Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Same Sex Couples Celebrate New Year In Maryland With Marriage Ceremonies, Rhode Island Same Sex Marriage Bill Will Be Introduced Thursday, Chicago Cardinal Francis George Calls On Parishioners To Contact Illinois Legislators To Voice Opposition To Same Sex Marriage, Puerto Rico Finally Introduces New Protocol For Processing And Sentencing Hate Crimes, Finn Jones Covers Gay Times, Harry Styles’ New Year’s Eve Adventures

The road to same sex marriages in Maryland made its way through lawmakers in Annapolis, past a divisive statewide referendum in November, and, early on New Year’s Day, to a small inn down a windy spit of land in the Chesapeake Bay, where Ruth Siegel wept as she wed Nina Nethery. Siegel, a retired graphic artist, and Nethery, a systems analyst, wore matching white suits with sheer white blouses. In the hours before the ceremony, which began at 12:02 am Tuesday, they wore custom baseball caps. “Bride One,” read Siegel’s. “Bride Two,” read Nethery’s. The pair from Silver Spring was part of the first wave of marriages in the state, which also included early morning wedding celebrations at Baltimore’s City Hall. Until Election Day November 6, voters around the country had rejected gay marriage more than 30 times. But Maryland joined Maine in breaking that streak. “Nina and Ruth, we have heard you promise to share your lives in marriage,” said Jen Russell, who works for the Department of Defense and struggled to officiate without choking up herself. “By the powers vested in me by the state of Maryland, I declare you legally married!” According to the Washington Post, in the hours that followed, the couple donned hand-decorated “Just Married” hats while they sliced an intricate rainbow-colored layer cake and quietly slow danced and sang to one another. In their 15 years together, Siegel and Nethery have had three previous commitment ceremonies. But this felt different. “I didn’t think I was going to make it through that one,” said Siegel, 64. “This is better than I even imagined it could be,” said Nethery, 59. The victory for gay marriage advocates in Maryland was a narrow one, with 52-percent supporting allowing gay and lesbian couples to obtain civil marriage licenses and 48-percent opposing it. But narrow was more than good enough for Ogden White, a retired Presbyterian minister and Nethery’s brother in law, who saw a hard-earned win for civil rights. “I think of Martin Luther King talking about being a headlight rather than a taillight,” White said. The referendum passed with strong margins in places like Montgomery County and Baltimore, but failed in communities including Prince George’s and Talbot, the eastern shore county where Siegel and Nethery joined a handful of other gay and lesbian couples for New Year’s Day weddings at the Black Walnut Point Inn. Proprietors Bob Zuber and Tracy Staples were also wed, then helped run the show for others, setting an exuberant — at times exultant — tone. “With the power vested in me by the courageous people of the great state of Maryland, I pronounce you — two men — legally married! You may kiss your husband,” Staples declared, as Dwayne D. Beebe and Jonathan Franqui stood in black-and-white Converse sneakers, jeans, and tuxedo vests — and joyously complied. Beebe, a naval officer, moved to Florida from Rockville a couple years ago, and he and Franqui are planning a large wedding with family and friends there in March (including flowers arranged by Franqui’s mom and a rainbow of solid-colored bridesmaid’s dresses.) But gay marriage is not legal in Florida, and the couple was eager to give their wedding day in Pensacola a foundation from the Free State. “We wanted the ceremony on March 30 to be not just two guys saying, ‘I do.’ We wanted it to be a legal marriage,” Beebe said. Beebe’s 17-year-old daughter, Courtney, held a candle for them Tuesday. Beebe’s mother had the rings. Watching them, Courtney said, “gives me some hope that one day I will find someone I love as much as you guys love each other.”

As expected, the Providence Journal reports legislation allowing gay couples to marry in Rhode Island will be introduced on Thursday, the bill's longtime sponsor, state Representative Arthur Handy, said Tuesday, the opening day of the 2013 General Assembly session. Handy, a Cranston Democrat, said the bill is already drafted, but that he needs Wednesday's second legislative day to gather signatures from co-sponsors, who will include openly gay House Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Providence). A key point of debate will be how the bill addresses concerns from religious groups. Handy has said that the legislation will include, as it has in past versions, language granting religious groups protections, if they object to same sex unions as a matter of their religious beliefs. Citing the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, a 2011 version of Handy's same sex marriage bill stated that every religious institution has "exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, policy, and teachings regarding who may marry within their faith, and on what terms." It declared that "no court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission shall compel, prevent, or interfere in any way with any religious institution's decisions about marriage eligibility within that particular faith's tradition." And it stated that "ordained clergy, ministers or elders [...] shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage."

