TV & Radio
Gay Marriage Among Looming Ballot Issues
Thursday March 30, 2006 9:46 AM
By DONNA CASSATA
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The divisive issues that spurred voter turnout in 2004 and helped decide the presidency will be back with a vengeance in November.
This time, they could shift the balance of power in the Senate, an outcome with broad implications for the remaining two years of President Bush's term, and could affect governor's races in states certain to comprise the presidential battleground landscape in 2008.
Ballot initiatives that would define marriage, raise the minimum wage, ban affirmative action hiring and endorse embryonic stem-cell research are among the measures that have been gaining the necessary signatures to earn a spot on the Nov. 7 ballot in several states.
Initiatives stating that life begins at conception, limiting the growth of government spending and promoting renewable energy sources also could end up on the ballot on Election Day.
Such issues could bring more voters out in states such as Missouri, Ohio and Montana, where the results of competitive Senate races could determine whether Republicans keep majority control or Democrats break the GOP lock on Congress.
``Initiatives tend to shape turnout substantially in non-presidential elections,'' said Elizabeth Garrett, director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.
On Election Day in 2004, a presidential year, initiatives on gay marriage and civil unions were on the ballot in 11 states, driven in part by opposition to a Massachusetts state Supreme Judicial Court's recognition of same-sex marriage and Republican calculations that the issue would send conservative voters to the polls. Two states - Louisiana and Missouri - had approved bans earlier in the year.
Bush benefited as religious conservatives, a key element of the GOP base, turned out to vote and helped him defeat Democratic Sen. John Kerry. In Ohio, an initiative rejecting the legality of civil unions won handily. The same state tipped the election to Bush.
Gary Bauer, the head of Americans United to Preserve Marriage, said there was no doubt the amendment and the thousands who voted for it helped Bush win Ohio.
``The only thing that explains the president's victory in my view is the emphasis he put in those closing weeks on the marriage issue,'' said Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
Analysts and academics who have studied election results say initiatives in midterm elections are about twice as likely to increase turnout by a few percentage points as measures on the ballot in presidential elections.
``One or two initiatives on the ballot during these (midterm) elections may be sufficient to stimulate increased participation, especially if the measures concern salient or controversial policy questions, such as gay marriage or affirmative action,'' wrote Caroline J. Tolbert of Kent State University and Daniel A. Smith of the University of Florida.
Their report on the impact of initiatives on turnout appeared in the March 2005 issue of American Politics Research.
Absent the cacophony of the presidential campaign, the ballot initiative issues often become the issues of the Senate or gubernatorial campaigns.
``When they're on the ballot, it means the candidate can't ignore them,'' Garrett said.
In Missouri, a ballot measure on stem-cell research has complicated the re-election campaign of Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who is in a tight race with Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
The initiative would guarantee that any federally allowed stem-cell research or treatments can occur in Missouri. The conservative Talent had backed a federal bill to criminalize the cloning of human embryos. He recently dropped his support for that bill but has not taken a stand on the ballot initiative. McCaskill supports the measure.
Tennessee is one of six states likely to have a ballot initiative on gay marriage. In November, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. They also will choose a successor to Republican Sen. Bill Frist in what could be a competitive contest between the leading Democrat, Rep. Harold Ford Jr., and one of the top Republican candidates - former Reps. Van Hilleary or Ed Bryant, and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.
Brad Luna, media director for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, argued that the Iraq war, efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast and other issues are of greater concern to voters than gay marriage.
``That same old dog-and-pony show from 2004 is kind of played out,'' he said.
In Montana, where the lobbying scandal has taken a toll on the political standing of Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, there is a real pocketbook issue that could be on the ballot and affect voter turnout: raising the state's minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, a dollar more than the federal minimum.
In fact, six states could have a minimum wage increase on the ballot in November, including Ohio, which has a competitive Senate and governor's race.
Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, said activists on her side recognize that these initiatives are electoral tools that could drive voter turnout, a factor she said conservatives clearly recognize.
``In 2006, these initiatives speak to the struggle in this country to define the role of government,'' Wilfore said.
While California frequently leads the pack with dozens of initiatives, Michigan could have a handful, including a state constitutional amendment banning university and state hiring preferences based on race or sex.
``It's actually motivating the Democratic base,'' Jon Summers, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said following conversations with people in Michigan.
On the Web:
American Politics Research: http://apr.sagepub.com/
For Immediate Release:
March 28, 2006
‘STAR TREK’ STAR AND HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN TEAM UP FOR ‘EQUALITY TREK’
George Takei, Mr. Sulu, Will Embark on Nationwide Speaking Tour to Promote Dialogue on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans
WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign announced today that George Takei, “Star Trek”’s Mr. Sulu, will embark on a nationwide speaking tour through six cities, speaking about his life as a gay Japanese American and encouraging others to share their stories. Takei will also serve as a spokesman for HRC’s Coming Out Project throughout the tour and beyond. Takei made international headlines last fall when he announced to the press that he and his partner Brad Altman have been together for nearly 20 years.
