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Equal Benefits Law; Hearing Into Police Activity During Convention; New Sexual Harassment Charges in the City Council


City Not Preparing Contractors for Compliance with Equal Benefits Law

The Mayor's Office of Contracts has yet to receive instructions on how to explain and enforce a major new law for those doing business with the city even though it goes into effect before the month is out. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office refuses to say whether it will enforce the law.

As of October 26, 2004, the 2,600 businesses and non-profit organizations that do more than $100,000 worth of contracts with the City of New York must certify that they provide the same health and leave benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that they do to the spouses of their workers. If a contactor can't purchase domestic partner insurance from its carrier, it must compensate the employee who has a domestic partner.

I called the Office of Contracts in late September and the person answering the phone said, "We've been getting a lot of calls on this, but we haven't been given any direction on it." There is no information on the contract office's Web site. She suggested I call the City Council, "which passed the bill."

Councilmember Christine Quinn, the chief sponsor of the Equal Benefits Bill, said, "That is a completely ridiculous response. The law is clear. The executive has to implement it. But the mayor is opposed to it. We cannot take legal action until the date of implementation has passed. If that date comes and they have not done what they are legally bound to do, the Council has retained outside lawyers to take them to court. Sadly, I'm not surprised, though I am disappointed."

The Equal Benefits Lawwas passed by the City Council in May by a vote of 43 to 5 and vetoed by Mayor Bloomberg. The Council then overrode the mayor's veto overwhelmingly by a 41 to three vote (with four abstentions) in June, but Bloomberg said he would "probably" take legal action to block its implementation.

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, says "the city is still reviewing its options" with respect to enforcing the contract requirement. There has been speculation that either Bloomberg or a city contractor such as Catholic Charities would sue to stop the law from taking effect, although Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the director of Catholic Charities who testified against the bill, did not return a call for comment on their plans on whether or not to comply with the law.

The benefits that contractors must equalize include health insurance, pension, retirement, disability and life insurance, leave policies, tuition reimbursement, legal assistance, dependent care insurance, moving expenses, membership discounts, and travel benefits. Any of those offered to the spouse of an employee must be offered to the domestic partner of an employee.

Bruce Millman, a labor and employment lawyer who advises many clients who are contractors, sent out an advisory(in pdf format) to his clients of the compliance date. While he said he was not "challenging" the law, his release stated that "these costs may be particularly difficult for small businesses" and that "the law will likely encourage couples who are living together to register as domestic partners because they will have a real economic incentive to do so."

Cynthia Goldstein, a San Francisco official who administers that city's 1997 lawthat served as a model for New York's, disputed speculation that the law burdened contractors. She said that it did not drive up contracting costs and that virtually all contractors complied, including the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco.

There is a clause in the New York law specifically for religious contractors that may have moral objections to co-habiting employees. It says that instead of covering a domestic partner specifically, the employee can name one other person of unspecified relation on his or her benefits policies. While that clause led to Agudath Israel, an orthodox Jewish organization with many city contracts, to drop its opposition to the legislation, it did not assuage Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, another big contractor, who has yet to announce whether it will comply with the law.

Council Hearings on Police Misconduct at Anti-Republican Demonstrations

The streets may be cleared of barricades and masses of police, but the controversy over whether the New York Police Department violated the rights of protesters and bystandersat demonstrations during the Republican National Convention will continue for a long time to come in the courts and in City Council hearings.

On September 15, the Council Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Councilmember Bill Perkins, held a hearing on police conductduring the demonstrations. No one from the Police Department or the mayor's office showed up to testify and Perkins indicated that he would consider using subpoena power to compel their testimony, though he hoped that it would not come to that.

The big bones of contention remain whether protesters were processed in a timely fashion and the conditions at the holding pen where thousands were jailed at Pier 57.

The law requires that an arrestee be arraigned within 24 hours. Many of those detained after these demonstrations spent two to three days at the pier, which many testified was filthy and hazardous to health.

Chris Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, testified that his organization had met with the police as early as January 2003 to prepare for these demonstrations, but was troubled that when the actions came, "some of the most basic things for processing people were not in place" at the detention center such as fingerprinting equipment. He called Pier 57 "grossly inappropriate."

Also much discussed was a demonstration by the War Resisters League conducted without a permit starting from Ground Zero. At first, police said that the marchers would be able to proceed if they went two-by-two, stayed on the sidewalk, and did not impede pedestrian traffic. Despite video evidence that the march was proceeding lawfully, police subsequently announced that everyone was under arrest. Councilmember Perkins himself was a witness to the demonstration and arrests.

Michele Weinstein, a city worker who just happened to be passing by when the Ground Zero protest was taking place, testified that it was "a quiet demonstration" until "red-faced police suddenly surrounded the demonstrators and started shouting, 'You're blocking the sidewalk," even though she could see pedestrians freely proceeding. When she offered a peace sign of support to the protesters, police told her that if she did not have press credentials, she would have to leave. When she told the officer that it was her "First Amendment right" to stand on a public sidewalk, he threatened to arrest her.

"I wanted to be arrested," she said, "but I'm a mother of twin toddlers and my children needed me. I was distressed at having my constitutional rights deprived. I did oppose the Bush agenda and the Iraq war and I had to say it."

Michael Shiller, a filmmaker with press credentials, was ensnared in a police net used to capture demonstrators at the downtown action. He said he was detained for 16 hours in handcuffs, his hands turning "numb." He was not allowed a phone call until 24 hours had passed. And he and the intern with whom he was working were not released until 48 hours had passed. He called the city's conduct an attack "upon our entire democratic process."

Several witnesses testified that arrestees were held more than 24 hours in order to prevent them from going back in the streets and demonstrating again against the Republicans.

At a press conference on September 20, Mayor Bloomberg said there is not "one shred of evidence" that protesters arrested were locked up for long periodsto keep them from joining other demonstrations, the Daily News reported. "They broke the law. We will prosecute them. They might as well just plead guilty and go on."

Charges Of Sexual Harassment in the City Council

Just as the City Council was conducting its closed-door investigation into charges that City Councilmember Allan Jennings sexually harassed five female staffers, a story broke that Councilmember Vincent Gentile had been accused of sexually harassing his chief of staff, John Martin.

"When the councilman became aware that I was looking for a new place to live, he on no less than four occasions invited me to move in with him," Martin said in an affidavit. "I thought these invitations that I cohabitate with him were entirely inappropriate."

Gentile denied the charges and said that he is not gay. But the Gay City News reported that civil rights attorney Tom Shanahan now claims he had an affair with Gentile in 1994; he has made this public now, he says, "as a matter of principle." As a State Senator, Gentile voted against the Sexual Orientation Non-discrimination Act, the state lesbian and gay rights bill, in 2002, but as a Council member has supported gay rights initiatives.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Post-Convention State of Dissent in New York


Although New York was the scene of the largest demonstrationprotesting a political convention in United States history on August 29, most civil libertarians saw convention week not as a triumph for dissent, but as another indication of the erosion of the right to protest in the city.

While Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had promised respect for the First Amendment, and the right to protest peacefully, serious charges have been raised by protesters, civil liberties attorneys, public officials, and at least one judge that the city overstepped its legal authority in arresting and detaining more than 1800 (some of whom turned out to be bystanders and working journalists).

The City Council plans a hearingon the arrests on September 15 at 10 AM in the Government Operations Committee.

OMINOUS SIGNS BEFORE THE CONVENTION

In an address at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on August 17, just prior to the Republican National Convention, Mayor Bloomberg referredto the First Amendment as a privilege rather than a right, and added, "...if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that."

Bloomberg's focus was on projecting an image of a city in control, in hopes among other things of convincing the Olympics to come to New York in 2012. The original security budget of $25 million for convention week mushroomed to $70 million, the mayor said, with $50 million of that to be paid by the federal government.

But his comment turning rights into privileges further disturbed those who had criticized his refusal to allow the use of the Great Lawn in Central Park for a rally after the United for Peace and Justice march on August 29th. The group argued that it is the only large, public space in Manhattan appropriate for such a mass gathering. The city offered the West Side Highway instead. The protest organizers agreed at first, then said no; only the park would do. The city, especially the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, argued that the Great Lawn had been rehabilitated at substantial cost and that protesters would damage it. A last minute court action seeking a Great Lawn permit was denied. The upshot was that there was no rally at all -- no chance to articulate why there was such a huge protest -- and the Great Lawn will probably be lost for some time to come as a gathering place for rallies.

Editorialists from the New York Times and Post to the Toronto Globe and Mail and USA Todayexpressed shock and dismay that so great a public space was being eliminated as a venue for First Amendment expression.

And they weren't the only ones. Bob Zuckerman of Brooklyn was so incensed that the protesters were forced into Union Square Park, "a thirtieth of the size," that he says he wants to run for City Council and do something about the restrictions on legal protest. Doug Muzzio, a political analyst and professor at the Baruch School of Public Affairs, said, "You have an increasing loss of public space. City Hall Park, for instance, doesn't allow for the free flow of people. The refusal of protest in Central Park signals the loss of _expression of voice. Bloomberg is not as bad as his predecessor. Rudy didn't like the First Amendment. Bloomberg just doesn't understand it."

"UNNECESSARY ARRESTS"

Veterans of protesting in New York such as Ann Northrop of ACT UP, the AIDS activist group, and the ad hoc Gays Against Bushthat formed just for the convention, cast a jaundiced eye on the police response to the week's protests. "It's the same old thing," she said. "We go out, the cops arrest some of us unnecessarily, beat us up in jail, and hold us for too long for no good reason. The police feel the need to control everything with forces way out of proportion to what's needed and I find that extremely depressing--and I'm depressed about the lack of rational conversation about this."

Northrop left the big march on Sunday for a few hours to lead a small gay contingent to Bryant Park on Sunday to protest against Mayor Mike Bloomberg's recent vetoes of gay bills as he was playing host to a "Big Tent" event for the gay Log Cabin Republicans. While what happened to her did not make much news and was not nearly as dramatic as some of the larger unpermitted street marches that sprang up during the week--and occasionally turned violent--it is illustrative of what has happened to the right to protest in New York City.

At first, Northrop's group of ten demonstrators was allowed to stand on the sidewalk at the West 40th Street entrance to the park, holding signs and passing out fliers to attendees. Then a polite police officer told them they would have to move thirty yards away from the entrance, where they could no longer engage the politicians going to the reception nor hand them leaflets. "We're not moving," Northrop said, "it is a public sidewalk." Then ten burly cops looking like linebackers got out of a van to make the protesters move.

Another woman told me that she was nearby when police arrested the anarchists in the big march who had burned the dragon. When she saw one police officer being rough on one of the people being arrested, she started shouting at the cop to stop. That led to her arrest, $100,000 bail (later reduced to $10,000), felony charges.

"ZERO TOLERANCE FOR PEACEFUL PROTEST"

After the big Sunday march, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, was more upbeat than many of the veteran protesters with whom I spoke, saying that her group was "pleased" that it "went off with few incidents" and at "the level of cooperation from the New York Police Department who largely cooperated to resolve the logistical problems that are inevitable at any demonstration." She did complain about the arrests of cyclists in the march and of "harassment of legal monitors."

Two days later, however, on Tuesday, August 31, Lieberman felt the situation had degenerated with the mass arrest of protesters at the World Trade Center, which she labeled "a clear example of a 'bait and switch operation' by the NYPD. They misled marchers into believing they would be allowed to march on the sidewalk, and then arrested them indiscriminately after they began to march. This example of zero tolerance for peaceful protest is unacceptable. Such action by the NYPD effectively stifles political debate at a time when people most want their voices heard."

By Thursday, United for Peace and Justice was out protesting again, this time against what they called the "appalling" conditions at Pier 57, a former bus garage being used as a detention center for arrestees during the convention. "Most people have to sleep on the filthy and possibly toxic floor," the group said in a statement. "Arrestees have gone for many hours without access to food, water, phones, or lawyers." Gotham Gazette blogger Jon Winklemantalked about his harrowing experience in detention for 44 hours.

Inside the convention hall, some ACT UP protesters got in using credentials that they legally obtained. When they rose from their seats to voice their dissent, they were quickly subdued, pummeled and hustled out of the hall by security personnel and the Secret Service, while convention delegates chanted "Four more years!" to drown them out.

Republicans may not have wanted dissenters at their convention, but it is hard to say what crime the protesters committed. Nevertheless, the Manhattan District Attorney's office initially asked for felony charges of inciting a riot, assault, and trespass. It eventually offered to reduce the charges to minor "violations" and some of the protesters were offered Adjournments in Contemplation of Dismissal (basically a promise to dismiss the charges in exchange for good behavior), but they refused the offer, and are prepared to go to trial to achieve full acquittal.

By contrast, I recall that, as a Democratic delegate in 1984, I joined some other Jesse Jackson delegates in heckling Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young for speaking against an affirmative action plank. Former Rep. Bella Abzug, who was sitting in front of me, gave us a fierce tongue lashing for attacking a civil rights leader - but the Secret Service didn't tackle us!

REMEMBERING IN NOVEMBER?

The debate over the tactics the city used to contain protest during convention week will continue long past the president's acceptance speech and the November election - maybe to next year's mayoral election. Some of these issues are headed for the courts, since many of the arrested demonstrators will challenge the charges against them, and some are facing felony charges for arrests in incidents that involved injuries to police officers; more to the point, there likely will be a rash of civil suits charging the city with illegal detention.

