Wash. House panel advances marriage bill

RACHEL La CORTE | Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A House committee on Monday approved a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state, setting the stage for final passage this week.

The House Judiciary committee advanced the measure on a 7-5 vote after a public hearing. The bill could be up for a vote on the House floor as early as Wednesday. The Senate passed the measure on a 28-21 vote last Wednesday. Once passed by the House, the bill goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.

Opponents have promised a referendum challenge at the ballot.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, testified in support of the bill, joined by her partner of 23 years, Laura Wulf, and their son.

“We all understand that marriage is not just about contracts and rights and responsibilities,” she said. “It’s about love and commitment.”

Maureen Richardson, the state director for Concerned Women for America, argued that the measure would negatively affect families.

“Marriage is just too important to the culture to be redefined,” she said.

Several Republican amendments were rejected, including one that would have added private businesses and individuals, such as bakers and photographers, to the exemption in the measure that doesn’t require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages and doesn’t subject them to penalties if they don’t marry gay or lesbian couples. Another would have added a referendum clause.

Opponents must turn in 120,577 signatures by June 6. If opponents fall short in the number of signatures they turn in, gay and lesbian couples would be able to be wed as soon as the signature count is done, likely sometime in June. Otherwise, they would have to wait until the results of a November election.

Washington state has had a domestic partnership law since 2007, and an “everything but marriage” expansion of that law since 2009.

Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Under the measure that passed the Senate Wednesday, the more than 9,300 same-sex couples currently registered in domestic partnerships would have two years to either dissolve their relationship or get married. Domestic partnerships that aren’t ended prior to June 30, 2014, would automatically become marriages.

Domestic partnerships would remain for senior couples where at least one partner is 62 years old or older. That provision was included to help seniors who don’t remarry out of fear they could lose certain pension or Social Security benefits.

—  John Wright

Rawlings ‘personally’ supports marriage

Dallas mayor won’t sign pledge but says gay couples should have the right to wed

Rawlings.Mike

Mike Rawlings

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Although he declined to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage this week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared Thursday, Jan. 19 that he personally supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

Rawlings has elected not to join a group of more than 75 mayors from across the country who’ve signed a pledge circulated by the group Freedom to Marry in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

Under fire from the LGBT community for not signing the pledge, Rawlings explained that since becoming mayor last year, it has been his policy to avoid partisan political issues or social debates that don’t directly impact city government.

“This one obviously was very difficult for me, because I personally believe in the rights of the gay community to marry,” Rawlings said Thursday in an exclusive interview by phone from Washington, where he was still attending the conference. “I think this [same-sex marriage] is way overdue and we need to get on with it, but that’s my personal belief, and when I start to speak on behalf of the city of Dallas … I’ve got to be thoughtful about how I use that office and what I want to impact, and that’s why I decided to stay away from endorsing and signing letters like that.”

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for the LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, responded that if Rawlings really supports marriage equality, he should sign the pledge, which was set to be formally released at a press conference Friday morning, Jan. 20.

“I think he’s doing the same thing that a lot of politicians do, and that’s saying what he needs to say to get the LGBT vote,” Cates said.

After Dallas Voice reported on its website Wednesday night that Rawlings didn’t plan to sign the pledge, Cates launched a Facebook page and an online petition encouraging people to contact the mayor by phone, email and fax, and ask him to change his mind.

Cates said he may also organize a marriage demonstration outside City Hall in February — but was still hoping Rawlings would reverse course and sign the pledge on Friday.

“If he supports us, we need him to put his money where his mouth is,” Cates said. “Otherwise what he’s proving to me, personally, is that he supports us when it’s going to get him votes or money.”

Rawlings.Pride

SIGN OF SUPPORT | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings throws beads while riding on the city float in the 2011 gay Pride parade. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

During his campaign last year, Rawlings said during a candidate forum that he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning both marriage and civil unions. But before Thursday, the closest Rawlings had come to publicly endorsing same-sex marriage was in an interview with Dallas Voice during his campaign, when he said he felt the issue was “irrelevant” and “we should get beyond it and let people do what they want to do.”

Paula Blackmon, Rawlings’ chief of staff, said Thursday afternoon that 50 to 60 people had contacted the mayor’s office about the marriage pledge, with the vast majority saying he should sign it.

“People are communicating with us,” said Blackmon, who compared the public response to outcry over the city’s handling of the Occupy Dallas protests.

Rawlings said in addition to the LGBT community, he was getting pushback from his son and daughter, who he said were raised to reflect his personal beliefs about marriage equality.

