NATIONAL BRIEFS: Lesbian couple says Vt. resort barred them; 831 civil unions in Cook County

Lesbian couple says Vermont resort barred them

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Two New York women say a Vermont inn refused to host their wedding reception because of the owners’ anti-gay bias. The couple is now suing, alleging discrimination under the state’s public accommodations law.

Kate Baker and Ming Linsley say they were turned away by the Wildflower Inn, a 24-room inn in Lyndonville, when they told the inn the wedding would have two brides but no groom.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Wildflower Inn said the owners weren’t taking calls on the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Caledonia Superior Court. It says the inn violated the state Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, which bars public accommodations from denying services to people based on sexual orientation.

831 civil unions in Cook County in June

CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County couples rushed to use Illinois’ new civil union law.

The county clerk’s office says 831 civil licenses were issued in June. That was the first month couples could get them.

A civil union gives gay couples in Illinois many of the same rights and legal benefits as heterosexual couples. Unmarried heterosexual couples also are eligible.

Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office says more female couples — about 51.5 percent — applied for licenses compared to male partners, who made up about 43 percent of the licenses. About 5.5 percent of the couples who applied were heterosexual.

Most of the civil union licenses — about 65 percent — were granted to people who live in Chicago.

The office says licenses and other fees generated about $37,000 in revenue.

—  John Wright

For what it’s worth, Texas voters might not have banned marriage AND civil unions in 2012

Nearly six years ago, Texas voters approved Proposition 2 — a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions — by a three-fourths majority. But if the measure appeared on the ballot in 2012, it would be “favored to receive” a majority of only 52.5 percent, according to an analysis from The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEighty blog, by statistician Nate Silver.

Texas is one of only 15 states where bans on both same-sex marriage and civil unions would still be favored to pass in 2012, Silver concludes, and the measures would be “very likely” to pass in only two states — Alabama and Mississippi. But those numbers go up for a constitutional amendment banning only same-sex marriage and not civil unions — which would pass in Texas by an estimated majority of 59.5 percent.

Of course, the problem with Texas’ constitutional amendment is that it’s already on the books. To repeal it would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, in addition to a simple majority of voters. Which is why most believe same-sex relationships will be recognized here only after the U.S. Supreme Court declares the amendment unconstitutional.

In related news, Mark Reed-Walkup, who recently won the right to have his same-sex marriage published under Weddings in The Dallas Morning News, has launched a Twitter handle @tx4m, based on the hashtag used in New York leading up to last month’s marriage equality vote. Reed-Walkup has also launched a Facebook page called Texans for Marriage Equality.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Civil unions in Rhode Island; marriage in Maine; White House Pride reception

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday approved a civil unions bill that’s already passed the House, but LGBT groups are calling on Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee to veto the measure because they say its religious exemptions are too broad. For example, church-affiliated hospitals could deny same-sex partners visitation or decision-making, and religious employers could refuse family medical leave.

2. Two LGBT groups are set to announce this morning that they’re launching a citizens initiative to put marriage equality back on the ballot in Maine in 2012. Maine voters rejected same-sex marriage 53-47 percent in 2009 after the Legislature approved it, but new polls show a majority in the state support marriage equality.

3. Speaking at an LGBT Pride Month Reception at the White House on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said, “I’ve met my commitments to the LGBT community.” Obama also said he plans to certify DADT repeal “in a matter of weeks, not months.” Watch video of Obama’s full speech below, and read a recap of the event here.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: New York marriage vote could come tonight or early Thursday

Jon Huntsman

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The New York State Senate’s vote on a marriage equality bill is now likely to come late today or early Thursday, as talks continue over protections for religious groups, the Associated Press reports. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he remains “cautiously optimistic” the bill will pass.

2. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman entered the Republican presidential primary on Tuesday, and his campaign is making a pitch to gay donors based on his support for civil unions. But Huntsman took a step back this morning when he called marriage equality “impossible.”

3. Britney Spears new video for “I Wanna Go” premiered Tuesday night. Watch it below. Spears’ Femme Fatale tour comes to Dallas on July 12.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Obama issues gay Pride proclamation; civil unions begin in Illinois

Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris, who camped overnight, were the first couple to obtain their civil union license in Illinois.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. President Barack Obama on Tuesday proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, 2011. Unlike in 2009 and 2010, however, Obama’s LGBT Pride proclamation makes no reference to relationship recognition. Was this intentional or just an oversight? And if it was intentional, why? Perhaps because Obama is still thinking about whether he supports same-sex marriage. Read the full proclamation here.

2. Back in Obama’s home state, Illinois’ new civil unions law takes effect today, and more than 100 couples lined up this morning outside the Cook County Clerk’s Office in Chicago. Although couples can obtain their licenses today, they must wait 24 hours before holding a ceremony. Illinois is the sixth state to allow civil unions or the equivalent.

3. Razzle Dazzle Dallas officially gets under way today with the Cedar Springs Wine Walk & Dog Walk. You mean you haven’t already purchased your sound-activated LED T-shirt?

—  John Wright

Debate rages over same-sex marriage in several states as polls show growing support

DAVID KLEPPER | Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — A flurry of activity in efforts to legally recognize gay relationships or ban same-sex marriage is reminding advocates that even though polls indicate growing acceptance, the debate is far from settled in U.S. states.

Rhode Island is pondering a proposal to allow civil unions, a compromise that arose after it became clear there weren’t enough votes in the state legislature to approve same-sex marriage. Minnesota lawmakers voted to put a constitutional marriage ban on the ballot, and the mayor of New York spoke out strongly in favor of same-sex marriage as talks continue in his state.

In Rhode Island, gay marriage advocates say they’re unsatisfied with the proposal to offer civil unions, which provide many of the same legal benefits of marriage without calling it that.

“There’s a special status when you say ‘my wife,’ and civil unions don’t give that,” said Annie Cronin-Silva, of West Warwick, who married a woman in neighboring Massachusetts in 2008. “But things are changing. It’s coming. It’s just so hard to wait.”

Gay marriage is allowed in Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and the District of Columbia. Several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships instead. Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii enacted civil unions this year. The debate continues to rage in several other states.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Thursday warned lawmakers in his state that they will be remembered as civil rights obstructionists if they block attempts to pass gay marriage. Opponents have committed $1.5 million to defeat the efforts, matching the amount raised by supporters.

Minnesota lawmakers voted a week ago to put a constitutional prohibition against gay marriage on the 2012 ballot. Voters in 29 states have already added similar amendments, and gay marriage supporters hope to make Minnesota the first state to reject such an amendment.

“It’s a changed debate in Minnesota and in the nation,” said Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota. “I’m hoping we can ride that sea change. But we know we have a very big challenge in front of us.”

Even though Massachusetts considers Cronin-Silva and her wife, Melanie Silva, legally married, Rhode Island doesn’t. They’ve had legal agreements drawn up granting rights that are automatic through marriage, such as making medical decisions in an emergency.

Civil unions could spare gay couples an expensive trip to a lawyer, Cronin-Silva said. But she said it’s no substitute for marriage.

Groups on both sides of the debate have long pointed to polls that appear to advance their agenda. But in the past nine months, several major surveys are showing a trend of increasing support for gay marriage.

A Gallup poll released this month found that a majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. In 1996, Gallup found that only 27 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. It’s just the latest of several major surveys showing that a slim majority of Americans now support gay marriage.

“I thought for a while it might be one fluky poll,” said Gregory Lewis, a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University who tracks public attitudes on gay marriage. “But now it’s just one after another. It does seem like this year’s polls are noticeably different even from last year.”

An ABC-Washington Post survey in March found that 53 percent of Americans support gay marriage. An Associated Press poll in August found that 52 percent of Americans think the federal government should extend legal recognition to married gay couples, up from 46 percent the year before.

Opponents note that public opinion polls in Maine and California showed majority support for gay marriage in those states, too — right before voters rejected gay marriage measures. Even in left-leaning Rhode Island, efforts to pass marriage rights stalled this year after legislators balked.

The polls show at least two factors contributing to changing attitudes.

For one, younger Americans of all political persuasions say they’re more tolerant of homosexuality than older generations.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate and gay marriage opponent Sen. John McCain, is one example of a prominent Republican who says the party’s opposition to gay marriage is causing it to turn off younger voters.

