Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We Still Have a Very Long Way to Go

Two incidents in New York this week underscore the ongoing turmoil within our society over homosexuality: The state’s highest court heard arguments that could have profound effects on the battle over same-sex marriage, and an openly gay man was beaten almost to death in a homophobic hate crime.

The victim, Jack Price, 49, was beaten by two men outside a 24-hour deli in College Point, Queens, early Friday. Police believe the attack on Price was a homophobic assault because his two male attackers shouted anti-gay slurs as they beat him senseless. The vicious assault was captured on the deli’s outdoor surveillance camera.

Price’s injuries were so severe that he was placed in a medically-induced coma, but fortuately awoke on Wednesday and is coherent, according to his family. He suffered broken ribs, a fractured jaw and a lacerated spleen. His condition has been described as serious but stable.

One suspect, Daniel Aleman, 26, was arrested on Sunday and charged with assault and aggravated assault as a hate crime. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.

The second suspect, Daniel Rodriguez, 21, was arrested and taken into custody late Tuesday. He was found in Norfolk, Virginia, and was being returned to New York. He is expected to face the same charges.

Ironically, earlier in the day, the New York State Court of Appeals heard emotional arguments in two separate same-sex marriage cases that it is considering jointly. Both cases were brought by organizations opposed to gay marriage.

The civil cases concern relatively narrow executive and administrative orders pertaining to the extension of benefits, like health insurance to certain same-sex spouses. These same-sex spouses are of government employees who married in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal.

In one of the cases, opponents of same-sex marriage are challenging a 2007 policy, adopted by the New York State Department of Civil Service, that extended health insurance benefits to the same-sex partners of state and local government employees who married in states that allow such marriages.

In the other case, opponents are seeking to overturn an administrative order issued in 2006 by Andrew J. Spano, the Westchester County executive, directing county officials to recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere.

A broad enough ruling by the Court of Appeals could force New York state businesses and local governments to recognize out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples, effectively legalizing the unions of thousands of New Yorkers who were married in Vermont, Iowa, parts of Canada and other places where same-sex marriage is legal.

(Can you even imagine how gay marrieds must feel if they move and the government says: Whoops, sorry, the vows you took under God and witnessed by man mean nothing at all!)

The plaintiffs in both cases are being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, a very conservative legal-advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose lawyers have argued that state officials and Spano exceeded their authority. Lower courts have sided with state and local officials in the two cases, upholding the extension of those benefits to same-sex couples.

The fund is also coordinating the legal fight against a much broader executive order on gay unions that NY Gov. David A. Paterson issued in 2008. It required all state agencies to revise their policies and regulations to recognize gay couples legally married out of state.

While the legal challenge to Paterson’s order has not yet reached the Court of Appeals, questioning by the court’s judges during arguments in these two narrower cases raised the possibility that they might leapfrog to the larger question raised in all three cases: Whether New York must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, even though such unions are not recognized in New York.

“I guess what I’m struggling with is, the marriage-recognition rule would not be unique to state government,” said Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, referring to the legal doctrine under which most marriages legally performed in one state are generally recognized in other states. “That would also apply to the private sector, then, if our court indicates that the marriage-recognition rule requires the recognition of these marriages.”

In 2006, the court ruled 4 to 2 that gay couples had no right to get married under existing state law or the State Constitution, holding that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was based on legitimate societal goals, primarily the protection and welfare of children.

Paterson introduced legislation this year that would legalize gay marriage, making it one of his top legislative priorities. The bill passed in the Assembly but has stalled in the Senate. A decision by the Court of Appeals requiring New York to recognize out-of-state gay marriages would provide gay-marriage advocates, who have been campaigning to legalize same-sex marriages in New York, with a significant victory.

But during Tuesday’s questioning, Appellate Judge Robert S. Smith noted that courts, when presented with the choice of issuing a narrow or a broad ruling, usually favored a narrower one.

“We’ll get the next case soon enough,” Judge Smith said, in what appeared to be a reference to the challenge to Paterson’s order.

Brian W. Raum, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, suggested that he would prefer a broad ruling that would block state officials from recognizing gay marriages of any kind, absent approval by the Legislature.

“We don’t think” that the state civil service agency or the Westchester executive have “the authority to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions for any purpose,” Raum said.

In the violent assault, Price was attacked as he went for a pack of cigarettes, and remains in the intensive care unit at Booth Memorial Hospital.

"Look what they did to him because he is gay," Price's sister-in-law said, standing in his hospital room. "It is in God's hands right now. There is nothing more they can do for him."

The 5-foot-6, 130-pound man has been near death since the Friday, 3 a.m., beating when the two men jumped him outside the 24-hour corner deli on College Point Boulevard.

Price never hid his sexual orientation from neighbors. His relatives think the two assailants recognized him, and then attacked outside the deli.

"They were walking in the store calling him a 'faggot,'" said Price's sister-in-law, who asked not to be named.

Price told his family about the ordeal from his hospital bed Friday, before losing consciousness.

(Will this madness never end? This issue hurts my heart so much I always feel inadequate in expressing myself. How a person’s innate sexuality affects anyone beyond their bed-partner remains lost on me. I will say what I do know: Sexuality is not a choice, it’s biological. Goddess, God, Creator, Allah or whatever Higher Power you believe in, created each and every human being, gay, bi or straight. Thus, homosexuality is as much a gift from that Higher Power as is being straight. It is not a religious issue, any more than your drive to slake your thirst or fill your stomach with food. Biology is neutral. Why do we insist on tearing at each other, so?)

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