“I’m catching a lot of grief in my family right now, just so you know, so I respect how people are feeling about this issue, and I understand it,” he said.

Other mayors who’ve signed the pledge include Michael Bloomberg of New York, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Annise Parker of Houston, Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Thomas Menino of Boston and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for Freedom to Marry, said the full list of mayors who’ve signed the pledge would be revealed during Friday’s press conference to kick off the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

However, Yodashkin told Dallas Voice that as of Thursday, Houston’s Parker and Austin’s Lee Leffingwell were the only ones from Texas who’d signed the pledge. About 20 mayors from Texas, including Fort Worth’s Betsy Price, pre-registered for the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to the website.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Langbehn receives citizens medal at White House

Janice Langbehn, left with President Barack Obama

Janice Langbehn was among 13 recipients of a citizens medal awarded by President Barack Obama on Oct. 20. She was chosen from among thousands of nominations. As a result of her experience of being denied access to her dying partner, the president issued an executive order requiring hospitals to allow gays and lesbians to name a partner as family for visitation and to make medical decisions.

From an email sent to Dallas Voice by the White House:

Janice Langbehn, Lacey, WA
While on vacation with her family in February 2007, Janice Langbehn’s partner, Lisa Pond, suddenly fell ill and was rushed to the hospital. Langbehn was refused access to her partner, who had experienced a brain aneurysm and later died alone. With the help of Lambda Legal and GLAAD, she filed a federal lawsuit and worked to get her story out to the nation. Janice’s story received attention from President Obama, who personally apologized to her for the way she and her family was treated. He went on to revise hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian couples, which went into effect this past January for any hospitals receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funds. Langbehn receives the Citizens Medal for her efforts to ensure all Americans are treated equally.

—  David Taffet

FAMILY LIFE: The adoption options

Sonyia Hartwell

For same-sex couples who want a family, CPS may be a more affordable route than private agency placements

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Adoption has become a common option for gay and lesbian couples that want to have a family. But there’s a lot to know before becoming an adoptive parent.

“In Texas, unmarried couples cannot adopt as a couple,” said Leslie Clay, chief development officer at Hope Cottage, the oldest non-sectarian adoption center in Dallas. But that applies equally to straight and gay couples.

Many couples have opted to go outside of Texas, especially when they are using a surrogate and they want the second parent to adopt and be added to the birth certificate.

But Texas does have laws that are favorable to the adoptive parents.

Texas law is silent on the issue of second-parent adoptions by same-sex couples, according to Jenny L. Womack, an adoption attorney in private practice.

“The only place Texas gets into it is on the birth certificate,” she said.

Texas only allows one man and one woman to appear on the birth certificate. An adopted child’s name, however, may reflect both parents’, and will normally be granted during the original single-parent adoption.

Traditionally, Dallas couples have traveled to San Antonio to get their second-parent adoption completed. Bexar County will allow an attorney to direct a case into a particular court and attorneys know exactly which judges will approve a second-parent adoption by same-sex parents.

But Womack said she has had luck recently in Dallas.

“When we had the Democratic sweep, it brought judges in who will do a second-parent adoption,” she said.

While she files adoptions by opposite-sex parents in juvenile court, Womack files same-sex-parent adoptions at the George Allen Courts Building and has been successful there.

Her advice to couples who want to adopt is to visit an adoption attorney first.

Hope Cottage Executive Director Sonyia Hartwell explained that there are two types of adoptions — private and through Child Protective Services.

Hope Cottage is located on McKinney Avenue in Uptown and welcomes same-sex couples. The minimum age for adoptive parents at that agency is 26 and same-sex couples must be in a stable relationship of at least two years.

Hartwell said that the mother placing her child in an adoptive home often participates in choosing the parents. She said CPS works well with same-sex couples.

Most adoptions are done through an agency. Private adoptions are legal in Texas but may not be arranged by individuals. Attorneys and doctors cannot act as adoption agents. Only licensed agencies may.

However, if a private adoption is arranged through a contact, the adopting parents are legally allowed to pay only medical, legal and counseling expenses. Rent, maternity clothes or grocery assistance may only be paid for through a licensed agency. Paying those expenses directly is classified as paying a fee for a child, and is a felony in Texas under laws that prevent baby selling.

Agencies may pay those expenses but are also prevented from helping a birth mother in some ways. The agency can pay rent or utilities but not a rent or utility deposit.

A home study is required by all agencies. CPS assigns its own caseworkers but a couple may choose anyone approved to do home studies. That includes a number of people in the LGBT community.