In Illinois, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George officially entered the political fray Tuesday, issuing a pastoral letter that urges parishioners to contact state legislators and voice opposition to same sex marriage, reports the Chicago Tribune. "Civil laws that establish 'same sex marriage' create a legal fiction," George wrote in a letter sent to priests today. "The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible." State Senator Heather Steans and state Representative Greg Harris, both Democrats from Chicago, could introduce the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act to legalize same-sex marriage as early as this week. Steans has said she and Harris will not put the legislation up for a vote unless they believe it will pass the current General Assembly. A new set of lawmakers will be sworn in January 9. While traditional marriage advocates have cited Scripture as the basis of their objections to civil unions and gay marriage, Roman Catholic leaders have been highlighting their belief that same sex relationships violate natural law. According to the tradition of natural law, every human being must seek a fundamental "good" that corresponds to the natural order to flourish. Natural-law proponents say heterosexual intercourse between a married man and a woman serves two intertwined good purposes: to procreate and to express a deep, abiding love. In his letter, George reminds parishioners that despite objections to gay marriage, they should not alienate members of the gay community, especially relatives. "Good pastoral practice encourages families to accept all their children and not break relationships with them," George wrote. It is up to individual priests to publish the letter in their parish bulletins this weekend.

At least 18 members of Puerto Rico's LGBT community were murdered in 2010 and 2011 alone. But to the frustration of many gay rights activists, no killings or assaults targeting members of the LGBT community have ever been classified as hate crimes, according to Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. But things could change. Last Thursday, Puerto Rico's Secretary of Justice Guillermo Somoza, in the last press conference of his term, announced that new protocol for the processing and sentencing of hate crimes would be put in place, the Puerto Rican newspaper Primera Hora reported. Although Somoza did not offer detailed plans, he did note that the new initiative is partially a product of meetings with LGBT groups in recent years. The protocol will reportedly guide authorities and prosecutors in determining whether or not a particular incident meets the requirements to be investigated as a hate crime, and provide law enforcement agents with clear steps to take when identifying evidence. Serrano calls the new guidelines "too little, too late." "We've been trying to get this protocol in place for over three years and finally, in the last month of their tenure, they finally unveil it," Serrano said, referring to administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño, who lost a re-election bid to Alejandro García Padilla in November. Last year, the Justice Department issued a report condemning Puerto Rico for its rampant police corruption. Among the stated grievances, the report found that law enforcement needed "to improve its handling and investigation of hate crimes, particularly crimes against individuals in the LGBT community." Legislatively, things moved in the opposite direction: In the same year, the commonwealth's legislature considered stripping protections for LGBT individuals from hate crime law that had been in place since 2002. The action was condemned by a number of prominent members of the Puerto Rican community, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) and singer Ricky Martin. "They ought to do their homework and review a little the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...which says that everyone -- the citizens -- are equal before the law and have, without distinction, the right to equal protection under the law," Martin posted on his website last year. Critics of the measure, which did not pass, say that anti-gay sentiments are commonplace on the island and that the lack of protections for the LGBT community only reinforces such discrimination. Francheska Gonzalez, a transsexual who reportedly suffered broken vertebrae and a ruptured right breast implant during a beating in April 2011, told UPI last year that the legislative move was part of a growing segment of Puerto Ricans that promote hatred towards the gay community. "A lot of church people are not teaching peace and to love thy neighbor," Gonzalez said. "They are teaching to hate gays." While the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Serrano is frustrated with how long it took for the hate crime protocol to be instated, he called it "a step in the right direction." In an e-mail, Serrano wrote, "We look forward to working with the new administration to make sure that hate crimes are investigated and prosecuted as such." The Governor-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla has vowed to work to combat anti-LGBT violence in his coming term. In a speech he gave to the LGBT community before the election, Padilla insisted that he'd help fight such injustices on the island. He even closed by echoing a famous line from Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States. "My name is Alejandro Garcia Padilla," he said in Spanish, "And I'm here to recruit you."

Game of Thrones hotness Finn Jones graces the cover of the February issue of Gay Times, the former Doctor Who actor smouldering.

Harry Styles had quite the New Year’s Eve, the One Direction sexiness spotted out and about in New York City, including a visit to Times Square, where he took in Taylor Swift’s performance, before the two shared a midnight kiss.

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