“For 40 years, George Takei has beamed into living rooms through the television sets of generations of Americans. His unique role in pop culture history will help him reach new audiences with messages of understanding,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “We are tremendously excited to officially and publicly welcome George and his partner Brad into the Human Rights Campaign family.”
As a child, Takei and his family were held in American internment camps during World War II because of their Japanese ancestry — even though Takei and his mother were born on American soil and his father came to the United States as a child. Takei will speak on the tour about the ways that his life has been touched by both discrimination and by the healing that takes place when prejudice is replaced with understanding and open communication.
“In my own life, I have felt the discrimination that used to separate Japanese Americans from the rest of the country melt away,” said Takei. “I believe that by sharing our stories GLBT Americans can break down the walls that separate us and help build a more understanding and truly diverse nation for us all.”
Takei has been increasingly in the public eye speaking on GLBT issues since coming out in the press, and will appear on NBC’s “Will & Grace” this Thursday, March 30.
The national speaking tour is set to kick off on April 10. The dates and locations of the tour are:
April 10 — University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.
HRC Coming Out Project
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Gay movie's success echoes in Seoul's closet
By Norimitsu Onishi The New York Times
THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2006
SEOUL "King and the Clown" lacked a single top star from South Korea's booming film industry or the other usual ingredients of a surefire blockbuster.
And in a country where homosexuality was removed from a government list of "socially unacceptable" acts only in 2004, the film centers on a gay love triangle in a 16th-century royal court: a young male clown torn between his love for a fellow clown and an amorous king.
But to everyone's surprise, not least the director's, in mid-March the movie became the most popular ever in South Korea's history, seen by more than 12 million people, or one in four residents. In U.S. terms, it would perhaps be the equivalent of "Brokeback Mountain" - to which this movie has been loosely compared - grossing as much as "Titanic."
As a cultural phenomenon, "King and the Clown" has led to sometimes confused, sometimes uncomfortable discussions here about the nature of homosexuality, something that was rarely discussed publicly until a few years ago.
At the core of the movie, which the producers hope to take to the United States, are two male clowns, a masculine one named Jang Saeng and a feminine, delicate-looking one named Gong Gil, who assumes the female part in skits.
Itinerant performers who depend on handouts for their survival, they are condemned to death one day for a bawdy skit insulting Yonsan, a king remembered in Korean history for his tyranny. But after succeeding in making the king laugh, the clowns are pardoned and allowed to become court jesters.
The king becomes enamored of Gong Gil, and the ensuing relationship fuels Jang Saeng's jealousy. Physical displays of affection are subtle: The king kisses the sleeping clown in one brief scene; in another showing the two clowns sleeping next to each other, Jang Saeng gently tucks in his partner.
All tame perhaps, but many here consider the movie a taboo-breaker in its matter-of-fact portrayal of homosexuality. Popular culture had long ignored gays or, in more recent years, relegated them to caricatured roles.
"One or two films tried to describe gay relationships in a serious way, but were unsuccessful commercially," said Tcha Sung-Jai, one of the country's best-known producers and a professor of film at Dongkuk University. "That's why everyone in the industry was so surprised when 'King and the Clown' became a hit."
"I cried when I saw the movie," he added, "and I'm a very strong heterosexual."
In addition to homosexuality, other previous taboos, like human rights violations during South Korea's military rule and North Korea-related themes, have been broached recently in films. Movies have mirrored, and sometimes tried to stay abreast of, a South Korean society that has been socially and politically transformed in the last decade.
Until a decade ago, when a tiny gay rights movement was started by Korean-Americans on a few college campuses here, most Koreans had been unaware even of the existence of gays. Even though Seoul has long had two neighborhoods with small clusters of gay bars, Itaewon and Chongno, gays remained hidden and homosexuality went unmentioned.
Then, in 2000, the issue was tossed into the public arena when a well- known television actor, Hong Suk Chon, became the first major figure to come out of the closet. Hong was immediately dropped from his show, and his career appeared over. But in 2003, in a sign of changing attitudes, the actor began a successful comeback.
"We feel that the last 10 years is the equivalent of 100 years because so many changes occurred in such a short period," Oh Ga Ram, an official at the Korean Gay Men's Human Rights Group, said in an interview in the organization's office in Chongno.
No other public figure has come out of the closet, and most Korean gays remain hidden. But Oh said "King and the Clown" was a "positive step" because "there is a discourse now that did not exist before."
The discourse, though, was often confused, Oh said. Because the love triangle hinges on a feminine male clown, some viewers say the relationship is not a gay one at all. "In the minds of many Koreans now, 'pretty males' equal gay," he said.