“I tell my clients to be open and honest and don’t freak out,” Womack said.

Hartwell said same-sex couples who successfully adopt are completely out about their relationship and who they are.

“You have to hold yourself out as a couple,” she said.

That means being out to family members and co-workers.

She said that couples that aren’t out won’t have the support of family, friends and co-workers necessary for successful adoptions.

Hartwell said that CPS adoptions are a good, lower-cost alternative to private adoptions.

She suggested couples should be as open-minded as possible.

Older couples aren’t likely to get infants. Younger couples who want infants and are adopting through CPS are more likely to get a placement if they’ll take an older sibling as well.

Hartwell said that the state doesn’t like to break up families.

Hartwell encouraged couples thinking of adopting to schedule an appointment to discuss the possibility. She said most will interview several agencies before settling on one.

An attorney is necessary to file the adoption by the first parent and later by the second.

CPS needs homes to place the thousands of children without parents in Texas.

Clay summed up what they’re looking for.

“We’re looking for good parents,” she said.

For referrals to adoption attorney across the country, visit AdoptionAttorneys.org.

—  John Wright

Bisexuals work for recognition in LGBT rainbow

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — For the last 13 years, Lindasusan Ulrich has been in a committed relationship with the same woman. The couple have married three times, twice before it was legal in California and once while it briefly was. But if acquaintances were to assume Ulrich and her wife, Emily Drennen, are lesbians, they would be wrong. They identify as bisexuals and are proud of it.

This doesn’t mean their sexual orientation hasn’t presented challenges. Even in a do-as-you-like city such as San Francisco, the women have found bisexuals to be a misunderstood and often overlooked minority. During the state’s 2008 campaign to ban same-sex marriages, they forcefully reminded gay rights leaders — in the form of a cake decorated with the words “Having Our Cake and Eating It Too! Bisexuals Exist!” — that political advertising and fundraising appeals referring only to gay and lesbian couples did not encompass their imperiled union.

“It’s a unique identity as opposed to half one and half the other,” said Ulrich, a 41-year-old writer and musician who recently authored a report on “bisexual invisibility” for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

The commission unanimously adopted the report, and that could prove a significant step, said Denise Penn, director of the American Institute of Bisexuality.

Because San Francisco takes its commitment to gay and lesbian rights so seriously, shining a spotlight on the hostility bisexuals sometimes encounter from gay men and lesbians could help ease one of the most painful aspects of having a bisexual identity, Penn said.

“People don’t trust bisexuals, and I’ve heard some really, really nasty stuff,” Penn said. ” ‘Oh, you are going to just go back and hide in your straight world.’ Bisexuals are (seen as) tourists in the community, opportunists.”

As gay, lesbian and transgender people have succeeded in putting their fight for equality front and center in American politics, bisexuals — the often forgotten “B” in the LGBT rainbow — have been waging their own fight for recognition. From adopting a bisexual pride flag and commemorating Sept. 23 as bisexual pride day to urging researchers and government agencies to treat bisexuality as a distinct category, activists who acknowledge their attractions to both men and women say they want to assert their existence.

In promoting their not-insignificant ranks, activists point out that a UCLA demographer estimated last month that slightly more Americans self-identify as bisexual than as gay or lesbian. But the activist argue their task is complicated by stereotypes of bisexuals as fickle sex fiends, the difficulty in pinning down who counts as bisexual, and discrimination from both the straight and gay communities.

“Even people who would not feel comfortable saying bad things about gay or lesbian people still feel comfortable trashing bi people,” said Robyn Ochs, a veteran bisexual activist in Boston.

Johnny Fesenko, 42, a computer programmer in San Francisco, said that contrary to popular belief and jokes about male fantasies involving threesomes, living as a bisexual can sometimes feel like the worst of all worlds instead of the best of both. Gay friends and potential partners tell him his interest in women is just a phase. He’s had straight women refuse to date him because he’s not “a real man.” He once was punched in the face while walking with a boyfriend in Manhattan, he said.

“It’s almost like being called an atheist — you would rather call yourself agnostic because there is such a stigma associated with it,” Fesenko said.

Despite the inherent obstacles, activists point to signs of progress. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, one of the nation’s largest gay rights groups, a few years ago started holding bisexual-specific meetings and panels. Students at Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota have established groups for bisexuals. Out & Equal, a San Francisco-based organization that advocates for workplace rights for gays, last year sponsored an international survey aimed at uncovering on-the-job issues that bisexuals face.

