Friday, May 29, 2009

Marriage debate continues in New Hampshire

As the movement for LGBT rights continues to begin to implement their strategy in response to the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold Proposition 8, the debate over marriage for same-sex couples continues in New Hampshire.

A state Senate panel earlier this week vetoed a proposed measure that would have brought the issue before Granite State voters. Lawmakers are expected to vote on a marriage bill next week. Gov. John Lynch has said he would sign the proposed legislation if it contained specific language that protects religious institutions.

My mom and more than 50 percent of other New Hampshire voters back the bill. She and I had an interesting conversation last week in which she quite frankly proclaimed her belief that gays and lesbians should marry. Mom added their marriages would have no impact on her marriage to my father. And she had some additional choice words for those in Concord who continue to oppose the bill.

"They are a bunch of old fogies who have nothing better to do," she said.

An astute observation indeed!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thousands protest Prop 8 in Manhattan

As activists around the country continue to react to the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold Proposition 8, more than 2,000 people took to the streets of lower Manhattan to protest.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and other activists and elected officials.

"What [the] California [Supreme Court] did was wrong," Quinn said. "There is no other way to describe it. It was wrong."

Quinn, who came to the rally in Union Square after lobbying state Senators in Albany to pass the marriage bill their Assembly counterparts endorsed earlier this month, reminded those in attendance there are 24 days left in the current legislative session.

"That's all it will take," she said.

New Yorkers march on 14th Street in Manhattan to protest Prop 8.

Protesters approach Union Square in lower Manhattan.

New Yorkers express solidarity with their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in California.

Protesters urge their legislators in the state Senate to back marriage for same-sex couples.

This sign perhaps sums up today's Prop 8 decision best.

Protesters in lower Manhattan criticized President Obama for not publicly taking a stand on Prop 8 and marriage for same-sex couples since he entered the White House.

California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8

In a 6-1 decision, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

The court, which ruled last May a ban on marriages for same-sex couples violated the state Constitution, ruled the nuptials of 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who married after the justices handed down that decision and before voters approved Prop 8 remain valid.

Thousands of people are expected to march in lower Manhattan tonight to express their disappointment over the decision, and to urge the New York State Senate to pass legislation that would allow gays and lesbians to marry. Pictures and video will be posted later tonight.

Calif. Supreme Court to issue Prop 8 decision today

After months of anticipation, the California Supreme Court is expected to issue its long-awaited decision on the validity of Proposition 8 today.

The court could strike down the voter approved initiative, could rule Prop 8 is valid (along with the marriages of same-sex couples) or the amendment is valid and the marriages of gays and lesbians are invalid. This could prove a watershed moment in the recent history of the movement for LGBT rights. Activists across the country have planned protests, rallies and other actions to mark the decision.

In New York, for example, thousands of people are expected to take to the streets of the West Village this afternoon. The state Assembly passed a marriage bill earlier this month, and marchers will almost certainly send a powerful message to the state Senate to endorse the proposed legislation so Gov. David Paterson can quickly sign it.

Today will certainly be an emotional and/or exciting day depending upon how the court rules. The fight for marriage for same-sex couples is far from over, but today's Prop 8 decision could steer the direction of that battle. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Calif. Supreme Court to issue Prop 8 decision on Tuesday

Protests, rallies and other events are slated to take place across the country once the decision comes down. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Marriage bill stalls in New Hampshire House

The prospect of marriage for same-sex couples in New Hampshire stalled yesterday after the House voted 186-188 to send an amended version of the bill back to committee.

Governor John Lynch announced last week he would sign the proposed legislation only if lawmakers added language that specifically protected religious institutions in the state. Lynch's press secretary told the Union Leader the governor would veto the bill if legislators failed to approve the provisions for which he has called.

Republicans, on the other hand, have urged Lynch to veto the bill. Lawmakers could once again debate the proposed amendments as early as next week.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leather, rain reign supreme on Fire Island

Hundreds of leathermen and a cold rain were among the things that greeted Fire Islanders last weekend.

With one week to go before the all important Memorial Day weekend, people up and down the beach were busy planting flowers, wrapping up home renovations and stocking shelves ahead of the holiday. A persistent fog blanketed Fire Island for most of Saturday. And a cold rain fell for several hours yesterday morning, but this weather did not deter the hundreds of leathermen who descended upon the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove for the 14th annual Mr. Fire Island Leather contest.

The first edition of the Fire Island News comes out on Thursday, and so I won't divulge any of our upcoming stories. That said, here is a picture of the Great South Bay from the ferry to Ocean Beach on late Friday afternoon.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Possible hate crime rocks West Village

With gay pride festivities a little more than a month away, the news a group of teenagers viciously beat a man on Seventh Avenue near Christopher Street early yesterday morning has rocked the West Village.

