Tourism officials on the Delmarva Peninsula say they expect an influx of visitors this summer as the Jersey Shore and other coastal areas to the north continue to recover from Superstorm Sandy.
“This weekend was packed,” Camp Rehoboth Executive Director Steve Elkins told the Washington Blade. “It was amazingly crowded and I saw a lot more cars with New York and New Jersey license plates than I see in normal times.”
Sandy’s record storm surge inundated Fire Island, the South Shore of Long Island, coastal areas of New York City and large swaths of the Jersey Shore before it made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., on Oct. 29. Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City and even Cape May did not experience any significant damage outside of some minor flooding in low-lying areas, beach erosion and downed trees.
Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, told the Blade she is seeing a double-digit increase in information requests from last year.
Roughly 25 percent of the area’s visitors come from New York and New Jersey, but Everhart said more than 20 percent of the inquiries have come from people who live in areas that Sandy most directly impacted.
“To get these requests this early this first quarter is unusual,” she said. “We related it to the storm.”
Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Association, said she has “definitely seen an increase from that particular market” and attributes it to the roughly $3 million in advertising her group has spent in the area over the last few years. She stressed she expects those who would normally vacation on the Jersey Shore or Long Island will come to Ocean City this summer.
“Beach vacationers like to have their beach vacations, so they’re going to find a beach somewhere,” Jones said. “I would definitely say it’s possible, and of course we don’t wish that on anybody. We were fortunately spared, but I just can’t even imagine what they’re going through.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month said the 82.5 million tourists who visited the Garden State in 2012 generated a record $40 billion. His administration also announced it would launch a $25 million marketing campaign “to let potential visitors know that the Jersey Shore will be open for business this summer.”
New York City welcomed 52 million tourists last year in spite of Sandy that inundated large swaths of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens.
Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy officer of the Atlantic City Alliance, noted the city’s casinos reopened five days after Sandy made landfall. He told the Blade the iconic boardwalk is in “pristine condition” in spite of media reports during and immediately after the storm that suggested otherwise.
“What we hear from the real estate agents is that in southern New Jersey, where the housing market is very robust and [summer rentals are] very strong, people are looking from other displaced towns and moving south,” Guaracino said. “We understand from the real estate [agents] that sales have been robust for summer and that rates are up as well. So that gives you a whole other new tourist base for Atlantic City.”
Doreen Talley, director of marketing of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May, told the Blade businesses in the region at the southern tip of New Jersey that is accessible from Lewes, Del., by ferry were “up and running business as usual” the week after Sandy made landfall.
She said occupancy rates are ahead of where they were at this point last year.
“That’s due to the fact that areas like Long Beach Island and a few of the other towns are not going to be able to accommodate the visitors that they’re usually able to because their accommodations have decreased,” Talley said.
Local tourism officials with whom the Blade spoke said they expect this momentum will continue through the summer.
“I have no indicators that we’ll see anything other than a very strong visitation this year,” Everhart said.
Guaracino said he hopes a new ad campaign that his organization will launch with the Miss America Pageant next week that will air in the Philadelphia and New York City media markets will draw more visitors to Atlantic City.
“People are starting to hear the message now that Atlantic City is open for business,” he said.
Talley echoed that message.
“People are coming in, finding out about Cape May, which they never had before,” she said.
In spite of the potential windfall that tourism officials in southern New Jersey and on the Delmarva Peninsula expect this summer, they remain mindful that beaches farther north continue to recover from Sandy.
“It’s really hard to think that we’re benefitting from somebody else’s suffering,” Elkins said. “We do think that since so many of the beach areas on the Jersey Shore will not be fully recovered that we will probably see more of an increase in those people coming here.”
ASBURY PARK, N.J. — A bill outlawing “reparative” therapy for gays under age 18 is heading to the New Jersey Senate for a vote after the state’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee passed it by a 7-1 vote last month, USA Today reported.
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association are among the national organizations that either oppose or warn against reparative therapy. No major medical organization endorses the idea that being gay or lesbian is abnormal or a mental disorder that can be changed or suppressed, the article said.
New Jersey’s Senate committee hearing comes four months after the Southern Poverty Law Center sued Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, in Jersey City, on behalf of four men who claimed to have gone through rituals to rid them of their homosexuality. The rituals included “bodywork,” or being forced to undress and show their genitals to a counselor, Jewish Queer Youth co-executive director Mordechai Levovitz testified according to USA Today’s article.
California passed a bill banning conversion therapy last year, but an appeals court ruled the ban violates the First Amendment.
“It’s a culture war issue,” Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist, told USA Today. Reparative therapy, he said, is “a niche market that really takes advantage of unhappy people.”
TRENTON, N.J—A New Jersey Senate committee on Monday approved a bill that would ban so-called anti-gay “conversion therapy.”
The 7-1 vote in the Senate Health Committee came after LGBT advocates testified in support of it — Garden State Equality Executive Director Troy Stevenson wrote on his organization’s website that a friend from his hometown in Oklahoma had been sent to a “conversion” camp by his parents after members of a high school football team caught them kissing.
Stevenson’s friend took his life the day after they last spoke.
“He described things that I couldn’t imagine, indignities that I won’t repeat,” Stevenson wrote. “He said, “I will never go back.”
SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—The Illinois House Executive Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.
The 6-5 vote came less than two weeks after the state Senate approved the measure.
“The momentum we are seeing on this legislation is truly inspiring,” said gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago,) who sponsored the bill in the House. “Illinois is very close to treating all of its families equally under the law. I look forward to bringing this to a full vote in the House.”
Nine states and D.C. currently allow gays and lesbians to legally marry. Lawmakers in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Minnesota are expected to debate the issue in the coming days and weeks.
Gov. Pat Quinn has repeatedly said he would sign the same-sex marriage bill if it were to reach his desk.
The group said it will invest an initial $800,000 through the “Win More States Fund” to groups in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island fighting to allow gays and lesbians to tie knot.
“Building on our four for four ballot victories in November, Freedom to Marry is calling on supporters to join us in continuing the momentum and winning still more states in 2013,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said in a statement. “With the clock ticking on the Supreme Court’s review of marriage cases, we want to make as much progress as we can – and with battles already under way now in state capitals, we all need to put our money where our momentum is.”
The announcement comes as Delaware same-sex marriage advocates await the anticipated introduction of a bill later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the First State.
Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman declined to tell the Washington Blade how much money Freedom to Marry gave her organization, but she welcomed the contribution.
“We are thrilled to have Freedom to Marry as one of our national partners and are incredibly grateful for their participation and their expertise,” she said.
Freedom to Marry’s announcement came a day after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton expressed support for nuptials for gays and lesbians in his annual State of the State address.
An Illinois Senate committee earlier this week approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot, while the Rhode Island House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage measure.
Hawaii lawmakers on Jan. 24 last month introduced two proposals that would extend marriage to gays and lesbians in their state. New Jersey legislators in the coming weeks are expected to once again debate the issue after Gov. Chris Christie last February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill they approved.
Indiana lawmakers on Thursday announced they would delay a vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“It’s encouraging to see Indiana’s leaders making this choice, because limiting the freedom to marry is never in the best interest of a state, its residents, or its businesses,” Marc Solomon, national campaign director at Freedom to Marry, said. “This announcement gives the people of Indiana some much-needed time to have important conversations about marriage and freedom. As they do, we are confident that lawmakers of both parties will recognize that permanently eliminating the freedom to marry in the state constitution is wrong for Indiana’s families.”
A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday voted 6-1 to kill a proposal that would have repealed the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Delegate Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced HJ665 on Jan. 9, the first day of the current legislative session. He told the Washington Blade after the vote he feels “people affirming their love to each other and living in committed relationships is a universal human right.”
“It’s a civil right,” Surovell said. “I don’t think that the constitution should prohibit the government from recognizing people’s love and commitment to each other solely because of their sexual orientation. I think it’s wrong and it’s hateful.”
Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria,) who is among the more than two dozen legislators who co-sponsored HJ665, expressed disappointment that the House Privileges and Elections Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee killed the proposal.
“Virginia is going to have to re-visit this issue either because the public demands it, because we are forced to by the Supreme Court or because corporations make it clear that they’d rather move to D.C. or Maryland in order to protect their employees,” he told the Blade in a statement. “Marshall-Newman is so broadly worded, that it puts even basic contracts in question. Ultimately, I’d like us to be talking about an amendment to add marriage freedom to our constitution. But as today’s action shows, we have work to do to even allow for basic contract rights between two people.”
Delegate David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) agreed.
“I did not support the Marshall-Newman amendment when it passed and believe the time is now for it to be repealed,” he said.
Virginians in 2006 approved the amendment by a 57-43 percent margin.
A similar ban passed in neighboring North Carolina in May by a 61-39 percent margin.
Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Lawmakers in Delaware, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Jersey are expected to debate same-sex marriage proposals in the coming weeks.
“We’re deeply disappointed that the House committee has voted to overlook this resolution that would repeal Marshall-Newman,” Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said. “It’s a shame that Virginia cannot catch up with a wave of national change since marriage equality is now a winning issue on the ballot.”
Surovell conceded to the Blade he was “not optimistic going into” today’s hearing in spite of public opinion polls that indicate growing public support for marriage rights for same-sex couples in Virginia since voters approved the Marshall-Newman amendment. He referenced the House of Delegates’ vote last May against gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the Richmond General Court to further prove his point.
The Richmond General Court in June appointed Thorne-Begland on an interim basis because lawmakers failed to fill the vacancy — his term is slated to end at the end of next month if legislators do not approve his appointment. Members of the General Assembly Committee of Judicial Appointments are schedule to interview Thorne-Begland later today.
“I suspect that the only thing that will change whether this [SJ665] eventually passes is the change in control of the House of Delegates because the current majority is beholden to the Family Foundation,” Surovell said. “Last year I had a surreal evening when at 1 a.m. on the last day of session I’m sitting there watching my body debate whether a 14-year decorated naval aviator who’s been putting away murderers for five years is qualified to be a judge presiding over traffic tickets because he happened to live in a committed same-sex relationship with children while the Family Foundation sits in the balcony watching the whole thing. I thought there was something wrong with that. That’s the way it is in Virginia right now.”
“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”
Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.
“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”
Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)
Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.
Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.
Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass
Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.
Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.
Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.
Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.
“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”