Church Members Okay
Same-Sex Ceremony

November 16, 1998

Winston-Salem, North Carolina (AP) -- Members of a Baptist church have given their ministers permission to officiate at same-sex blessing ceremonies -- a break with their state and national Baptist conventions.

A statement approved Sunday by members of Wake Forest Baptist Church stopped short of affirming same-sex unions, but it asked that God bless "all loving, committed and exclusive relationships between two people."

The congregation had previously given permission to use church space for same-sex ceremonies. The church's pastor, the Rev. Richard Groves, said there have been a couple of requests for same-sex ceremonies but no definite plans.

The Rev. Mac Brunson, the Baptist State Convention president, had warned last week that the convention would end its relationship with Wake Forest Baptist if the church voted to affirm same-sex unions. After Sunday's vote, he said, "Regardless of how they phrase it, they're sanctioning same-sex marriage."

The state convention in 1992 cut ties with its only two member churches that have publicly affirmed same-sex unions.

The fundamentalist-led Southern Baptist Convention defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Wake Forest Baptist is an SBC member but Groves said that the relationship exists in name only.

The 325-member church meets on the campus of Wake Forest University but is not governed by the school. The university says it is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina but receives minimal support from it.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Church Leader
Supports Gay Clergy

November 19, 1998

Cleveland (AP) -- The head of the United Church of Christ on Thursday asked that a document he wrote supporting the acceptance of homosexual and bisexual people into the church and its clergy be read aloud at services.

The Rev. Paul H. Sherry, president of the 1.4-million member church, headquartered in Cleveland, mailed a pastoral document to his denomination's more than 6,000 churches.

Sherry said he wrote the document in response to the slaying of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and other recent examples of anti-gay sentiments that have been in the news.

Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten and tied to a fence post in October outside Laramie, Wyo. He later died at a hospital. Two men who investigators say killed Shepard at least in part because of his homosexuality have been charged with murder.

"The hatred exposed in the shocking murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming last month underscores the critical importance of this reflection and of the need for our voice to be heard," Sherry said.

The pastoral letter is titled "Now, No Condemnations," and supports the full participation of gay, lesbian and bisexual persons in the membership and clergy of the church. Sherry asked the document be read from all local United Church of Christ pulpits

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Georgia Overturns
Anti-Sodomy Law
By James Pilcher
Associated Press Writer

November 24, 1998

Atlanta (AP) -- Georgia politicians may try to revive the state's 156-year-old anti-sodomy law now that the

state Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional. "I think there needs to be a law of some sort on the books," said Lt. Gov.-elect Mark Taylor, who will preside over the Senate when the Legislature convenes in January. "I think, Republican or Democrat, it's an issue the Legislature would rather not deal with. But we don't have that option."

In a 6-1 ruling Monday, the court said the law, which banned heterosexual and homosexual anal and oral sex, violated the state constitution's provision that citizens are entitled to privacy.

"We cannot think of any other activity that reasonable persons would rank as more private and more deserving of protection from governmental interference than consensual, private, adult sexual activity," Chief Justice Robert Benham wrote.

The ruling overturned the sodomy conviction of Anthony Powell, found guilty of sodomizing his 17-year-old niece in 1996. He had been charged with rape, but his lawyers argued that the sex was consensual and the jury acquitted on that charge.

Taylor, a Democrat, said the sodomy law was helpful in prosecuting sex cases in which more serious charges, such as rape, were hard to prove.

Charles Shanor, an Emory University law professor, said it gave juries an out when they did not want to convict for either rape or aggravated sodomy.

"With this law, they could penalize what they saw as wrong conduct -- such as a married man having relations with his 17-year-old niece -- and not send him away for life," Shanor said.

Georgia's law had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1986 landmark case. The divided court ruled that the U.S. Constitution provided no protection for private homosexual conduct.

Gay activists praised Monday's ruling and said the law had been disproportionately applied to homosexuals.

