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Jason Collins: Life ‘exponentially better’ since coming out

Jason Collins, NBA, gay news, Washington Blade

Jason Collins took the court for the Nets this year, making it to the playoffs. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins was at an event in D.C. in June when someone approached him and said his story as the first openly gay man to actively play for a major professional sports team helped him repair his relationship with his mother.

“I’ve heard other stories along those same lines,” Collins told the Washington Blade last month during an interview. “It’s just really great to see when you have an impact.”

Collins said his life is “exponentially better” since he came out in a Sports Illustrated op-ed in April 2013.

The California native who briefly played for the Washington Wizards in 2013 before coming out has taken part in a U.N. panel on homophobia and transphobia in sports, marched in Boston’s annual LGBT Pride parade and spoken to the Point Foundation and other advocacy groups. Collins has also appeared in a campaign against homophobia in soccer that YouTube broadcast during the 2014 World Cup.

President Obama in April appointed Collins to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

“There are a lot of different avenues we can use to tackle homophobia and really stress the importance of inclusion and diversity in sport,” Collins told the Blade.

Collins, 35, in February became the first openly gay man to play in a game for a major American professional sports league when he played 11 minutes during a Nets game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He wears jersey number 98 in honor of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student murdered outside of Laramie, Wyo., in 1998.

Collins received a standing ovation from the fans inside the Barclays Center when he took the court during his first playoff game.

“The atmosphere was incredible,” he told the Blade. “Even my first game back during the regular season when I entered the game and getting a standing ovation from the crowd in Brooklyn is something that I will never forget. This amazing moment shows the character of the fans in Brooklyn.”

Collins further noted the 1969 Stonewall riots that became a watershed moment in the modern LGBT rights movement took place in New York.

“This is where the Stonewall riots happened,” he told the Blade. “Flash forward to when I entered a game and got a standing ovation when I took the court for my team. As a society we’re on the right path.”

A number of other athletes have come out since Collins publicly disclosed his sexual orientation.

St. Louis Rams defensive end Michael Sam, who made his debut with the team on Aug. 8 during a preseason game with the New Orleans Saints, in February came out as gay during a series of interviews with the New York Times and ESPN.

Collins is among those with whom Sam spoke before coming out.

The Nets center told the Blade he was “very proud” of the acceptance speech the former University of Missouri defensive end gave when he accepted an award during ESPN’s annual ESPY Awards that took place in Los Angeles last month.

“I continue to tell him just how proud of him I am,” said Collins, noting he met Sam’s partner and his parents at the ESPY Awards. “It’s really cool to see how everything is progressing.”

Collins continues to describe retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova as one of his inspirations — he met with her and retired tennis champion Billie Jean King while he was in London for this year’s Wimbledon. He also applauded lesbian WNBA star Brittany Griner and Megan Rapinoe, an out midfielder for the Seattle Reign who is guest editor of the Blade’s second annual Sports issue, as additional examples he feels will inspire more LGBT athletes to come out.

“With athletes like myself and Robbie Rogers and Michael Sam, we’re showing athletes that we’re adding a few pages to that playbook,” said Collins, noting male athletes often come out after they retire. “It’s something that female athletes have been doing for years, whether it be Martina Navratilova all the way up to Brittney Griner.”

Collins, who remains a free agent, told the Blade he has not made any decisions about the upcoming season and whether he will return to the Nets.

“I’m going to enjoy my summer right now,” he said. “I still work out. I still train.”

Collins told the Blade his immediate plans include public speaking and traveling.

“I will evaluate things at the end of the summer,” he said.


From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

Stonewall to marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.


Archiving our movement: What’s in your basement?

Kate Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Kate Clinton is a humorist who has entertained LGBT audiences for 30 years.

Sometimes at fundraisers when I’m talking with people about another string of LGBT successes, I feel like I have been Mr. Peabodied into a way, wayback machine episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and a gobsmacked Jethro has just asked me, “Well golly, how’d you LGBTers do it? How’d you git yer rights so dang fast?”