The Daily News reported four young men blocked Alan Williams, 50, from entering a cab outside of Cafe Riviera on Seventh Avenue around 2 a.m. The men proceeded to viciously beat Williams in the head before they fled. The Daily News and other news outlets have reported Williams, who is an accountant from Buffalo, remains in extremely critical condition at St. Vincent's Hospital.

The New York City Anti-Violence Project has said the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes unit continues to investigate whether the perpetrators attacked Williams because he is gay. His friends have confirmed his sexual orientation to the Daily News. And Williams reportedly had a Gay Men's Health Crisis card in his pocket.

“Any violent assault of this kind is a terrible tragedy," AVP executive director Sharon Stapel said.

This attack comes roughly six months after Hakeem Scott and Keith Phoenix allegedly beat Ecuadorian immigrant Jose Sucuzhanay to death as he and his brother walked home arm and arm from a Bushwick bar. And the vicious attack against Williams is yet another reminder hate and bias-crimes remain a serious problem in the city.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

RIP Susan Willis

I awoke this morning to an e-mail from one of my Fire Island columnists that said beloved actress Susan Willis had passed away last night after suffering a stroke.

Born in Ohio, her career spanned more than 50 years. Willis appeared in "Cabaret," "Gypsy," "The Merchant of Venice" and "Fiddler on the Roof." She also appeared in "All My Children" and dozens of other movies.

Willis discussed some of her innumerable roles in an interview with the Fire Island News in 2005.

"I am usually the nosey neighbor who spills the beans and knows where the bodies are," she joked.

Willis summered in the Fire Island Pines and was a beloved resident. And on a personal note, she remains one of the most fascinating and frankly interesting people I have ever interviewed. Rest in peace Sue!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New York State Assembly passes marriage bill

In an 89 to 52 vote, the New York State Assembly passed a bill tonight that would extend marriage to same-sex couples.

The Assembly passed a similar bill in 2007, but a number of Republicans backed the proposed legislation in tonight's vote. Among those was state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, who spoke about her gay son.

"The word marriage symbolizes love, commitment and family and why should my son and other sons and daughters around the state of New York have the same opportunity to experience that same commitment, love and family that other heterosexual couples do," she said. "It’s time for us to not only reach in our hearts, and do what we as elected officials in America have done all along and say we will not accept anything, but equal rights."

The bill now goes to the state Senate. It remains unclear as to whether Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans, Queens] has enough votes in his chamber to pass it.

New York State Assembly slated to pass marriage bill

As the debate over marriage for same-sex couples shifts to the New York, the state Assembly is slated to pass a bill as early as today that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians.

This expected passage will come as little surprise to those who have followed this issue in New York. The Assembly passed a marriage bill former Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced in 2007. And the proposed legislation Gov. David Paterson introduced last month is widely expected to pass the Democrat-controlled chamber.

The state Senate remains the wild card. Majority Leader Malcolm Smith [D-St. Albans, Queens] has repeatedly indicated he remains unsure as to whether he has enough votes among his own members to ensure the bill's passage. State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., [D-Bronx] is among those within Smith's party who continue to vehemently oppose marriage for same-sex couples. And no Republicans in the state Senate have publicly endorsed the bill in spite of Minority Leader Dean Skelos [R-Rockville Centre]'s assertion his members can vote their conscience.

The reality under which Albany lawmakers continue to debate this contentious issue has certainly changed since 2007. Connecticut, Maine and Vermont have all moved to extend marriage to same-sex couples, while New Jersey is poised to potentially follow suit by the end of the year. A common analogy among activists is almost every other state (and Canada) that borders the state offer some sort of relationship recognition to same-sex couples, but New York remains the embarrassing doughnut hole in the middle.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fire Island kicks-off 2009 season

With less than two weeks to go until the unofficial start of summer, Fire Islanders have already begun to return to the beach to open their homes, secure last minute shares and to even party among the locals.

Several hundred people packed Low Tea in the Fire Island Pines on Saturday night as the sun set over the Great South Bay. Roughly 100 revelers joined drag queens and others at the Ice Palace's official kick-off party in Cherry Grove. And this blogger had his first walk from Ocean Beach to the Grove--and back--of the season, with hopefully many more.

Below is a video I took from the ferry as it left Ocean Beach earlier this afternoon. It was a beautiful day in spite of the brisk wind that whipped up the bay. Cheers to another season on Fire Island!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pre-season reflection on Fire Island

This weekend marks the official kick-off of the 2009 season for the Fire Island News, and after a long and tumultuous two weeks, I cannot wait to get out on the beach!