“People really believe that bisexuality is covered by either gay issues or straight issues, so… you don’t need to worry about the whole middle thing,” said Heidi Green, a diversity trainer who co-conducted the survey. “Yet there are huge issues for bisexuals. When I ask people if they are out at work, the answer is almost universally ‘no.’ And because we don’t have really strong community, there is a tendency to believe the issues you have in your life are unique to you, there is something wrong with you.”

Chicago resident Adrienne Williams, a web content producer, launched the online Bisexual Social Network in late 2008 to fill what she considered a shameful absence of bisexual celebrities and entertainment in gay media. She still likes playing watchdog. One of her recent pet peeves is that gay publications celebrated the coming out of singer Ricky Martin, who was long rumored to be gay, but gave short shrift to Anna Paquin’s announcement, while she was engaged to a man, that she is bisexual.

Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, acknowledges that gay and lesbian leaders have not always made their bisexual comrades feel appreciated. Within the LGBT movement, bridging internal divisions of race, class, gender and sexual orientation can take a back seat to combating bias on the outside, she said.

“What the movement must always be doing is looking around for whose issues are being ignored, whose issues are being left behind, who is not with us as we see gains being made,” Kendall said. “Certainly bisexual folks have a legitimate beef when they say that they have felt by turns disrespected and by turns ignored.”

Kendall’s advocacy organization last year sued the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association on behalf of three bisexual men disqualified from playing in the 2008 Gay Softball World Series in Seattle. Their team’s eligibility had been challenged based on a rule limiting each squad to including no more than two straight players. During a hearing, the three players were asked whether they were predominantly attracted to men or women and other questions about their sexual orientations. A panel then voted on whether they were “gay” or “non-gay,” according to the still pending complaint.

“I thought we were going to get more resistance from lesbian and gay folks in the community, not only for representing these men, but suing a gay softball association,” Kendall said. “With a few exceptions, we have had overwhelming support, which I take as an indication that we as a movement overall have matured on this issue.”

—  John Wright

Tips for gay couples as tax time approaches

Tax laws weren’t written with LGBT families in mind, but there are ways to make them work for you

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

A new tax ruling in California that appears to be a first step toward federal recognition of same-sex marriage will actually cost gay and lesbian couples there more money, according to Jon Chester of Sterling Bookkeeping and Tax Service.

In that ruling, the IRS said that registered domestic partners in that state must file as married filing separately.

“Married filing separately is the worst way to file a return,” Chester said. “We’re going to recognize you, but we’re going to have you file in the worst way a married couple can file.”

Ron Allen

Married filing jointly, he said, usually saves the most money and that filing is something same-sex couples cannot do on their federal taxes.

The so-called marriage penalty has been eliminated because a married couple gets to deduct twice the amount of a single person.

“But married tax brackets are much wider and save,” he said, so married couples filing jointly enjoy a tax advantage.

Chester had some other tips for same-sex couples in filing their returns.

He said that to take anything other than a standard deduction of $5,400, you must itemize.

Those deductions include property tax, charitable donations and medical expenses.

Chester said that if you support someone, you could take a deduction for that person.

Married couples who are recognized by the federal government regularly take deductions for dependents. He said gay people often do not think of that.

The person might be a child or a domestic partner. Chester suggested deducting for a parent that you support, even if that person doesn’t live with you. A parent in assisted living whose monthly bills you pay, for example, qualifies as a dependent.

He said it’s usually better for the partner making less money to claim any investment income and for the partner making more money to take any losses. The amounts can also be allocated proportionally, as long as no more than the total is claimed between the couple.

Jon Chester

Ron Allen, a CPA who used to work for the Internal Revenue Service, said that when a same-sex couple is sharing ownership and deductions on property, do three things to make the tax return audit-proof. Make sure both names are on the deed and on the mortgage and make payments from a joint account.

He said that for an account to be considered joint for tax purposes, both partners should make deposits into the account during the year. He suggested that even couples that kept their finances separate should make common household payments from a joint account.

Allen said that tax laws were not written with same-sex families in mind, but we must fit the laws to work for our families.

For instance, Allen asked, who deducts a dependent child when Texas doesn’t recognize a second parent adoption? He said that he has seen a number of cases where the adoptive parent stays at home and the non-adoptive parent earns most of the household income.

The non-adoptive parent may take deductions for the partner and child but will bear an extra burden of proof that married couples don’t need.

