TV & Radio
The New York Times
December 22, 2006
Senator Brownback and the Judge
If most people were asked to list the qualities they want in a federal judge, few would include “has not attended a same-sex commitment ceremony.” But that was the outrageous litmus test that Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, applied to Janet Neff, whose nomination he has been blocking. Mr. Brownback — who has presidential ambitions — now says he will allow a vote on her nomination. We hope that is a sign that gay-baiting is becoming less tolerable, even to Republican primary voters.
Judge Neff, a Michigan state court judge, attended the commitment ceremony of the daughter of a family who had lived next door to her for 26 years. She said that attending and delivering a homily was like joining in an important event in the life of one of her own daughters.
Mr. Brownback, one of the most conservative senators, considered it to be a disqualifier for the bench. Later, he made an equally objectionable offer: he would allow a vote on Judge Neff if she agreed to recuse herself from cases involving same-sex unions. The Senate does not get to tell federal judges what areas of law they may rule on.
Senator Brownback now seems to be calculating that even in the Republican Party, the sort of extreme bigotry he has shown toward gay people would not be a selling point. At a time when Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter is pregnant and President Bush has declared himself “happy for her,” Mr. Brownback’s hostility puts him far out on the political fringe.
Mr. Brownback says that although he will allow Judge Neff’s nomination to come to a vote, he is still likely to vote against her. If he does, he should be asked to explain his vote if he hits the presidential campaign trail. Whether someone has attended a same-sex commitment ceremony is not a worthy litmus test to impose on someone seeking an important office. Whether someone holds hateful views toward gay people certainly is.
Transvestite killings on the rise in Guatemala
Reuters Thursday November 23, 12:24 AM
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Two transvestites were shot dead in broad daylight on Wednesday, their bodies riddled with bullets in the latest in a wave of suspected hate crimes in Guatemala.
The transvestites, in their 20s, were gunned down together outside a bar in the crime-ridden Villanueva neighborhood of the capital. They were shot in the face and body.
"They both had long hair and long nails, men dressed as if they were women," said emergency worker Oscar Sanchez. At least 15 bullet casings lay on the ground at the murder scene.
Hate crimes have grown this year in Guatemala, an often macho and extremely violent society still scarred by a long civil war that killed 200,000 people and ended 10 years ago.
Oasis, a gay rights group, said 11 transgender people have been murdered so far this year, compared to seven the year before, and no one has been arrested for the crimes.
Gabriel Ixcoy, an 18-year-old transgender prostitute known as Shakira, was shot dead in September for refusing the sexual advances of a young gang member. He reportedly cut out Shakira's tongue.
Guatemala is one of the most violent countries in Latin America with over 5,300 people murdered in 2005 -- a murder rate of around 40 per 100,000 people. The rate in the United States is 5.6 murders per 100,000, according to the FBI.
While the number of Guatemalan transvestites killed is minimal compared to the overall murder figure, rights workers are increasingly focusing on the killings of women, gays and other vulnerable groups.
Police are rarely interested in finding the killers of transvestites and are sometimes involved themselves, gay rights activists say.
In December last year, Juan Pablo Mendez, or Paulina, was killed and another transgender prostitute was wounded by three people witnesses identified as uniformed police officers.
"The general level of violence in Guatemala has increased exponentially over the past few years with most crimes going unpunished," said Sebastian Elegueta, a Central America researcher for Amnesty International.
"But it's the most vulnerable groups in society, like women, sex workers or transgender people, that are targeted first and those that are afforded the least amount of protection from the state," he said.
Oasis Director Jorge Lopez said transsexuals are particularly at risk because the majority work as prostitutes, trawling the dangerous streets of Guatemala's old city in short mini-skirts, wigs and platform heels.
"Transgender people end up in sex work because they've been kicked out of their homes, their schools, their jobs," said Lopez. "The only options left for them to make a living is prostitution or working in a hair salon."
Many of the transvestite prostitutes loitering on the corners of the capital come from other Central American countries, said Lopez.
"People throw eggs at us, call us names, shoot at us," said Claudia, a 21-year-old Nicaraguan transgender prostitute out on a corner past midnight in black fishnet stockings, a ruffled white skirt and bright blue eye shadow.
"The police are the worse. They sometimes force us to rob clients so they can take their cut," she said.
N.J. governor signs gay civil unions law
By TOM HESTER Jr., Associated Press Writer
Thu Dec 21, 2:07 PM ET
New Jersey's governor signed legislation Thursday giving gay couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage allowed under state law — but not the title.
When the law goes into effect Feb. 19, New Jersey will become the third state offering civil unions to gay couples and the fifth allowing gay couples some version of marriage.
Connecticut and Vermont also offer civil unions for gay couples, while Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry, and California has domestic partnerships that bring full marriage rights under state law.
"We must recognize that many gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey are in committed relationships and deserve the same benefits and rights as every other family in this state," Gov. Jon S. Corzine said in signing the legislation.
The Legislature passed the civil unions bill on Dec. 14 in response to a state Supreme Court order that gay couples be granted the same rights as married couples. The court in October gave lawmakers six months to act but left it to them to decide whether to call the unions "marriage" or something else.
Gay couples welcomed the new law, but argue not calling it "marriage" creates a different, inferior institution. Even some same-sex couples who attended the bill signing remained lukewarm about the law.
"It's a step forward, but it's not true equality," said Veronica Hoff, 52, of Mount Laurel, as she stood with her partner.
The civil unions law grants gay couples adoption, inheritance, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights and the right not to testify against a partner in state court.
They won't, however, be entitled to the same benefits as married couples in the eyes of the federal government because of 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Gay partners won't be able to collect deceased partners' Social Security benefits, for example, said family lawyer Felice T. Londa, who represents many same-sex couples.
Social conservative groups and some lawmakers opposed the measure, saying it brings gay relationships too close to marriage, but it easily passed the Legislature.
"It's same-sex marriage without the title," said John Tomicki, president of the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage. "It uproots the cardinal values of our culture."
He said opponents would push for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex unions in New Jersey, no matter what they're called.
"Let the voters decide that marriage is defined as a union of one man and one woman," Tomicki said.
Democrats who control the Legislature have said they have no plans to consider such a proposal.
Associated Press Writer Chris Newmarker contributed to this report.
Same-sex civil unions become law in New Jersey
Thu Dec 21, 4:41 PM ET
New Jersey on Thursday became the third U.S. state to provide equal rights for same-sex couples in committed relationships known as civil unions.
Gov. Jon Corzine, signing the Civil Unions bill into law, said the state has an obligation to give such partnerships the same legal rights as married couples.
"We must recognize that many gay and lesbian couples in New Jersey are in committed relationships, and deserve the same benefits and rights as every other family in the state," Corzine said in a statement.
The bill was passed by lawmakers last week following a ruling by the state Supreme Court affirming equal rights for same-sex couples, but deferring to the legislature a decision on whether to call their relationships "marriage."
Lawmakers opted to call them "civil unions."
Massachusetts is the only U.S. state to have legalized same-sex marriage, which supporters say is necessary to establish true equality for homosexual partnerships. Connecticut and Vermont have civil union laws.