"I think that Georgia is preparing itself to move into the 21st century as a just state," said Lynn Cothren, an Atlanta gay activist. "We are moving forward. This is an issue we had been working on for a long time. There is still a lot of work to be done; it's a slow process."

Twelve other states have laws that make consensual oral and anal sex between heterosexual or homosexual couples a crime, while six other states have anti-sodomy laws that apply only to homosexuals.

Three other states -- Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania -- have recently overturned such laws.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Israeli Gays Come
Out of the Closet

July 2, 1998

Tel Aviv (Reuters) -- Orthodox Jews in traditional black averted their eyes as sequin-clad drag queens, dancing lesbians and bare-chested men gyrated down the streets of Tel Aviv in Israel's first Gay Pride parade.

An exuberant crowd of more than 2,000 followed, waving rainbow flags and cheering when the hit song "Diva" by the transsexual Israeli singer Dana International boomed from loudspeakers.

The gay community in Israel is taking centre stage, demanding attention and equal rights.

"We've reached critical mass. People are coming out of the closet at a much quicker rate than before," said 25-year-old Jared Goldfarb, who attended the June 26 parade carrying a sign reading "Gay, religious and proud."

Goldfarb said he was grateful the parade was in the afternoon so he could make it home in time for the Jewish sabbath, which begins at sundown on Fridays.

Even in Jerusalem, home of Israel's largest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the gay community is speaking up.

This year, student organisers threw the holy city's second annual gay pride party. But it was held indoors and drew about 200 people.

"I can't have anything in a park, or anywhere outdoors. People live in the closet here," complained party organiser Sa'ar Nathaniel. Hebrew University's gay and lesbian student association, which he chairs, received threatening messages on its answering machine prior to the event.

A few hours before the party, Jerusalem's deputy mayor Haim Miller said on television that homosexuals were "loathsome" and that "everything must be done so they won't be seen in our homes or around our yards."

But watching from the sidelines of the Tel Aviv parade, Amit Schneider, a heterosexual who fears the power of Israel's religious right, said: "I don't want to live in a country that puts limits on how people choose to live their lives."

Life After Dana

For Israel's gay community, Dana International's victory in May's Eurovision song contest -- an annual event best known for rocketing the Swedish group Abba to international stardom -- was a turning point.

"It is different for us after Dana," said drag queen Mina De La Chorba, repairing a false eyelash before performing at the Jerusalem pride party.

"When Israelis celebrated Dana's victory in the streets of Tel Aviv, people started to recognise that there is a big gay community," echoed Nathaniel.

Less than a month after Eurovision, the gay community was in the spotlight again when it clashed with police at Wigstock, an outdoor show in Tel Aviv featuring musical groups and drag artists.

Participants blocked a main street for two hours after police, who wore latex gloves for fear of AIDS, tried to close the show an hour before organisers thought their permit was due to expire.

Nathaniel calls the standoff Israel's "Stonewall," a reference to a 1969 riot in New York's Greenwich Village in which patrons of Stonewall, a gay bar, clashed with police trying to shut it down. The incident was a turning point for gay rights in the United States.

"The biggest struggle is the struggle for visibility. Now any candidate who wants to be elected mayor will not be able to ignore the gay and lesbian community," said Nathaniel.

Israel Laws Take Liberal Line on Homosexuality

Israeli laws on homosexuality seem progressive compared to the United States, where only nine states have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and some still consider sodomy illegal, Israeli gay activists say.

Israel prohibited workplace discrimination in 1992, after decriminalising homosexuality in 1988. In 1993, the army adopted a policy of allowing openly homosexual soldiers to serve in any capacity.

Though there is no civil marriage in Israel, even for heterosexual couples, both the Supreme Court and the military have recognised same-sex domestic partners as eligible for spousal benefits.

Dan Yakir, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, believes legal successes for homosexuals and growing media attention have meant increasing opposition from Orthodox Jews, whose political parties are key players in the coalition government.

