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More senators back marriage; Gov. Perry on acceptance
NATIONAL ROUNDUP: Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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More than half of U.S. senators back marriage equality, according to a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) press release. With announcements from Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), the total number of senators backing marriage equality has reached 53, including 49 Democrats, two Independents and two Republicans. HRC President Chad Griffin said, "The bipartisan tidal wave of support for marriage equality will only continue to swell as time progresses. Our leaders in Washington are finally catching up to the American people, who believe that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples deserve the right to marry."

Actually, another has joined the fold as well. According to the New York Daily News, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson became the latest Democrat to support same-sex marriage. Last month, Johnson announced that he would not seek a fourth Senate term representing the socially conservative state—a decision that may have factored into his changed stance. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are the only Democrats in the Senate who still oppose it.

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry talked about the importance of acceptance at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, according to the Huffington Post. This was a rare move for the governor, who has denounced same-sex marriage in the past. "We cannot condemn certain lifestyles while turning a blind eye to sins that, in God's eye, are just as grievous," Perry said at the dedication of the church, which is led by Rev. Robert Jeffress. "We must love all, welcome all, and be a model for Christ."

Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said she supports same-sex marriage, despite a long history of declining to state her position while in office, according to the Huffington Post. "I think obviously this has evolved over time on the whole issue for the whole country and the nations," Snowe, a moderate Republican, told CNN. Snowe voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which banned the federal government from recognizing states' same-sex marriages; however, she no longer backs the measure. New Jersey's Rutgers University fired basketball coach Mike Rice after a video aired showing him kicking, grabbing and throwing balls at players during practice as well as yelling gay slurs at them, CBS News reported. The video, broadcast on ESPN, prompted scores of criticism, from Gov. Chris Christie and NBA star LeBron James. Last year, Athletic Director Tim Pernetti had suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.

In a related development, ESPN senior writer Andy Katz criticized Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Eric Bolling after they defended Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was caught on camera physically abusing players and using anti-LGBT slurs, noted. Bolling argued that his firing was part of the "wussification of America" while Hannity praised Rice for was using "old-fashioned discipline." Katz later called the defense "ridiculous," adding, "You cannot physically hit someone, you can't throw things at someone and you cannot ... have those homophobic slurs."

LGBT Catholic organization Dignity USA sent an open letter to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who also serves as president of the U.S .Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to . The letter was a response to media interviews Dolan gave Easter Sunday in which he said he loved gays and lesbians—but didn't know how the Church could make them feel more welcome. The letter reads in part, "We would suggest that the best way to undertake the project of making the Church more welcoming to LGBT people is to begin a process of face-to-face dialogue. In good Catholic tradition, let us gather to break bread and pray together, so that we initiate this dialogue grounded in the faith and sacraments that unite us."

The Rev. Rick Warren—the anti-gay minister who stirred controversy in the LGBT community in 2009 when he delivered the invocation at President Obama's first inauguration—released a message to his congregation in which he paid tribute to his 27-year-old son Matthew Warren, who committed suicide, according to the Chicago Tribune. Matthew died after battling depression for much of his life, the minister said in his statement.

In Florida, 30-year-old Ashley Sinclair—a transgender woman with a history of prostitution convictions—was found dead off of Orlando's South Orange Blossom Trail, the Orlando Sentinel reported. According to, Sinclair was well-known in the drag and transgender communities, often performing at the local gay dance club Parliament House. Sinclair's friends and family plan to gather on Saturday, April 13, on North Mills to remember her.

An Applebee's restaurant in Rice Lake, Wis., has agreed to keep on a gay server who resigned after he was threatened with a firing over "bad publicity" because he was beaten with a two-by-four piece of lumber by the husband of another employee, according to . Timothy Phares was told not to return to work by restaurant management after Rien Hendricks attacked him. Apple American Group CEO Greg Flynn intervened on behalf of Phares, overruling the management of the Rice Lake franchise.

Illinois Unites for Marriage sent out a letter from Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of the NAACP's national board of directors, April 5 in support of marriage equality in Illinois. In part, Bond wrote, "My wife, Pamela, and I stood before our friends and family and made a lifelong commitment to one another. We've taken care of each other ever since. My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters simply want the freedom to make that same commitment. And they deserve the same protection that my wife and I have. It's just that simple."

