Fops & freaks

‘The Temperamentals’ makes Hay of gay Pride; ‘Earnest’ errs with irony

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

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MAKING HAY | Gay rights pioneer Harry Hay (Gregory Lush, left) embraces his inner diva to the dismay of his lover Rudy (Montgomery Sutton) in Uptown’s thoughtful ‘Temperamentals.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

“Temperamental” was a code name in the 1940s and ‘50s for a gay man, like “friend of Dorothy” or “confirmed bachelor.” It was a way for one gay man to know he was talking to another outside a bar, and without wearing a green carnation as in Oscar Wilde’s day. The way American soldiers until recently lived in fear of being outed under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the entirety of the gay community lived in the post-War period.

That is, until Harry Hay came along. Hay started The Mattachine Society, the first gay rights group, two decades before anyone had heard of the Stonewall Riots. He took the bold step of signing his name to his founding principles, coming out, albeit in a limited media environment, at a time when being labeled as gay was career suicide, no matter what your profession.

He may, however, be the gay hero you’d never heard of. The Mattachine Society eventually failed, a noble first volley in a war that has not yet been won. But it and Hay deserve a lot of credit they too often don’t get; like Niccolo Tesla, they were upstaged by the Edison-like sparkle of Pride marches, Harvey Milk and the rainbow flag.

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With The Temperamentals, about Hay’s triumphant effort (now at the Kalita courtesy Uptown Players) Jon Marans has masterfully crafted a work with a highly cinematic flavor. Scenes jump about quickly, like fast-cut editing, taking us from the bedroom of Hay (Gregory Lush) and his lover, fashion designer Rudy Gernreich (Montgomery Sutton) to the soundstages of Hollywood where closeted director (and Judy Garland spouse) Vincente Minnelli (Paul J. Williams) lends his checkbook but not his name to the cause.

But Marans’ real victory is in capturing the textures of gay life 60 years ago with a subtle, almost literary flair. You feel the prickly hesitation when a gay man asks for Rudy’s last name, and the self-hating aversion to seeming “too femme.” There’s a conspiratorial aura that feels absolutely authentic: Hay and his compatriots were conspirators, lurking in the shadows because that’s where society insisted they reside. The bravery it took to turn on the light astonishes you even today.

Director Bruce C. Coleman and multimedia designer Chris Robinson convey the cinematic quality with minimal sets and extensive use of video components both to place us in a host of settings and suggest their nature (a seedy urinal speaks volumes), as well as provide historic context with vintage photographs, although that can get heavy handed, especially a montage at the end which, while gratifying, goes on too long. (Coleman seems devoted to the notion, why suggest something when you can spell it out in capital letters.) Still, the abstractness of the production gives it an airy, timeless sensibility.

The cast is solid — Williams, Kevin Moore and Daylen Walton all succeed in multiple roles — with Lush holding the center steady as he escorts us through the halls of gay history.

If it sounds as though The Temperamentals is more educational than entertaining, that’s unfortunate; it is both. If you want to feel a real sense of gay Pride, watch how a few men paved the way.

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Nobody captured the grandeur and foolishness of society as pungently and affectionately as Oscar Wilde. He was a living paradox, someone who turned a satiric eye on the superficiality of the upper classes, yet passionately and unapologetically loved everything about them. “How useless are people who have no actual jobs!” he seemed to say. “Why can’t I be one?”

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WILDE TIME | WingSpan’s production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ aims for irony. (Photo by Lowell Sargeant)

The apotheosis of his social manifesto is The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy of manners so sharply wrought that more than a century later, it seems as fresh and witty as a Jon Stewart bit. The script overflows with wordplay and repartee as Ernest Worthing (Andrew Milbourn) confides in his chum Algernon (C. Ryan Glenn) that although he intends to marry Algy’s cousin Gwendolen (Lisa Schreiner), with the approval of her abrasive mother, Lady Bracknell (Nancy Sherrard), his name is not, in fact, Ernest but Jack. This seemingly minor fib sets off a cascade of adventure and verbal slapsticks involving mistaken identity, money, sex and … well, just about everything. It’s a great play.

But WingSpan Theatre Company’s production, now at the Bath House Cultural Center, is not a great version. The dialogue is intact, and two performances in particular (the lovely Schreiner and Jessica Renee Russell as the comely young Cecily) capture the capricious, exuberant drama of silly people involved in silly behavior with very serious consequences perfectly; by the time Act 3 arrives, they are at full comic gallop, and the men eventually almost catch up with them.

