Compiled by Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
IRS inquiry sought of two Ohio churches
COLUMBUS – The New York Times reported on Jan. 16 that a group of religious leaders have sent a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation of Fairfield Christian Church and the World Harvest Church in Ohio. The leaders claim that the churches are improperly campaigning on behalf of a conservative Republican running for governor.
Both churches were widely credited with getting out the Ohio vote for George W. Bush in 2004, according to the Times report, and have allowed their facilities to be used by Republican organizations, promoted Republican candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell among their members and otherwise violated prohibitions on political activity by tax-exempt groups.
Fairfield’s leader said Blackwell had been featured at events because he was the only candidate who had spoken out strongly in favor of an amendment to the State Constitution banning equal marriage rights that passed last fall.
According to the Times report, thirty-one clergy members representing a variety of Christian and Jewish denominations signed the complaint. Among other things, the complaint questions how the Ohio Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization led by Fairfield’s leader obtained charitable status when among its stated purposes are to support and promote legislation.
Bill to allow gay couples benefits announced
BOSTON – Opponents of equal marriage rights announced legislation Jan. 11 to provide hospital visitation and other rights to gay couples, intending to counter claims that banning recognition of gay couples’ marriages would deny certain benefits to gays and lesbians.
The Benefits Fairness Act would grant “reciprocal benefits” to gay couples should the state enact a proposed ban on their unions. The bill also aims to grant people in other family relationships, such as siblings living together or cousins, the rights they would have under marriage, such as burial rights and transfer-of-property rights.
Virginia House OKs marriage ban
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia has reaffirmed its desire to add a ban on equal marriage rights to the state’s constitution. The 73-22 Jan. 13 vote sends the measure to the Senate. If it is approved there, it will be placed on the November ballot.
GOP bankroll Florida marriage amendment
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Republican Party of Florida is the biggest financial backer of a proposed ballot initiative that would change the state constitution to prohibit equal marriage rights.
The party gave the Florida4Marriage.org $150,000 in November, which accounts for more than three-quarters of what the group raised over the entire year, according to a campaign finance report submitted by the group this week.
So far about 172,000 signatures have been certified out of the 611,000 signatures needed by Feb. 1 to get the initiative on the ballot. Both Republican gubernatorial candidates have endorsed the proposal, but it has not been endorsed by either of the Democrats running for governor.
Spousal privilege rejected in theft case
MINEOLA, N.Y. – A former school administrator who has admitted stealing millions from an affluent Long Island school district will be required to testify against his longtime gay partner, who is also charged in the theft.
A Nassau County Court judge ruled that Roslyn School Superintendent Frank Tassone’s expected testimony against his partner, Stephen Signorelli, was exempt from a state law protecting spouses from testifying against one another, because the conversations took place as they were both planning a criminal act.
He said that because the couple’s conversations related to a crime in which both were alleged co-conspirators, “it is therefore not necessary for this court to reach the question of whether spousal privilege applies to same-sex relationships.”
Court mulls city’s right to cut Scout funding
SAN FRANCISCO – The California Supreme Court is grappling with whether the city of Berkeley acted unlawfully when it pulled financial support for a group connected with the Boy Scouts of America, which discriminates against gays and atheists.
CNN gives $100,000 to NLGJA scholarship fund
WASHINGTON – The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association has announced that CNN will make a $100,000 donation to the NLGJA Scholarship Fund endowment.
The $5,000 Leroy F. Aarons scholarship will be awarded annually to an LGBT undergraduate or graduate student who plans a career in journalism and is committed to furthering NLGJA’s mission of fair and accurate coverage of the LGBT community.
The deadline to apply for the scholarship is Feb. 1. Information and application may be found on the NLGJA website at http://nlgja.org/students/student_index.html. The first Aarons Award recipient will be announced March 16 in New York.
Anti-gay pastor’s lawsuit found frivolous
MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin’s largest gay rights group was awarded $87,000 in attorneys’ fees by a judge who scolded a Louisiana pastor and his lawyer for bringing a frivolous lawsuit claiming the group defamed him.
