In Illinois, a day after Speaker Michael Madigan pronounced the same sex marriage bill 12 votes short, a group pushing the issue tried to recapture momentum by announcing support from seven Illinois Democratic congressmen, even though they don’t get to vote in Springfield. The letter, written to members of the Illinois General Assembly by North Side and west suburban U.S. Representative Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat, was the latest move by same sex marriage supporters to try to step up pressure for a vote on the bill. But it is debateable whether the letter will advance the votes needed for passage in the Illinois House, where the Senate-passed measure sits. A day earlier, Speaker Madigan, who also chairs the state Democratic Party, said the measure was a dozen votes shy of the 60 needed to send it to a supportive Governor Pat Quinn. While Quigley has had a long history of supporting equal rights for gays and lesbians, the letter represents an unusual move by federal officeholders to delve into state policies. In the letter, Quigley noted, “For some time now, people have been talking about the problems we face in Illinois, but it is time that we start celebrating what Illinois is doing right.” Among the problems that Illinois faces is a serious financial crunch with a state income-tax increase set largely to expire in 2015. A Quigley spokeswoman said she did not know if the congressman had a position on whether the tax increase should be allowed to lapse. The congressional letter came from seven of the state’s 11 Democrats in the 18-member delegation in Washington. The seven included three newly elected suburban Democrats — U.S. Representatives Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster — as well as veteran U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis and Luis Gutierrez. Not signing the letter were Democratic U.S. Representatives Bobby Rush, Dan Lipinski and Downstate newcomers Cheri Bustos and Bill Enyart. Quigley aides said they would look into finding out whether the letter was prompted by support groups and to whom it was circulated.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Senator Frank Ciccone, one of the leading same sex marriage opponents in the Senate, introduced a bill Wednesday that would potentially allow same-gender couples in Rhode Island to marry, but exempt priests, rabbis, fraternal societies (and "any small business") from having to officiate or provide services. Ciccone's bill calls for a statewide vote on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would say: "Marriage is the legally-recognized union of two people. The right of the people to marry shall not be denied on the basis of the gender of the parties.'' If passed, the proposed Constitutional amendment would also recognize same sex marriages conducted in other states. But it also contains legal protections for a long list of people who do not choose to officiate or provide "services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges'' for a marriage ceremony that "violates the institution or business owner's "religious beliefs.'' Ciccone said the bill evolved out of conversations with Senate leadership and others. There has been no clear statement yet from Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed on whether she supports the bill. But with the House and Senate at a standoff over the House-passed gay marriage bill championed by House Speaker Gordon Fox, Ciccone said he hoped his bill "would put an end to the question of gay marriage,” adding, "The two chambers have devoted enough time and effort on gay marriage. There are bigger things and more worries in the state right now that my constituents have been complaining about.'' In reaction, Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, said Wednesday, "Fundamental human rights, including the freedom to marry the person we love, don't belong on the ballot and should not be subjected to a vote of the majority."
In Massachusetts, the gay rights organization MassEquality is angry over its exclusion from the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade. “In the priorities and needs facing the LGBTQ community, inclusion in the parade is not the top priority,” said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini. “But the significance of being excluded from such a big historical, cultural institution is emblematic of the rejection LGBT people face every day.” There is long-standing tension between the organizers of the March 17 parade, which is sponsored by the Allied War Veterans Council, and gay rights groups. In 1995, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council and the Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston fought in a case that went up to the U.S. Supreme Court over the right of the veterans’ group to exclude gay rights organizations from marching in the parade. The court held in that case that the parade organizers have a right to decide who marches in the parade. Last year, the State House News Service reported, parade organizers cited the 1995 court case in excluding MassEquality and another gay, lesbian and transgender group, Join the Impact, from the parade. This year, MassEquality received an e-mail from parade organizers on Tuesday telling them that the parade was full. Suffredini said the explanation seems disingenuous. “Organizers of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade have barred LGBTQ people and groups from marching in the Parade for 18 years simply because they are openly LGBTQ,” she said. “After years of rejecting MassEquality, in particular, because it is an LGBTQ organization, it seems disingenuous to now ban the organization because the Parade is allegedly ‘full’.” Parade organizer Philip Wuschke told MassLive.com that MassEquality was turned away because the parade was full. The parade already has 140 units, and others were turned away as well. “They applied way too late,” he said.