One of the pure joys of the last five years I have lived in New York is the ability to spend my summer on Fire Island reporting and now managing the Fire Island News. The heat waves that bake the five boroughs are far less extreme on the beach, the abundance of diverse and always interesting residents and locals and the seemingly never-ending series of parties, fundraisers and other events are among the innumerable highlights.

I leave for Fire Island early tomorrow morning, but here one of a myriad of pictures that will hopefully typify the summer of 2009.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Hampshire House passes marriage bill

Hours after Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the Pine Tree State, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a measure that would allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in the Granite State.

The House voted 178-167 to approve an amended bill the state Senate approved last week. It remains unclear as to whether Gov. John Lynch will back House Bill 436. He can either sign it, veto the bill or allow it to become law without his signature.

The New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition has produced an ad that urges Lynch to sign HB 436. The governor, who has repeatedly said he feels marriage should remain between a man and a woman, has five days to make a decision.

Today is certainly an exciting day for my home state. I've stated on numerous occasions I never thought I would see the day Concord lawmakers would back legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state. New Hampshire continues to make significant progress to shed its arguably unfair reputation, and this native Granite Stater is certainly grateful.

And on a final note, I would like to acknowledge my mother in Manchester for calling me earlier this afternoon to let me know HB 436 passed. Thanks Mom!

Maine becomes fifth state to allow marriage for same-sex couples

Governor John Baldacci made Maine the fifth state in the country to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

Baldacci signed the legislation earlier today in Augusta. And activists across the country were quick to praise his decision.

“Just one year ago, a single state allowed same-sex couples to marry," Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said. "Now, with the historic step taken by Gov. Baldacci and the Maine legislature, five states will provide equal dignity, equal respect, and equal rights under state law for same-sex couples by recognizing their freedom to marry, and we hope more will follow soon.”

[Boy in Bushwick will add more reaction as he receives them,] but Baldacci's decision to sign the bill comes on the heels of the District of Columbia's decision earlier this week to allow marriage for same-sex couples.

Lawmakers in New Hampshire and New York are among those across the country who continue to debate the issue. And couples are scheduled to begin to marry 90 days after the legislative session ends next month.

Boston Globe strikes deal with union

It remains no secret media in this country remains in a state of crisis, but a glimmer of hope came out of Boston earlier this morning with an announcement the paper's largest union struck a deal with its parent company.

The New York Times Co., which owns the Boston Globe, had threatened to close the storied newspaper if its unions did not agree to make $20 million in concessions. The company threatened to give Massachusetts officials 60 days notice of its intent to close the paper in an apparent move to pressure the Boston Newspaper Guild to agree to the concessions.

Three smaller unions had already approved the concessions, and the Guild ratified them after a marathon bargaining session. The parties will disclose the details of the agreement tomorrow, but it appears the Globe will publish another day. This 11th hour deal will almost certainly come as a relief to the Globe's readership and an industry that remains in dire straights.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The UK bans Fred Phelps and daughter

After watching a handful of anti-gay protesters in action at the SundayOUT! Street Festival in Philadelphia this past weekend, perhaps the British government's decision to include the Rev. Fred Phelps and his daughter Shirley on its so-called "least wanted" list amounts to some long overdue poetic justice.

A clear argument can be made the Phelps clan considers any sort of attention the media pays to their protests a success. And an equally convincing argument can be made the Westboro Baptist Church remains one of the movement for LGBT rights' most important assets.

Freedom of speech remains one of this country's founding ideals. It is something to be cherished and celebrated, but the British government's decision to ban Phelps and his daughter from the United Kingdom serves as a powerful reminder this basic human right comes with immense responsibility. And it also proves freedom of speech should not come at the expense of someone else's personal dignity, liberty and even safety.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lesbian couple from Iowa appears on Oprah

A lesbian couple from Iowa who discussed their pending wedding on Oprah earlier this afternoon put a smile on my face after an admittedly hectic and frankly trying week.

The couple, who have two young daughters, appeared on the talk show. Hugh Jackman was quick to express his support for marriage for same-sex couples, and Nate Barkus specifically discussed his relationship and his coming out as a gay man. The two men further highlighted the fact gays and lesbians began to legally marry in the Hawkeye State on Monday as Gayle King and Jenny McCarthy discussed the news alongside Oprah.

I hope to have a clip of the segment up in a couple of days, but this conversation brought a tumultuous week to a pleasant conclusion.