It was in the courts that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had his sails trimmed several times he tried to limit protest, especially in front of and around City Hall. The only other counterweight to a mayor and police department determined to limit the right to protest is a City Council willing to write new laws that would rein in the executive and police. But while City Council members plan oversight hearings and hold numerous press conferences condemning police excesses, they have not passed their own "Right to Protest Bill" that would give some teeth to the right to protest in New York.

Not having such protection did make a difference. Exiting the massive march at 34th Street, Caroline Perez of Brooklyn said, "I know a lot of people who didn't come because they were scared-of police, chaos, or because they were immigrants. It says a lot."

Meanwhile, a large group of the protesters went to Central Park's Great Lawn anyway after the march, without incident (but also without a rally). One of these was Roger Donley of Houston, Texas. "When Bush was governor of Texas, people were told they couldn't protest outside the governor's mansion any more," he recalled. "If we don't have the freedom to express ourselves here in New York, we don't have it anywhere in the country."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protests; Mayor Rejects Shareholder Power; Anti-Bullying Bill Vetoed; Accessible Taxis


The Right to Protest in a City Under Terrorist Threat

At the Democratic National Convention in Boston most protests were consigned to a "Free Speech Area"-a concrete pen under a railroad trestle. Many protesters avoided the pen entirely, finding creative ways to get their message out around town. But in the end, despite preparations for an onslaught of protests, relatively few materialized in Boston. Demonstrators either gave the Democrats a pass or are saving their time and energy for New York where the Republican National Convention convenes at the end of August.

Scores of protests are scheduled in conjunction with the Republican convention and most have been given the permits they asked for from the New York Police Department. The gay Summer of Love '04 Concert for Equality, prompted by President George W. Bush's push for the Federal Marriage Amendment to the US constitution banning same-sex marriage, did not get the Saturday, August 28 date organizers sought nor the Great Lawn site in Central Park. The celebrity-studded concert is now set for Wednesday, August 25 in the park's East Meadow.

The massive march planned by United for Peace and Justiceagainst the Iraq war did get the Sunday, August 29 date it wanted and will be able to march past the (empty) Madison Square Garden that is the site of the convention, but demonstrators were denied the opportunity to hold their rally on the Great Lawn. (It will proceed south and end up on the West Side Highway near Chambers St.) Civil libertarians complained that concert-goers are able to use the Great Lawn while demonstrators are not, but United for Peace and Justice decided not to pursue their claim in court, anxious to being publicizing their secured route, since they expect as many as 250,000 as demonstrators from around the world.

The New York Civil Liberties Union was in court to try to stop the police from penning in demonstrators with metal barricades or using other tactics the group sees as overly restrictive. They secured a favorable decision [In PDF Format] from federal Judge Robert Sweet limiting unreasonable searches of backpacks at the demonstrations that was assailed by the Daily News as "nutso" and praised by El Diarioas "an act of sanity." Sweet subsequently modified his order to allow searches if there is a "probability of a threat to public safety and a determination that blanket searches could reduce the threat." In his initial order, Sweet said the city would have to demonstrate a "specific threat" to conduct the searches.

In addition to the heightened security in New York in the run-up to the Republican convention, the city began the month of August with a threat of attack by Al Qaeda against "corporations or other large public institutions," the New York Timesreported. It was not enough for Homeland Security to raise the city's terror alert from orange, the second-highest level where we've been since the color-coded system was devised, but was specific enough for sites such as the Stock Exchange to be cited in the alert as possible targets. The city has the option of raising the level to red.

Bloomberg Against Using Shareholder Power to Secure Corporate Non-Discrimination Policies

Mayor Mike Bloomberg continued in July to try to stop New York City from using its purchasing and stockholder power to protect private employees from discrimination. Bloomberg criticized City Comptroller William Thompsonfor using the city's ownership of shares in Winn-Dixie supermarkets to persuade the company to adopt a policy banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. City and state comptrollers have pushed socially conscious shareholder resolutions for decades and Thompson was joined in the Winn-Dixie effort by Bloomberg's own City Finance Commissioner, Martha Stark, who also leads the New York City Employees' Retirement System and the Teachers' Retirement System, the New York Sun reported.

When Winn-Dixie agreed to the non-discrimination policy in mid-July, Stark said in a release, "Through these pension funds, we will continue to press Winn-Dixie and other companies to guarantee equal employment opportunity for all of their employees - it's good business practice and the decent thing to do. Our effort to modernize the employment policies of the companies in which New York City pension funds invest will continue until they all join Winn-Dixie in guaranteeing equal opportunity in the workplace."

Bloomberg told the Sun that he supports the goal of ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, but "I don't think we should be using the City's investment policies‚ to advance social goals, now matter how admirable those goals are and no matter how much I believe in it."

Ken Sylvester, Assistant Comptroller for Pension Policy, believes that "promoting anti-discrimination policies helps strengthen a corporation and, therefore, protects the pension funds' investment," in addition to protecting the company from lawsuits, the Sun said.

In June, Bloomberg vetoed the City Council's Equal Benefits Billthat requires City contractors to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees if they provide spousal benefits. The Council overrode that veto, but the mayor has said he will "probably" pursue legal action to stop implementation of the law, which is in place in some five cities, starting with San Francisco in 1997.

Bloomberg Vetoes Anti-Bullying Bill

On July 20, Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the Dignity in All Schools Actthat requires the schools to take more action to reduce bullying in the schools. The Council has scheduled a veto override vote for August 12. The mayor says that existing regulations provide the schools with enough power to deal with bullying and harassment, although the Council Act includes protections based on "gender identity," which State Education Law does not. The mayor's veto message said that keeping the schools safe for all students was a "high priority" for him and Chancellor Joel Klein.

The Gay City Newsreported in negotiations between the City Council and the Department of Education, the department "did not fulfill promises to produce satisfying evidence that it monitors bullying and harassment in schools."

Bloomberg says he does support a long-stalled similar bill in the state legislature. "It is an outrage that Mayor Bloomberg can support nearly identical language in legislation pending in Albany while vetoing this very necessary bill," Council Member Alan Gerson (D-Lower Manhattan), the bill's sponsor, told the Gay City News.

Update on Accessible Taxis

The vast majority of City Council members have expressed sentiment in favor of making all new taxicabs that come into service accessible to people who use wheelchairs and 38 of them have sponsored a bill to mandate it, but the council leadership has yet to get behind the effort.

