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No choice is the best choice: Father Francis McCloskey (center) and Oh Saratoga! participants on Lark Street. Photo by: Alicia Solsman

Get Thee Across the Street, Satan
Christian groups rally against women’s reproductive rights and dole out blame for America’s woes.

A coalition of Christian groups protesting against the laws governing women’s reproductive rights made their voices—and horns—heard around downtown Albany on Monday, crowding a block of Lark Street for more than an hour.

The second annual protest, dubbed “Oh Saratoga!” by local organizers after the Battle of Saratoga, began at the State Capitol, then proceeded several blocks uptown to Lark Street, where participants demonstrated on the block between Hudson Avenue and Jay Street, across from the Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood clinic. Many of those involved with the event—including nearly a dozen children—held large posters claiming to show aborted fetuses.

“How could we understand child abuse if we didn’t see pictures?” reasoned Beth Lynch, a spokeswoman for the event, when asked if she considered the bloody images appropriate for public display.

Several members of Operation Save America, a Christian group known for controversial demonstrations, arrived in Albany as featured guests for Monday’s event. The OSA members stopped in several cities along their cross-country trek from California to Washington, D.C., to burn copies of Supreme Court decisions such as Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion, as well as copies of the Quran and rainbow flags. The group considers abortion and homosexuality sins and the Islamic faith “a lie.”

Upon their arrival in the Capital Region, members of OSA were welcomed by local organizers such as Father Francis McCloskey, a priest in the Roman Catholic diocese of Albany.

“God is angry with America,” explained Curtis Fenison, a representative of Trumpet of the Lord Ministries. Fenison punctuated the demonstration by sounding a shofar, a ram’s horn more traditionally used to celebrate Jewish new year.

“We blow this as a warning to the nation,” added Fenison, who described the clinic as a “gateway to hell.”

Protestors attributed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the Civil War, World War II and the 1999 shootings at ColumbineHigh School, to the nation’s growing acceptance of homosexuality and the removal of religious observances from schools and government institutions.

Starting them off young: Two generations of protestors at Monday afternoon’s rally. Photo by: Alicia Solsman

JoAnn Conway, vice president of administration and finance with the Upper Hudson clinic, acknowledged that the protestors had a right to voice their opinions, but said that the “gruesome” images were unnecessary.

“There are other ways,” said Conway, who added that demonstrations rarely succeed in turning away patients of the clinic—usually because the patients aren’t there for anything abortion-related.

Nearby, the Rev. James L. Reisner, pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, voiced his support for the clinic and its efforts by holding a “Stop the War on Choice!” sign.

“I object to the assumption that this group speaks for all Christians or for all religious people,” said Reisner. “There are a lot of people on that side of the street right now, but the fact is that the majority of America supports a woman’s right to choose.”

While Metroland received calls from local residents complaining about noise associated with the event, one of whom said she had called the police, a spokesman for the Albany Police Department said the APD did not receive any complaints.

—Rick Marshall

No Longer Out in the Cold
Domestic partners in New York state have won the right to hospital visitation during emergencies

When Julie Goodridge, of Massachusetts, had a cesarean section, her partner Hillary had to constantly argue, and at one point even lie and say she was Julie’s sister, in order to see her partner and her new daughter. The Goodridges were one of the couples who brought the case that led to gay marriage in Massachusetts.

There are even worse stories than this all across the country—unmarried partners kept out of the emergency room after their loved one had a heart attack, was in a car accident, or experienced some other catastrophe. Some have heartrending endings, with partners caught up in red tape not able to pay their last respects. But thanks to bills recently passed by the New York State Legislature, New Yorkers should soon be safe from such discrimination.

Sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Spano (R-Yonkers), S. 7688, which recently passed the Senate unanimously, and its companion bill A.9872-A, sponsored by Assembly members Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) and Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo) and passed in June, assign domestic partners the same visitation rights as spouses would have.

The laws may not need to be invoked often. Under normal circumstances, inpatients can determine whom they want visiting them, and designated healthcare proxies should always be allowed in. But cases where domestic partners have been barred are real, and the fear of them looms large for any unmarried couple.

“The worst nightmare for someone who can’t marry or chooses not to marry is the possibility of being shut out of that person’s hospital room,” said Dorian Solot, director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, which advocates for all unmarried people. “People have that lingering terror of having a door slammed in their faces at the worst possible moment. . . . I know of a couple who got married because of that fear.”