Allen said that when he went into business, he saw same-sex couples that used his practice because it was a safe place to reveal their relationship status. Now, he said, many of his clients come to him because tax preparers outside the community don’t know what to do with same-sex families.

Allen said that CPAs now are included in confidentiality rules. If one partner brings him tax returns for both members of the couple, he legally cannot answer any questions about the partner’s returns unless he has a power of attorney or a signed document.

“It’s just another case of us having to do something special,” he said. “A husband and wife don’t have to do these things.”

Couples dealing with issues of joint home ownership or other joint assets, adoption and disability and dependency issues should see a CPA who is experienced in handling these issues for the LGBT community, Allen said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Sarah Palin on DOMA; anti-gay preacher Grant Storms on arrest; Prop 8 update

Grant Storms

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Grant Storms, the anti-gay Louisiana pastor who was arrested last week for allegedly jerking off in his van while looking at kids on a playground, insists he wasn’t really masturbating — he just had his hand in his pants. In a bizarre press conference Tuesday, Storms claimed that reports saying he confessed to the crime are untrue. But he also said he knows what he did was wrong, and admitted he has a problem with pornography, which he’d been looking at an hour before the incident. Also, he’s sorry for those anti-gay protests he led at Southern Decadence and is asking for forgiveness. Well, we’re not going to forgive you just yet, Mr. Storms, but we will give you some free legal advice: Shut the hell up! Towleroad has video of Storms’ press conference.

2. Taking a page out of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s playbook, Sarah Palin slammed President Barack Obama for his decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In a statement she gave to the National Organization for Marriage, Palin accused Obama of flip-flopping on DOMA, which is course patently false. Obama has said all along that he wants to repeal DOMA. We’d suggest that if Palin wants a real example of flip-flopping, she should refer back to Leppert.

3. California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a brief Tuesday in the Prop 8 case urging a federal appeals court to allow same-sex marriages to resume immediately in the state. “For 845 days, Proposition 8 has denied equality under law to gay and lesbian couples,” Harris wrote. “Each and every one of those days, same-sex couples have been denied their right to convene loved ones and friends to celebrate marriages sanctioned and protected by California law. Each one of those days, loved ones have been lost, opportunities have been missed, and justice has been denied.”

—  John Wright

Federal appeals court asked to allow same-sex marriages to resume in California

Ted Olson

The American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is challenging Proposition 8 in federal court, today asked an appeals court to lift its stay blocking same-sex marriages in California and allow them to resume immediately pending the outcome of the case.

In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed an injunction barring enforcement of Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. However, AFER argues in its motion filed today that due to delays in the Prop 8 case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the stay should be lifted.

AFER’s request is unrelated to today’s announcement by the Obama administration calling a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and saying the Department of Justice will no longer defend DOMA in federal court.

“We are respectfully asking the Court to lift its stay on marriage for gay and lesbian couples because it has become apparent that the legal process is taking considerably longer than could reasonably have been anticipated,” said Theodore B. Olson, co-lead counsel for AFER. “It’s important to remember that the stay was originally ordered with the understanding that the Ninth Circuit would rule swiftly on the case before it. Now that the issue of the Proponents’ standing to appeal has been referred for analysis by the California Supreme Court, substantial additional, indefinite and unanticipated delays lie ahead. It’s unreasonable and decidedly unjust to expect California’s gay and lesbian couples to put their lives on hold and suffer daily discrimination as second class citizens while their U.S. District Court victory is debated further.”

Read the full press release after the jump.

—  John Wright

New Facebook statuses applauded by gay users

Civil union, domestic partnership added to relationship options

JOCELYN NOVECK  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — Jay Lassiter is no longer “in a relationship.”

Let’s clarify that: Lassiter, a media adviser for political campaigns who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., is still with his partner of nearly eight years, Greg Lehmkuho. But since Thursday, when Facebook expanded its romantic-status options, Lassiter’s profile there echoes his relationship’s legal status: “Domestic partnership.”

It may not be a life-altering change. After all, you can call yourself anything you want on a social network. And Facebook is merely that.

But, Lassiter notes: “I’m no different from all those other Facebook users whose identity is tied up with their Facebook pages, for better or for worse.”

And so, he says: “It’s high time. It’s an affirming gesture. It’s sort of one tiny step for gays, but a giant leap for gay rights.”

Facebook’s addition of civil unions and domestic partnerships to the list of relationships its users can pick from came after talks with gay rights organizations, including GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

The social network has “sent a clear message in support of gay and lesbian couples to users across the globe,” said GLAAD’s president, Jarrett Barrios. “By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media.”