Alas, that’s almost too late. The first act is saddled with an ugly set that lacks the requisite glamour of the era, and heavy, ill-fitting costumes that look like someone pulled them off the windows at the Von Trapp household, added a clunky bodice and washed their hands of further responsibility.

Another drawback is Sherrard’s interpretation of Lady Bracknell. The character, one of the funniest in all literature, is an imperious matriarch whose institutional arrogance rivals the monarchy itself. She cannot conceive that she is ever wrong — even when one of her beliefs directly contradicts another belief — because to acknowledge a mistake would be to undermine the social hierarchy.

But Sherrard plays her not as an aloof, self-justifying matron but as a sarcastic social climber. Seeing the first smirking roll of her eyes hits you like a 2×4 to the noggin: Is Lady Bracknell being… ironic? It hardly seems possible — she is a woman entirely bereft of irony. It’s as if she’s been modernized and lost her way entirely.

Still, there’s the music that is Wilde’s gift for the bon mot. There would never have been a Frasier without an Earnest, so if you’ve never seen a production before … well, even mediocre Wilde is better than none at all.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Anti-gay group’s campaign contributions questioned

Equality California accuses opponents of gay history law of hiding campaign donations

LISA LEFF | Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

SAN FRANCISCO — California’s largest gay rights group on Monday, Oct. 3 accused the backers of a ballot measure seeking to repeal a law requiring gay history to be taught in public schools of deliberately hiding the size and source of campaign contributions.

Two conservative groups behind the StopSB-48 campaign “may have engaged in an unlawful scheme” to violate campaign reporting rules, Equality California Executive Director Roland Palencia said in a complaint filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Palencia’s group accuses Capitol Resource Institute and Pacific Justice Institute, the organizations that have taken the lead on undoing the first-of its kind law, of raising and spending money to qualify the repeal referendum for the June 2012 ballot without registering as campaign committees.

Under California’s strict campaign finance laws, political entities that receive more than $1,000 in contributions are required to register with the secretary of state, said Cary Davidson, an election law lawyer on the Equality California board.

“It is critical that backers of any initiative play by the rules, so it is particularly important when that initiative could have such a critical effect on the lives of Californians,” Palencia told reporters during a conference call.

Capitol Resource Institute Executive Director Karen England said her organization’s work on the repeal effort does not require it to register with the secretary of state. She says a new campaign committee, Stop SB-48, has been formed to report fundraising activity, but it has not received any donations of $5,000 or more that would trigger such a mandatory filing.

England also said that while she has been heavily involved in the campaign, it has been as a volunteer. The official Stop SB-48 campaign is leasing office space and equipment from her organization, but for a fee and not as a donation, she said.

Pacific Justice Institute Brad Dacus similarly ridiculed Equality California’s complaint as “a ridiculous but desperate attempt to try to hinder our efforts to get this on the ballot.”

“Our attorneys have been very, very careful to abide by all the requirements,” Dacus said. “We know election law. We’ve been around for 14 years, and we would never risk throwing that away.”

—  John Wright

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

Wisc. governor wants to stop defending gay rights

Gov. Scott Walker

Republican Scott Walker says he believes state’s partner registry is unconstitutional, seeks to withdraw from case

TODD RICHMOND | Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker has told a judge he wants to stop defending Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry in court because he doesn’t believe it’s constitutional.

Members of the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit last summer arguing the registry violates the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. Former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who proposed the registry as a means of granting same-sex couples more legal rights, chose to defend the measure and had filed a motion asking Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser for summary judgment upholding it. Walker, a Republican, inherited the case from Doyle when he took office in January.

The governor filed a motion with Moeser late Friday asking to withdraw the defense because he believes the registry is unconstitutional. The governor pointed to a legal opinion Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued two years ago that concluded the registry was indeed unconstitutional because it mimics marriage.

“If the governor determines that defending a law would be contrary to the state’s constitution, he cannot order the defense of the law because of his oath to support the Wisconsin Constitution,” Walker’s attorney, Brian Hagedorn, wrote in the motion. “To allow the previous administration’s analysis to bind a subsequent administration would be contrary to what justice requires.”

It was unclear when Moeser might rule on the motion. Even if he dismisses the state, the case will continue. The gay rights group Fair Wisconsin has joined the case as an intervener and will continue defending the registry, said Katie Belanger, the group’s executive director.

