Saturday, December 28, 2013

Russian Opera Star And MP Maria Maksakova Warns Of Dire Consequences If Gay Propaganda Law Not Revised, Life In Russia Under Draconian Gay Propaganda Law, Moscow Cultural Department Cancels Screening Of Pussy Riot Documentary, Paris Tennessee Resident Joe Williams Charged With Filing False Report In Connection To Anti-Gay Hate Crime He Claimed To Be Victim Of, Inmate Claims Kansas Department Of Corrections Discriminating Against Him By Not Allowing His Husband Conjugal Visits While Husband Says He Is Seeking To Dissolve Marriage, Republican Lawmakers Prepared To Spend Millions Defending Utah’s Same Sex Marriage Ban

In Russia, opera diva Maria Maksakova, an MP for the ruling United Russia party, says the controversial ban on propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, dubbed the “anti-gay” law in the West, must be revised as it damages the investment climate. “It is sad to realize that the Olympic Games in Sochi, to which we have been preparing for so long and anxiously, may pass with less brilliance than we expected because of this unfortunate initiative, which, I believe, was passed by the [parliament] without a thoughtful discussion and in the wake of not very well-founded ideological clichés," Maksakova said. The somewhat surprising comment was made at a meeting of the liberal wing of the United Russia party. (The existence of such a wing at the ruling party came as a surprise for many as well.) According to Maksakova, the law – which was passed last summer - is seriously damaging the investment climate for Russia, which is very important. Maksakova specifically drew attention to the negative impact of this initiative on Russian artists working in the West, who are now facing “discrimination” because of the so-called “anti-gay” law. A mezzo soprano soloist with St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, she said her colleagues “are being kicked out from plays and orchestras” in Europe. The widely-criticized law bans propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among the minors. However, Maksakova pointed out, no one hears that it is only aimed at protecting children, “everyone reads only the first line” of the law and is not interested in “what exactly we meant.” Speaking to her party colleagues, the famous opera singer said she was unhappy about the “rhetoric” used in the law and particularly that "strange word non-traditional” sexual orientation. “If we look back at our historic origins, for instance Byzantium, which got the major part of its culture from Ancient Greece, there might be doubts whether this term can be used in the law at all,” Maksakova said. The 36-year-old MP, a mother of two children, believes that it is necessary to ban any kind of sexual propaganda among minors. “It does not matter, traditionally or non-traditionally, my child is being tempted,” she stated. Any kind of harmful information of a sexual nature is unacceptable for children, the MP added. Rounding up her speech, the video of which is available on the internet, Maksakova suggested removing the word “non-traditional” from the law, which would give a broader interpretation of the propaganda of sexual relations among minors. Later, in a comment to Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper, the lawmaker added that law enforcement practice is the main criteria to see whether a law was successful and justified or not. “And in [the case with the anti-gay propaganda law] we see extremely negative consequences – rise in crime and violence against representatives of sexual minorities,” Maksakova observed. Meanwhile, the author of the law, St Petersburg municipal deputy Vitaly Milonov hit back saying he is “totally opposed” to the singer’s proposal. In his words, Maksakova is an artistic person coming from the world where “perverts” are not uncommon.

Meanwhile, an opinions piece in the New York Times examines life under the recently-passed Russian law banning the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations, Mark Gevisser writing that, "There are many reasons for Russia’s dramatic tilt toward homophobia. The country has always sought to define itself against the West. Now the Kremlin and the nationalist far right are finding common ground in their view of homosexuality as a sign of encroaching decadence in a globalized era. Many Russians feel they can steady themselves against this cultural tsunami by laying claim to “traditional values,” of which rejection of homosexuality is the easiest shorthand. This message plays particularly well for a government wishing to mobilize against demographic decline (childless homosexuals are evil) and cozy up to the Russian Orthodox Church (homosexuals with children are evil). Yet one often ignored cause for this homophobic surge is perhaps the most obvious: backlash. Whatever else it is, Russian homophobia is a direct, even violent, reaction to the space created by a minority that has only come into the open over the last decade."