He added that the new status options, available to Facebook users in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Australia, will serve as an important reminder that legal marriage is not an option for gay couples in most states.

Only Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex marriages. This week Hawaii becomes the seventh state to permit civil unions or similar legal recognition for gay couples.

Of course, there’s also a Facebook option to say “It’s complicated” — and that’s exactly how some users felt about the new changes. Because, for people both gay and straight, more options mean more decisions to make: What exactly is my relationship, and what should I call it?

“You go into a store and there are 27 kinds of soda, and sometimes it would be easier if there were just Coke and Pepsi,” explains Erik Rueter, who works in marketing at an educational nonprofit institution in Pittsburgh.

To Rueter, the essence of his relationship is crystal clear: He and his partner, Robb, will be together forever. “We complete each other’s sentences,” he says. “We’ll be sitting there in the nursing home, gumming up each other’s food, chasing each other in our wheelchairs.”

Two years ago, Rueter, 34, proposed to his partner on bended knee, despite the fact that in Pennsylvania they cannot marry. They’ve been engaged ever since, and that’s been his Facebook status — until Thursday, when he changed it to domestic partnership.

But Rueter is conflicted about the change.

“Part of me wants to go back to ‘engaged’ — because I still am,” he says. “Part of me wants to say ‘married,’ as in, ‘I don’t care what the law says.’ And part of me says, ‘It’s just Facebook!”’

And then ANOTHER part of Rueter tells him just how powerful and influential Facebook is, with well over 500 million users across the globe. “Just having the option to say, ‘This is what my relationship is’ is a really good thing,” he says.

It can be a good thing for some straight Facebook users, as well. Michael Stimson, a Scot who lives in Marseille, France, is not married to his partner, Izzy (short for Isabelle), but they live together and have a young son. He’s just changed his status from blank to domestic partnership.

For Stimson, it helps to clarify to other users with whom he’s chatting that he is not, well, available. “People do flirt with you on the Internet,” he says. “I like to put them in the picture a wee bit, so there’s no confusion.”

Izzy approves of his decision. “Most people that you speak with on Facebook are people you don’t know,” she says, speaking in French from home in Marseille. “This makes things more clear.”

Of course, there are no political overtones to the couple’s change in status. In the United States, though, there is a passionate debate over gay marriage. Lassiter, the campaign adviser from New Jersey, changed his status from “in a relationship” to “married” last year in an act of political defiance, he says, when the state legislature rejected a bid to recognize gay marriage.

But it just didn’t feel right, and he changed it back to “in a relationship” months later. Besides the fact that “married” wasn’t accurate, “I’m not really the marrying type,” he says. “Me and my partner have an equilibrium as things are.”

But “in a relationship” made it sound like a high-school relationship, rather than one that’s lasted a number of years.

So the new status feels better, says Lassiter. And he’s been encouraged by the positive feedback he’s gotten on just the first day from Facebook friends — including people from as far back as high school — giving him a thumbs-up.

Lassiter also thinks the change is most important for gay people — especially younger ones — living in areas of the country where their sexual orientation is less accepted than in the liberal Northeast.

“For those people, it legitimizes being in a gay relationship,” he says.

And so, maybe a social network can be something of an agent of social change.

After all, Lassiter says, “As Facebook goes, so goes the world.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Gays celebrate in Hawaii; Atlanta Eagle cops were drunk; Rick Santorum

Kristin Bacon gets a kiss on the cheek from partner Siobhan Ni Dhonacha after the Hawaii Senate voted to approve the Civil Unions bill.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Lawmakers in Hawaii, one of the earliest battlegrounds for same-sex marriage two decades ago, on Wednesday gave final approval to a civil unions bill that will make the Aloha State the seventh in the nation to grant gay and lesbian couples rights equivalent to marriage. And just before the civil unions vote, the state Senate confirmed the first openly gay member of the Hawaii Supreme Court, the same body whose 1993 ruling almost legalized same-sex marriage and led to passage of the nation’s first constitutional amendment banning the practice. It’s only 5 a.m. in Hawaii, so we imagine the gays are still partying as we write this.

2. Speaking of partying, undercover officers who raided the Atlanta Eagle in September 2009 were drunk with more than just power and anti-gay hate — they’d also been downing shots of Jagermeister. Wait, did anyone ever check those Rainbow Lounge receipts?

3. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who’s seeking the Republican presidential nomination, is struggling with name recognition in key primary states. Which is somewhat strange because we recognize his name just fine: He’s the “frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”

—  John Wright