Movie Monday: ‘J. Edgar’ in limited release

Secret agent man

J. Edgar gets off to a shaky start, but it grows on you. Our first sight of Hoover is of DiCaprio pinched into an overdone old-man latex mask that looks comical, like Lord Voldemort in a Brooks Bros. suit. The film is bookended by the sunset of Hoover’s life while recording his memoirs, and the start of his career, only until about 1935; that leaves a generation of villainy during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement almost untouched by Black and director Clint Eastwood. Some things had to come out, of course; but the gap feels gaping.

None of this is to say Dustin Lance Black’s (Milk) screenplay doesn’t succeed on several levels. He portrays Hoover as a spiritual brother of Norman Bates: Emotionally arrested, mother-obsessed (a scene where he dressed in his dead mom’s clothes is singularly creepy) and expressing his frustrations in inappropriate ways.

3 out of 5 stars. Read the entire review here.

DEETS: Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench. Rated R. 145 mins.  Now playing in limited release.

—  Rich Lopez

Gay marriage rights group forms in N.C.

FIGHTING EQUALITY | A crowd gathers for a rally in support of a state constitutional amendment recognizing marriage between a man and a woman as the only domestic legal union, on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 12. LGBT activists in the state have announced a new effort to fight the amendment and existing anti-gay-marriage laws. (Ted Richardson/Associated Press)

‘We Do’ will go beyond fighting anti-gay-marriage amendment to target state law already banning gay marriage

TOM BREEN | Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

RALEIGH, N.C. — A gay rights group launched a campaign Monday, Oct. 3 in Asheville that seeks to go beyond opposition to a May referendum question on constitutionally barring same-sex marriage by targeting current state law that already forbids such unions.

The Campaign for Southern Equality kicked off its “We Do” effort by having three same-sex couples unsuccessfully attempt to obtain marriage licenses from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds. Organizers and participants knew they’d be denied the licenses, since North Carolina state law already forbids same-sex couples from marrying.

The point, they say, is to draw attention to the human consequences of the law and, as with the civil rights movement, create a situation where the federal government intervenes to change state laws.

“What we’re calling for is full federal equality and we’re sending a very consistent message that these laws are on the books right now and they’re immoral,” said Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the group, which plans to expand their efforts across North Carolina and the South in 2012.

The Asheville campaign includes plans for over a dozen couples to repeatedly apply for marriage licenses until Oct. 14, accompanied in trips to the register of deeds by politicians, members of the clergy and other supporters.

“We can’t go to our state legislature right now because our legislators are very hostile to LGBT rights,” Beach-Ferrara said.

State courts are similarly unlikely to support their aims, she said, adding, “We don’t have much recourse besides planned actions designed to resist these laws.”

Beach-Ferrara said the campaign has been in the planning stages since long before the current debate over a constitutional amendment, but the debate provides a charged backdrop for the “We Do” efforts. Last month, the General Assembly voted to put a question on the May primary ballot that would prohibit same-sex marriage in the North Carolina Constitution, which would make it the last such state in the Southeast to adopt such a provision. Those on both sides of the question are preparing for a hard-fought campaign in the run-up to the vote.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, supports the referendum question and called the “We Do” campaign “a strategic mistake” on the part of those who support gay marriage.

Fitzgerald thinks the effort might help secure the amendment’s passage by convincing undecided voters that the possibility of same-sex marriage in North Carolina is real despite current state law prohibiting it.

“I think it makes our case why we need an amendment,” she said. “When people see that, they’re going to be concerned and they’re going to take it as a sign of aggression on the part of people who advocate for same-sex marriage.”

—  John Wright

Aren’t any gays in Dallas going to request a marriage license on Valentine’s Day this year?

GetEQUAL and Marriage Equality USA are planning demonstrations across the country for Valentine’s Day in which same-sex couples will request marriage licenses at county clerks’ offices. But Dallas, where the apparently defunct Queer LiberAction has staged similar demonstrations in each of the last two years, thus far doesn’t appear on the list of cities where events are planned in 2011. According to the website, the only Texas cities with demonstrations planned are San Antonio, Austin and Houston. So we’re sure Dallas County Clerk John Warren, shown below in 2009, is disappointed. Read the full press release from GetEQUAL is after the jump.

Dallas County Clerk John Warren, right, addresses Blake Wilkinson of Queer LiberAction during a Freedom to Marry Day demonstration in 2009.

—  John Wright

Judge orders lesbian reinstated to Air Force

Ruling is 2nd this month declaring ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ unconstitutional

GENE JOHNSON  |  Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. — A federal judge ruled Friday, Sept. 24 that a decorated flight nurse discharged from the Air Force for being gay should be given her job back as soon as possible in the latest legal setback to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton came in a closely watched case as a tense debate has been playing out over the policy. Senate Republicans blocked an effort to lift the ban this week, but Leighton is now the second federal judge this month to deem the policy unconstitutional.

Maj. Margaret Witt was suspended in 2004 and subsequently discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after the Air Force learned she had been in a long-term relationship with a civilian woman. She sued to get her job back.

Leighton hailed her as a “central figure in a long-term, highly charged civil rights movement.” Tears streaked down Witt’s cheeks and she hugged her parents, her partner and supporters following the ruling.

“Today you have won a victory in that struggle, the depth and duration of which will be determined by other judicial officers and hopefully soon the political branches of government,” the judge told her, choking up as he recalled Witt’s dramatic testimony about her struggles.

The ruling was the second legal victory this month for opponents of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and it throws the law into further disarray.

Barring an appeal, Witt will now be able to serve despite being openly gay, and a federal judge in California earlier this month ruled the law unconstitutional and is considering whether to immediately halt the ban. While such an injunction would prevent openly gay service members from being discharged going forward, it wouldn’t do anything for those who have already been dismissed.

Witt’s attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, say her case now provides a template for gays who have been previously discharged to seek reinstatement.

Gay rights advocates say that if the government must justify each firing under “don’t ask,” it will mean a slow death for the policy — even if an outright repeal isn’t endorsed by Congress or the courts.

The 1993 law prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members, but allows the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered engaging in homosexual activity.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the ruling, but James Lobsenz, Witt’s attorney, said he expected an appeal.

In 2006, Leighton rejected Witt’s claims that the Air Force violated her rights, following precedent that the military’s policy on gays is constitutional. An appeals court panel overruled him two years later, holding that in light of a Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas ban on sodomy, “don’t ask, don’t tell” intrudes on the rights of gay service members. For the government to discharge gays it must prove that their firings further military goals, the panel said.

Leighton determined after a six-day trial that Witt’s discharge advanced no legitimate military interest. To the contrary, her dismissal hurt morale in her unit and weakened the squadron’s ability to carry out its mission, he ruled.

“There is no evidence that wounded troops care about the sexual orientation of the flight nurse or medical technician tending to their wounds,” Leighton ruled.

Leighton became emotional as he recalled Witt’s testimony about the support she has received from her parents since she came out to them on the eve of filing her lawsuit.

“The best thing to come out of all this tumult is still that love and support,” he said.

A crowd of spectators remained quiet until the judge left the courtroom, when it erupted in cheers.

“I’m just so thrilled I have the chance to do what I wanted to do all along: that’s return to my unit,” Witt said.

She also said that she appreciated the judge’s recognition of the many gays who continue to quietly serve in the military.

—  John Wright