"We're frustrated about inaction from Speaker Gifford Miller and Council Transportation Chair John Liu on the accessible taxi issue," said Jean Ryan of the Taxis for All Campaign. "We've been meeting with Councilmember Liu for months and we still have no bill introduced in the City Council. Taxis use city streets that taxpayers pay to keep up, and yet people who use wheelchairs cannot take taxis. We pay taxes, too, and we need and deserve the same transportation options as everyone else."

Ryan said that information obtained from companies that convert minivans for use as taxis show that "the cost of wheelchair-accessible taxis were the same as or slightly more than the industry pays for sedans now" and that "federal tax incentives would reduce the cost even more."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Issues: Civil Rights


Untitled Document

URBAN ISSUES - CIVIL RIGHTS
• Affirmative Action
• Gay and Lesbian Rights

• • • • • • •

George W. Bush

George W. Bush says that he "opposes racial quotas and racial preferences."

Bush opposes gay marriage and is supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. (Learn more)

Bush has continued the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays and lesbians serving in the military. They can participate only if they are not open about their sexuality.

John Kerry

John Kerry says he supports affirmative action programs. (Learn more)

Kerry opposes gay marriage, but is opposed to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Kerry supports gay civil unions. (Learn more)

Kerry would allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military.

• • • • • • •
Back to Urban Issues Main Page
• • • • • • •

GOTHAM GAZETTE’S RELATED ARTICLES

 

Council Leads on Some Civil Rights Issues, Finesses Others


Civil rights was at the top of the agenda at the City Council's last meetingbefore the summer recess, but while several long-debated major pieces of legislation were passed, the impasse over how protesters at the Republican National Convention in late August will be accommodated was not resolved.

Equal Benefits

By a vote of 41-4-3, the Council overrode Mayor Bloomberg's veto of Council Member Christine Quinn's (D-Chelsea) Equal Benefits Billthat requires city contractors to provide the same benefits to the domestic partners of their employees as they provide their spouses. Mayor Bloomberg promptly said that he would "probably" go to court to block implementation of the bill, though he supported it as a candidate in 2001. Now the mayor says using the procurement process to "advance social policy" is illegal and bad practice for the city. Quinn called the mayor "hypocritical," since he has signed other bills requiring such things of some contractors as paying a living wage.

Quinn's bill had more than enough votes to pass back in 2002 when Miller first became Speaker, but the mayor's evolution from support to qualified support to opposition to the threat of legal challenge forced Quinn and other advocates for the bill to have to work hard for a veto-proof majority. The bill was also redrafted as carefully as possibly to help it withstand lawsuits from the mayor and conservative religious opposition that emerged late in the game.

Anti-Bullying

Councilmember Alan Gerson's (D-Lower Manhattan) Dignity for All Schools Act, an anti-bullying measure that creates policies and procedures in the schools to combat the problem, passed by a vote of 45-3-0, but the mayor has not said if he will sign it. The Council and the Department of Education were unable to come to agreement on a program that might have avoided the need for legislation.

This bill, too, has enough votes to pass more than three years ago when the mayor did not have control over the schools. But it was resisted by the chair of the Education Committee, Council Member Eva Moskowitz, who pursued other priorities. She ultimately supported the bill in its final form.

Racial Profiling

Without dissent, the Council also passed Council Member Philip Reed's (D-Manhattan Valley/East Harlem) billto prohibit the use of racial or ethnic profiling by law enforcement officers. It is also known as the "stop and frisk act." Its operative clause: "Officers are also reminded that the use of characteristics such as religion, age, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation as the determinative factor for taking police action is prohibited."

Same-Sex Marriage Resolutions

Some council members congratulated themselves at this meeting for doing more work in a day than the State Legislature has gotten done all year. For all this action, however, there remain many bills and resolutions that enjoy broad sponsorship that have not yet had hearings.

Council leaders made a great display in March supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry. But even with the United States Senate poised to vote on amendment to the United States constitution limiting marriage to man-woman couples in mid-July, the council has no plans to act on their resolutions to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, oppose state interference with same-sex couples seeking to marry, or recognize the "fundamental rights of same-sex partners by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in NYC."

Right To Protest

Indignant City Council members and civil libertarians attacked Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Police Department at a press conference June 28 at City Hall for failing to grant a single permit to any of the myriad groups that have applied to demonstrate during the Republican National Convention at the end of August.

Two days later, the police department finally issued the first two permits to groups seeking to protest the Republicans. Planned Parenthood will march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall Park on the Saturday before the convention. And the National Abortion Rights Action League got a permit for a rally in Union Square for Tuesday of convention week.

But the largest action is expected to occur on Sunday, August 29, the day before the convention when United for Peace and Justice, which organized the big anti-war marches last year, will protest United States involvement in Iraq. As with past conventions in New York (all Democratic), the protesters want to exercise their right to march within sight and sound of Madison Square Garden, and have their rally on the Great Lawn of Central Park. (See arguments for and against the use of the lawn.) United for Peace and Justice is still being denied the chance to march near Madison Square Garden or to hold a rally in Central Park.

What is the City Council's reaction? The council passed a strongly-worded resolution denouncing the police department. But it has stalled on legislation proposed by Councilmember David Yassky that would require the police, among other things, to explain permit denials, "holding the city accountable for its decisions to limit speech."

It is likely that, as in past tangles with the Giuliani administration, the New York Civil Liberties will go to federal court to secure the right to protest.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lagging Behind In The Fight For Gay Rights


The modern movement for gay rights was born in the streets of New York's Greenwich Village in June 1969 when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, fought back against a police raid and three nights of riots ensued. That historic rebellion is chronicled in a new book by David Carter and will be celebrated for the 35th time by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Paradedown Fifth Avenue on Sunday, June 27th. But in a year of tremendous progress for the American gay movement, New York pegged itself as more of a follower than a leader, while holding the line against some of the severe backlash throughout most of the South and Midwest.

DOMESTIC PARTNER BENEFITS

Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off Gay Pride Month by vetoing a City Council bill that would require contractors with the city to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees if they provide spousal benefits. The "Equal Benefits Bill" passed on May 5 by a vote of 43 to 5. Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilmember Christine Quinn, the bill's chief sponsor, have vowed they will override Bloomberg's June 3rd veto. But they will also have to contend with the mayor's threat to take legal action to prevent the law from going into effect, contending it violates his city charter prerogatives and state law governing municipal procurement. And though the bill had broad religious and corporate support, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, both of whom have millions in city contracts, opposed it.

While New York City continues to debate the merits and legality of requiring contractors to treat gay partners equally, San Francisco beat us to the punch in 1997 with such a law and got the Catholic Archdiocese there (but not the Salvation Army) to go along with it. San Francisco's law has withstood several legal challenges and is credited with triggering 80 percent of the corporate domestic partner benefits available throughout the country -- because companies not based in the city but who did business with it started extending the benefits to all their employees rather than just those who worked there.

