. The bill requires contractors with the city to provide domestic partner benefits if they give their employees spousal benefits. Bloomberg has threatened to take legal action to block the implementation of the law if the Council overrides him, insisting they are usurping his procurement powers and violating state law governing procurement—charges the legal staff at the Council deny.
Pres. Bill Clinton’s 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is now responsible for the discharge of more than 10,000 servicemembers for being gay and the continuation of the kind of atmosphere that has led to several anti-gay murders and countless attacks in the military.
Aaron Belkin of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conducted a study that found 770 servicemembers were discharged in 2003 for being gay or lesbian, down from 1,227 in 2001. Looking at the last six years, 88 linguists were dismissed, including at least seven who spoke Arabic. Brian Muller, one of the Army officers discharged, had served on a security detail for Pres. George W. Bush.
The 15th International AIDS Conference is in Bangkok July 11 through 16 and 2,000 people are expected. The four star Prince Palace Hotel, however, says it will separate guests who are HIV-positive from their other patrons, asking them to stay in rooms in a specified section of the hotel and dine apart from others.
Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said she would investigate the complaint about the hotel’s practices and would consider sanctions against the discrimination.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld gave the homily at the wedding of his former revenue commissioner and college friend, Mitchell Adams, to his former chief of staff Kevin Smith at King’s Chapel in Boston Tuesday—the same day the current governor, Mitt Romney, was in Washington testifying in favor of a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The wedding was attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a same-sex marriage supporter. But also on hand were former Acting Gov. Jane Swift and Senate President Robert Travaglini, opponents of the right of gay people to marry.
St. Paul once wrote, “Better to marry than burn.” But the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts is threatening to burn its bridges with employees who marry same-sex partners. “One needs to act consistently with the church’s teachings,” Daniel Avila of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference told Reuters.
Pope John Paul II this week castigated the Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican for his new government’s plan to recognize same-sex unions and liberalize abortion laws.
Illinois gay activist Rick Garcia saw a remembrance book for the late Gipper in the state capitol in Springfield and was moved to write, “My memory of President Ronald Reagan: Thousands of American men, women, and children were dying from HIV and AIDS during his administration. The president did nothing. The president said nothing. Not until the very end of his second term was he even able to utter the word AIDS I mourn the president the way he mourned these men, women, and children—with silence. May God forgive him, I can’t.”
Homeland Security didn’t come after Garcia, but a WICS-TV reporter, Julie Staley, who was working on a story about the remembrance book, ran after him calling him “tasteless,” “classless,” and “a big loser.”
“I was very incensed,” Staley told the Chicago Reader. “I loved Ronald Reagan.”
Garcia said that Staley was screeching at him.
“I told her that speaking the truth is not tasteless,” said Garcia, who runs Equality Illinois, the state gay rights lobby. “It’s a pretty pathetic reporter that can’t handle or take the truth.”
Stephen Daldry’s hit Brit film of 2000, “Billy Elliot,” about a working class lad struggling to become a ballet dancer will become a West End musical in March 2005, once more directed by Daldry with Sir Elton John doing the music. John told The Guardian (UK) that when he first saw the film in Cannes, he so identified with the protagonist and his difficult relationship with his father, “I was seen to be sobbing in my seat and had to be carted out by three people.”
Three boys will be cast in the lead so that they can rotate in the part. To keep the part supplied, a “Billy Elliot academy” has been established in Leeds for as long as the show runs.
Author and AIDS activist Larry Kramer turns 70 on June 25, long after being diagnosed with HIV and saved by a liver transplant. But Larry really saved his own life and the lives of countless thousands of others by helping to found Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP and agitating for the gay and AIDS causes from the streets to the stage. His “Normal Heart,” the longest running play at the Public Theater in its first run in 1985, is enjoying a successful revival there now. And we anxiously await his Great American Novel.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Kramer.
Andy Humm is a co-host of “Gay USA” seen Thursdays at 11 p.m. on Time-Warner 34 and RCN 107, simulcast at mnn.org channel 34, and on Directv nationwide._
Andy Humm can be contacted at AndyHumm@aol.com