"The religious voice didn't play a significant role so long as the gay and lesbian community wasn't so visible," said Yakir.

Following Dana International's win, Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Shlomo Benizri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party called transsexuality a "sickness."

Member of Parliament Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late war hero Moshe Dayan, has championed gay and lesbian causes, including a failed 1995 attempt to legislate equal status for homosexual couples.

"I see it as all a part of human rights," she told Reuters.

Although he appreciates Dayan's work, De La Chorba believes his community would benefit even more from an openly homosexual member of parliament.

"We don't really have someone to represent us. Dayan has done a lot, but she's straight. I believe someone who is gay would be much more sensitive to the things that we need," he said.

A Tale of Two Cities

Tel Aviv may soon have a gay politician. Michal Eden, running in the left-wing Meretz party's primary for municipal elections, will be Israel's first openly homosexual elected official if she wins a council seat.

But many homosexuals still don't feel comfortable living in Jerusalem.

"It's much easier for me in Tel Aviv, both as a gay person and a secular person," said Nathaniel, who plans to move there as soon as he graduates.

Dana, a lesbian graduate student at Hebrew University, also plans to move to Tel Aviv when she finishes her studies.

"There is no active community life here -- only support groups and help lines," she said of Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv already has a handful of gay bars and restaurants. Minerva, the city's first establishment catering mainly to lesbians, opened recently.

© Copyright 1998, Reuters

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Gay Jesus May
Play on Broadway

May 1, 1998

New York (AP) -- A Christlike gay figure who has sex with his apostles is at the center of "Corpus Christi," Terrence McNally's new play, which may get a New York production next season.

The play had a reading April 28 at Manhattan Theater Club, a nonprofit off-Broadway theater where the author's "Love! Valour! Compassion!" premiered.

The New York Post said Thursday that the sex in the play occurred off-stage and that the play borrows dialogue from the New Testament.

McNally declined to comment on the play or its plot.

"This is a work-in-progress," McNally said in a telephone interview. "And I never do interviews about plays that are not finished."

"Corpus Christi" is advertised in MTC's subscription brochure for next season as a possible off-Broadway production, although no performance dates are given.

The brochure describes the play as follows: "From modern-day Corpus Christi, Texas, to ancient Jerusalem, we follow a young gay man named Joshua on a spiritual journey and get to know the 12 disciples who chose to follow him."

Joe Mantello, who directed "Love! Valour! Compassion!", was listed as director.

The Post said one scene in the play paraphrases Pontius Pilate's questioning of Jesus before his crucifixion. "Art thou king of the queers?" the playwright's Pontius Pilate character asks. "Thou sayest," Joshua responds.

Lynne Meadow, the theater's artistic director, and Barry Grove, its executive producer, also declined to comment on the play's subject matter or MTC's possible production plans.

McNally has had a long relationship with Manhattan Theater Club which has produced seven other of his plays besides "Corpus Christi" and "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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'Gay Christ' Play Canceled
for Security Concerns
Reuters News Service
(Story later pulled from Yahoo)

June 11, 1998

A production of a new play by Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally which featured a gay Christ-like character who has sex with his "apostles" has been canceled due to "security problems," the publicist said Thursday.

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Georgia Baptists
Target Homosexuality
by Lori Johnston
Associated Press Writer

November 17, 1998

Columbus, Georgia (AP) -- Saying they didn't want same-sex marriages performed in their churches, Southern Baptists in Georgia voted Tuesday to exclude congregations that 'endorse' homosexuality.

The Rev. J. Gerald Harris, new president of the denomination's state convention, said Southern Baptists welcome gay individuals but can't allow churches to advocate their behavior.

"The unanimous verdict of scripture is that practicing homosexuality is a sin," said Harris, from Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta. "Love ... must not compromise the church's allegiance to scripture."

Delegates voted to warn churches they should not knowingly take any action to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior if they want to remain in the convention, the denomination's second largest in the nation behind Texas.