MARRIAGE

New York will also have to follow the lead of another state if it is to catch up in recognizing the marriage rights of same-sex couples. Massachusetts became the first state to marry gay couples legally on May 17. But Governor Mitt Romney invoked a 1913 law, designed to prevent interracial couples from coming to the Bay State to marry, to prevent out-of-state gay couples from marrying there. That law forbids clerks from licensing couples whose marriages would be "void" in their home states, but clerks in a half dozen towns did not interpret the law to prevent them from marrying gay people.

New York domestic relations law expressly voids underage, incestuous, and bigamous marriages, but not same-sex ones. So the lesbian and couples from New York who married in Massachusetts might be able to avoid dissolution of their marriages by Romney. The 1913 law is also being challenged in Massachusetts by both the legislature and gay legal groups.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer opined in March that legal same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries (such as Canada) must be recognized here even though New York does not allow for licensing such marriages here. But as the state's lawyer, Spitzer is opposing a challenge to the marriage law by gay couples including John Shields, the mayor of Nyack, and his partner. The Attorney General professes to be personally supportive of the right of gay people to marry, but is vigorously defending the law that excludes them.

Lawsuits have also been filed by gay couples seeking to marry in Albany, where State Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell of the Upper West Side of Manhattan is a litigant in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union, and against City Clerk Victor Robles in New York City in a casebeing argued by Lambda Legal Defense, a gay legal group.

All of the New York same-sex marriage cases are expected to work their way through the courts over the next two years and be grouped together before the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

New York State does have the distinction of being one of eleven states that has yet to pass a law forbidding recognition of same-sex marriages. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican, has expressed interest in such a ban. Governor George Pataki is opposed to same-sex marriage. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has remained mum on the subject. And while there is a "Right to Marry" bill for gay couples in both houses, sources say that the most likely action in Albany is no action on the issue pro or con. That puts New York ahead not just the 39 states that ban same-sex marriage in law, but the growing number that are moving to amend their state constitutions to limit marriage to man-woman couples.

FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT

No state will be allowed to recognize a same-sex marriage if the Federal Marriage Amendment to the United States constitution is enacted. It would define marriage as between a man and a woman and forbid judges from extending marital benefits to gay couples, while allowing state and federal legislatures to create domestic partnerships or civil unions as long as they are not called marriage. The Defense of Marriage Actpassed in 1996 and signed by President Clinton--and supported by New York Senators Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, and Chuck Schumer, then in the House--prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows the states to do what they want on the issue, including not recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. Clinton and Schumer still oppose same-sex marriage, but support civil unions and oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment.

President George Bush endorsed the amendment and 60 percent of the American people supported it in the most recent CBS News poll. But United States Senate Democrats recently pledged to block any such amendment. It is opposed by Democratic Presidential nominee Senator John Kerry. Two-thirds of the House and Senate would be required to send the amendment to the states. Three-quarters of the states would have to ratify it for it to become part of the constitution. It is not expected to get out of the Congress, but a vote on it is expected this summer because of a strong push on the issue by the religious right.

VIOLENT BACKLASH

Progress in the gay movement has not come without a price. The New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Projectreported last month that reports of violent attacks against people perceived to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered were up 43 percent here in the second half of 2003 versus the same period the year before. The project cited the historic United States Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy laws last June and the explosion of gay images on television as contributing to the backlash.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fast-Changing Status of Same-Sex Married Couples in New York


While New York State has yet to allow marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples, there has been a sudden explosion of activity toward that goal within the past month.

Married Elsewhere, Married Here

The state’s highest legal officer now has said that some New York gay couples who married legally elsewhere can be considered married here.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued an opinion (PDF Format) that while New York did not expressly forbid gay couples to marry, the gender neutral domestic relations law nevertheless was not written with them in mind. A supporter of the right of same-sex couples to marry, Spitzer nevertheless said that town and city clerks should not issue licenses to same-sex couples until the courts rule on the constitutionality of the state marriage law’s exclusion of gay couples. But he also held that same-sex couples validly married elsewhere (as they have been in Holland, Belgium, and Canada) “must be treated as spouses for purposes of New York law.”

New York gay and lesbian couples have been getting married in Ontario and British Columbia since this past summer. They didn’t become un-married when they returned to New York.

After May 17, New York gay couples will only have to go as far as Massachusetts to get married. That’s when the Bay State’s high court has ordered the state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even though the state legislature, meeting in Constitutional Convention in March, have voted to amend the state constitution to limit marriage to man-woman couples, while providing gay couples “civil unions” that would carry the same legal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. The amendment could not go into effect until late 2006, so gay people will be marrying in Massachusetts next month.There is a wrinkle in the Massachusetts marriage law that may have an effect on New Yorkers seeking to marry there. It forbids clerks from issuing licenses to out-of-state couples whose marriage would not be valid in their home state. Thirty-eight states, but not New York, have laws prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriage. And again, while New York does not license same-sex marriages, the attorney general of New York is of the opinion that the state must recognize valid same-sex marriages licenses elsewhere.

Twenty New York couples were among the more than 4,000 who tied the knot in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing licenses to gay couples on February 12. That process was stopped by California’s high court on March 12 and the validity of the licenses will be resolved in court cases.

New York City has a law, signed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2003, that requires the city to recognize domestic partnerships, civil unions, and same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Bloomberg has said that while this means the city will recognize those same-sex unions contracted in Vermont, Canada, Holland, and Belgium, he will not recognize same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco.

Lawsuits To Win The Right To Marry

New York City’s Corporation Counsel, Michael Cardozo, wrote to City Clerk Victor Robles, “Both New York State statutory law, and its interpretation by New York courts, support the City Clerk’s ongoing practice not to issue licenses to, or perform marriage ceremonies for, same-sex couples.” But when Cardozo was president of the New York City Bar Association in 1997, he approved a report calling marriage a “fundamental right” that be open to “all couples, regardless of sex,” the Daily News reported. He told the paper that his approval of the report “did not me I personally agreed with every legal point or the conclusion,” but that he thought “the legal issues were thoughtfully researched.”

Gay couples are now suing in New York, Rockland, and Ulster counties to win the right to marry in New York State. Lambda Legal Defense is representing Nevin Cohen and David Hernandez from Manhattan. Norman Siegel, once director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and now in private practice, has brought a case on behalf of ten gay couples from Nyack and is seeking a judgment that the state marriage law is unconstitutional because it bars licenses for same-sex couples. And in Ulster County, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are defending New Paltz Mayor Jason West who has been charged with marrying 25 same-sex couples without licenses.