“It wasn’t unanticipated that Gov. Walker would be changing his position,” Belanger said. “It’s certainly disappointing that our governor is not working to continue to allow same-sex couples to have basic protections. We’re still very confident the registry is legal.”

Wisconsin Family Action pushed the constitutional ban, which voters added to the document in 2006. The Legislature, then controlled by Democrats, put the registry into effect in August 2009.

The listing grants same-sex couples legal rights such as the right to visit each other in hospitals, make end-of-life decisions and inherit each other’s property, although supporters insist the registry doesn’t come close to bestowing all the rights that come with marriage.

Reached after hours Monday evening, state Department of Health Services spokesman Seth Boffeli said he didn’t immediately have up-to-date figures on how many couples were on the registry. However, about 1,330 couples had signed up as of the end of 2009.

Wisconsin Family Action asked the state Supreme Court that same year to strike the registry down directly, bypassing the lower courts. Van Hollen refused to defend the registry, relying on his legal conclusion the list was clearly unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court refused to take the case, forcing Wisconsin Family Action to refile the action in circuit court.

Doyle hired attorney Lester Pines to defend the listing, but Walker fired him earlier this year. Pines said Walker’s withdrawal shows he cares more about pleasing his conservative base than defending state statutes.

“He represents gay and lesbian people, too. He may not like gay and lesbian people … but he’s still obligated to defend those rights,” Pines said.

Walker spokesman Chris Schrimpf didn’t immediately return an email message.

A message left at Wisconsin Family Action’s offices after hours Monday evening wasn’t immediately returned. The group’s executive director, Julaine Appling, declined to comment

—  John Wright

Death penalty provision likely to be removed from anti-gay bill in Uganda

Measure still carries life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual acts

JASON STRAZIUSO  |  Associated Press

KAMPALA, Uganda — The Ugandan parliamentarian behind an anti-gay bill that attracted worldwide condemnation said the most controversial part of the legislation — the death penalty provision — is likely to be dropped from the bill.

David Bahati said if the parliament committee the bill currently sits before recommends that the death penalty provision be removed, “I would concede.”

“The death penalty is something we have moved away from,” Bahati told The Associated Press in an interview.

After Bahati’s anti-gay bill was proposed some 18 months ago, it attracted international condemnation, including from President Barack Obama. Since the initial uproar, the bill has languished in committee.

But Stephen Tashobya, the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, said the legislation may come up for a vote before parliament’s session ends May 12.

“We shall try and see how far we can go with the bill. It may be possible. We are doing all we can. We have limited time,” he said Tuesday, before adding: “Many people have expressed concern about that provision providing for the death sentence and I’m sure when we start hearings on that bill we will hear many more concerns.”

Homosexuality is highly unpopular in Uganda, and pastors in this Christian country speak out loudly against the practice. Bahati said he thinks the bill would become law if voted on by legislators.

“I can guarantee you I have not seen any member of parliament who is opposed to it,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a gay rights group, said anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has increased since the bill’s introduction. More gays are being harassed, he said, because of media attention and because church leaders have been preaching for the bill’s passage to congregations.

Bahati’s original bill carried harsh provisions. The original bill would mandate a death sentence for active homosexuals living with HIV or in cases of same-sex rape. “Serial offenders” also could face capital punishment, but the legislation did not define the term. Anyone convicted of a homosexual act would face life imprisonment.

Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” would face seven years in prison. Landlords who rent rooms or homes to homosexuals also could get seven years.

“If the bill passes we cannot even be allowed to do our work,” Mugisha said.

Last year a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published the names and photos of men it alleged were gay. One cover included the words “Hang Them.” Shortly afterward, in January, a prominent gay rights activist whose picture was published was bludgeoned to death, though authorities contend David Kato’s sexual orientation had nothing to do with the killing.

Mugisha said the murder was not thoroughly investigated. “I think it had to do with all the hate that has been spread. All avenues lead to a homophobia-based crime,” he said.

Bahati called Kato’s death regrettable.

“My reaction is that I extend condolences to the family, parents of Kato. It’s regrettable that they could find themselves in this situation, and also regrettable that he could be allowed to be used to recruit our children. But the death of Kato had nothing to do with the bill in parliament,” he said.

Bahati, 36, is serving his first term. He said that the bill has helped raise public awareness about what he calls “the dangers to our children.” Many Ugandan leaders who support the bill say that gay Ugandans recruit school children to become homosexual.