Just days after the release of two band members from Russian prisons, the political activists known collectively as Pussy Riot continue to make headlines and spark controversy. A screening of a documentary on the group, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, had been scheduled for Sunday in Moscow with the newly-freed Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolonnikova in attendance. As reported by Buzzfeed, that screening has been canceled by the order of the head of Moscow's cultural department. Directed by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, the documentary premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival, received a small theatrical release before airing on HBO and has made the short list of 15 films still vying for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The canceled screening was said to be the third thwarted attempt to publicly screen the film in Russia. Since being released Monday, Alyokhina, 25, and Tolokonnikova, 24, announced that Pussy Riot would no longer perform as a musical group and would focus their efforts toward reforming the Russian penal system and exposing human rights abuses. "The scariest thing about Putin's Russia is the impossibility to speak and be heard," Tolokonnikova said during a news conference this week in Moscow, the AP reported. "We still want to do what we said in our last performance for which we spent two years in prison: drive him away." In a message on Twitter dated December 28 and translated by Buzzfeed, Tolokonnikova said, "They let us out, but won't let us show a film about Pussy Riot. That's the Russian Government."

In Tennessee, a man who told police he had been robbed and beaten at a Paris health food store a few days before Thanksgiving was arrested after he allegedly withheld information about the incident and has now been charged with filing a false report, that according to the Post-Intelligencer. Joe Williams, 32, of 803 E. Wood St. was arrested Friday afternoon after turning himself in at the Henry County jail. Williams originally told officers he had been beaten and robbed November 20 at Healthy Thyme, which is at the same address as Williams’ home. There was also a fire, and Williams had a homosexual slur written on his forehead. Officers later found inconsistencies in Williams’ story. Paris Police Sgt. Ricky Watson said Williams failed to bring up certain facts known to investigators on three different occasions. “He was given three opportunities to disclose that information, and he chose not to,” Watson said. That leaves investigators trying to determine how much of Williams’ story might have been true. “We’ve not been able to verify or dispel any of the statements made about the actual robbery or fire,” Watson said. “We’re looking into Mister Williams, and we’re looking into whether it did or did not happen.” Williams posted a $5,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear January 7 in Henry County General Sessions Court.

A Kansas inmate says the Kansas Department of Corrections is discriminating against him by not allowing visits by the man he married in Iowa, but the inmate's husband says he isn’t interested in visiting. Christopher Yates, 34, is serving seven years at Norton Correctional Facility for crimes related to embezzlement. He sent a letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal in October saying the corrections department's refusal to allow visits from his husband, Steve, was a departure from what it allows for heterosexual couples. A corrections official said the decision was made by the Norton warden and was based on the fact that Christopher Yates' husband was a co-defendant in some of his crimes. Steve Yates, reached by phone last week, said he hasn’t had contact with his husband since August and has no desire to do so. He said cutting ties is the best way to separate himself from his husband's criminal past and he has a promising new job that he doesn’t want to jeopardize. "It's just better that I not have contact with Christopher," Steve Yates said. "Things are moving ahead smoothly for me." Steve Yates said he plans to sever his marriage to Christopher Yates, perhaps through an annulment, in 2014. Christopher Yates seemed to hint in his letter that he was expecting such action, writing that the separation from Steve Yates was taking a toll "not only on my mental and emotional well-being, but (on) my already fragile marriage." His letter also noted that Fred Phelps Jr., of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, is a corrections department attorney. Corrections department spokesman Jeremy Barclay said at the time that the Yates' sexual orientation had no bearing on the decision to deny visitation. Rather, it was based on Steve Yates being an accessory to some of his husband's crimes, though Barclay acknowledged the department doesn’t have a formal policy barring all visitors of that nature. Ken Upton, senior staff attorney for a national gay-rights nonprofit group called Lambda Legal, said wardens have broad discretion over visitation and other prison policies, giving Yates little legal recourse to pursue his complaint. But Upton said the situation could provide a groundbreaking case study for a country increasingly split among states that recognize gay marriage and those that don't. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., currently allow same sex marriage. Kansas doesn’t. It is one of 35 states that defines marriage as between one man and one woman either statutorily or constitutionally. Christopher Yates, in a second letter to the Capital-Journal dated November 5, said he would like to meet with representatives of gay-rights advocacy groups to discuss his husband's visitation rights. Steve Yates said he hopes having the issue out in the open benefits other gay couples, but he isn’t planning to participate in any such discussions. "I'm doing a complete rebuild of my life," Steve Yates said. "I need to make a clean break."

