India’s first legally recognized lesbian married couple live under threat of death

Today while looking through news headlines online, I noticed “India’s First Married Lesbian Couple Under Constant Police Protection” from the Oregon-based LGBT website Just Out. And further down the list of headlines was this one: “In a first, Gurgaon court recognizes lesbian marriage,” taken from The Times of India.

Beena, left, and Savita have had to ask for police protection against Savita’s angry family members who have threatened to kill the two over their marriage

I read both stories, trying to piece together as much information as possible about this historic couple, and about the apparently constant state of danger in which they live. Then I went out and started looking for other news reports about the couple, since the two referenced above seemed to contradict each other in a couple of places. The Hindustan Times in Indian offered this report. The headline here reads “Same-sex couple fears for life.”

There are a few things I am not quite sure on yet — for instance, the Times of India story talks about “khap panchayats,” and I don’t know what those are. But since these “khap panchayats” have been linked to so-called “honor killings,” I am pretty sure they aren’t good.

But here is the story as I understand it, based on what I have read so far:

Beena, 20, and Savita, 25, have been friends for many years, maybe as long as 15 years. Beena (spelled”Veena” in one report) has always been very boyish, and has always been accepted by her family who treat her as a boy. Savita, who is studying for a college degree, was forced by her family to marry a man late last year. Within five months, she ran away from her husband, got a divorce from a khap panchayat and went to live with Beena.

On July 22, according to Times of India, the two women went to a public notary in Gurgaon and got married by signing an affidavit that said, basically, they were marrying each other and were not being coerced into doing so. Then they ended up going to court to ask for police protection because certain people — namely members of Savita’s own family — were threatening to kill them because through their relationship they had besmirched the honor of Savita’s family.

In court proceedings, as best I can tell, the judge basically gave their marriage legal recognition simply by not disputing their declarations that they were married.

—  admin

Joel Burns’ speech heard around the world

Joel Burns, left, and partner J.D. Angle

Mayor Annise Parker of Houston once joked, upon becoming the first openly gay person elected mayor of a major U.S. city, that municipal elections in Texas aren’t normally featured on the front page of the Times of India. Now openly gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns is gaining international notoriety as well.

Since we posted Burns’ “It Gets Better” speech yesterday, it has been featured by outlets including the Huffington Post, Gawker and the UK Guardian. According to YouTube, the video of the speech has as many as 67,554 views.

The Guardian describes Burns’ moving speech and then says, “But written words do not do it justice; watch the video.”

We agree, and we’re glad Burns’ message is getting heard.

—  David Taffet

A conversation with Houston Mayor Annise Parker

PARKER IN DALLAS | In her only interview while in Dallas as the honorary grand marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she doesn’t live her life just out of the closet, but out on the front lawn. Her city is competing with Moscow for a major petroleum convention, and she plans to meet up with that city’s mayor to tell him what she thinks of his treatment of gays and lesbians in Moscow. Read the complete interview with Parker online at DallasVoice.com. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)
Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks during Dallas Pride on Sunday, Sept. 19. (Photo courtesy Steve Krueger)

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she was delighted to be asked to come to Dallas to be Honorary Grand Marshal of the Pride parade. And she was a little surprised other cities hadn’t asked her.

“It’s a little hot outside,” she said soon after arriving in Dallas. “We do our parade at night for a reason.”

Parker said she forgot to bring a hat, but she never wears hats in Houston. Her reason sounded a bit like another Texas Democrat, Ann Richards.

“My hat covers the hair,” she said. “They have to see the hair.”

Unlike many gay or lesbian politicians, she didn’t come out after successfully launching her political career. She said she started as a lesbian activist on the front lines.

“I was debating the nutballs in public,” she said.

Parker came out in high school. In college she founded Rice University’s first LGBT group and began her political career as president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

During each campaign, the GLBT Political Caucus and her partner, Kathy Hubbard, have always been included in her literature.

“That way I owned it,” she said. “Kathy describes our relationship as not being out of the closet but being out on the front lawn,” she said.

The election received an overwhelming amount of media coverage.

“It’s unprecedented for an election for mayor of Houston to make the front cover of the Times of India,” she said. “It was difficult to slog through. It was a distraction at the beginning.”

Parker said she doesn’t think most of Texas was as surprised by her election as the rest of the country or the world. She mentioned a number of lesbian elected officials around the state including Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

She attributed her victory to a number of factors. Houston always elects moderate Democrats, she said.