Mugisha says no one has ever been arrested for doing such a thing despite Uganda being what he called a highly homophobic country.

Bahati submitted his bill in late 2009, several months after American evangelicals attended a conference in Kampala. Those U.S. religious leaders consider same-gender relationships sinful and believe gays and lesbians can become heterosexual through prayer and counseling, fueling speculation that the Americans helped craft the bill.

Bahati said that was false and he labeled it a communication strategy and “conspiracy” by pro-gay groups in the U.S. to make his bill easier to attack.

“I didn’t meet any American evangelicals. I’ve said before we have friends in America but they have nothing to do with the bill. This actually has been an insult to suggest that Ugandans cannot think for themselves, that we have to wait for America to think for us,” he said.

—  John Wright

DOMA under assault but still potent

Controversy over federal marriage ban creates rollercoaster ride for same-sex couples living with real-world consequences

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — These are frustrating, tantalizing days for many of the same-sex couples who seized the chance to marry in recent years.

The law that prohibits federal recognition of their unions in under assault in the courts. The Obama administration has repudiated it and taken piecemeal steps to weaken its effects.

Yet for now, the Defense of Marriage Act remains very much in force — provoking anger, impatience and confusion among gay couples.

Because of DOMA, some binational couples still worry about deportation of the non-citizen spouse. Survivor benefits aren’t granted after one spouse dies. And couples filing joint tax returns in the states allowing same-sex marriage must still file separately this month with the IRS.

Said Brian Sheerin, who wed his partner six years ago in Massachusetts, “There are times I feel like a third-class citizen.”

When DOMA was passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996, and signed by President Bill Clinton, it was a pre-emptive strike. There were no legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

Since 2004, however, thousands of gays and lesbians have married as Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and the District of Columbia legalized same-sex unions. Many others have wed in foreign countries.

“What was once theoretical now has practical effects that people can see, that can’t be explained other than as discrimination,” said Jon Davidson, legal director of the gay-rights group Lambda Legal. “There are people who’ve been married six years who are increasingly getting impatient.”

The controversy around DOMA creates an emotional rollercoaster for same-sex couples.

Last July, for example, many of them rejoiced when a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the act was an unconstitutional infringement on equality for same-sex couples.

There was more elation in February, when President Barack Obama ordered his administration to stop defending the law in the still-pending Massachusetts case and several other lawsuits. Yet no one knows when these cases will finally be resolved.

Last month, there was a flurry of excitement among binational gay couples when a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman indicated that cases would be “held in abeyance” while broader legal issues were reviewed. Hopes soared that this would mean a halt in deportations of foreigners married to gay Americans, but within two days the federal agency said there would be no policy change.

“It’s gut-wrenching to go through the ups and downs,” said Doug Gentry, whose Venezuelan spouse, Alex Benshimol, faces a deportation hearing in July.

They briefly hoped the case would be put on hold — but now have been notified that an application for permanent residency for Benshimol has been denied.

“I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me so many times,” Gentry said. “You’re so used to getting your hopes up, only to get them dashed, that you almost don’t want to hope.”

The couple, who married last year in Connecticut after six years as partners, run a pet grooming business in Palm Springs, Calif.

“I don’t feel we’re different from any other family,” said Gentry, 53. “I don’t want to be forced to stay with my husband by going into exile, and leaving my home, my business and my country behind.”

DOMA also complicates life for U.S. citizen Edwin Blesch and his South African husband, Tim Smulian, who married in Cape Town in 2007.

Unlike some gay binational couples, in which the foreigner overstays a visa, Smulian has abided by the terms of tourist visas which limit him to six months annually in the U.S. That means that to be together, the two retirees must uproot themselves from their comfortable home on the northeast tip of Long Island and spend half the year abroad.

“It’s a great personal, financial and medical inconvenience,” said Blesch, 70, who has had past health problems, faces surgery this spring and relies on the care that Smulian provides him.

Both men believe DOMA is doomed to be struck down by the courts or repealed by Congress, but Blesch says the endgame could take years.

“It will be a long process,” he said. “I might be sitting in a rocking chair in a nursing home by then — or dead.”

For men and women whose same-sex spouse has died, DOMA can prevent the payment of Social Security or Veterans Administration survivor benefits that would be paid out to heterosexual widows and widowers.

In California, 77-year-old Ron Wallen worries that he might be unable to afford staying in the home near Palm Springs that he and his partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, had shared before Carrollo’s death in March.