Every state has seen an increase in support for same-sex marriage over the last eight years, according to new analysis by Williams Institute Public Opinion Project Director Andrew Flores and Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy Scott Barclay, a press release stated. The report "Public Support for Marriage for Same-sex Couples by State" examines public support for same-sex marriage, by state, and reveals the current position of each state's general population on the legality of same-sex marriage; how public opinion differs across the 50 states and the District of Columbia; and the change in public opinion since 2004.

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed a bill to provide assistance to families of active duty and veteran gay service members in obtaining professional licenses during their time in the state, while signing an identical bill to help only straight spouses, according to . "In the post-'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' era, openly gay service members are proudly serving and dying for our country. And their partners back home bear the same burdens as their straight neighbors," said Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico. "There is no excuse in today's age for signing a bill that intentionally thumbs one's nose at our gay soldiers unless you believe that their service and sacrifice is somehow less important."

The case of a same-sex Connecticut couple accused of repeatedly raping and abusing two of their nine adopted boys is headed for trial, according to the New York Daily News. Married couple George Harasz and Douglas Wirth of Glastonbury were supposed to be sentenced in Hartford Superior Court under a plea deal, but instead withdrew from their agreement with prosecutors. If Harasz, 49, and Wirth, 45, had continued with the deal, they would have been given suspended prison sentences and probation.

In Florida, transgender woman Oneal Ron Morris faces charges of practicing cosmetic surgery without a license, after police say she injected an unwitting patient's buttocks with a handful of unsafe substances, including tire mender Fix-A-Flat, the New York Daily News reported. The botched butt implant sent the unidentified woman to the hospital, and landed Morris in jail. The injection took place in a residential setting, where Morris shot a mix of cement, glue, mineral oil and tire sealant into the woman's buttocks.

Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton said Monday she would consider running for office if she could make a "meaningful" impact on the country, according to . Clinton, who works for NBC as a "special correspondent," also said she expects her mother, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to "make the right choice for herself" regarding a 2016 presidential run.

A Republican Massachusetts Senate candidate is taking the fight for gay marriage to a new frontier: the Federal Election Commission, reported. Dan Winslow—a state representative running in the April 30 GOP primary for John Kerry's Senate seat—has filed a request with the regulatory agency asking it to treat married gay couples' contributions the same way it treats those from married straight couples. Winslow's FEC advisory opinion request was actually prompted by a gay couple legally married in Massachusetts who donated to his campaign.

Gay-friendly JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson is being replaced by his predecessor following slumping sales, according to . After less than a year and a half on the job, Johnson will be replaced by his predecessor, Myron Ullman. Johnson will be remembered as the CEO who stood by spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres after the anti-gay group One Million Moms launched a boycott against JCPenney for hiring the lesbian star.

A New York developer is hoping to branch out in Chicago, with plans to open a gay-friendly hotel in the heart of Boystown, according to . Parkview Developers LLC wants to develop an approximately 112-room hotel on the 3300 block of North Halsted Street called the Out Chicago. Modeled after the Out NYC, which opened just more than a year ago, the hotel would include an enclosed atrium that would double as event space, a full spa and gym, a rooftop bar, a restaurant and retail space.

To honor Harvey Milk's legacy, the White House will recognize a group of outstanding openly LGBT state and local elected and appointed officials as "Harvey Milk Champions of Change," according to a press release. Established in 2011, the White House Champions of Change Program regularly spotlights ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things. To nominate a Harvey Milk Champion of Change before Friday, April 19, see

In Rhode Island, the East Providence City Council unanimously endorsed a resolution in support of bills being considered at the State House to allow gay marriage in the state, according to the Providence Journal. The Council meeting drew about 100 people; public input lasted 90 minutes and was at times contentious, prompting a security guard to quiet hecklers. The resolution supports Senate Bill 38, sponsored by Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket; and House Bill 5015, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston.

