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24 hours of New York marriage equality

Marriage equality has been in effect for over 24 hours in New York state, and hundreds of couples have already taken advantage

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On Sunday, New York state joined five other states and the district of Columbia in treating same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex couples in state civil marriage.

Despite several protests organized by groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Westboro Baptist Church, hundreds of couples married in the state of New York in the first 24 hours, 659 couples in New York City alone, according to the marriage equality advocacy group, On Top Magazine. The city had announced that they would allow 764 marriages to occur on Sunday after over 2600 same-sex couples had applied for marriage licences in advance of the July 24 start date. Many cities throughout the state had judges on hand to waive the 24 hour waiting period after applying for a licence to allow couples to marry immediately.

With these first marriages, New York becomes the most populous state to offer marriage equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  The bill was able to pass a Republican-controlled Senate thanks to the inclusion of very specific language in the legislation, carefully spelling out broad religious exemptions serving to ease the fears of religious institutions and organizations worried they could be sued or punished for refusing to recognize the marriages if the unions are not recognized by their particular institution. In most states, these exemptions are implied, but the additional care applied in the state Senate to defining these exemptions quelled the fears of some undecided lawmakers worried about fallout from religious groups. The bill passed the Senate June 24, 33-29 and was signed by the Governor just before midnight. Four Republicans supported the bill, and only one Democrat opposed.

Even some couples in the District, where same-sex marriage has been legal for over a year, plan to travel to wed in New York, where friends and family may be waiting to celebrate with them.

In locations throughout the state, same-sex couples vied for the title of “first” to be married in the state, exchanging vows at 12:01 a.m. in most cases.

Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, — who have been together for 23 years — were the first couple married in New York City at 9:02 a.m. in Manhattan. Phyllis exchanged vows with Connie, who was in a wheelchair during the ceremony, but stood to address reporters with the help of a walker.

“These are two independent people who are joining together because they can see and they can feel how much better their lives will be,” city clerk Michael McSweeney said as the couple exchanged vows. “We are grateful that they are allowing us to share this truly momentous ceremony with them.”

Meanwhile, Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd of Buffalo were the first couple married at Niagara Falls, and mayor Paul Dyster — who is looking to reclaim the city’s spot as world’s ‘Honeymoon Capital,’ according to an Associated Press report — officiated the ceremony that was timed to be completed one second after midnight. The couple exchanged vows on Luna Island with the American Horseshoe falls as a backdrop to their wedding. 46 couples were married Monday at the falls, as they were lit up in rainbow, giving new meaning to the city’s nickname, “The Rainbow City.”

In Albany, another 10 couples married just after the stroke of midnight, joining Kitty Lambert and Chereyle Rudd and others in the early morning celebrations across the state.

Though just in their early twenties, Dee Smith and Kate Wrede could not wait another day to marry. They were among the first same-sex couples in the state married in their middle of the night ceremony at the North Hempstead Town Hall in Manhasset.

According to the New York Post, the other first couples in New York City’s four other boroughs are Michael Faurey, 63, and Bobby Amagna, 65 in Brooklyn, after 20 years together, Greg Levine and Shane Serkiz were the first to marry in Queens, Carmen Hernandez and Doris DeArmas became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in the Bronx, and Bedelia Sanchez and Lavern Rivera — a New Jersey couple — were the first same-sex couple to legally marry on Staten Island.

On Sunday evening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg officiated the nuptials of two close advisers, his chief policy adviser, John Feinblatt, and his now-spouse, the city’s consumer affairs commissioner Jonathan Mintz, at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor of New York’s official residence.

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Federal Government

Lambda Legal praises Biden-Harris administration’s finalized Title IX regulations

New rules to take effect Aug. 1

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U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (Screen capture: AP/YouTube)

The Biden-Harris administration’s revised Title IX policy “protects LGBTQ+ students from discrimination and other abuse,” Lambda Legal said in a statement praising the U.S. Department of Education’s issuance of the final rule on Friday.

Slated to take effect on Aug. 1, the new regulations constitute an expansion of the 1972 Title IX civil rights law, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding.

Pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County case, the department’s revised policy clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity constitutes sex-based discrimination as defined under the law.

“These regulations make it crystal clear that everyone can access schools that are safe, welcoming and that respect their rights,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters on Thursday.

While the new rule does not provide guidance on whether schools must allow transgender students to play on sports teams corresponding with their gender identity to comply with Title IX, the question is addressed in a separate rule proposed by the agency in April.

The administration’s new policy also reverses some Trump-era Title IX rules governing how schools must respond to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which were widely seen as imbalanced in favor of the accused.

Jennifer Klein, the director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said during Thursday’s call that the department sought to strike a balance with respect to these issues, “reaffirming our longstanding commitment to fundamental fairness.”

“We applaud the Biden administration’s action to rescind the legally unsound, cruel, and dangerous sexual harassment and assault rule of the previous administration,” Lambda Legal Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project Director Sasha Buchert said in the group’s statement on Friday.

“Today’s rule instead appropriately underscores that Title IX’s civil rights protections clearly cover LGBTQ+ students, as well as survivors and pregnant and parenting students across race and gender identity,” she said. “Schools must be places where students can learn and thrive free of harassment, discrimination, and other abuse.”