“In my ideal world, I would be able to hire everyone.”
—a “libertarian who’s been forced into the
Republican camp” explaining why he opposes public job programs

People with same-sex partners don’t even have the option to marry, meaning they are “denied the dignity of being able to be near the one you love during a time of crisis,” according to Ross Levi of the Empire State Pride Agenda. According to polls by the Pride Agenda, more than 80 percent of New Yorkers supported this issue, recognizing that the current disparity was “an injustice that served no purpose.”

The main challenge in drafting the bills, according to Levi, was not that the right should exist, but how to define domestic partner. In some versions of the numerous family-equality bills the Pride Agenda is working on, domestic partners has been defined as people who have joined an official domestic partnership registry, but that, noted Levi, leaves out a lot of people for whom the registries are not available. “It works great in New York City, doesn’t work so well in Dunkirk.”

To be more inclusive, said Levi, they turned to the legislation and executive orders that were used to determine benefits for family members of Sept. 11 victims. Those definitions revolved around showing “dependence or mutual interdependence.”

The final bill does mention registries, but says interdependence can also be judged by “the totality of the circumstances indicating a mutual intent to be domestic partners” including but not limited to: joint custody of children, joint ownership of property, living together, naming each other on life-insurance policies, and the length of the relationship.

The bill does not limit the definition to same-sex partners, nor does it contain the common stipulation that you must be each other’s sole domestic partner. Solot says she hopes this kind of broad definition sets a precedent. “I’m proud to live in a state that recognizes love makes a family,” she said.

Andrew Rush of Gov. George Pataki’s office would only say the office would review the bill when it was sent to them, but bill supporters appear optimistic. “The Governor has done the right thing by lesbian and gay families in the past, and we would hope he would in this instance as well,” said Levi.

Once signed, implementation will be the next question, since people don’t usually carry around the deed to their house and their life insurance policy, just like they don’t carry around their marriage license. “This is the real world,” he said. “Somebody’s going to be at work and they’re going to get a call that something happened and they’re going to rush to the hospital and say ‘Oh my God, I have to get in there, I’m Joe Doe’s partner,’ and it’s at that moment they will either say ‘Come in’ or ‘No, you’re not family.’ We assume that the administrator will not say ‘I’d like to see your deed,’ but will make the same good-faith estimate as they would with a spouse.”

Levi said realizing the promise of the bill will be a matter of education with hospitals. “What we hope is hospitals will feel reassured that the law has told them to err on the side of letting domestic partners in, [whereas] now I’m sure they’re worried they are breaking some laws,” he said.

Richard Chady, a spokesman for St. Peter’s hospital, was surprised to hear about the legislation. “Our basic situation is, we think the current laws and policies already provide for this, but we support the law, and will obey it,” Chady said. “We’re not aware that this has been an issue, but if it helps to clarify some rights, that’s great.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Orange, Smorange
Photo by: John Whipple

Declaring that they won’t be cowed by politically-motivated raised terror alert levels, FBI questioning of activists, Mayor Bloomberg’s statement implying that First Amendment rights are “privileges” that can be lost, or last-minute changes in permit status, Capital Region residents this week continued their preparations for massive protests in New York City on Aug. 29, the day the Republican National Convention opens.

On Aug. 10, the group coordinating the protests, United for Peace and Justice, rejected the city’s offer of a rally site on the West Side Highway, saying the “remote, sun-baked” highway is unsafe, impractical for a sound-system, and generally a “set-up by a Republican mayor openly hostile to free speech.” The group had previously accepted the site in the interest of having some sort of permitted rally, but outcry from many members caused organizers to reconsider. They instead renewed their call for a permit for Central Park, and were denied again.

As of press time, the permitted march past Madison Square Garden is on, and the rally is officially canceled, but many people who plan to attend expect that the marchers will gather afterward in Central Park anyway.

“I don’t see how they could stop that many people. I don’t know why they would want to,” said Erin O’Brien, of Women Against War. “If they want to keep the peace they should let people gather peacefully.”

O’Brien said it was “a relief, in my opinion, that UFPJ stood up to the mayor and the other Republicans forcing us to rally on the West Side Highway—a spot that is not shaded and not safe for children and people with disabilities, and is not accessible to any bathrooms.”

Yesterday (Aug. 18), Capital Region organizers held a press conference on the Capitol steps in which they dressed in orange and handed out oranges to draw attention to the timing of the latest orange alert. “Every time mass demonstrations are scheduled, Bush declares another terror alert,” said Cheryl Bellus, one of the organizers.

“It’s not that terror isn’t real,” noted O’Brien. “With what George Bush is doing, I think his whole foreign policy is a breeding ground for terrorism.”

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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