As someone who was once introduced not as a Stonewall Lesbian but as a Stonehenge Lesbian, it is a disconcerting historical moment for older LGBT activists. I do have a better understanding of what might have prompted Oscar-winning Sally Fields to gush, “You like me! You really, really, really like me.”

But I don’t trust it. I do not trust any creeping, premature triumphalist strain in LGBT narratives. So in response, I start to lay out for Jethro the 45-year Kickstarter we did. He was on the way to the open bar before I even got to the part about the Daughters of Bilitis.

But really how did we do it? And how do we tell our story? Of course, first you have to know the story. And we’ve got help. For years, way under the radar, historians, academics, archivists, anthropologists, both professional and amateur, have been collecting, saving — OK, hoarding — and preserving the quotidian thinginess of the LGBT movement.

Now our stories are coming out of closets, basements and self-storage units in a great blooming of LGBT history. Museums, archives and collections are springing up in cities all over the country in former strip malls, universities and city libraries. If you can’t get to the actual collections you can visit the recently revamped, wonderfully accessible OutHistory website for a wealth of LGBT historical information.

In telling the story of the LGBT movement too often we become good little assimilated boys and girls and shy away from the movement’s original impulse – sex and sexual liberation. Fortunately, Cornell University Library’s Human Sexuality Collection has, for 25 years, gathered rare books, letters, photos and original artwork, films, erotica and ephemera related to sexuality.

Margaret F. Nichols, the Rare Materials Cataloging Coordinator for Cornell, oversees the cataloguing of everything in the Human Sexuality archive. It was she who petitioned the Library of Congress to add “Butch/Femme” to their subject headings. Those headings are how everything in the world gets catalogued in ALL libraries. Her proposal was finally accepted.

The recent opening of the “Speaking of Sex” exhibition celebrates the 25th anniversary of Cornell’s larger collection.

Its curator, Brenda Marston says, “Archiving sex is vital to our society, and this exhibition brings a wide swath of this history into view. Without us making a real effort, our view of the past could keep settling on familiar and comfortable scenes, but at Cornell it’s our job to make sure that we wrest the camera away from the center and capture the stories we don’t always see, so that we’re really preserving the diversity of our culture.”

After we wandered through the wonderful exhibit, we talked about not only what was there, but what wasn’t there. Despite any archivist’s best efforts to tell the fullest history of the LGBT movement there are gaps. Many local archives are decentralized and volunteer-driven. And many of us assume that the stuff in our basements is not that important. I’m told that somewhere in the world it’s spring. That means spring-cleaning, a perfect time to take a look through those boxes downstairs and send your memorabilia to an LGBT archive.

Of course the question isn’t just “What’s in your basement?” It’s “What’s in your wallet?” So consider sending a donation to support and continue the great LGBT historical reclamation being done all over the country.

Kate Clinton is a humorist who has entertained LGBT audiences for 30 years.


Long live prophetic voice of James Baldwin

James Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

James Baldwin (Photo by Allan Warren; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in the day, being on the cover of Time magazine was huge. Then, everyone from salesclerks to Wall Street traders read the newsweekly, and if your face, well known or not, peered out from it on newsstands or in mailboxes, everyone would know your name.

This was especially true when James Baldwin, the iconic novelist, essayist, playwright and poet, who wrote stirringly and eloquently on the civil rights movement, race and sexuality, made the cover of Time on May 13, 1963. Time made Baldwin a celebrity after the publication earlier that year of “The Fire Next Time,” his searing essays on race and civil rights. One of my most vivid youthful memories is that of my Dad pointing to Baldwin’s visage on Time and saying, “That man is our conscience! You’d have to be made of stone not to listen to him.”

I’m remembering this because Baldwin, who died in the South of France at age 63 in 1987, was born in Harlem 90 years ago this year. Yet, the legacy of Baldwin, black and openly gay years before Stonewall, and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, is fading in many classrooms, the New York Times reported recently. Fortunately, steps are being taken to commemorate and preserve Baldwin’s legacy.

From April 23-27, the New York Live Arts festival “James Baldwin, This Time” began a year-long celebration of Baldwin in venues from Harlem Stage to the Columbia University School of the Arts. In 2013, “Giovanni’s Room” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” two novels by Baldwin were reissued by Vintage. “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems” by James Baldwin is just out from Beacon Press.