U.S. taxpayers send almost $300 billion per year in federal contract dollars to businesses in states that have not yet passed laws to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination, according to a press release. "Issue Brief: The Need for an Executive Order" details how, in 2012 alone, $249 billion were awarded to businesses in states that have no state-level nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation, and a total of $293 billion contract dollars went to businesses in states with no protections for gender identity/expression.

Tennessee's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which would have prohibited discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, has died again, according to . The House sponsor, Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, had planned to amend the legislation to require principals or counselors to identify students who might be a potential threat, but he never got a chance to do so. Ragan plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

A young demonstrator took aim at North Carolina's Green Street United Methodist Church after its recent pledge to stop performing weddings until same-sex marriage is legalized, the Huffington Post reported. The unidentified boy stood in front of the Winston-Salem church Easter Sunday with a placard that read, "Jesus Must Be Your Lord Or He Will Not Be Your Savior." In video footage, the boy says, "The Bible talks about the homosexuals—they're worthy of death."

In Georgia, Tybee Island is set to hold its first gay and lesbian festival May 3-5, according to . The event will include parties, relaxing on the beach, a Sunday brunch and a beach cleanup. Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman says the event, which is organizing, falls right before the high season and will help draw crowds to the island.

Lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker has kicked off her third and final run for mayor, the Dallas Voice reported. In 2009, Parker became the first openly LGBT person elected mayor of a top 10 U.S. city. Houston limits its mayor and council members to three two-year terms. Since Parker took office, Houston has earned the title America's Coolest City to live (Forbes 2012), among other honors.

A busload of high school and college students went to the Alabama State House wearing blue T-shirts in support of a bill to repeal anti-gay language in the state law, according to . The language requires sex education courses to teach that homosexuality is not acceptable and that same-sex acts are against the law. The State House visitors were part of the Alabama Alliance for Healthy Youth, which includes members from AIDS Alabama, the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Advocates for Youth, a national group.

A student at the University of Houston-Downtown who was running for vice president of the student body was the victim of a smear campaign that revealed he was HIV-positive to the school's faculty and students, according to . Soon after Kristopher Sharp and Isaac Valdez, who was running for president, submitted the proper documents to enter the race, someone posted fliers across the school that read, "Want AIDS? Don't Support the Isaac and Kris Homosexual Agenda." In addition, the back of the flier showed Sharp's medical files that confirmed he is HIV-positive. Local police may investigate the incident.

The vandalism of a Kentucky-based gay rights activist's car is reportedly being investigated as a hate crime, according to the Huffington Post. Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman was attending a fundraiser at Louisville's Muhammad Ali Center when he returned to find his car not only sideswiped, but covered with anti-gay graffiti. A swastika had been drawn on a Fairness Campaign logo, while a gay-rights sticker with an image of President Obama was similarly defaced.

Cindy McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, is slated to appear in a Phoenix production of "8," Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's acclaimed play about Proposition 8, according to the Huffington Post. Also set to appear in the play, which hits Phoenix's Herberger Theater in May, is the wife of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.

Sexually active gay teens in Texas may get new legal protections under two measures, according to . Texas laws governing crimes of indecency with a child cover sexual contact with minors under the age of 17. They include a "Romeo and Juliet" legal defense if the couple is older than 14, in a consensual relationship and within three years of each other. However, the law also says the couple must be of the "opposite sex."

The FBI is investigating if U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Louisville, Ky., campaign office was bugged after aides were caught on tape discussing possible political attacks on Ashley Judd, USA Today reported. On the recording, which Mother Jones magazine posted, McConnell's aides discuss Judd and her struggles with depression and views on several topics, including religion. The actress-activist, who flirted with a Senate bid in Kentucky, said in late March that she would not run for the Democratic nomination in 2014 to take on McConnell.

The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond denied a petition by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli asking the full 15-judge court to reconsider a decision by a three-judge panel that overturned the state's sodomy law, the Washington Blade reported. Among the judges who chose not to approve a rehearing was Judge Albert Diaz, who wrote the dissent in the three-judge panel's 2-1 ruling declaring Virginia's "Crimes Against Nature" statute unconstitutional.

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