The Rev. J. Robert White, the Georgia convention's executive director, will oversee investigation of churches. If there is a complaint, White will meet with the pastor and the convention will ask the church to come into compliance or leave the denomination.

Several of more than 2,400 church representatives in Columbus this week for the meeting spoke against the measure.

"To speak on this very issue is perilous," said Bill Self of John's Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta. "I want to ask one simple question. This year, the homosexuals. Who's next, churches that receive African-Americans? Churches that allow women in the ministry?"

Also Tuesday, the group rejected a provision to exclude churches that engage in "divisive" and "disruptive" charismatic worship, such as speaking in tongues.

Only a few states -- Florida, North Carolina and Texas -- have adopted policies on gays. And only one state, Florida, has a policy regarding charismatics.

A very small number of Baptist churches in Georgia either endorse homosexuality or charismatic worship, White said. No churches are being investigated. White said the convention wants to have rules just in case.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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Minister Fired Over
Gay Marriage
by Liz Gauger
Associated Press Writer

May 6, 1998

Omaha, Nebraska (AP) -- The Methodist minister who performed a lesbian marriage and then survived accusations he had broken church rules must look for a new job.

The Rev. Jimmy Creech was told Tuesday he would not be reappointed after his stint at First United Methodist Church in Omaha ends in June.

Creech said Bishop Joel Martinez told him he has been unable to lead his congregation, which has lost a "significant number" of parishioners who opposed the lesbian union ceremony he performed in September.

"He felt that I am not going to be able to bring about a reconciliation," Creech said.

Martinez could not be reached for comment. A voice messaging service indicated that his answering machine was not activated late Tuesday.

In a church trial in March, Creech was acquitted of charges he disobeyed rules by performing the marriage. The case challenged the denomination's Social Principles.

Creech and his supporters consider the Methodists' Social Principles to be advisory, not church law like the Book of Discipline. The issue has split the Methodist Church's 9.5 million members, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States after Southern Baptists.

Creech said he has no immediate plans. Methodist clergy are appointed for one year at a time.

The international Council of Bishops, which is made up of 50 active U.S. bishops, 17 from other countries and 57 retired bishops, issued a pastoral statement last week reaffirming its belief that it is wrong to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

But the church's highest judicial body, the Judicial Counsel, will hold a special session in Dallas in August to consider whether its ministers should be able to perform gay marriages.

The Judicial Council cannot make rules, but rather interprets religious statements much like the U.S. Supreme Court interprets law.

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Gay Couple Charged
for Having Sex
by Terri Langford
Associated Press Writer

November 21, 1998

Houston (AP) -- Two men challenging the state's 119-year-old law prohibiting gay sex pleaded no contest Friday to having intercourse in a private home.

John Geddes Lawrence, 55, and Tyrone Garner, 31, were arrested for engaging in homosexual conduct, a misdemeanor, on Sept. 17 when Harris County deputies -- responding to a false report of an armed intruder -- found the two in Lawrence's apartment engaged in consensual sex.

After entering their pleas, Justice of the Peace Mike Parrott fined both men $125 each, but neither man paid it. Instead, their attorneys posted an appeal bond of $332.50 each, which keeps the case alive and moves it to the next higher courtroom venue -- state district court.

From there, the case is expected to make its way to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The homosexual conduct law is an outrageous intrusion into the privacy of the lives of lesbians and gay men in Texas," said Suzanne Goldberg, a New York lawyer working on the men's appeal case in Texas.

Garner and Lawrence had little to say after their court appearance.

"I hope that the law changes," Garner said. "I feel like my civil rights were violated and I wasn't doing anything wrong."

Lawrence called his arrest "sort of Gestapo."

Although on the books for more than a century, the Texas sodomy law is rarely enforced. Gay activists have worked unsuccessfully for years to overturn the statute. The maximum fine is $500.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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