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Italian government

to introduce civil-union legislation

Italy's government will introduce a bill by the end of January to extend some of the rights of marriage to same-sex and other unmarried couples.

The civil-union measure is expected to cover areas such as health insurance, health care decisions, hospital and prison visitation, inheritance, immigration, transfer of leases, and alimony.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi told local media that such a law will be a 'fundamental step forward.'

Euro court: Sisters

not exempt from

inheritance tax

The European Court of Human Rights ruled 4-3 on Dec. 11 that two elderly British sisters who have lived together all their lives have no right to an exemption from inheritance taxes.

Joyce and Sybil Burden had argued that British law discriminates against nonromantic couples in granting an exemption only to married opposite-sex couples and same-sex civil-union couples.

The sisters' house was built for $20,000 in 1965 but is now worth $1.72 million, well above the inheritance tax-free threshold. When one sister dies, the other will owe about $120,000 in inheritance tax. Since they don't have that money, the surviving sister will have to sell the home to pay the tax.

'I am terribly upset by this and I just don't know what we are going to do,' Joyce Burden, 88, told the Daily Mail. 'If we were lesbians, we would have all the rights in the world. But we are sisters, and it seems we have no rights at all. It is disgusting that we are being treated like this.'

The European court also slapped the sisters with a $19,600 legal bill for the case.

Irish court rejects Canadian marriage

An Irish lesbian couple who married in Canada are not married in Ireland, the Irish High Court ruled Dec. 14.

Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan were married in Vancouver in 2003 and launched attempts to have their marriage recognized at home in Ireland in 2004.

But the High Court said the 1937 Irish Constitution contains no provisions to address marriage between persons of the same sex.

Zappone and Gilligan said they will appeal the ruling to Ireland's Supreme Court.

The head of the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, Patricia Prendiville, commented, 'It is very disappointing and unfair that two people's love which is officially acknowledged and recognized in one country cannot be treated with equal respect and dignity in another country.'

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has introduced a same-sex Civil Unions Bill into the Dáil, the chamber of the Irish Parliament whose members are elected by voters. It would extend marriage rights to civil-union couples in areas such as inheritance and taxation. Debate is expected to begin in early 2007.

Glasgow gay center

bans gay magazine

The Glasgow LGBT Centre in Scotland has banned long-established ScotsGay magazine from both the center and the privately run cafe and bar on the premises.

'We consider the sexual content of the magazine inappropriate for the center,' said spokeswoman Ruth Black. 'We have to take into account that people as young as 13 are using the place.'

According to ScotsGay Publisher John Hein, 'The bone of contention appears to be what is claimed to be the explicit nature of some of our personal ads -- tame by comparison with other publications -- the fact that, in common with most LGBT publications, we carry adverts for escorts, and that there are willies [ penises ] on the covers of some of the DVDs advertised by a licensed gay sex shop in Edinburgh.'

Faroe Islands ban


The parliament of the Faroe Islands, known as the Løgting, voted 17-15 on Dec. 15 to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Similar bills failed in 1988, when only one MP voted to protect gays, and in 2005, in a 12-20 vote.

The new push for the law followed a homophobic attack in a bar in Tórshavn, the capital, on popular local radio host Rasmus Rasmussen, who is openly gay. Rasmussen and his family also received threatening phone calls after local media reported on the beating.

The Faroes, population 47,000, are a self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark located north of Scotland, halfway between Norway and Iceland.

Europe not of one

mind on gays

Residents of the 27 nations that make up the European Union are all over the board on gay acceptance, the latest Eurobarometer poll has found.

Overall, 44 percent support same-sex marriage, but the support ranges from highs of 82 percent in the Netherlands, 71 percent in Sweden and 69 percent in Denmark to lows of 11 percent in Romania, 12 percent in Latvia and 14 percent in Cyprus.

Thirty-two percent of those polled support same-sex adoption. Approval ranges from highs of 69 percent in the Netherlands, 51 percent in Sweden and 44 percent in Austria and Denmark to lows of 7 percent in Malta and Poland and 8 percent in Latvia and Romania.

The poll is conducted every six months. It questions 30,000 people and has a margin of error of 1.9 to 3.1 percentage points.

Majority support for same-sex marriage also was found in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and Luxembourg. Full same-sex marriage already is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.