Religious Defiance

While the domestic relations law of the state may be open to interpretation as to whether or not gay couples are entitled to marry, the law explicitly prohibits agents of the state (mayors, clerks, ministers, etc.) from marrying couples without licenses. The same Ulster County district attorney who charged Mayor West with breaking that law also went after two Unitarian ministers who performed multiple same-sex nuptials in New Paltz in March. All their cases are before the courts and they face fines of $500 and up to a year in jail on each count.

More than 30 ministers, priests, and rabbis in New York gathered on the New York City Hall steps on March 18 and defiantly pledged to break the law that forbids them to perform marriages for unlicensed couples, as I reported in Gay City News. Rev. Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the gay Metropolitan Community Church of New York performed two same-sex weddings--one for two men, another for two women--clearly stating that she was acting in her capacity as an agent of the state. Rabbi Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Park Slope, Brooklyn married another lesbian couple. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced that he did not intend to prosecute either Rev. Bumgardner or Rabbi Lippman, saying in a statement, “The criminal courts are not the appropriate forum for the resolution of these issues. Ultimately, they will be resolved in civil lawsuits, at least two of which are now pending.”

While it is illegal for the minister to perform a marriage for unlicensed couples, the law also says that couples so married are legally married if their intent was to obtain a license afterwards. It is possible, then, that the same-sex couples wed by Mayor West and these ministers and rabbis will have to be recognized as married by New York.

Bloomberg’s Back And Forth

Mayor Bloomberg, who maintains that he has no official position on same-sex marriage, told a gathering of lesbian and gay journalists that he did favor changing the marriage law to include gay couples. But the next day his press office would not confirm that he had said it. Bloomberg, a former Democrat who is now the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Party in the nation, will be playing host to Republican National Convention in late August and early September that will nominate for re-election President George Bush, a supporter of a constitutional amendmentto ban same-sex marriage. While Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki do not support that amendment, the mayor seems reticent to emphasize the issues with which he disagrees with his new party.

Opposition, Neutrality, Support

There are pockets of vocal opposition to same-sex marriage in New York. The state’s Catholic bishops went to Albany to lobby against it in March, with Brooklyn’s new Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio worrying that sanctioning same-sex marriage could open the door to people marrying their “pets.” On March 14, thousands of Pentecostal Latinosrallied outside the Bronx courthouse in favor of Bush’s constitutional amendment.

While the state legislature has been disinclined to take up bills either banning or approving of same-sex marriage, by the end of the March, Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno was looking at the possibility of taking up a state Defense of Marriage Act (limiting marriage to man-woman couples), something Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver has told colleagues that his house will not consider. The State Democratic Party is on record in favor of same-sex marriage, the Conservative Party is vehemently opposed, and Governor Pataki, leader of the state's Republicans, has said that the marriage laws should remain as they are--though he has granted some incremental rights for gay domestic partners in recent years.

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” wrote the United States Supreme Court in overturning laws in sixteen states banning interracial marriage in 1967. Despite the reference to men—and not men and women—the court surely did not foresee that men would want to marry men and women women in the early 21st century. But it is already a legal reality in New York, at least for a few couples, and it looks as if it will be left to our courts to decide if it will be open to all same-sex couples soon.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

The Right of Religious Groups to Discriminate


 <ahref="http://www.salvationarmy-newyork.org"target="new">The Salvation Army's determination to impose a religious test on its social service employees has brought them a federal lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Unionand opened the whole question of the degree to which religious organizations are subject to human rights law, particularly if they are receiving government money to provide services.

Several longtime employees of the Salvation Army are suing because they said that, though they worked on "secular, publicly financed activities like caring for children and counseling young people with AIDS," according to the New York Times , they were "pushed out" when they objected to having to specify the churches they had attended over the last ten years, name their ministers, and agree to the Army's mission to "preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The Salvation Army released a statement saying that its policies and procedures were "entirely consistent" with the laws governing religious institutions in New York. The city's human rights law , like most anti-discrimination statutes, contains a limited religious exemption. New York's clause (§ 8-107-12 Unlawful discriminatory practices) reads as follows: "Religious principles. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to bar any religious or denominational institution or organization or any organization operated for charitable or educational purposes, which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization from limiting employment or sales or rental of housing accommodations or admission to or giving preference to persons of the same religion or denomination or from making such selection as is calculated by such organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained."

Thus, even though city law forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, the Catholic Church cannot be hauled into court for not ordaining women to the priesthood. The city also prohibits religious discrimination, but all of the students who go to a Muslim school are of that faith and that is not, on its face, an illegal discriminatory practice. But if a secretary at the Mormon Center were to be denied a job on the basis of race, he or she would have a case, even if the organization were not receiving any public money.

When religiously affiliated organizations contract with the city to provide social services--and many do, for tens of millions of dollars--they are subject to more scrutiny under the human rights law. While the majority of the clients of an agency such as Agudath Israel may be of the Jewish faith because of where the service is situated, they would run afoul of the law if they turned away non-Jewish clients in the course of work performed with city funds. There is a Jewish Home and Hospital on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that still has special programs for Jewish residents, but their bulletin board is chock full of events for Christians and other groups. It could not receive the public funds and continue only to serve the Jewish elderly. Its mission is to provide a range of services "in keeping with our Jewish heritage," but most of those served are not themselves Jewish today.

Groups receiving city money must certify that they are in compliance with the city's human rights law, even if the organization is not based in New York City.

The City Council is on the verge of passing an Equal Benefits Bill that will require contractors with the city to provide domestic partner benefits for their employees if they give them spousal benefits. Mayor Bloomberg has raised legal objections to the bill, Intro 137, but no one else has testified against it in its two hearings , the last of which was February 27. The mayor has not said whether he will veto the bill, but it has a veto-proof majority of 38 sponsors in the City Council.

Similar legislation has been in force in San Francisco since 1997, leading to more than 80 percent of the private sector domestic partner benefits in the country because major firms doing business with San Francisco ended up providing the benefits to their employees nationwide.

The Salvation Army in San Francisco dropped their contracts with the city rather than comply with the law, because they believed that recognizing domestic partners compromised their religious teaching against homosexual relations. But the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco maintained their contracts and complied with the law by allowing their employees to name one other household member on their benefit policies regardless of relationship.

Catholic Charities in New York has yet to say publicly how they will deal with the Equal Benefits Bill, though there are Catholic hospitals already giving domestic partner benefits to their unionized employees under their contract with Local 1199. The Salvation Army here has already indicated that they might forgo their $89 million in city contracts rather than comply. The national church just received a $1.5 billion bequest from Joan Kroc of the McDonald's hamburger fortune that may soften the blow.

Among those testifying for the equal benefits bill was the Right Reverend Catherine Roskam , Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York that has been providing domestic partner benefits for years. "I am tired of the assault by the political right on the division between church and state," she said. Quoting George Washington, whose portrait looms over the ornate City Council chamber, "This land is no more Christian than it is Hebrew or Mohammedan."