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Michigan

Mich. Democrats spar over LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Lawmakers disagree on just what kind of statute to pass

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Members of the Michigan House Democrats gather to celebrate Pride month in 2023 in the Capitol building. (Photo courtesy of Michigan House Democrats)

Michigan could soon become the latest state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime law, but the state’s Democratic lawmakers disagree on just what kind of law they should pass.

Currently, Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act only offers limited protections to victims of crime motivated by their “race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.” Bills proposed by Democratic lawmakers expand the list to include “actual or perceived race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, age, national origin, or association or affiliation with any such individuals.” 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have both advocated for a hate crime law, but house and senate Democrats have each passed different hate crimes packages, and Nessel has blasted both as being too weak.

Under the house proposal that passed last year (House Bill 4474), a first offense would be punishable with a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison, or both. Penalties double for a second offense, and if a gun or other dangerous weapons is involved, the maximum penalty is six years in prison and a fine of $7,500. 

But that proposal stalled when it reached the senate, after far-right news outlets and Fox News reported misinformation that the bill only protected LGBTQ people and would make misgendering a trans person a crime. State Rep. Noah Arbit, the bill’s sponsor, was also made the subject of a recall effort, which ultimately failed.

Arbit submitted a new version of the bill (House Bill 5288) that added sections clarifying that misgendering a person, “intentionally or unintentionally” is not a hate crime, although the latest version (House Bill 5400) of the bill omits this language.

That bill has since stalled in a house committee, in part because the Democrats lost their house majority last November, when two Democratic representatives resigned after being elected mayors. The Democrats regained their house majority last night by winning two special elections.

Meanwhile, the senate passed a different package of hate crime bills sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (Senate Bill 600) in March that includes much lighter sentences, as well as a clause ensuring that misgendering a person is not a hate crime. 

Under the senate bill, if the first offense is only a threat, it would be a misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine. A subsequent offense or first violent hate crime, including stalking, would be a felony that attracts double the punishment.

Multiple calls and emails from the Washington Blade to both Arbit and Santana requesting comment on the bills for this story went unanswered.

The attorney general’s office sent a statement to the Blade supporting stronger hate crime legislation.

“As a career prosecutor, [Nessel] has seen firsthand how the state’s weak Ethnic Intimidation Act (not updated since the late 1980’s) does not allow for meaningful law enforcement and court intervention before threats become violent and deadly, nor does it consider significant bases for bias.  It is our hope that the legislature will pass robust, much-needed updates to this statute,” the statement says.

But Nessel, who has herself been the victim of racially motivated threats, has also blasted all of the bills presented by Democrats as not going far enough.

“Two years is nothing … Why not just give them a parking ticket?” Nessel told Bridge Michigan.

Nessel blames a bizarre alliance far-right and far-left forces that have doomed tougher laws.

“You have this confluence of forces on the far right … this insistence that the First Amendment protects this language, or that the Second Amendment protects the ability to possess firearms under almost any and all circumstances,” Nessel said. “But then you also have the far left that argues basically no one should go to jail or prison for any offense ever.”

The legislature did manage to pass an “institutional desecration” law last year that penalizes hate-motivated vandalism to churches, schools, museums, and community centers, and is LGBTQ-inclusive.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, reported hate crime incidents have been skyrocketing, with attacks motivated by sexual orientation surging by 70 percent from 2020 to 2022, the last year for which data is available. 

Twenty-two states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws. Another 11 states have hate crime laws that include protections for “sexual orientation” but not “gender identity.”

Michigan Democrats have advanced several key LGBTQ rights priorities since they took unified control of the legislature in 2023. A long-stalled comprehensive anti-discrimination law was passed last year, as did a conversion therapy ban. Last month the legislature updated family law to make surrogacy easier for all couples, including same-sex couples. 

A bill to ban the “gay panic” defense has passed the state house and was due for a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

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Indiana

Drag queen announces run for mayor of Ind. city

Branden Blaettne seeking Fort Wayne’s top office

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Branden Blaettner being interviewed by a local television station during last year’s Pride month. (WANE screenshot)

In a Facebook post Tuesday, a local drag personality announced he was running for the office of mayor once held by the late Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, who died last month just a few months into his fifth term.

Henry was recently diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer and experienced an emergency that landed him in hospice care. He died shortly after.

WPTA, a local television station, reported that Fort Wayne resident Branden Blaettne, whose drag name is Della Licious, confirmed he filed paperwork to be one of the candidates seeking to finish out the fifth term of the late mayor.

Blaettner, who is a community organizer, told WPTA he doesn’t want to “get Fort Wayne back on track,” but rather keep the momentum started by Henry going while giving a platform to the disenfranchised groups in the community. Blaettner said he doesn’t think his local fame as a drag queen will hold him back.

“It’s easy to have a platform when you wear platform heels,” Blaettner told WPTA. “The status quo has left a lot of people out in the cold — both figuratively and literally,” Blaettner added.

The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported that state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, who has led the Indiana House Democratic caucus since 2018, has added his name to a growing list of Fort Wayne politicos who want to be the city’s next mayor. A caucus of precinct committee persons will choose the new mayor.

According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, the deadline for residents to file candidacy was 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A town hall with the candidates is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at Franklin School Park. The caucus is set for 10:30 a.m. on April 20 at the Lincoln Financial Event Center at Parkview Field.

At least six candidates so far have announced they will run in the caucus. They include Branden Blaettne, GiaQuinta, City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, City Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, former city- and county-council candidate Palermo Galindo, and 2023 Democratic primary mayoral candidate Jorge Fernandez.

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