“James Baldwin served as the conscience of America during the civil rights movement,” Matthew Rothschild, senior editor of The Progressive, which published Baldwin’s famous “Letter to My Nephew in 1962,” emailed the Blade. “He wrote with tremendous power.”

Today, when same-sex couples can marry in 17 states and in D.C., out writers from poets to playwrights are a dime a dozen, and the United States has a black president, it’s hard to imagine how prescient and bold Baldwin was.

“When you were starting out as a writer, you were a black, impoverished, homosexual,” an interviewer said to Baldwin. “You must have said to yourself: ‘gee, how disadvantaged could I get?’”

“Oh, no, I thought I hit the jackpot!” Baldwin replied. “It was so outrageous you could not go any further. You had to figure out a way to use it.”

Baldwin “used it” spectacularly: to speak truth to power, spur on writers, to electrify his time and generations to come with his tender, precise, pointed, words, presence and spirit.  “Black, gay, beautiful, bejeweled, eyes like orbs, searching, dancing, calling a spade a spade … Baldwin was dangerous to anybody who had anything to hide,” Nikki Finney writes in the introduction to “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems.”

He was “a man who had no … no concept of his place,” Finney continues, “who nurtured conversation with Black Panthers and the white literati on the same afternoon.”

Poets can be prophets, E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of Howard University’s African-American Resource Center, said in a telephone interview with the Blade. “Baldwin was a prophetic voice. He was in the middle between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – between the church and the blues,” Miller said. “He’s wrestling with how to talk about love and sex.”

The blues gives you a feeling of strength as well as of suffering, Miller said.

“The blues gives you a sense of resilience that enables you to confront what they throw at you,” Miller said. “Baldwin wouldn’t have anyone restricting who he wants to love.”

Why does Baldwin’s legacy matter? Because we still perpetuate and encounter homophobia and racism; and great writing still nourishes our hearts and minds. Happy Birthday, Mr. Baldwin! Long live your prophetic voice!

Kathi Wolfe, a poet and writer, is a regular contributor to the Blade.


The business of a broadening pride in equality

corporate, gay news, Washington Blade

Enterprise takes as much pride in standing with us as we do in joining with one another and a supportive community. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay Pride celebrations across the country this summer have offered a unique reflection of an astounding moment in time. Now part internal community celebration and a simultaneous measure of external engagement and broader public affirmation, these annual events have increasingly become more party and less protest.

In D.C., some have casually predicted that the local Capital Pride festivities will soon involve attendance by as many non-gay area residents as the high-profile Halloween-themed “High-Heel Race” now does each October on 17th Street in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Others wonder whether gay participation in Pride events will begin to diminish in coming years, especially in localities like the District where the LGBT community enjoys a full complement of civil equality and commonplace community embrace.

The annual Pride Parade on Saturday that kicks off the early June weekend in the nation’s capital each year has gradually become at least as well-attended as the next-day downtown Festival and a broadly shared community-wide event. More than ever before, this year an entire city and metropolitan area took notice of the dual events amid a wave of unprecedented local media coverage, community news features and special publication and broadcast profiles.

Businesses large and small, and national and local, are the major event sponsors and primary financial underwriters.

Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.

The accelerating nationwide acceptance of lesbians and gays alongside political approval of same-sex relationships and marriage equality has heightened the focus of the larger community. With distinct national majorities now in full support of gay rights and approving of our relationships and right to marry should we so choose, locally it seemed an entire city wanted to share in a commemoration of that development. It was essentially “gay weekend” for everyone, unlike any previous iteration.

Of course, all of this might be merely a temporary phenomenon, perhaps a collective exhale that local and national culture has progressed to dominant status with normative acceptance of gays and lesbians within a framework of equal treatment under the law as the new societal standard. The larger citizenry’s involvement in marking this advance may end up mirroring our own declining and potentially growing disinterest in this tradition of memorialized revelry.