The price tag for hiring outside counsel to defend Utah's voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage is expected to be close to $2 million, money that key GOP lawmakers are willing to spend. "We need the best we can get," House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R-Provo) said after a House GOP leadership meeting Friday with newly named Attorney General Sean Reyes. "He's coming into this, frankly, in the middle." Reyes laid out his case for bringing in help to seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court of last Friday's ruling striking down Amendment 3, a decision resulting in same sex marriage being allowed in Utah. He has said he also intends to use the outside counsel to bolster the state's appeal of U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby's ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly to the Supreme Court. After hearing Reyes' strategy and the projected cost, Lockhart said the House Republican majority leadership "felt comfortable telling him, 'Move forward with what you think is in the best interest of the state.'" Reyes, tapped Monday by Gov. Gary Herbert to replace former Attorney General John Swallow who continues to be investigated for influence peddling, is set to be sworn into office at 2:00 pm Monday in the state capitol rotunda. The acting spokesperson for the attorney general's office, Ryan Bruckman, said Friday that negotiations with the lawyers being hired were still underway and no details were available, including their names. Lockhart said she is hearing from other lawmakers that their constituents are willing to fight for Amendment 3 in court, even if that means coming up with more cash. "To go through the court process on an issue that, on a 2-to-1 vote the people of our state felt was important to have in our constitution, I think is of value," the speaker said. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (R-Sandy) said he has yet to talk with Reyes about hiring outside counsel but would likely be willing to appropriate the funds in the coming legislative session. "This is a big deal for the Legislature and for Utah," Niederhauser said. "We want the details, but my guess is that our body, the Senate Majority Caucus, is going to be very supportive of that idea." Sen. John Valentine (R-Orem) who considered running for attorney general after Swallow announced his resignation last month, said there is a need for outside counsel. "We should be paying for the best and the brightest," Valentine said. "This is a case that is not only a historic precedent, but it's one that really goes to the core of what states' rights is all about." Valentine said while bringing in outside counsel is expensive, members of the legislature "generally are going to be concerned about the precedental nature of this case and the need for Utah to put it's best foot forward." Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake City) however, said there's no need to hire outside counsel. "I think it's a ridiculous way to go. I don't think we're going to win," Davis said. "I believe we have appropriated the money for the attorney general's office for good attorneys to be able to argue any issue." Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero said the conservative think tank has already called for the attorney general to appoint outside counsel on the Amendment 3 case. "We've been very disappointed with counsel in the A.G.'s office to date," Mero said. "And we think given that Sean is new in that seat, that outside counsel would make sense." Mero said the Sutherland Institute is even willing to pick up the bill for outside counsel on the case, depending on both the law firm and the strategy Reyes chooses. He declined to be more specific, but he said the money could be easily raised "all contingent on having the counsel do it our way and actually having competent attorneys." Mero said, so far, the attorney general's office doesn't seem to "know how to defend marriage and family. … We just want to win. I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is." Accepting such an offer could be problematic for the state. "We wouldn't be turning over control to another entity," Niederhauser said. The Human Rights Campaign, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, criticized the move to hire outside counsel in a statement. "Defending discrimination while expending millions of taxpayer dollars to do it is beyond explanation," the HRC said. "It should be an affront to all Utahns that their hard-earned tax dollars — dollars that should be going into schools, roads or health programs — will instead be used to be on the wrong side of history."

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