Madeline Koch, a 24-year-old heterosexual Republican, told Minnesota lawmakers to oppose the gay marriage amendment because it would put inequality in the state Constitution.

Second, while older Americans identifying themselves as Republicans remain firmly opposed to gay marriage, Democrats and independents appear to be changing their minds, Lewis said. The Gallup poll found that 69 percent of self-described Democrats support gay marriage, compared with 56 percent the year before.

“The generational changes don’t explain everything,” Lewis said. “There’s a fair amount of Americans who are just changing their minds.”

Gay marriage opponents concede that surveys show increased support for gay marriage. But they say polls are different from ballot questions.

“A poll is just a poll,” said Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island. “The reality is, when people go to the voting booth they protect marriage. Legislatures including our own in Rhode Island recognize that people don’t want it.”

Plante points to similar predictions made about the demise of the anti-abortion movement after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing abortion rights. Nearly 40 years later, anti-abortion groups have successfully pushed for more restrictions on abortion throughout the U.S.

“They think the old folks will just die out and they’ll win this with the young people,” he said. “Maybe for a season. But I believe we will see young people say, ‘Wait a second. This was an awful social experiment.’ You have to take the long view.”

From the other side of the debate, New York Mayor Bloomberg also endorsed viewing it in context. A measure to legalize gay marriage in the state is being negotiated among Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, but Cuomo has said he won’t put it to a vote until enough legislators are on board.

The billionaire mayor has lobbied Republican state senators, for whom he is a major campaign funder, but no senator has committed to switching camps.

“As other states recognize the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we cannot stand by and watch,” Bloomberg said Thursday in a Manhattan speech. “To do so would be to betray our civic values and history — and it would harm our competitive edge in the global economy.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Yet another poll shows majority of Texans back gay marriage or civil unions

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. For at least the fifth time in the last two years, a poll has shown that a solid majority of Texans support legal recognition of same-sex relationships, whether it be marriage or civil unions. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Wednesday found that 61 percent of Texans support same-sex marriage or civil unions. The poll found that 30 percent support same-sex marriage, 31 percent support civil unions, and 33 percent oppose any form of relationship recognition, with 6 percent unsure. The poll of 800 registered voters was conducted earlier this month and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. Previous polls dating back to 2009 have found similar support for legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2005 outlawing both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

2. El Paso’s decision to strip domestic partner benefits for city employees is a step backward and could hurt the city economically, according to a business expert and some city officials. A federal judge last week upheld the results of a November ballot initiative that will take away benefits for 19 gay and unmarried partners of city employees, as well as many others. One council member is proposing an ordinance to reinstate the benefits, while another says the city should put the issue back on the ballot this year. Read more from the El Paso Times.

3. The number of reported hate crimes in Texas increased 2.4 percent in 2010, according to KENS Channel 5 in San Antonio. The story doesn’t provide a breakdown of how many of the offenses were based on sexual orientation or other factors such as race, and hate crime statistics from 2010 haven’t been posted on the FBI website. KENS interviews the mother and sister of Troy Martinez Clattenburg, a gay man who was murdered last year after he allegedly made a pass at a straight acquaintance. Watch video below.

—  John Wright

Tom Leppert now in minority of Republicans who will only tolerate ‘homosexuals’ if they’re single

Tom Leppert fraternizes with the queers in Dallas.

A poll released Wednesday by Public Policy Polling shows that a majority of Republicans nationwide — 51 percent — now support either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples. As Public Policy Polling notes in a blog post about the results, the percentage of Republicans who support same-sex relationship recognition is higher than the percentage — 45 percent — who approve of DOMA-loving House Speaker John Boehner’s job performance. Unfortunately, in the region identified as the South, which presumably includes Texas, 55 percent of Republicans still oppose any form of relationship recognition. And among self-identified Tea Party voters, 57 percent oppose relationship recognition. Which probably explains two-timin’ Tom Leppert’s decision to come out against both marriage and civil unions on his Senate campaign website. Speaking of that, here’s our latest idea for a Leppert campaign slogan: “I may have had a gay chief of staff as Dallas mayor, but by God he was single!” If that leads to follow-up questions, Leppert can simply say it was before he gained the courage to be open and honest about his tea-bagging.

—  John Wright

RI gay marriage advocates not giving up

DAVID KLEPPER | Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Advocates of gay marriage delivered a message to Rhode Island state lawmakers who blocked a same-sex marriage bill this year: We’re putting a political bull’s-eye on your back.

Hundreds of Rhode Islanders rallied at the Statehouse on Tuesday in favor of gay marriage (video above) — despite legislative leaders who say they’ll consider a compromise measure to create civil unions instead. Those at the rally vowed political revenge on those lawmakers who opposed making Rhode Island the sixth state to recognize gay marriage.

“The 2012 election cycle starts now,” Kate Brock, executive director of the group Ocean State Action, told a cheering crowd on the Statehouse steps. “We start recruiting candidates now. We start building our war chests now. Don’t get mad. Get elected.”

Meanwhile, House lawmakers introduced civil union legislation designed to give gay couples the same state rights afforded to married couples. Rep. Peter Petrarca, D-Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, said he supports gay marriage but that it has no chance of passing this year. He said the rights granted through civil unions are a better than none at all.

“To think we should have a vote (on gay marriage legislation) when we know it’s going to die is just foolish,” he told The Associated Press.

Last week, House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, announced that he was throwing his support behind civil unions because gay marriage legislation couldn’t pass the Senate. Fox is openly gay and his announcement deeply angered many gay marriage advocates. One carried a sign at Tuesday’s rally reading “Fox Hunting Season is Open.”

“It’s time to disband the House and Senate,” said the protester, Gary D’Amario of Cranston. “It’s time to get rid of all of them.”

Those at the rally included religious groups, students, couples gay and straight and a young woman with a vuvuzela. Miss Rhode Island Deborah Saint-Vil attended, as did several lawmakers.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the group that organized the rally, dismisses the civil union bill as a hollow compromise.

Fox said last week that he knows many gay marriage advocates hold him responsible for the bill’s failure. He said he believes the state will one day recognize gay marriages, but that this year the votes weren’t there.

“I live it every day and I understand what they’re going through,” Fox said. “As speaker of the House, I have to worry about passing bills.”

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s opposition was a key obstacle to the legislation. The Newport Democrat says she supports civil union legislation and believes the bill will win broad support in the Senate. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent who has urged lawmakers to pass a gay marriage bill, said he will sign the civil union measure.

But Chris Plante, director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island, said the bill’s passage is not a foregone conclusion. Plante said civil unions have proven to be a stepping-stone to full gay marriage laws in other states. People opposed to gay marriage, he said, also should oppose civil unions.

“It’s same-sex marriage by another name,” he said. “It is a backdoor way into legalizing gay marriage. I believe that we will be able to peel off significant amounts of votes once (lawmakers) understand that.”

The civil union bill could receive hearings as early as next week.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Dallas police release names of murdered gay couple found in burned apartment

Dallas mayoral candidates Edward Okpa, from left, Mike Rawlings, Ron Natinsky and David Kunkle participate in a forum sponsored by the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce on Monday night at Cityplace. (Photo courtesy of Avi S, Adelman)

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Last week Dallas police asked the media to hold off on publishing or broadcasting the names of a gay couple found murdered inside a burned Lake Highlands apartment, as they tried to locate the victims’ families. Laura Martin, DPD’s LGBT liaison officer, gave Instant Tea the go-ahead late Monday to publish the victims’ names. They are 59-year-old Michael Humphrey and 61-year-old Clayton Capshaw. We’ll have an update on the case later, but for now, anyone know these guys?

2. It’s still not too late to contact your state representative and ask them to support HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill from Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, that’s viewed as the last, best chance for the Legislature to address the issue in this year’s session. Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports that the House didn’t get to the bill as expected Monday but may take it up today when it re-convenes at 10 a.m. today. To read Equality Texas’ action alert on the bill and email your state rep, go here.

3. Above was the scene last night at Cityplace, where the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce hosted a sparsely attended forum featuring all four candidates for Dallas mayor. We’ll have more on the forum later, but for now here’s a teaser: Two of the three major candidates, Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings, said they were against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. Rawlings said he voted against the amendment, and Natinsky said he opposed it but couldn’t remember whether he actually voted. The third major candidate, David Kunkle, said he didn’t vote in the November 2005 election when the amendment was on the ballot.

—  John Wright