In France, meanwhile, 62 percent of respondents in a different poll said they support letting same-sex couples marry, and 55 percent support gay adoption. The Ipsos poll, published by the gay magazine Têtu, questioned 1,008 adults in November.

France has offered gay couples civil unions for six years.


civil-union bill dies

A civil-union bill that had passed Colombia's Senate died in the House of Representatives Dec. 20.

According to the Bogotá daily El Tiempo, 'Up until the last moment of the [ 2006 ] legislature, [ the bill ] was on the agenda and when it came time to vote ... the quorum disintegrated.'

New York City activist André Duque, a native of the South American nation, explained: 'The bill was actually brought to the floor for a vote but some cowardly legislators jumped up and left their seats. Incredibly disappointing if not necessarily surprising.'

The bill passed the Senate in October by a 48-40 vote. It would have set up a registration mechanism and granted registered couples marriage rights in the areas of social security, health benefits, pensions and joint ownership of property.

15,672 couples form

U.K. civil partnerships

More than 15,600 same-sex couples got hitched under the United Kingdom's Civil Partnership Act between its start date in December 2005 and September 2006, officials reported Dec. 4.

The Office for National Statistics said there were 14,084 unions in England, 942 in Scotland, 537 in Wales and 109 in Northern Ireland.

A civil partnership carries the same rights and obligations as a marriage within the U.K.

A quarter of the ceremonies took place in London, and the unions are more popular among gay men than among lesbians. Male couples made up 62 percent of the partnerships in England, 57 percent in Scotland, 56 percent in Northern Ireland and 51 percent in Wales. There were a total of 9,572 male unions and 6,100 female unions during the reporting period.

People over 35 have been more likely to tie the knot than younger people. Only 5,927 of the 31,344 individuals who took the plunge were under 35, while 14,035 were age 35-49 and 11,382 were 50 or above.

The overall numbers are much higher than government officials predicted. According to a report in The Times, 'More gay couples registered their partnerships in the first ten months of the new law than were expected to have done so by 2030.'

Meanwhile, noted gay activist Peter Tatchell says there's been a big downside to the Civil Partnership Act.

Thousands of low-income same-sex couples have been plunged into poverty as a result of benefit rule changes introduced when the Civil Partnership Act became law, Tatchell said Dec. 6.

'Sudden, overnight changes in social security regulations ... reclassified all cohabiting same-sex lovers as the equivalent of civil partners, ending individual assessment of their benefit entitlements and replacing it with joint assessment,' he said.

The changes affect all couples, registered or not, where one partner is on means-tested benefits and the other has an income. Previously, gay relationships were not officially acknowledged and each partner was assessed for benefits individually.

Tatchell said the change 'has hit hard thousands of elderly, sick, unemployed, disabled and low-income same-sex partners. ... Many have lost social security payments totaling £6,000 [ $11,777 ] a year.'

Police raid Pretoria club

Police in Pretoria, South Africa, raided the members-only gay club Camp David on Nov. 17, local media reported.

Accompanied by reporters, the officers broke down two security doors, pointed guns at naked patrons, videotaped them, then forced them to lie on the floor.

Police said the raid was part of a crackdown on brothels, and that they found a package of white powder in a hallway.

Co-owner Gerhard Rissik said the officers also forced co-owner Daniel Hamman to open a safe, from which they confiscated DVDs and erectile-dysfunction drugs.

Everyone present was arrested, charged with public indecency and held in jail overnight, the reports said.

Thai military reclassifies gays and transgender people

Gays and transgender people will no longer be classified as 'permanently mentally ill' by Thailand's military but they still won't be conscripted, because they have 'sexual identity problems.'

The military changed the wording in response to complaints from gays and transgender people who said the reference to mental illness on their military records worked against them when applying for jobs.

All Thai men within certain age brackets are interviewed yearly to determine if they are fit to serve their two years of mandatory military service.

Those who show up dressed as women reportedly are forced to strip before being declared permanently unfit.

Swedish church to

bless gay unions

Sweden's dominant Lutheran Church announced Dec. 6 that it will offer blessings of same-sex registered partnerships starting in January.

Individual priests will be permitted to opt out of performing the ceremonies but, in such cases, the local church will be responsible for finding another priest to perform the task.

Sweden's 1995 partnership law grants registered couples all rights and obligations of marriage.

Assistance: Bill Kelley

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