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.

Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Civil Rights


The Topic
Civil rights refers to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, and to the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation, and many other criteria.
The Context
New York is the most diverse city on the planet, home to people of every race, nationality, language group, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, and to some of the world's premiere human rights groups. There have been intense intergroup conflicts throughout the city's history, from the Draft Riots of 1863 to the Crown Heights riots of 1992. But more amazing is how well such varied peoples have gotten along for hundreds of years.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia created a Committee on Unity after some race riots in 1943, in order "to make New York City a place where people of all races and religions may work and live side by side in harmony and have mutual respect for each other, and where democracy is a living reality." Eventually, the city and state governments passed laws against discrimination and established agencies to enforce them.

The Reporter
Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly Gay USA on Channel 35 on Thursdays at 11 PM.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Civil Rights.

 

Civil Liberties since 9/11. Also: Vacant seats on the human rights commission; the new local about same-sex marriages.

Monica Terazzi admits that, a year after the terrorist attacks, Arab Americans in New York are no longer subjected to the threats and harassment that many of them underwent in the immediate aftermath. "We have experienced a lot fewer incidents of violent crimes," said Terazzi, the New York director of the American Arab Discrimination Committee. Indeed, the City Commission on Human Rightshas not seen many complaints by Arab Americans of their civil liberties being violated.

But 9/11 still holds a special threat to the civil liberties of Arab-Americans in New York -- as well as to that of the rest of New Yorkers.

"We are still seeing a lot of workplace discrimination and incidents of police harassment. " Terazzi said. She is especially concerned that the government is detaining Arab immigrants and holding them for months on end for such infractions as overstaying their visas. "A Palestinian man with Jordanian citizenship was recently deported for not reporting an address change," she said. "This had never previously been a deportable offense... Everyone knows someone who has been harassed or detained. It is pretty scary, the notion that police can swoop down on your house and disappear with your husband."

Air travel poses special problems for those of Middle Eastern descent. "Many Arab Americans have been pulled out of line at airports," she said, despite assurances from United States Transportation Secretary Norman Minetathat there would be no such racial profiling. "Arab American passengers have been ejected from flights after going through security. I have spoken to lots of people who have faced so much harassment that they say, 'I'm not traveling again.'"

It is true that most of the incidents that Terazzi talks about are "anecdotal" -- they are not listed in official statistics, such as complaints registered with the City Commission on Human Rights. "People don't want to draw attention to themselves," Terazzi explained. "There is a fear of anything associated with the government." Her group held a town meeting in Bay Ridge with local and federal government agencies represented and the reaction from the crowd was "we don't want to go there; it's the government."

Staff members of the human rights commission are conscious of this reluctance, and have been speaking to small groups of Arab Americans, encouraging them to make reports and reminding them that they do not have to be citizens to do so. But few have come forward, despite an assurance from Commissioner Patricia L. Gatling that "discrimination has no place in this city -- not today, not tomorrow, and not on the anniversary of the attack on our nation at the hands of terrorists." She said that the city human rights law "is one of the most comprehensive in the nation" and that she and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are committed to "the vigorous enforcement of the law that protect these rights. And that protection extends to all New Yorkers, not just some of them."

Indeed, all New Yorkers should be concerned about the threats to their civil rights, says Donna Lieberman, the director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "In September and October of last year," she said, "I didn't dare contemplate how bad things would get. Some of the measures that the government has adopted have seriously eroded our fundamental civil rights and cry out for reversal." One example is the TIPS program, the Bush plan to recruit millions of volunteers to do domestic surveillance. Another is the "facial recognition technology" which is being employed at the Statue of Liberty, which is "about as accurate as heads or tails" in identifying evil-doers, while creating "a Big Brother-type of encroachment."

"What's heartening," Lieberman said, "is that...the American people have resisted to a certain extent. That's why we have not seen a proliferation of military trials. That's why TIPS has been met with resistance."

In New York, Lieberman said, the state legislators "enacted tough anti-terrorism legislation without debate or thoughtful consideration in an effort that was designed more to attain political capital than protect security. It increased death penalty application and defined terrorism in a vague and chilling way." Despite the rush to pass the law last year, "we haven't seen any prosecutions." She believes the law would not hold up in court.

The New York City Department of Education has a whole page of resources for administrators and teachers on how to help students cope with the traumatic effects of September 11, but there is scant acknowledgement in the school system's special materials on the stigmatization to which many students of Middle East origin or descent have been subjected. The resource page does, however, promote a special post 9/11 series on PBS-TV's "In the Mix" called "The New Normal" that focuses on dealing with ethnic, racial, and other human differences. And the "9/11 as History" program cited from the Families and Work Institutedoes include a lesson plan that deals with "compassion and diversity."

New Yorkers concerned about human rights should know about two events timed to the one-year anniversary. Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of family members of those who perished on 9/11, is sponsoring a march across the Brooklyn Bridge on September 10. And on September 11 at 6 PM, a candlelight vigil will begin at Atlantic and Court Streets in Brooklyn, the heart of the Arab American community in New York, to gather for "remembrance, prayer, reflection, and unity," according to Terazzi.

New Human Rights Commissioners to be Named This Month

Mayor Bloomberg is finally getting around to filling twelve vacancies on what is supposed to be the 15-member City Commission on Human Rights. An announcement is expected in mid-September.

The beleaguered agency, which lost 75 percent of its funding under Mayor Giuliani while ironically gaining Charter status, got a new chairperson, Patricia L. Gatling, back in February. She is the only paid member of the Commission and directs the staff. But only two of the non-salaried commissioners are left-Marta Varela, who chaired the agency under Giuliani, and Derek Bryson Park. This minimum of three commissioners is required to make final determinations on cases. When all fifteen commissioners are on board, rotating panels of three review decisions and make recommendations to the full commission.

Gay Rights Continue to Advance in Wake of 9/11

In June, I wrote an Issue of the Week on "The Rights of Same-Sex Partners" and how they had advanced after the public saw how domestic partner survivors of the victims of 9/11 received second class treatment. While most of these are state and federal issues, the City Council is doing what it can to bring about spousal equivalency for domestic partners, gay and straight. In August, it passed Intro 114 by a vote of 34 to 7, with four abstentions. In it, New York City recognizes domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages contracted in other jurisdictions under our domestic partners law. In other words, the couples will not have to register again in the city just as married couples don't have to get married here to have their union acknowledged. Mayor Bloomberg signed the bill on August 27 and it went into effect immediately.