For the time being at least, broad civic engagement and corporate sponsorship of these annual Stonewall-saluting events will remain substantial and business engagement is likely to grow even more prominent. As notable as the increasing corporate participation and brand affiliation with Pride events has become, it represents an overall explosion in general marketing to the gay community year-round. While prior national outreach to gays and lesbians was largely limited to alcohol and other specific product categories with already-established consumer and venue relationships, commercial communication now involves an enlarged spectrum of commerce.

Especially significant, no longer is this association narrow in breadth of exposure or limited to being “dog-whistle” in nature. It is direct and non-ambiguous, as well as pervasive, utilizing images as authentic as our lives today. Conveyed with the nonchalance it should be, corporate outreach is now an ordinary marketplace activity.

Companies have caught on that the benefits of reaching out to a wide range of diverse market segments without hesitation or hidden from others includes the gay community. Businesses understand the value of target-specific communication, whether a national or local product or service. Nowadays it also reaps benefit within other demographics by signifying a contemporary cultural affinity critical to creating a positive brand image reflective of modern mores.

Cultural codification through corporate encouragement rivals even the impact of legislation, as it empowers the community change in attitude that paves the way for it.

Corporate America and local businesses alike are strong allies for equality. Enterprise takes as much pride in standing with us as we do in joining with one another and a supportive community.

That’s important to business and is the part of winning that should make us proud.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at


British House of Lords gives final approval to marriage bill

House of Lords, Great Britain, England, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

Same-sex marriage supporters gather outside the British House of Lords in London on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Simon Callaghan)

The British House of Lords on Monday gave its final approval to a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The measure passed on a voice vote after parliamentarians debated the measure for more than an hour. Same-sex marriage supporters and opponents also gathered outside Westminster Palace in central London as the House of Lords considered the bill.

“Judge us on the creation of the liberties we protect and extend,” Baron Waheed Alli, who is gay, said.

Baroness Tina Stowell of Beeston said she is a “firm believer in justice and fairness” as she described the same-sex marriage measure as “a force for good.” Baron Patrick Cormack of Grimsby urged those who support the bill to acknowledge opponents who feel it “does change the structure of society by changing the definition of marriage.”

“I understand that you feel euphoric today, but please have a thought for those who have different views,” he said.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, a British LGBT advocacy group, applauded the vote.

“It’s impossible to express how much joy this historic step will bring to tens of thousands of gay people and their families and friends,” he said in a statement. “The bill’s progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public’s support for equality – though it’s also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents.”

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Mexico City and 11 states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage.

Gays and lesbians in Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Zealand and Uruguay will be able to tie the knot on August 1.

Brazil’s National Council of Justice in May ruled registrars in the South American country cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A judge in neighboring Colombia last week said a gay couple in Bogotá, the country’s capital, who had sought legal recognition can enter into a civil marriage on July 24.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8 that had banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State.

The Scottish government last month introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Scotland.

The bill will return to the House of Commons, which approved it in May, for parliamentarians to consider any last-minute amendments. They will then send it to Queen Elizabeth II who will sign it into law through royal assent.

The first same-sex weddings are expected to take place in England and Wales sometime in the spring of 2014.


Uganda lawmakers approve anti-homosexuality bill

Uganda, Kill the Gays bill, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gather outside the Ugandan embassy in Northwest D.C. on Dec. 1, 2012, to protest the country’s “Kill the Gays” bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ugandan lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of homosexuality.

“Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way,” Parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009, told the BBC. “It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks.”

Bahati’s bill originally sought to impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Lawmakers last year removed this provision from the measure.

“I am very disappointed by the ignorance displayed by Ugandan MPs,” Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, told the Washington Blade after the vote.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley also criticized Ugandan lawmakers.

“The Council joins our colleagues in Uganda and around the world in condemning the adoption today of a harsh, anti-gay law that sentences LGBT Ugandans to life in prison,” he said.

Stonewall, a British LGBT advocacy group, described the bill’s passage as “incredibly sad.”

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have repeatedly spoken out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s LGBT rights record.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively in Massachusetts on behalf of SMUG that accused the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging Ugandan lawmakers to approve the anti-homosexuality bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in August ruled SMUG’s lawsuit can move forward.

