National Briefs

Posted on 09 Oct 2006 at 7:07pm

Poll: Half of NJ residents support civil unions for gay couples

TRENTON, N.J. While half of New Jersey registered voters agree gay couples should receive the same rights as heterosexuals, just one in four agreed those rights should be called marriage, according to a new poll.

“People in New Jersey are very supportive of equal rights, but the concept of marriage is more complicated,” said Mickey Blum, whose firm, Blum & Weprin Associates, performed the telephone survey of 777 people for The Star-Ledger of Newark, which published the results.

The poll, conducted Nov. 1-2, had a sampling error margin of 3.5 percentage points. The poll found 17 percent are undecided about the recent Supreme Court ruling that granted gay couples equal rights, but gave the Legislature 180 days to define them.

“This is an issue people are struggling with,” Blum said. “They seem to be trying to decide what is reasonable or fair.”

Overall, 23 percent favored allowing gays to marry in New Jersey.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine prefers calling them civil unions and legislative leaders have said calling it marriage likely wouldn’t pass the Legislature.

Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization, said the undecided responses in the poll shows people don’t understand what gay marriage means. “There is talk about pushing through a civil union bill, but we urge the Legislature to give us time,” he said. “We will do the education, but we need that 180 days to do it. We’ve waited this long, what’s a little more time?”

A poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University two weeks ago found 53 percent agreed with the high court’s decision, while 40 percent disagreed, though the poll didn’t ask how the rights should be defined.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll found more than half of New Jerseyans favor changing the state constitution so that gay marriage would be banned.

Presbyterian minister sends invitation to church trial for performing lesbian weekend

PITTSBURGH A Presbyterian minister charged with breaking church law for performing a lesbian marriage has sent out invitations to her church trial next week.

The invitations from the Rev. Janet Edwards state that she is delighted to have “an opportunity to engage in the absolutely essential discussion that has to go on in the Presbyterian Church over the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among us.” The invitation ends: “Janet wants the world to come. Feel free to invite anyone.”

Edwards, 56, a parish associate at the Community of Reconciliation Church in Pittsburgh and a minister of the Presbyterian Church, was charged in September with presiding at the June 2005 wedding in violation of the church’s position on marriage.

Her trial is scheduled for Nov. 15 at The Priory, a small hotel on the city’s North Side. Edwards’ invitation advises out-of-town guests about a reserved block of hotel rooms and a shuttle to the trial. It also invites them to a worship celebration and lunch.

The denomination’s high court has said that clergy in the Presbyterian Church may bless same-sex couples as long as the ceremony doesn’t resemble a marriage liturgy.

Edwards has been clear that she presided over a marriage. She has argued there is no ban on same-sex marriage ceremonies because the ruling states clergy “should not” conduct them, which she believes does not constitute a prohibition. Edwards said she will plead not guilty. If she is convicted, penalties could range from a reprimand to removal from ministry.

San Francisco school board ready to kick Junior ROTC program off its campuses

SAN FRANCISCO The San Francisco school board is poised to give the boot to the high school version of a military-funded ROTC program that often causes uproars on liberal college campuses.

A majority of school board members told the San Francisco Chronicle they want to end the city’s 90-year relationship with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. They think the program doesn’t belong in public schools.

“I don’t think the military should be involved in civilian life,” said school board member Dan Kelly, a self-described pacifist who served two years in prison for resisting the Vietnam draft and has fought to eliminate the program during his 16 years on the board. A vote on the issue is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Seven San Francisco high schools currently offer the program, which costs $1.5 million per year, a third of which is covered by the military.

If the program is canceled, district officials say they could hire nine physical education teachers.

Proponents say the program helps reduce dropout rates and teaches students valuable leadership, first-aid and problem-solving skills. They also say the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality does not prevent gay students from taking part.

“If San Francisco wants to be an example to the world, they would allow the program to continue to practice openness and tolerance,” student Steven Schwenka told board members during a recent public meeting.

Students at Virginia high school given go-ahead on plans for gay-straight alliance

Students at Currituck County High School can move forward with plans to form a gay-straight alliance, according to a report this week in the Virginia Pilot.

Schools Superintendent Michael Warren announced a new set of guidelines at Monday night’s school board meeting. Among them, students must get written permission from their parents before joining any student-initiated, non-curricular clubs. Warren also said that these clubs will not be pictured in school yearbooks.

No clubs would be banned as long as students follow the policy and its new guidelines. The decision did not require a school board vote.

“This is the best we can come up with to treat our kids fairly,” Warren said.

School officials began reviewing the policy on student-initiated, student-led clubs last month in response to a high school student’s request to start a gay-straight alliance. That policy would have allowed the group, just as it allows a gospel choir and a Bible study club.

Many parents and religious leaders opposed the gay-straight alliance. School officials considered banning all sexually-oriented clubs, which the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education did in April. Those who support such groups say they are about tolerance rather than sexuality.

“‘West Wing’ actor calls voters urging opposition to same-sex-marriage ban

MADISON, Wis. Actor Bradley Whitford helped opponents of a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The entertainer known for his role on “The West Wing” and now seen on “Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip” recorded an automated telephone message that went to more than 200,000 voters.

The calls were on behalf of Fair Wisconsin, which opposed the proposed ban on gay marriage. The ban was, nevertheless, approved by voters on Tuesday.

Whitford told voters that he was a Madison native and University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, and reminded them to show up at the polls on Tuesday.

Former President Clinton makes surprise appearance an NGLTF benefiit

MIAMI Former President Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance at a benefit over the weekend for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Clinton was in South Florida to campaign for Democratic candidates. An aide called the NGLTF about an hour before to say that Clinton would like to attend.

The former president mingled with the 650 people who attended the dinner and stayed to see an old friend, NAACP Chair Julian Bond, receive an NGLTF leadership award. Bond has been a longtime supporter of LGBT issues.

Last week Bond told a forum at the University of Virginia where he is a professor that the state’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is nothing less than discrimination and no different from racism.

The dinner raised more than $270,000, two-thirds of which will be donated by the Task Force to organizations serving the Miami-Dade LGBT community.

National gay chamber, Wells Fargo name winner of Business Owner of the Year

The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Wells Fargo & Company announced this week that Witeck-Combs Communications has been named the NGLCC/Wells Fargo LGBT Business Owner of the Year Award winner for 2006. Witeck-Combs Communications will be recognized at the 2006 NGLCC National Dinner, “An Evening of Courage,” on Nov. 17 at the National Building Museum in Washington and will receive a cash grant of $5,000.

Witeck-Combs Communications is one of the most respected resources for LGBT research, communications, and strategy and estimated that the LGBT consumer market will top $641 billion this year. Witeck-Combs Communication is being recognized for their entrepreneurial spirit as demonstrated by their companies’ business performance, innovation, growth, and personal service to the community, chamber officials said.

NGLCC and Wells Fargo began their alliance in 2005 with the first annual NGLCC/Wells Fargo LGBT Small Business Award.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 10, 2006.

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