Grant Storms of the Reformer Ministries in Marrero, La., claimed in the lawsuit that Action Wisconsin defamed him by saying remarks he made at a 2003 anti-gay conference in Milwaukee advocated the murder of gays.
But in a ruling last week, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Patricia McMahon said the group’s interpretation of the remarks was reasonable and the lawsuit lacked merit from the day it was filed.
Storms was one of several speakers at the “International Conference on Homo-Fascism.” Action Wisconsin obtained an audio recording of the conference and publicized remarks that the group said incited violence and hatred.
In his speech, Storms said gay rights’ opponents should “start taking it to the streets.” He mimicked gunfire: “Boom, boom, boom, boom. There’s twenty! Ca-ching,” according to a transcript.
Anti-gay pastor: boycott of Microsoft, HP
OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in the Seattle area, has called for a national boycott of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and other companies that support a gay civil rights bill.
Hutcherson said he would formally issue the boycott Thursday on Focus on the Family’s radio show.
Last week, several companies, including Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co., Hewlett Packard Co., and Nike Inc. signed a letter urging passage of the measure, which would add “sexual orientation” to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment and insurance based on race, gender, age, disability, religion, marital status and other factors.
Microsoft is restoring its support for the proposal a year after the company was denounced for quietly dropping its endorsement. Hutcherson claims he pressured Microsoft into dropping its support for the bill last year by threatening a boycott.
Spokesmen for Microsoft and Boeing said their companies have no plans to change their position.
Minister charged with ‘lewdness’
OKLAHOMA CITY – Anti-gay Baptist minister Lonnie Latham was charged Jan. 11 with propositioning an undercover male police officer. Latham was charged with a single misdemeanor count of offering to engage in an act of lewdness. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Latham was released from jail on $500 bond on Jan. 4, the day after his arrest.
Latham has resigned as senior pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church. He has also stepped down from the board of directors of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Latham never should have been arrested.
“Rev. Latham appears to have done nothing more than to invite someone to a hotel with him for consensual sex. That’s not a crime,” said Joann Bell, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma Foundation.
Episcopal bishop removes priest
HARTFORD, Conn. – The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut has removed a priest from his duties in a clash over the elevation of openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop in New Hampshire.
Connecticut Bishop Andrew D. Smith stripped Mark H. Hansen, formerly of St. John’s Church in Bristol, “of the right to exercise the office of priest in the Episcopal church.” Smith had “inhibited,” or suspended, Hansen six months earlier.
Hansen was among six priests and their respective parishes who had asked to be supervised by a different bishop because they disagreed with Smith’s support for Robinson.
In other news
Film club launches ‘Brokeback’ petition
SAN FRANCISCO – Ironweed Films, a DVD-of-the-month club that uses movies to rally audiences around progressive social and political issues, has launched an online petition urging Larry Miller to put “Brokeback Mountain” back on the schedule of his theater in Sandy, Utah. Miller’s theater unexpectedly pulled Brokeback Mountain from its schedule after hearing about the plot during a radio interview. To sign the petition visit http://www.ironweedfilms.com/brokeback.
Sony launching gay music label
LOS ANGELES – Sony Music has teamed with the founder of a gay cable network to form a record label geared toward developing gay, lesbian and transgender recording artists.
The label, dubbed Music With a Twist, plans to employ talent scouts nationwide to find emerging artists who have generated a buzz in the gay community and have the potential for mass appeal.
Sony Music has also agreed to become a charter sponsor of a syndicated radio show, dubbed Twist, produced by Wilderness Media. The show is launching this weekend in several markets and online.
Nations to negotiate AIDS drugs prices
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Representatives from 19 Latin American and Caribbean nations said Jan. 14 the countries will act as a bloc to try to reduce the price of AIDS medication. The countries also said they would invest together and exchange information to begin producing the drugs themselves.
The announcement was made after a three-day meeting in Brasilia aimed at discussing regional AIDS prevention. The conference’s final report will be presented at the U.N.’s General Assembly in May.
In recent years, Brazil has negotiated lower AIDS drug prices by threatening to break patents, without ever actually doing so. Last October, after just such a threat, Brazil reached a deal with Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories Inc. to lower the price on the AIDS drug Kaletra.