The two men married in June 2008, during a brief window where same-sex marriage was legal in California. But now DOMA prevents Wallen from receiving Carrollo’s Social Security survivor benefits, and he’s living only on his own $900-a-month Social Security check — about half of what Carrollo had been receiving.

“It would seem to smack the constitution in the face,” Wallen said of DOMA. “It hurts like hell.”

In Cheshire, Conn., retired school teacher Andrew Sorbo is in similar straits. His husband, Colin Atterbury, who died in May 2009, had been a federal employee at a nearby veteran’s hospital, and DOMA prevents Sorbo from receiving his VA pension.

The two men had entered into a civil union in Vermont in 2004, then married in Connecticut in January 2009 as Atterbury became ill with pancreatic cancer.

“80 percent of our household income disappeared when he died,” said Sorbo, 64. “It’s a betrayal of the ideals I used to teach my students … I know there isn’t justice for all.”

Though Connecticut is a relatively liberal state — with same-sex marriage now causing little controversy — Sorbo said many people he encounters are unfamiliar with DOMA.

“They have no idea how gay people are not getting the same rights they are,” he said. “It passes them by.”

He expects DOMA to be overturned eventually in court. “But they’ll never make it retroactive,” he said. “So for me it’s too late.”

Brian Sheerin says DOMA cost him and his husband, Ken Weissenberg, tens of thousands of dollars in extra taxes when they sold a home four years ago in order to move to Bedford, N.Y. A heterosexual married couple would have been able pocket $500,000 of the sale price before capital gains taxes kicked in, he said, but they were listed as “single” and taxed on proceeds over $250,000.

“That still sticks in my craw,” said Sheerin, 51, who married Weissenberg in Massachusetts in 2005.

He recalled returning with their two adopted daughters from a family vacation in Mexico to encounter a U.S. immigration officer who wanted Sheerin and Weissenberg to go through the entry point separately. The officer eventually relented, but the elder daughter took note.

“She asked, `Why did they do that?”’ Sheerin recalled.

DOMA’s future is uncertain. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation to repeal it, but that effort is considered a long-shot while Republicans control the House. The pending court challenges could lead eventually to a Supreme Court decision on DOMA’s constitutionality — but that process, if it happens at all, could take several years.

DOMA’s foes are heartened by several recent opinion polls showing, for the first time, that more than half of Americans are ready to accept legal same-sex marriage. They hope this shift will reinforce the legal arguments against DOMA — notably that it creates an unwarranted exception to the historical federal policy of recognizing marriages of couples legally wed in the states.

“This exception denies thousands of legally married couples and their families the critical safety net that only marriage brings,” says Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. “Perhaps worst of all, this is discrimination by the government itself, hurting families without helping anyone.”

One question is how DOMA will be defended in the pending court cases.

With the Obama administration now refusing to perform that task, the GOP leadership in the House says it will intervene to defend DOMA in court, but details remain sketchy. The Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay-rights group, has written to 200 of the country’s top law firms urging them not to take up the case on behalf of the House.

Joe Kapp, a Washington-based financial planner, said the uncertain status of DOMA has added to the challenges of advising his large gay clientele.

“The changes taking place are exciting, but there’s a lot of flux, and conflicting ways in which the administration is looking at relationships,” he said. “For now, couples probably should continue to assume that they will be recognized as strangers in the eyes of the law.”

Some activists are urging a more confrontational approach. A “Refuse to Lie” petition has been circulating on the Internet — promoted by various gay-rights groups — encouraging married gay couples to file joint federal tax returns in defiance of DOMA.

“The federal government’s refusal to recognize our marriages is blatant discrimination and we will not play along by lying on our tax returns and pretending we are single,” the petition says. “The government has chosen to discriminate and we choose to expose their bigotry by refusing to lie.”

At the bottom of the declaration is a disclaimer suggesting those who join the campaign consult an attorney for legal advice.

At least a half-dozen legal challenges of DOMA are pending, and the advocacy group Immigration Equality is laying the groundwork for an additional lawsuit focused on the plight of binational couples.

Meanwhile, several Democrats in Congress are urging federal immigration authorities to halt deportation cases affecting such couples.

“I recently applauded the president’s decision to order his Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in federal court,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. “In that same spirit, he should now order his Homeland Security Department to halt all deportations until we find the courage to kill this unconstitutional law.”

The administration already has taken some steps to ease DOMA’s impact, such as requiring executive branch agencies to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.