Billionaire Bill Gates thinks it’s time for the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on gay leaders and members. The philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder gave his opinion Wednesday night during the inaugural installment of Politico’s new interview series, Playbook Cocktails, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. When the ex-Boy Scout was asked if he believed the organization should move forward with lifting the ban on gay members, he said it “absolutely” should. Politico’s D.C. bureau chief, Mike Allen, quickly asked why. “Because it’s 2013,” Gates said, prompting the crowd to erupt in a round of thunderous applause.
British actor Stephen Fry on Thursday clashed with the Russian politician behind a controversial law in the second city of Saint Petersburg that activists see as violating the rights of gays. Fry, who is openly gay, met city lawmaker Vitaly Milonov while filming a BBC documentary titled Out There about being gay around the world, he wrote on Twitter. Best known for playing valet Jeeves in the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooster, Fry is hugely popular in Russia and his meeting with Milonov prompted a heated discussion. Milonov, of ruling United Russia party, was the sole author of a law passed by the Saint Petersburg parliament making it illegal to carry out "propaganda of homosexuality" among minors. The loosely worded law can be used to ban any Gay Pride event and equates homosexuality with paedophilia, critics say. It sets a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,200) as punishment. Milonov has become a hate figure to some rights activists but the Russian parliament is considering making the measure federal law, in line with Saint Petersburg and several other regions. During the interview, which lasted more than an hour, Fry wrote on Twitter that "Milonov and I (are) going at it hammer and tongs." Milonov "doesn?t seem to believe there are teenagers bullied and tormented for being gay, he thinks they make it up and indoctrinate to minors," he said. He finally called the interview "all very sad." Afterward, he told TV Rain channel in comments dubbed into Russian, "A lot of politicians say that homosexuality has a bad influence on citizens' patriotic feelings. Listen, that's just ridiculous!" But Milonov told AFP afterwards that Fry was unwilling to see his point of view. "Fry is making a film about gays and according to the rules of the genre, he needed an opinion opposing his. But in reality he was not at all interested in it," he said. "For him, we who support the law against promotion of homosexuality are just crazy savages. This law and our attitude to homosexuality is our internal affair. It's our own choice. We don't want to see our civilisation die.” Yet in televised comments, Milonov, 39, who has ginger hair and a beard, praised Fry as "a very talented, very remarkable person -- even if I look more like an Englishman than he does." Milonov also said he had promised to pray for Fry's family and told Kommersant FM radio station that "I saw a deep tragedy in his eyes: he is forced to blaspheme against God and that is a very grave sin." Photographs of Fry and Milonov shaking hands infuriated one of Russia's most prominent gay rights activists, Nikolai Alexeyev, who has organised a series of gay parades that were roughly broken up in Moscow. "It's not clear why the hell he is giving him more publicity. Fry will fly out and the homophobia will remain," he wrote on Twitter. Wearing a tweed overcoat and a furry hat with earflaps, Fry, 55, told journalists that Russians needed to take a more humorous view of President Vladimir Putin, remarking on his likeness to the Dobby the House Elf character in the "Harry Potter" series. Some jokingly compared Fry to France's Gerard Depardieu, whom the Russian authorities have showered with citizenship and the keys to two apartments after he sought to become a tax exile. "For homosexual propaganda in Saint Petersburg, all that comedian Stephen Fry will get is some warm clothes and a registered address in Magadan," wrote Mid Roissi on Twitter, referring to a harsh prison camp zone. A survey published this week by Levada independent polling centre found that 67 percent of Russians supported a ban on propaganda of homosexuality. Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 and officially removed it from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1999. But homophobia remains widespread and socially acceptable and almost no public figures have come out as gay.