“We shall work as hard as possible to stop the act from becoming law,” Mugisha told the Blade. “I will not allowed to be treated as a second class citizen based on my sexual orientation.”

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

The Nigerian Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would, among other things, effectively ban LGBT advocacy in the African country. The Indian Supreme Court on Dec. 11 recriminalized homosexuality in the former British colony.

The BBC reported it remains unclear whether Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law because of concerns over the process through which his country’s lawmakers approved it.

“With global condemnation and the weight of history in the balance, we hope Uganda’s president will stand on the right side of history to reject this assault on the fundamental rights of his own citizens,” said Bromley.


European court rules religion cannot justify anti-gay discrimination

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, gay news, Washington Blade

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled religion cannot justify discrimination against same-sex couples. (Photo by CherryX via Wikimedia Commons)

The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday ruled religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination against same-sex couples.

The tribunal in Strasbourg, France, ruled against two British Christians who claimed their employers unfairly discriminated against them because of their opposition to relationship recognition for gays and lesbians and homosexuality.

Registrar Lillian Ladele claimed the Borough of Islington outside London unfairly disciplined her because she refused to officiate civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples after the United Kingdom’s civil partnership law took effect in 2005. Gary McFarlane accused the Relate Federation, an English counseling service, of firing him in 2008 because he said he may object to providing sex therapy to gay and lesbian couples because of his religious-based opposition to homosexuality.

“We welcome the ECHR’s ruling,” Relate Chief Executive Ruth Sutherland said in a statement. “We believe that it is further endorsement that Relate acted in an appropriate manner and fully in compliance with the law in the case regarding Gary McFarlane. The ruling supports our view that Relate acted properly and that it was Mr. McFarlane who was in breach of his agreed terms and conditions of employment. For Relate, this case has always been about protecting the right that every Relate client has to impartial, unbiased and empathetic counseling and sex therapy in line with our charitable aims.”

The court also ruled against a nurse who claimed she lost her job at an English hospital because she refused to remove her necklace with a cross. British Airways employee Nadia Eweida received €32,000 in damages after the airline suspended her for wearing a cross necklace to work.

“Today’s judgment is an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense,” Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a British human rights group, said in a statement. “Nadia Eweida wasn’t hurting anyone and was perfectly capable of doing her job whilst wearing a small cross. She had just as much a right to express her faith as a Sikh man in a turban or a Muslim woman with a headscarf.”

The Religion News Service reported that Alliance Defending Freedom, an American anti-gay organization, said “Christian employees should not be singled out for discrimination,” but categorized the court’s decision to reject the other three cases as “extremely disappointing.”

LGBT rights advocates in the U.K. and across Europe quickly applauded the decision.

“With this ruling, the court has established that freedom of religion is an individual right,” Sophie in ‘t Veld, vice-president of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, said in a statement. “It is emphatically not a collective right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, or people of another faith or life stance. Religious freedom is no ground for exemption from the law. The court showed conclusively that the principle of equality and equal treatment cannot be circumvented with a simple reference to religion.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall, agreed.

“Today’s judgment rightly confirms that it’s completely unacceptable in 2013 for public servants to pick and choose who they want to serve on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said. “Gay people contribute over £40 billion annually to the cost of public services in this country. They’re entitled to nothing less than equal treatment from those services, even from public servants who don’t happen to like gay people.”

The court’s ruling coincides with the expected introduction of a bill in the British Parliament in the coming weeks that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers are expected to consider a similar measure this year.

French legislators on Jan. 29 will begin to debate a proposal that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in France. More than 350,000 people marched through the streets of Paris on Sunday in opposition to the bill.

COC Netherlands, a Dutch LGBT advocacy group, said the European Court of Human Rights’ decision “clears the way” to repeal the exemption to the country’s 2001 same-sex marriage law that allows civil servants to refuse to marry gays and lesbians.

“Now that even the European Court rules against civil servants that refuse to marry gay couples, the way to ending this phenomenon in the Netherlands has been cleared,” COC Netherlands President Tanja Ineke told the Washington Blade. “We call on the Dutch government to take measures to end this phenomenon immediately and put an end to this long lasting debate.”

