UK gays start registering relationships under new Civil Partnership Act
Same-sex couples started tying the knot under the United Kingdom’s new Civil Partnership Act on Dec. 19.
The act grants registered couples all the rights and obligations of marriage.
“This landmark measure ends the situation where same-sex relationships were invisible in the eyes of the law, denied any recognition of their commitment,” said Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The act gives gay and lesbian couples who register their relationship the same safeguards over inheritance, insurance and employment and pension benefits as married couples. “No longer will same-sex couples who have decided to share their lives fear they will be denied a say over the partner’s medical treatment or find themselves denied a home if their partner dies,” Blair added.
Grainne Close and Shannon Sickels were the first couple to officially obtain partnership status as regular registrations began. A couple with one partner who was gravely ill were allowed to proceed before the Act’s official start date.
Close and Sickels, who is American, said vows at City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as fundamentalist Christians and gay-rights supporters yelled at each other outside.
“This is about making a choice to have our civil rights acknowledged and respected and protected, and we could not be here without the hard work of many queer activists and many individuals from the queer community,” Sickels told reporters.
The ceremonies began in Scotland the next day and in England and Wales the day after that. Sir Elton John, 58, and longtime partner David Furnish, 43, were among the first to tie the knot. Their ceremony in the royal town of Windsor, was at the town hall where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles got married.
Furnish’s father, Jack, called it “one of the happiest days of my life.” His mother, Gladys, said, “I’m very proud.”
A star-studded reception costing more than $1.7 million followed the ceremony.
John and Furnish made no remarks as they exited the hall.
Nearly 700 other same-sex couples registered Dec. 21.
Same-sex couples have access to marriage in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and Massachusetts. South Africa’s highest court recently legalized same-sex marriage but gave legislators one year to make the necessary legal adjustments.
Partnership or civil-union laws that grant registered same-sex couples some, most or all rights and obligations of marriage are in force in Andorra, the Australian state of Tasmania, the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Vermont.
Czech Chamber of Deputies passes same-sex partnership registry bill
The Czech Republic’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, voted 86 to 54 in favor of a same-sex registered-partnership law Dec. 16.
Seven deputies abstained and 53 were not present for the vote.
The measure now moves to the Senate. If it passes there, it would advance to President Vaclav Klaus, whose signature would be required.
If the Senate rejects the bill, the deputies could override the Senate with an a majority of 101 votes in the 200-member chamber.
The legislation was favored by Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek’s Social Democrats and many Communists but opposed by the Christian Democrats, who are part of the three-party governing coalition.
Latvia adds constitutional measure to strengthen same-sex marriage ban
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga signed legislation amending the nation’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage Dec. 21.
The measure passed Parliament 65 to 6 with 9 abstentions on Dec. 15.
Latvia already had a law prohibiting gays from marrying but conservative politicians feared it might not stand up to challenges from the European Union.
The European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association denounced the amendment.
“As an EU member state, Latvia is acting contradictory to and disrespectfully to the principles of equality and non-discrimination agreed and confirmed by various EU treaties,” said the group’s executive director, Patricia Prendiville. “Not only has Latvia now a discriminatory constitutional provision motivated solely by homophobia, but Latvia is still the only EU member state which did not ban sexual orientation discrimination in employment as required by the EU employment equality directive.”
Polish court rules mayor violated law by banning gay pride parade
An administrative court in Poznan, Poland, ruled Dec. 14 that Poznan Mayor Ryszard Grobelny’s ban of November’s gay pride parade violated Polish and European law.
Grobelny had cited “security concerns” in blocking the march.
Local media reports did not say what penalty Grobelny might face for the infraction.
A few hundred people marched. They were harassed by members of the group All Polish Youth, who shouted “Let’s gas the fags” and “We’ll do to you what Hitler did with Jews.”
Police intervened near the end of the march, roughed up several marchers, and arrested and interrogated more than 65, who were later released.
Tel Aviv approves spending $900,000 for gay and lesbian community center
The city of Tel Aviv has approved spending $900,000 to establish an official gay and lesbian community center.
The initial outlay will be used to renovate a building to house the center.
The city also committed to spending $67,000 a year to fund the facility. The funding is structured so that future city administrations cannot cancel it.
The project was spearheaded by City Councilor Itai Pinkas, who told Ynetnews: “By building this center, Tel Aviv joins an honorable club of advanced cities like New York, Los Angeles and Paris. I thank the mayor, who was a full partner in the initiative and understood the community’s needs. … This municipal building is designated to serve as the place where the community members will find the core of their lives.”
The center will offer exhibitions, cultural events, concerts, workshops, classes, health services, HIV support groups, youth groups, legal aid, social services, a library, a kindergarten and other programs.
Chinese police close 1st Beijing gay cultural festival, cite permit
Police shut down the first Beijing Gay and Lesbian Culture Festival as it opened Dec. 16, saying organizers had failed to secure permission to hold the events.
The festival initially was scheduled for the Factory 798 arts complex in the Dashanzi area of Beijing. But on Dec. 14, the Public Security Bureau banned the organizers from that site. The organizing committee, some of whose members reported police surveillance, then moved the festival to the private On/Off bar, which police raided as the festival kicked off.
The officers reportedly ripped down signs and decorations, videotaped attendees and closed the bar for a week.
The festival was to feature three days of exhibitions, seminars, plays and movies.
Canada’s Supreme Court rules sex
clubs operate within decency laws
Two Montreal clubs that cater to group sex do not breach standards of decency, Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled.
Wednesday’s ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, said group sex among like-minded adults in private does not meet the test of indecency.
The decision might make it easier for “swinger” clubs or gay bath houses to operate without the threat of police intervention or arrest.
The ruling dealt with two Montreal cases in which swinger club operators were charged with keeping a bawdy house.
Canada’s criminal code defines a bawdy house as a location that is kept for prostitution or indecent acts.
James Kouri and Jean-Paul Labaye were both convicted, but the unsettled state of the law was demonstrated clearly when separate Court of Appeal rulings upheld Labaye’s conviction and overturned Kouri’s.
The high court threw out Labaye’s conviction and affirmed the Kouri decision.
“Entry to the club and participation in the activities were voluntary. No one was forced to do anything or watch anything. No one was paid for sex,” McLachlin wrote in reference to the Labaye case.
Belarus presidential campaign doubts authenticity of gay demonstration
Belarus’ state television network recently aired a report about gay support for presidential Alexander Milinkevich that his supporters claim was a ruse.
The report focused on a group of people who identified as gay arriving at the nation’s congress to profess their love for Milinkevich and to demand same-sex marriage rights. Gay marriage is unpopular in Belarus’ conservative society, a holdover from Soviet era days.
Milinkevich’s supporters claimed the demonstrators were provocateurs masquerading as gays, who staged the demonstration in order to embarass him.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of December 30, 2005.