On April 1, the Department of Health and Human Services advised states that they can henceforth treat gay couples — whether married or in domestic partnerships — similarly to straight couples with respect to benefit programs. For example, Medicaid has exemptions to avoid forcing a healthy spouse to give up the family home and retirement savings in order to qualify a spouse for long-term care; that protection will now be permissible for sex-same as well as heterosexual couples.

The incremental moves have been welcomed by activists, but don’t prevent impatience.

Said Jon Davidson, “Now that even the administration admits DOMA is unconstitutional, that has people wondering why it’s still there.”

—  John Wright

NC poll: Most support rights for same-sex couples

MIKE BAKER | Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — More than half of North Carolina residents now support legal recognition of same-sex couples, and more than one-quarter believe they should have full marriage rights, according to a poll released Monday, Feb. 28.

The Elon University survey found that 29 percent of respondents in the state support civil unions or partnerships for gay couples but not full marriage rights. About 28 percent of people support full marriage rights.

Meanwhile, only 35 percent of respondents opposed all legal recognition for same-sex partners, down from 44 percent when the question was asked two years ago.

“That’s a substantial move,” said Elon Poll Director Hunter Bacot. “We’re seeing people becoming more comfortable with the issue.”

About two dozen Republican senators in North Carolina have proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay unions. Similar measures have previously been filed in the General Assembly but gone nowhere, but Republicans now control both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in more than a century.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, has given money to a North Carolina group opposing the constitutional change.

The Elon poll was conducted last week and surveyed 467 North Carolina adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

—  John Wright

Gay Polish soccer fans want separate seating

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — A group of gay Polish soccer fans has called on the organizers of the 2012 European Championships to set aside separate seating for gays and lesbians to protect them from harrassment and violence.

But other gay rights activists criticized the proposal Wednesday, saying it would single gay fans out and put them at greater risk.

Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first gay fan club for Poland’s national team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the championship in Poland and neighboring Ukraine.

“During trips to matches of our beloved clubs … we unfortunately are often faced with unpleasantness, harassment and violence from the ‘real’ fans,” it said. “We dream of being able to relax in the stands — we can’t imagine not being at the Euro 2012 matches, which will be held in our country!”

Polish soccer matches are often the scene of violent attacks and fights involving hooligans.

Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism — which treated homosexuality as a taboo — and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

One match venue, the city of Gdansk, rejected the group’s call for separate seating, saying it would stigmatize gays. And some gay rights groups are distancing themselves from the appeal.

Gregory Czarnecki of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading gay rights group in Warsaw, said he believes that very few gays and lesbians would willingly choose separate seating.

“I understand their initiative, and what they are trying to do,” Czarnecki told The Associated Press.

“But the message might be counterproductive in Poland,” he said. “I don’t think many people would be brave enough to not only come out, but also to sit in this section.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Ill. governor signs civil unions bill; the DMN straight-washes a bullying story

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn used 97 pens to sign a civil unions bill on Monday, in front of hundreds of people who packed a ballroom in downtown Chicago for the ceremony. The law, which takes effect June 1, will make Illinois the sixth state with civil unions that provide state-level protections equivalent to marriage. If you’ve got nothing better to do on this snow/ice day, you can count the pens in the video above.

2. The Dallas Morning News has a piece today about anti-bullying bills in the Texas Legislature. And it’s great that the DMN has finally decided to devote some space — even if it is on Page 5B — to efforts to curb an epidemic that’s claiming young people’s lives. But there’s one small problem, and it actually happens to be a huge problem. Incredibly, the DMN story manages to avoid any mention of the word “gay” or “homosexual” or “sexual orientation.” In fact, the newspaper clearly goes out of its way to avoid these words. Case in point: Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group, is referred in the story as “a group that works to prevent school violence.” WTF? It’s arguably the biggest straight-washing since this one.

3. This item is canceled due to the weather.

—  John Wright

The Nooner: El Paso benefits battle, Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Ricky Gervais

Your lunchtime quickie from Instant Tea:

• Federal judge blocks enforcement of anti-gay El Paso ballot initiative, questions definition of “traditional family values.” Gay rights group protests outside Barnes & Noble during book-signing by pastor who was behind initiative.

• New president of Houston GLBT Political Caucus discusses group’s agenda.

• Texas ENDA introduced again but unlikely to pass.

• Slain gay Portugese journalist’s family dumps ashes down Times Square subway grate.

• Did host Ricky Gervais go too far at the Golden Globes? (video above)

—  John Wright