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by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

Gay couples protest at marriage-license bureaus
Gay couples descended on marriage-license bureaus around the country February 12 for National Freedom to Marry Day.

Forty-eight states prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

Actions organized by Marriage Equality USA took place in Tucson, Ariz.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Lexington, London, Richmond and Louisville, Ky.; New York City; Salt Lake City; and, in California, in Auburn, Bakersfield, Beverly Hills, Eureka, Fairfield, Fresno, Hanford, Lakeport, Lancaster, Los Angeles, Martinez, Merced, Modesto, Nevada City, Norwalk, Oakland, Redwood City, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Stockton, Visalia and Woodland.

At the Beverly Hills courthouse, the first same-sex couple married in Southern California, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, renewed their vows.

"This is not about us anymore," Tyler said. "If the [California] Supreme Court lets us stay married it will be a hollow victory because we do not want to be the only ones on the freedom train. The Supreme Court needs to rule to overturn Prop 8 because what Prop 8 does - for the first time in American history - is take a group that is being considered equal by the Supreme Court out of the constitution. That is dangerous because that means that 51 percent or 52 percent of people can vote to take you out of the constitution."

Numerous additional actions were organized around the country under the umbrella of Join the Impact, the online force that pulled off the large anti-Proposition 8 protests in all 50 states last November 15.

According to Marriage Equality USA, since 2001 its chapters "have engaged in these annual marriage-counter actions to render visible the discrimination that is enforced every day."

"It is an affront to our basic dignity as fellow human beings when same-sex couples are turned away from the marriage counter, but it gives us the opportunity to tell our stories and show that we live in every community and want to honor and protect our families like everyone else," the group said.

In Tucson, Ariz., one Lesbian couple was given a marriage license even though the state constitution bans same-sex marriage. It was unclear at press time what will happen next.

ACLU sues Florida school board over Gay club ban
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a federal lawsuit against the Nassau County (Fla.) School Board on February 10 after administrators denied students permission to form Gay-Straight Alliances at Yulee High School and Yulee Middle School.

In a letter denying access to the group, the board's superintendent said that groups with names referencing a sexual orientation would not be recognized and that even if the group changed its name to one not communicating a Gay-specific mission, approval was uncertain.

"We just want the club so that straight and Gay kids can get together to talk about harassment and discrimination against Gay kids in an open environment," said high-school student and plaintiff Hannah Page. "Other clubs and groups are allowed to meet on campus."

The federal Equal Access Act requires schools to grant access and recognition to a GSA - and most other student groups - if the school allows any extracurricular groups to meet on campus, which both Yulee schools do. There are more than 4,000 GSAs in the U.S.

"Gay and Lesbian students deserve schools that heed the rule of law," said Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida's LGBT Advocacy Project. "These students are trying to bring a message of equality and openness, and the lesson they are being taught is that Yulee High School administrators believe discrimination against LGBT students is an acceptable policy."

The lawsuit alleges violations of the First Amendment and the Equal Access Act, and seeks a preliminary injunction to force school officials to allow the GSA to meet at Yulee High School while the litigation makes its way to trial.

"I hope that being part of this important lawsuit will open up people's eyes so that they can see that there is still a lot of discrimination and we need to sit down and talk about it," said plaintiff and high-school student Jacob Brock.

The ACLU of Florida recently won a similar federal case after Okeechobee High School refused to allow a GSA group to meet. The Okeechobee County School Board ended up paying $326,000 in attorneys' fees.

Pre-Stonewall Gay protest remembered
Gay activists, police representatives and City Council President Eric Garcetti gathered at Le Barcito in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district February 11 to celebrate the bar's recent designation as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark #939.

On February 11, 1967 - 28 months before the Stonewall Riots - Le Barcito, then known as the Black Cat, was the site of a protest by 300 to 600 Gay people angry over a New Year's Eve raid by the LAPD in which the bar's patrons had been beaten and charged with lewd conduct for kissing.

The demonstration was the nation's largest Gay rights rally up to that time.

"This was a watershed event that has gone unnoticed in American history," Garcetti told the Los Angeles Times in November.

Speaking at the commemorative event, Garcetti said, "Close your eyes and imagine what it was like 42 years ago, when a police officer wouldn't be here except to arrest you, when holding hands meant you would get hunted down."

Gay immigration bill introduced in Congress
A bill to extend spousal immigration rights to same-sex couples was introduced in Congress February 12.

The Uniting American Families Act, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., aims to end the problem of binational same-sex couples being forcibly separated - or forced to relocate outside the U.S. together - because the U.S. government does not recognize the validity of same-sex unions.

"It should be an outrage to all Americans that our government continues to deny one set of citizens the fundamental rights enjoyed by the rest of its citizens," Nadler said. "It is time that we as a society finally acknowledge that a committed, loving family is a committed, loving family."

"Thousands of Gay and Lesbian Americans who have fallen in love across borders must grapple with an impossible choice between being with the person they love and staying in their country," added Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel Tiven. "These couples simply want the same opportunity to prove that their families deserve to stay together."

Some 36,000 couples are thought to be affected by the discriminatory policy, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

With assistance from Bill Kelley
pictures OTyler-Olson

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