The movie's title in Korean is more direct about the nature of the relationship: "The King's Man."
Still, its director, Lee Jun Ik, was hesitant to define his movie as a gay- themed one and minimized it as a taboo-breaker.
"This is not homosexuality as defined by the West," Lee said in an interview. "It's very different from 'Brokeback Mountain.' In that movie, homosexuality is fate, not a preference. Here, it's a practice."
Lee said he had been more interested in evoking the world of itinerant clowns, many of whom were involved in same-sex relationships.
One person the director consulted was Kim Gi Bok, 77, who is considered the last surviving itinerant clown. Kim was amused at the attention he had gotten because of the film.
"Before we were treated as beggars, but now we are considered traditional artists," he said in an interview in Anseong, a town north of Seoul, where a center to keep alive his craft was established.
Intense relationships developed among itinerant clowns, Kim said, because they worked in all-male troupes and traveled together all the time.
"It was also difficult to get a wife," he said. "We were beggars. Who would marry a beggar?"
As in the movie, a masculine clown and a feminine clown often became a couple. The masculine clown showed his love by buying his partner, called a biri, a watch, Kim said.
"They would stay together all the time, sleeping in the same room, helping each other out," he said. "The biri would go into people's kitchens and even beg for food for both of them.
"Some of the biris were extremely beautiful - they had hair down to here," Kim said, pointing to his waist, as his eyes lit up at the memory. He added that some clowns who did manage to marry would sometimes leave their wives for fellow clowns.
Kim himself married and had one son. He said he, too, had biris during his life, though he said the relations had not been sexual.
"Relations between men were very sincere and genuine," Kim said. "It was an amazing, remarkable relationship, much closer than anything between a husband and wife."
My Side of the Mountain A gay-themed film becomes a surprise hit in Korea.
Australian government to block gay civil unions
Wed Mar 29, 9:51 PM ET - Reuters
Australia's conservative national government, which opposes homosexual marriages, said on Thursday it will overturn any new law legalizing gay civil unions in the national capital.
"There is a special place in Australian society for the institution of marriage, as historically understood, and we do not intend to allow that to be in any way undermined," said Prime Minister John Howard.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, which rules the capital, Canberra, has become the first state or territory to introduce same-sex civil union legislation.
The ACT hopes to pass the legislation into law by May, but the federal government has constitutional control over the nation's two territories, though not its six states, enabling it to overturn laws.
Attorney General Philip Ruddock said the Commonwealth (federal) government would veto any law which elevated gay civil unions to the status of marriage.
"Let me make it very clear, that will not satisfy the Commonwealth and we would include the introduction of legislation to prevent that from occurring," Ruddock told reporters.
"If they seek to portray civil unions as a marriage, in our view, that is quite inappropriate. It is quite misleading, it suggests to people who might be interested in civil union that what they have is a marriage, when in fact it is not," he said.
The ACT's civil union will only give gay couples equality with married couples regarding wills and the division of property in the territory. While the civil union is open to all Australians it is only valid in the ACT and will not affect national laws governing taxation, superannuation and health care.
ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope said on Thursday he would push ahead with the legislation and questioned why the national government opposed gay unions.
"What is his (Ruddock's) real concern about my commitment to remove discrimination and to show respect to same-sex relationships," asked Stanhope.
"One has to pose the question whether or not the real reason is that there is no place in John Howard's Australia for homosexuals."
Britain introduced gay civil unions in December 2005, with singer Elton John and his partner David Furnish among hundreds of gay couples who tied the knot.
A number of other countries, including Canada, Spain, France, Argentina, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, allow for formal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Australia's government to fight local law allowing gay marriage
March 29, 2006 - AFP
Australia's conservative federal government threatened to block legislation submitted to local parliament in the country's capital territory that would recognise civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
The center-left government that runs the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) under Australia's state system introduced the bill in the local legislature earlier this week.
The legislation would be the first in Australia to allow same-sex couples to enter into a civil union that would have the same recognition as marriage.
The bill was introduced in defiance of a federal law passed two years ago by the government of Prime Minister John Howard that formally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Thursday that the national law gave him the authority to block the ACT bid to legalise gay unions.
"For a territory to say 'Well, that's fine for the Commonwealth parliament to have resolved in that way, we're still going to assert that a civil union is a marriage in all but title, and we're going to use marriage celebrants to demonstrate that', let me make it very clear: that will not satisfy the Commonwealth," Ruddock said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
The head of the ACT government, John Stanhope, said Ruddock's reaction revealed the homophobia of the Howard administration.
"The question is whether or not the real reason (for Ruddock's position) is that there is no place in John Howard's Australia for homosexuals," he said.
But Stanhope said the government's position could force him to amend his bill, which is due to be debated in the ACT legislature in May.