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  Windy City Times

National Roundup
by Andrew Davis
2004-12-15

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In Massachusetts, gay and lesbian couples are beginning to share in the less joyous aspects of matrimony, including irreconcilable differences, settlement agreements, and divorce, according to the Boston Herald. Over the past few months, newlywed same-sex couples have been trickling into probate courts across the state, seeking to renounce their vows. In Suffolk County, which includes Boston, the first gay divorce case was filed on Dec. 8 by a male couple who exchanged vows on May 22.

Meanwhile, many companies in the state are planning to drop domestic-partner benefits for their gay and lesbian employees: Since marriage between same-sex couples became legal in the state May 17, they should no longer receive special treatment in the form of health benefits that were not made available to unmarried, opposite-sex couples. The Boston Globe reported that large employers terminating or phasing out domestic-partner benefits include IBM, Emerson College, Northeastern University, the National Fire Protection Association, Boston Medical Center, and The New York Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

In what has been called a victory for gay couples, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ruled that Philadelphia has a right to give city employees in same-sex 'life partnerships' the same type of worker benefits now enjoyed only by married couples, according to the Associated Press. The justices overturned a two-year-old lower court decision that stated that city lawmakers had overstepped their authority and created 'a new marital status' by recognizing same-sex relationships. Only the state, that court said, had a right to regulate marriage. Writing for the high court, Justice Russell M. Nigro said Philadelphia had not created a new type of marriage, or trampled on state sovereignty, when it decided in 1998 to let the long-term partners of gay and lesbian city employees participate in city health and benefits plans.

Gay-rights advocates are split over the cause of Cheryl Jacques leaving her post as president of the Human Rights Campaign, according to the Boston Globe. Supporters of Jacques say she was forced out because she wanted to push for full marriage rights for gays after the Nov. 2 election and ran into opposition from activists who wanted to pursue a more moderate course. However, friends of Jacques have said the difference was more substantive; they contend that she was a casualty of the debate over whether the gay community should lower its sights.

In New York, gay-rights activists vowed to appeal a ruling by a trial court judge in Albany that said the state constitution allows New York to continue to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. PlanetOut reported that the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ) and the law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of 13 gay and lesbian couples who live throughout New York. The ACLU had asked the court to strike down New York marriage laws, claiming they violate the state constitutional guarantees of equality, liberty and freedom of speech. The judge allowed the marriage laws to stand, citing an 11-year-old case decided by a New York appeals court.

A gay Nigerian man has secured asylum in the United States, according to an Immigration Equality press release. 'Ojo' ( not his real name ) fled his native Nigeria after an angry mob murdered his second partner upon discovering that the two were romantically involved. He arrived in New York without proper entry documents and was immediately taken into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. After a second trial with the Board of Immigration Appeals, he was granted asylum after presenting crucial evidence and having a witness testify on his behalf.

A woman suing for custody of a daughter born during a now-dissolved civil union has appealed a ruling that gives her former partner—the biological mother—full parental rights, according to the Associated Press. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and two gay groups filed the brief with the Virginia Court of Appeals on behalf of Janet Miller-Jenkins, who has been granted visitation rights in Vermont, where the couple lived after their civil union. The groups are contesting a Virginia judge's ruling claiming jurisdiction in the case because the biological mother, Lisa Miller-Jenkins, gave birth to two-year-old Isabella in the state and now lives there. Frederick Circuit Judge John Prosser awarded full custody to Lisa Miller-Jenkins a month later, saying that Virginia does not recognize Vermont's civil union law or rulings issued from it.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Dec. 6, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the West Virginia Supreme Court not to separate a four-year-old boy from his surviving mother following the unexpected death of his biological mother, the Empty Closet reported. Tina Burch and Christina Smarr decided to have a child and the couple agreed that Smarr would carry their child. In 1999, Smarr gave birth to Zachary. The couple raised Zachary together until Smarr was killed in a car accident in 2002. Following Smarr's death, her parents, Paul and Janet Smarr, sought to take custody of Zachary. The trial court sided with Burch and awarded her primary custody, with visitation rights to the grandparents. The Circuit Court reversed the trial judge's ruling, deciding to remove Zachary from Burch and award custody to the grandparents. The case is now before the West Virginia Supreme Court on appeal; Burch has custody of Zachary pending a decision by the high court.

More than a billion children—over half the children in the world—suffer extreme deprivation because of war, HIV/AIDS, or poverty, according to a report released by the United Nations Children's Fund ( UNICEF ) and published by The New York Times. While there have been gains in reducing the death rates of young children and in increasing the number of children in school, the report said that some of the progress made over the past decade and a half had been offset by several factors, including HIV/AIDS and wars—particularly the 55 civil conflicts since 1990.

David Brudnoy, 64, a mainstay of Boston talk radio for more than a quarter of a century, died Dec. 9, his radio station, WBZ-AM, reported. Brudnoy, whose voice could be heard every weeknight in 38 states and in Canada on WBZ since 1986, announced on air in September 2003 that he was suffering from merkel cell carcinoma, a form of rare but treatable skin cancer; the hospital reported that Brudnoy died of renal failure associated with the carcinoma. He had already lived with AIDS for more than a decade. Also in 1994, Brudnoy revealed that he was gay and had AIDS.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has signed an executive order banning employment discrimination against gay and lesbian state government employees, according to 365Gay.com . The order also requires any business contracting with the state to have a non-discrimination policy covering their lesbian and gay workers. The order is almost identical to the one signed by former Gov. Edwin Edwards at the beginning of his last term, but also includes harassment. Blanco's spokesperson Denise Bottcher said the governor felt it was important for her to re-establish state policy regarding equal treatment in the workplace.

New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer reiterated his support for gay marriage at the Gay Alliance's Equality Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh, the Empty Closet reported. Spitzer, the keynote speaker at the conference—which took place before his announcement that he would run for governor in 2006—said that 'New York State law must permit gay and lesbian marriage. That's the only thing that's fair.'

In Ohio, opponents of the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage notified the state's elections commission and the secretary of state that their campaign's finances had not been properly managed. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the problem arose when Ohioans Protecting the Constitution filed a post-general election campaign finance report. The report revealed expenditures of nearly $790,000 in a losing effort to defeat Issue 1, the nation's farthest-reaching ban on gay marriage and civil unions. More than $79,000 made in Internet contributions to the campaign were not properly funneled by a consultant to the campaign's treasurer said the campaign's attorney, Rick Brunner.

A new study suggests that women who take amphetamine-based diet pills when pregnant are more likely to have lesbian and gay children, PlanetOut reported. Expectant mothers who have taken thyroid medication are also included, with similar findings. The study, which was conducted by Minot State University in North Dakota, followed more than 5,000 mothers and their offspring. Conversely, mothers of straight men were 70 percent more likely to have taken anti-nausea drugs than those of gay men. The research will be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.


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