Neither side happy with civil unions in R.I.

Karen Loewy

While Equality Delaware called the signing of Delaware’s new civil union bill on Wednesday historic, activists in Rhode Island said a civil union compromise would make gays and lesbians second-class citizens in that state.

According to the Providence Journal, opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage were united in their opposition to a civil union bill for Rhode Island.

Supporters of a marriage equality bill are frustrated. Rhode Island is the only New England state that hasn’t passed a marriage bill (although Maine’s was repealed). Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox is gay and in November voters elected David Ciccilline, former mayor of Providence, as the fourth openly gay member of Congress. And the state already recognizes marriages performed elsewhere.

Karen Loewy, a Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders attorney, said, “Nothing short of marriage is equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian citizens and their children. By citing DOMA, Speaker Fox lets the federal government set the standard for discrimination and sells out the gay community for the sake of political expediency. DOMA’s days are numbered as it comes under increasing legal and political attack.”

With civil unions, if the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples in Rhode Island would continue to be treated as second-class citizens federally, Loewy said.

Since same-sex marriages from out of state are recognized in Rhode Island, and because the state is so small, anyone in Rhode Island can drive less than 20 miles to a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

Delaware became the fourth state with civil unions  — in addition to Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey. Four — California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have domestic partnerships.

Smaller packages of protections have passed in Maryland, Maine, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire plus the District of Columbia — have marriage equality.

—  David Taffet

Lesbian appointed to Supreme Court in Hawaii as civil unions bill clears Senate committee

Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie named lesbian judge Sabrina Shizue McKenna, 53, to the Hawaiian Supreme Court, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. McKenna is senior judge of Oahu’s Family Court.

In a press release, Abercrombie said:

“This is the most important decision I have made in my career. This appointment sets the course for the state and its legal direction for the next several years. I am completely confident that Judge McKenna’s appointment will be something I’m proud of for the rest of my life.”

Abercrombie was elected in November and McKenna is his first judicial appointment.

Also in Hawaii, a civil union bill, similar to one vetoed by Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle last July, passed a Senate committee. Lingle vetoed the bill, calling it same-sex marriage by a different name. Lingle was a Republican. Abercrombie, a Democrat, said he would sign the bill.

Equality Hawaii would like to see the bill extended to address health, insurance and tax codes. The bill was schedule to go to the full Senate today for a reading today and a final action on Friday. A similar bill has not been introduced to the Hawaiian House yet.

The Advertiser reports that Gary Okino, an opponent of civil unions, ran against the bill’s main House sponsor and lost. He wins the asinine reason of the week to be against civil unions award: Okino said civil unions would “rob children of happiness.”

In its reporting of the appointment of McKenna to the bench, the Advertiser called her the first lesbian appointed to the Hawaiian Supreme Court. We’re not sure, but she may be the first open lesbian appointed to a Supreme Court in any state. Anyone know for sure? (For the record, despite the insinuations, no federal Supreme Court justice, whether actually lesbian or not, is openly lesbian. And Justice Souter is officially a bachelor, certainly not openly gay).

—  David Taffet

New attempt to legalize gay marriage in Chile

Chilean flag

While civil unions in Uruguay and marriage in Argentina were approved by legislatures — and civil unions in Ecuador were approved by voters under a new constitution — the Chilean Supreme Court may approve same-sex marriage in that country.

According to the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio, three couples have filed a lawsuit, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

An attorney for the couples, Jaime Silva, argues that two provisions of the Marriage Act are unconstitutional. The first states that marriage is a solemn contract in which a man and woman come together. The second recognizes that a marriage concluded abroad will be recognized in Chile provided it is between a man and a woman.

Those provisions, Silva argues, violate Article 1 and other provisions in the constitution. Article 1 begins, “Men are born free and equal, in dignity and rights.”

Last summer we reported several South American countries were considering recognizing same-sex relationships.

In Chile, a civil union bill got bogged down in the legislature. Meanwhile, no movement has been reported on the issue in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera live together in the presidential palace.

P.S.: That is a Chilean flag. The blue stripe extends to the bottom on the Texas flag.

—  David Taffet

Tasmania’s lower house votes to recognize gay marriages, civil unions performed elsewhere

According to ABC News (that’s the Australian Broadcasting Co.), Tasmania’s lower house voted to recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions performed elsewhere.

All members of the House of Assembly, with the exception of three Liberals, voted for the measure.

The Liberals who voted against the bill said it was just a way to get same-sex marriage approved. (Duh.)

Those who voted for it said it was nothing of the kind. It was simply a way to “remove discrimination for same-sex couples.” (Huh?)

One of the Liberals who voted against the bill said it wasn’t about addressing discrimination but a “a political gesture toward marriage.” He proposed a civil union bill rather than recognizing marriage, according to the Sydney Star Observer.

To become law, the bill must pass Tasmania’s Legislative Council, which is comprised of one Liberal, three Labor members and 11 independents. A vote is expected in a month.

Tasmania is an Australian state that is a heart-shaped island 150 miles south of the country’s mainland. It is generally considered extremely conservative.

— David Taffet

—  David Taffet

Peru jumps on South American equality bandwagon with proposed civil union law

Jose Vargas

A congressman from the ruling party in Peru will introduce a civil union bill in the legislature, according to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.

The bill would give same-sex couples the same economic rights as married opposite-sex couples but would not allow them to adopt.

The bill will be introduced by José Vargas of the APRA ruling party, but he will do so as an individual, not on behalf of his party in, to avoid jeopardizing the current government. He urged support from all political sides.

According to the website Living In Peru, the gay movement in Lima was surprised about the legislation and said Vargas acted on his own without consulting them. The community fears a civil union law could prevent marriage equality in the future.

Last week Argentina legalized same-sex marriage. Uruguay began debating upgrading its civil union law to marriage. A marriage law was introduced in the legislature in Paraguay, and Chile began debating civil unions.

Translation assistance by Miguel Flores.

—  David Taffet

Hawaii boycott?

Gov. Linda Lingle

After Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill, the San Francisco Chronicle asked the question “Should civil union veto mean Hawaii boycott?”

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has prepared the state’s largest industry for the reaction with its warning, “Civil unions backlash begins.”

Most of the blame for the veto has been heaped on Hawaii’s Mormon population. Though just 5 percent of the population, Oahu is home to a branch of Brigham Young University and the church as always been active in Hawaii politics.

The blame, however, should be placed directly on the state’s Jewish Republican governor. Though same-sex marriage is performed in most branches of Judaism, Lingle belongs to the small, right-wing Chabad movement.

The Honolulu newspaper said a boycott wouldn’t hurt people and businesses in the state that support civil unions. More of them should have lobbied the governor to sign. An airline that’s a member of an LGBT Chamber of Commerce could have warned that a boycott might mean fewer flights a week to her state. Large hotel chains that market to the LGBT community could have lobbied the governor to support the bill. Restaurants, stores and other businesses that have relied, in part, on business from the LGBT community might have made more of an effort to let the governor know that discrimination doesn’t create a good environment for travel.

Rabbi Peter Schaktman from the state’s largest synagogue made his opinions clear. Schaktman was a Houston rabbi before moving to Honolulu in 2005.

“People who oppose civil unions from a religious perspective are asking the state to enforce their version of morality on their behalf,” he told the governor.

His synagogue’s website continues to invite same-sex and opposite-sex couples to celebrate their weddings at Temple Emanu-El.

—  David Taffet