Of the seven candidates running in the general election, she started with the highest name recognition. This was her eighth election and her opponent’s first.

“He made some rookie mistakes,” she said. “He got distracted. He got in bed with the right-wing hate-mongers.”

The week before coming to Dallas, Parker had been in New York and met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

She said he joked that he was partially responsible for her win. Had he stepped aside, Christine Quinn, the lesbian who heads New York’s city council, would have probably made a bid for office.

“All the gay money across the country would have flown to New York,” she said.

Actually, most of Parker’s donations were local, and while she didn’t have the most money for her campaign, she had a greater number of donations than her six opponents combined.

Parker seems to be settling into her new position.

She strengthened the city’s non-discrimination policies by executive order. Her revisions included gender identity and expression and extended protection to all city-run facilities.

Partner benefits for city employees can only be granted by popular vote in that city. She said she expects that the LGBT community will soon begin collecting signatures to bring that proposition to a vote and said she would like to be able to include Hubbard on her insurance.

Parker said that in effect she is making less than Bill White did as mayor because she has to pay for Hubbard’s health insurance.

With 2.2 million constituents, Parker said she couldn’t be just the gay mayor, but she would continue to use her position to advance LGBT rights when possible. She helps raise money and speaks for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund around the country and said their training was extremely helpful.

And Parker said Houston has benefited from being the largest city in the world with a lesbian mayor. Her recent trade mission to China is an example.

Earlier in the year, Parker was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful people in the world. She said she never would have made the list had she been “just another white guy.” One of China’s top trade officials was also on the list.

In August, Parker led a trade delegation to China. The Chinese trade official, she said, probably met with her because both were on the list and because of the curiosity factor. Men hold most government positions in China, she said, not out lesbians.

She said that while that was how her being a lesbian has benefited Houston, she can also use her position as a bully pulpit.

She may make a return trip to China where Houston and Moscow are competing to bring a convention to their cities. She said she hopes the mayor of Moscow is there and that Houston wins the convention over his city.

Parker said she plans on calling the Moscow mayor out on his terrible treatment of gays and lesbians. Among other things, he has canceled permits for Pride parades in the city and last weekend had his city’s best-known gay activist arrested.

With the November election approaching, Parker said she is remaining officially neutral in the state’s races.

“To represent my city I have to get along with everyone,” she said.

As mayor of the state’s largest city, Parker said she’s had more contact lately with Gov. Rick Perry than former Houston mayor Bill White.

“But I am absolutely livid that Rick Perry has an attack ad on Bill White that features me,” she said. “I don’t want to be used as a wedge in that campaign.”

Parker said that Perry used a quote of something she said while controller. She said it was not out of context and might have even been impolitic to say at the time. But she described her relationship with White as a good working relationship despite a disagreement on a particular issue at one time during their three terms in office together.

Parker maintains a high popularity rating in Houston and said she thinks her city is getting used to their new high-profile mayor. Among the reasons, she said, is that she is the only mayor of a major American city who hasn’t had to lay off any workers.

Parker did admit just one area where Dallas beats Houston — light rail. However, she said the two cities are working together to get a high-speed rail link built between them.

In January, Parker and Hubbard will celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Parker said one thing Hubbard did not share with her was the parenting gene. It took several years before she convinced Hubbard they should be parents.

They have raised three children together. Their foster son was an openly gay teen who they took in at age 16. Later, they adopted their two daughters at ages 12 and 7. Their younger daughter is 15 now and still at home. Her son, who is now 34, rode in the car in the parade with her.

Houston’s mayors serve two-year terms so Parker will be running for re-election next year.

—  Kevin Thomas

True political courage: Argentina’s president speaks out in support of gay marriage

Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies voted back in May to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, and right now we are waiting on word of how the country’s Senate voted on the measure. That vote is supposed to happen sometime today.

Although polls show that about 70 percent of Argentinians support gay marriage, debate over the issue has been heated, with the Roman Catholic Church there doing its best to defeat the gay marriage bill. In fact, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, on Sunday called the effort to legalize gay marriage it a “destructive attack on God’s plan” (from a report in The Times of India).

But if the measure passes the Senate, Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has already said she will sign it into law. And on Monday, the president made statements that put her head and shoulders above any other national leader when it comes to public support for same-sex marriage. Watch this video and see what true political courage looks like.

—  admin