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  WINDY CITY TIMES

World News
by REX WOCKNER
2003-04-16

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In a first for Latin America, civil-union laws came into force in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in the nation's Río Negro province on April 1.

Both laws extend marriage rights to unioned gay and straight couples in areas such as social security, contracts, mortgages, pensions, insurance, sick leave, bereavement leave, visitation rights and relocation expenses.

In order to register, couples must have been together for two years.

'We have taken a great step toward becoming a tolerant society based on the dignity of all people, without distinctions,' said Buenos Aires city councilor Héctor Costanzo.

Similar laws are under consideration in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Jujuy and Córdoba.

Río Negro is in south-central Argentina, south of La Pampa province and southwest of Buenos Aires. Its capital city is Viedma. The province is known for growing apples and pears, and for exporting fruit juice and cider.

BELGIAN

WEDDINGS IN JUNE

The first same-sex marriages in Belgium probably will take place on June 16.

Belgium is the second country, following The Netherlands, to let gays get married just like straight people do, under the regular marriage laws.

The measure passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 91-22 on Jan. 30. Built-in delays—the king had to sign the law, it had to be 'published,' then a three-month waiting period began—place the law's starting date at June 1. Then there is a 14-day waiting period between applying for a marriage license and being allowed to get married. June 15 is a Sunday, when city halls are closed, so the first marriages will be on Monday, June 16, activists expect.

'We try to organize the first marriages together with the gay- and lesbian-friendly City Council of the city of Brussels on the 16th of June early in the morning,' said Anke Hintjens, spokesperson for Holebifederatie, a federation of 92 Flemish gay groups. 'How early depends on the will of the mayor to get out of bed early.'

The Belgian law change did not extend adoption rights to married gay couples, and foreign gays will only be permitted to marry in Belgium if same-sex marriage is legal in their home country. For the time being, that means Dutch gays are the only foreign gays who can marry in Belgium. In The Netherlands, on the other hand, foreign gays can get married after a brief period of residency.

Numerous nations have registered-partnership, civil-union or other laws that give gay couples up to 99 percent of the rights and obligations of marriage—including Canada (Quebec's law is the most comprehensive), Denmark (and Greenland—a self-governing Danish division), Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and, in the U.S., the state of Vermont. In addition, gay couples have certain spousal rights in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom and in four other U.S. states.

AMNESTY ADOPTS EGYPTIAN GAY MAN

Amnesty International issued an urgent global appeal April 9 on behalf of an Egyptian man who was imprisoned for arranging to hook up with another man via the Gaydar Web site.

Wassim Tawfiq Abyad, 26, was convicted of 'habitual debauchery' and sent to prison for 15 months. His Gaydar messages exchanged with a cop pretending to be a gay cruiser were used as evidence against him.

'Amnesty International is very concerned that the Egyptian authorities are pursuing a policy of Internet entrapment to persecute gay men,' the organization said.

Amnesty alerted all 1.6 million of its members to Wissam's case.

'It's shocking that a man has been locked up in Egypt for exactly the same kind of private communication taken for granted by thousands of men in the UK,' said Amnesty's United Kingdom gay-equality officer, Nora Cranston. 'The Egyptian government must receive a clear message from people all over the world that persecution of people for their sexual orientation is unacceptable, and that Internet entrapment is a clear violation of fundamental human rights.'

There have been numerous arrests identical to Wissam's in Egypt in recent months, in addition to ongoing anti-gay crackdowns on more traditional gay meeting places. On March 15, 21 men who were arrested in a gay-bar raid and in other anti-gay sweeps were sent to prison for three years at hard labor.

Amnesty urges that letters calling for the immediate and unconditional release of men imprisoned because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation be sent to His Excellency, President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak, Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt or to webmaster@presidency.gov .eg. For more information, visit www.ailgbt.co.uk.

In related news, the European Parliament April 10 adopted a resolution calling on Egyptian authorities to stop persecuting gays and to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The resolution noted that the Association Agreement between Egypt and the European Union includes a human-rights clause. MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) urged that the human-rights situation in Egypt be placed on the agenda of the next meeting between MEPs and Egyptian parliamentarians.


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