Tamás Dombos of the Hungarian LGBT advocacy group Háttér noted to the Blade that the Constitutional Court of Hungary has ruled registrars cannot legally discriminate against couples based on their sexual orientation. The country’s domestic partnership law took effect in 2009, but a new constitution with an amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman took effect last January.

“We welcome the decision, although the reasoning of the court is quite moderate claiming that national authorities have the power to settle the clash between the two competing claims (non-discrimination and freedom of religion,)” Dombos said in reference to the European Court of Human Rights decision. “So it is questionable whether the decision can be used later to fight national decision that prioritize religious freedom instead.”


Same-sex marriage bill introduced in British Parliament

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

British Culture Secretary Maria Miller on Thursday formally introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The BBC reported that the House of Commons is scheduled to consider the measure on Feb. 5.

The Churches of England and Wales would be legally prohibited from marrying same-sex couples unless they opt into the law — the Church of England announced earlier this month that clergy in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops as long as they remain celibate. It maintains marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman.

A law that allows gay couples in the United Kingdom to register as civil partners took effect in 2005.

Scottish lawmakers are expected to consider a same-sex marriage proposal later this year, while French legislators are scheduled to begin debate on the issue on Tuesday. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden are among the other European countries in which gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot.

“We’re pleased that the government has introduced this bill and we’ll be working hard over the coming weeks and months to secure this final modest measure of legislative equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people,” Andy Wasley of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall told the Washington Blade. “It’s now vital that the seven in 10 people in Britain who support equal marriage call on their members of Parliament to stand up and argue for it.”


British House of Commons approves same-sex marriage bill

Great Britain, parliament, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Takasunrise0921 via Wikimedia Commons)

The British House of Commons on Tuesday approved a proposal that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The 400-175 vote came after an hours-long debate on the measure.

Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller stressed the bill “is about fairness.” She said it also protects religious freedom and registrars would receive the same protections under the law.

The European Court of Human Rights last month said religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination against same-sex couples. A registrar who said the Borough of Islington outside London unfairly disciplined her because she refused to officiate civil partnerships for same-sex couples after the United Kingdom’s civil partnership law took effect in 2005 is among the two British Christians who claimed their employers unfairly discriminated against them because of their opposition to homosexuality and relationship recognition for gays and lesbians.

Shadow Women and Equalities Minister Yvette Cooper noted President Obama’s support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“Parliament shouldn’t stop people getting married simply because they have fallen in love with someone of the same sex,” she said.

Gay MP Stephen Gilbert, who represents St. Austell and Newquay in Cornwall, highlighted the struggles he said he faced when coming out as he spoke in support of the proposal that he described as “historic legislation.”

“We have a come a long way in a short space of time,” Gilbert said. “But it is absolutely right in my view that the House take the next step and deliver full equality to gay men and lesbians in this country.”

MP Nadine Dorries, who represents portions of Bedfordshire, said the bill “actually highlights the inequalities that are going to be there.”

“Marriage is based on the definition of sex,” she said.

The vote took place three days after French lawmakers approved an amendment to a same-sex marriage bill that defines marriage as between two people of the opposite or same sex. Legislators continue to debate the proposal that would extend both marriage and adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are among the European countries that allow same-sex couples to marry. Scottish lawmakers in the coming months are also expected to consider a similar measure.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

“As the last piece of the legislative jigsaw providing equality for gay people in Britain, this is a truly historic step forward,” Ben Summerskill, executive of the LGBT advocacy group Stonewall said. “We’re absolutely delighted that MPs have demonstrated so overwhelmingly that they’re in touch with the twenty-first century.”

Summerskill said he expects “a tough battle” in the House of Lords on the same-sex marriage bill, but he remains optimistic about the measure’s prospects. Prime Minister David Cameron also supports the proposal.

“The size of the Commons majority seen tonight — much larger than for most normal government business — will make it very difficult for peers to suggest that the bill should be rejected,” Summerskill said.