Recommended Links:

  • New York City Commission on Human Rights- 40 Rector Street, New York, NY 10006; (212) 306-7500 The Commission enforces the City's Human Rights Law which prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, age, national origin, alienage orcitizenship status, gender (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, status as a victim of domestic violence, disability (including HIV/AIDS relatedconditions), lawful occupation, arrest or conviction record, marital status, family status, and retaliation. The Law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as bias-related harassment.
  • New York State Division of Human Rights- One Fordham Plaza, 4th Floor, Bronx, New York 10458; (718) 741-8400 The State Division of Human Rights serves as an alternative to the court system for resolving discrimination claims--in employment, in places of public accommodation, resort or amusement, in educational institutions, in commercial space and in credit transactions and to take other actions against discrimination. The agency is responsible for developing civil rights legislation and policy for the State of New York, and for promoting awaren essof civil rights issues and remedies.
  • American Civil Liberties Union- 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004 "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund- 99 Hudson Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 966-5932 is "the first organization on the east coast to defend and promote the legal rights of Asian Americans through litigation, legal advocacy, community education, leadership development and the position of free legal assistance to low-income and immigrant Asian Americans."
  • Human Rights Watch- 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor, New York, NY 10118-3299 USA; (212) 290-4700 "Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world. We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice."
  • Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund- 120 Wall Street, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10005-3904; (212) 809-8585 The nation's oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund- 99 Hudson St., New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-1900 "Committed to staying on the cutting edge of the movement for racial justice."
  • National Organization for Women/NYC- 150 W. 28th St., #304, New York, NY 10001; (212) 627-9895 NOW/NYC "works towards equality for women with a focus on several key issues: battling racism and violence against women, guaranteeing reproductive rights, advocating lesbian and bisexual rights, fighting for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and generally working towards economic, educational, and political equity. The chapter provides educational outreach and takes part in political lobbying, zap actions and demonstrations in response to various social situations. The Service Fund of NOW-NYC also offers referrals, support groups, and clinics for women in need."
  • New York Civil Liberties Union- 125 Broad St., New York, NY 10004; (212) 344-3005 The NYCLU is "a statewide organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of New Yorkers' civil liberties as enumerated in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York."
  • Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund - 99 Hudson St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10013; (212) 219-3360 "Through litigation, policy analysis and education, the Puerto Rican Lega lDefense and Education Fund works to secure, promote and protect the civil and human rights of the Puerto Rican and wider Latino community."

Bill of Rights Resolution; Court Ruling On Banning Masked Demonstrators


City Council Passes Resolution Against USA Patriot Act

The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly on a voice vote February 4 for a resolution "calling upon federal, state and local officials, and upon New York City agencies and institutions, to affirm and uphold civil rights and civil liberties." The main target of the resolution, which has no force of law, is the federal USA Patriot Act and Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) (also known as PATRIOT II), "which may further compromise constitutional rights and our government’s unique system of checks and balances." Thirteen members objected to the resolution out of 51 and one abstained. I dealt in detail with local concern about the Patriot Actlast month.

The resolution was promoted by the local chapter of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a coalition of 90 groups, headquartered at the New York Civil Liberities Union. It had been scheduled for a vote in December, but was delayed because Saddam Hussein had just been captured in Iraq, and Council leaders worried about the timing.

"The Patriot Act is really unpatriotic, it undermines our civil rights and civil liberties," Councilmember Bill Perkins, the bill's sponsor told the Washington Post. "We never give up our rights; that's what makes us Americans."

The Washington Post also talked with Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, who "dismissed the local governments' resolutions, saying the majority were passed in locales with left-leaning constituencies and based on 'erroneous' information about the Patriot Act." Three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont) and 250 cities, towns, and counties have passed resolutions defending the Bill of Rights from the Patriot Act.

BAN ON MASKS AT DEMONSTRATIONS

When he was mayor, Rudy Giuliani lost a series of First Amendment cases, when courts ordered him to back down on threats to yank funding for the Brooklyn Museum due to a piece of art that offended him, and to allow demonstrators to rally in City Hall Plaza despite his contention that it was too big a security risk. But he prevailed in a lesser-known case involving the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Giuliani invoked an 1845 New York law prohibiting masked gatherings in public places against the Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1999. Seventeen members of the KKK wore hoods and robes at a rally in Foley Square that October, but had to bare their faces to the 10,000 demonstrators who came out to protest the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-gay group.

When Norman Siegel, then director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, challenged the masks law on behalf of the Klan, he received anonymous death threats, but he was also reportedly supported by Bill Tatum, the African American former publisher of the Amsterdam News, and his wife Susan, who is Jewish, as well as from the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The initial case was heard before United States District Judge Harold Baer, Jr. who granted the Klan a preliminary injunction on the day of the demonstration. As a reporter who had covered many demonstrations where the participants had worn masks, I was called as an expert witness by the civil liberties group but ultimately did not testify when the city's lawyers stipulated to what I had to say. I have seen masks worn in everything from the annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade to demonstrations of Iranian dissidents fearful of reprisals. And I had never seen anyone arrested for wearing a mask at a public demonstration.

In fact, said Donna Lieberman, the current executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the last time the law was invoked prior to the Klan case was "in the 1970s against cross-dressing folks in Greenwich Village." The law has been so infrequently enforced, she argued, that almost any use of it amounts to selective enforcement.

Judge Baer's injunction, however, was stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later in the day, United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused to vacate the stay and the Klan members had to rally barefaced.

Three years after the demonstration, however, Judge Baer issued his decision in the case, declaring the statute unconstitutional. "The result of the law," he wrote, "is that a face mask worn to delight the public is lawful while one intended to sway political beliefs is unlawful." He called the wearing of masks "expressive conduct" protected under the First Amendment, in this case expressive of the "horrific ideology" of the KKK. He also noted that some Klan members had not participated in the rally for fear of reprisals and that those that did were subjected to harassment, assault, and subsequent loss of employment. The New York Civil Liberties Union called the decision “a victory for free speech."

The city appealed Baer's decision. The Anti-Defamation League was so concerned by the ruling that they proposed a state bill to ban the wearing of masks to "threaten or intimidate."

Last month, the city won its appeal. The United States Court of Appeals for the Southern District wrote in a 3-0 decision that the original 1845 legislation was "indisputably aimed at deterring violence and facilitating the apprehension of wrongdoers" and that the city had used the statute properly. The judges said that while there are numerous cases in which the right to anonymous speech has been upheld, it "has never been held that freedom of association or the right to engage in anonymous speech entails a right to conceal one's appearance in a public demonstration." And they held that in the case of the Klan, "the mask does not communicate any message that the robe and the hood do not."

Beth Haroules, Civil Liberties Union staff attorney, called her clients, the Klan, a "disgusting group," but said the city is engaging in "viewpoint discrimination" and said that they will appeal the case.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.



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Gotham Gazette: New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
Gotham Gazette: 
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast