Man severely beaten outside El Paso’s Old Plantation gay nightclub in possible hate crime

The Old Plantation in downtown El Paso.

A 22-year-old man is in critical condition after he was severely beaten by six attackers outside a popular gay nightclub in El Paso early this morning, the El Paso Times reports.

The man was waiting for a ride outside the Old Plantation club shortly after midnight when he got into an argument with the six suspects. From the El Paso Times:

Police said that the verbal confrontation became physical and the six suspects allegedly began punching, kicking the victim. The group allegedly also used a bat to hit the victim.

One of the victim’s friends, a woman, tried to help and had her vehicle damaged as she tried to do so.

Police said that the suspect struck her 2003 Jeep Liberty windshield with a bat to stop her from helping the victim. The suspects then fled the area in what appeared to be a van.

At least one media outlet is already calling the incident an anti-gay hate crime, but thus far there is no evidence confirming that.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the El Paso Police Department at 915-832-4400 or Crime Stoppers at 915-566-8477.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

—  John Wright

El Paso may put DP benefits back on ballot

After a ballot measure passed in November to rescind domestic partner benefits for El Paso employees, the City Council is considering another ballot measure to restore them. The November ballot measure sponsored by religious groups aimed to take away benefits for the partners of gay and lesbian employees. However, because it was so vaguely worded, the ballot measure also threatened benefits for the partners of retired city workers, and it’s now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The El Paso Times reports on the latest development:

The El Paso City Council on Tuesday introduced a proposed ordinance for a May ballot initiative that would restore health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees.

The public rescinded those benefits in the Nov. 2 election, but they remain in effect while the courts hear a lawsuit in the matter.

The council did not discuss the proposed ordinance or take public comment on it. A public hearing will be held in coming weeks. If the City Council does not vote to put the matter on the ballot, supporters still can do so by gathering enough signatures on a petition.

—  John Wright

El Paso City Council to vote today on overturning ballot initiative that rescinded DP benefits

You gotta love this story out of El Paso.

Last year, the City Council voted to add health benefits for the unmarried partners of city workers, both gay and straight.

Then some anti-gay nutjobs got an initiative on the ballot to rescind the benefits, and it passed.

However, city officials say the wording of the initiative was unclear, likely confusing voters and possibly outlawing benefits for the spouses of retirees. So today the council is poised to overturn the initiative and place a new one on the ballot in May, The El Paso Times reports.

Of course backers of the initiative are crying foul, saying it’s not about the gay thing anymore, but the “will of the people.” And ordinarily we might agree with them, but not when a popular vote has been used to take away people’s rights.

Speaking of which, as long as we’re overturning ballot initiatves based on confusing language, maybe someone ought to take a look at that constitutional amendment that passed a few years back. Sure sounds like it actually banned heterosexual marriage.

—  John Wright

El Paso voters rescind domestic partner benefits for city workers — and possibly for retirees too

El Paso was home to one of the few, if not the only, anti-gay initiative on the ballot anywhere in the U.S. on Tuesday. And The El Paso Times reports that the measure to roll back domestic partner benefits for city employees passed easily:

The ballot initiative was supported by conservative religious groups that took aim at the city’s domestic partners ordinance from the time that it was passed by the City Council last year. But the way the initiative was worded caused confusion among some voters — and questions about how city officials will implement it.

“I’m sure there will be some legal action,” Mayor John Cook said.

Fewer than two dozen city employees receive the benefit. Opponents say it sends the message that the city approves of homosexuality and of heterosexual couples living out of wedlock.

And the initiative struck a chord with a majority of the El Paso electorate.

The story goes on to say there are problems with the wording of the initiative, which says, “The city of El Paso endorses traditional family values by making health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children.”

The meaning of “endorse” is unclear, according to the mayor, and city legal staff says the measure could be interpreted to exclude retirees from DP benefits.

Good. Let’s hope it gets tied up in court for a long time.

—  John Wright

Hate gets expensive in El Paso

El Paso

El Paso for Jesus has forced a special election in the West Texas city. No, El Paso for Jesus did not get Jesus on the ballot; they got domestic partnership benefits on the ballot, according to the El Paso Times.

And like any good Christian group, they’re against health care. At least they’re against it for people who aren’t married heterosexuals.

The cost of putting the issue on the ballot is more than the cost of the benefits. Currently, the benefits are offered to the unmarried partners of city employees, both gay and straight.

The election will cost $131,000. The benefits to 19 couples that registered to receive them cost $28,770.

And now, to top it all off, the thoughtful folks at El Paso for Jesus are offering to marry at no charge any of the straight couples. No word on how tasteful the weddings will be, but hell, a free wedding is a free wedding. What else do you need? And for the gay couples, they have offered to turn them straight. The head of the group called it “get free of homosexuality.” He said that he has found that “homosexuals can be set free.” He did not point to an example of his successful counseling or explain how gays are now in captivity.

The way the ballot initiative is worded, domestic partner benefits could be offered only to “city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children.” Retirees would be excluded from benefits. They could even lose their pensions. Oops.

Of course, El Paso for Jesus claims this wasn’t their intent. But the city attorney said that’s what’s on the ballot and if that’s what’s voted into law, the city will have no alternative but to uphold the law. So groups like the police and retired firefighters aren’t too keen on this ballot initiative.

Domestic partner benefits were first debated after an incident in El Paso in 2009 where five men were removed from a fast food taco restaurant after two of them kissed.

—  David Taffet

El Paso bishop counters priest’s anti-gay rant

Bishop Armando X. Ochoa

The Most Rev. Armando X. Ochoa, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, penned an op-ed for Sunday’s El Paso Times that appeared to be a direct response to a homophobic rant by the Rev. Michael Rodriguez that was published in the same newspaper earlier this month.

Rodriguez, parish priest at San Juan Bautista Catholic Church in El Paso, compared gays to rapists and condemned LGBT allies to hell.

“First of all, I would like to state that previous columns claiming to speak for Catholic Doctrine were the personal opinions of individuals and do not necessarily express the belief of the Catholic Church,” Bishop Ochoa writes.

Ochoa went on to say that while the church opposes same-sex marriage, he advocates love and compassion for all — even us “homosexuals”:

“As Church we want to journey with everyone as they search for meaning in their lives. We believe that Christ offers this meaning. The use of harsh words of condemnation is not the approach Christ invites us to have toward one another. Intolerance closes the door to learning and deeper understanding of each other,” he writes. “Furthermore, it leads to divisiveness within the body of Christ. It is time for us to learn how to work with each other, even when and if we disagree. Too many people have suffered because of a profound lack of compassion and a perceived arrogant intolerance.”

—  John Wright

El Paso priest likens gays to rapists, condemns allies to hell — and the newspaper publishes it

And you thought The Dallas Morning News was bad!

Actually, ever since resident bigot Rod Dreher left, The DMN’s Sunday opinion pages have been largely devoid of any discussion of gay rights, pro or con.

Not so for The El Paso Times, which on Sunday printed this op/ed piece from the Rev. Michael Rodriguez, parish priest at San Juan Bautista Catholic Church.

Going a step further than even the Texas Republican Party platform, Rodriguez begins by suggesting that not only gays — but also those who fail to actively oppose them — are damned to hell:

Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Furthermore, a Catholic would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda, which thrives on deception and conceals its wicked horns under the guises of “equal rights,” “tolerance,” “who am I to judge?,” etc.

Father Rodriguez goes on to say that all “homosexuals” should be treated with “love, understanding, and respect.” But he adds, “At the same time, never forget that genuine love demands that we seek, above all, the salvation of souls. Homosexual acts lead to the damnation of souls.”

Interestingly, Rodriguez concludes by making an argument similar to one we frequently hear from supporters of same-sex marriage — who note that just because a majority of voters support a law, this doesn’t make it constitutional. But Rodriguez makes the argument from the opposite perspective, saying that just because a majority of voters support gay rights, this doesn’t make them morally right. This is a relatively new twist — usually we hear anti-gay voices espousing the virtues of the popular vote — but it’s one we’ll probably see more often as public opinion shifts in our favor:

To simplify: One would have to be ghastly morally decrepit to think that if 51 percent of Americans opine that rape is OK, then rape becomes, in effect, all right. Sure, the majority is politically capable of such a vote, but this could never make rape morally right.

There is such a thing as a corrupt democracy, you know!

Abortion and homosexual acts are unequivocally intrinsic moral evils. And friends, this objective truth doesn’t depend on the opinion of the majority. Frighteningly, if the majority chooses to deny the objective moral order, then we will all suffer the pestiferous consequences.

Bigots are a dime a dozen, so it’s hardly surprising that a Catholic priest in El Paso believes this stuff (insert pedophilia joke here). The  surprising thing is that The El Paso Times would print such garbage.

We’re all for the First Amendment and an open exchange of ideas, but to borrow an analogy from Rodriguez, that doesn’t mean you let rapists write op-ed pieces from prison explaining that, “She was asking for it.”

—  John Wright

El Paso men who were kicked out of taco restaurant for kissing mark Stonewall anniversary by suing the city

Five men who were kicked out of Chico’s Taco’s in El Paso after two of them kissed last year have filed a lawsuit against the city, a security company and the restaurant, The El Paso Times reports. If you’ll remember, El Paso police threatened to charge the men under Texas’ sodomy statute, which was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

Plaintiff Carlos Diaz de Leon and lawyers with the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project announced the lawsuit at a news conference in Central El Paso.

Diaz De Leon, 32, said the other four plaintiffs are identified only as “John Does” because they fear threats or retaliation.

“I’m doing this because I want to see change, a lot of change,” Diaz De Leon said. “I would like for people to be aware of their rights, and basically, I want equality for everyone.”

Briana Stone, a lawyer and director of the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, said the date the suit was filed coincides with the June 28, 1969, anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.

—  John Wright