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Volume 15/Issue 22

by PlanetOut,, a Worldwide Online Community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans People

No Penetration, No Adultery?

A Pennsylvania woman who left her heterosexual marriage and became involved in a lesbian relationship is trying to collect spousal support from her ex-husband, which was originally awarded by a court, but was reversed in an appeal by the former husband. At issue is whether or not lesbian sex constitutes adultery, which, under the state's no-fault divorce laws, is one of the reasons spousal support can be denied.

Rosalie Davies, the divorce attorney for the unnamed 27-year-old woman, citing "sexual intercourse" in several dictionary definitions of adultery, says that "any definition of sexual intercourse includes penile penetration"-a sexual impossibility between two women. Therefore, Davies reasons that adultery cannot be used as grounds for the denial of spousal support in this case. "Cunnilingus does not involve penetration," she argues in her brief, "and surely manual penetration is not intended or all Pennsylvania gynecologists would function in a setting of multiple and ongoing adulterous liaisons!"

This rather novel legal approach could be interpreted as defining lesbian sex as somehow less than equal to heterosexual intercourse, and Davies acknowledges that. However, she notes that the law already assigns second-class status to lesbian and gay relationships because it prevents them from legalizing those relationships in marriage, and that it's unfair to deny gays and lesbians the right to marry on the one hand, but to require that those relationships be subject to the same marriage and divorce laws as heterosexual couples on the other.

Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Michael Kane refused to hear the case in early September, and although he also refused to certify the case for appeal, Davies said she's appealing that decision.

Attorney Patricia Gordon, who represents the woman's estranged husband in the case, argues that penile penetration is not required under Pennsylvania's definition of adultery, although she admits that state law does not specifically define the term either. She told the press that she has four other male clients whose wives left them for other women, and that this "has all the makings to go to the Supreme Court" of Pennsvlvania. "This is definitely an emerging issue," she said.

For her part, Davies said this is not just an exercise in legal terminology, but that her client, a nurse with three young children, absolutely needs the money. She said the woman accepted a reduced amount of child support as part of the divorce agreement-$664 per month-assuming that the spousal support payments would supplement that income. She says that her ex-husband's refusal to pay has put a considerable financial strain on the current household she now maintains with her lover, a woman who has three children of her own.

Gore Lauds Ellen's Light

Determined to combine the now politically obligatory criticism of Hollywood with praise for a community that reliably contributes vast sums of money to Democratic campaigns, U.S. Vice President Al Gore first noted the educational and social contributions of "Oscar the Grouch" and "Archie Bunker." "And," Gore told an Oct. 16 Hollywood Radio and Television Society gathering of nearly 1000 entertainment executives in Los Angeles, "when the character 'Ellen' came out, millions of Americans were forced to look at sexual orientation in a more open light." As has his boss, President Bill Clinton, Gore's speech gave Hollywood much credit for its expanded television content rating system, although the real Ellen's-"Ellen" star Ellen DeGeneres, that is-frustration with ABC's recent decision to precede an episode of the show with a content warning in keeping with that system and its impact on the consciousness-raising potential of the sitcom did not come up.

According to some sources, Gore's aides, unsure of how the public would react, were still debating whether or not to use the "Ellen" reference right up until the last possible moment. Others say that it was really Gore's approval of which they were uncertain. One White House official was quoted as saying that Gore "didn't even flinch" when he reviewed the speech in advance.

Among those getting in at the head of the line to denounce Gore's support for "Ellen" and confidence in Hollywood were Christian Coalition executive director Randy Tate and talk-show host cum conservative presidential candidate Alan Keyes. Calling Gore's position on the lesbian character "way out of the mainstream," Tate charged the vice president with "craven pandering to Hollywood." Keyes devoted the lion's share of his Oct. 17 syndicated radio and tv simulcast to branding Gore "a champion of the most radical anti-family forces in America today," who speaks "not as Vice President of this nation's decent heart, but rather as the aspiring President of its culture of death and self destruction."

Playing on the "Hollywood Babylon" stereotype has been a popular political ploy since the days of the industry self-censoring "Hays Office" of the 1920s. It was revitalized in 1992 by another Vice President, Republican Dan Quayle, with his attack on another female sitcom leading character, "Murphy Brown," who became a single mother while Quayle was running for re-election. The Clinton-Gore approach has been to criticize the ubiquity of large and small screen violence and to focus on the need for children's programming, rather than pound on television's sexual ethics. "If we give our children nothing but mayhem and commercialism," Gore said a year ago, "then the Power Rangers' and Barbie's Dream House' will be what they think television is-violence and commercialism."

Apparently Gore believes that message has gotten across. He closed his Los Angeles address saying that "few communities in this nation care as deeply about social and ethical issues," and predicting a "Golden Era" for a Hollywood cognizant of the "deep responsibility that we all share." He reminded the industry big-wigs, "You not only reflect who we are but you form our national-and increasingly our world-consciousness."

Aussie Murder Trial Gets Weird

The Sydney area killing of openly gay Stephen Dempsey was already grisly enough for a Halloween spectacle, but evidence introduced recently in the murder trial of confessed killer Richard Leonard moved into the realm of ghosts. Although Leonard told the police he shot the arrow that killed Dempsey on Aug. 2, 1994, and went to unusual lengths in disposing of the body afterwards, he has pleaded not guilty to murder in what appears to be an astonishingly brazen use of the homosexual panic defense. Prosecutors introduced an audiotape secretly recorded as Leonard held a rather foul-mouthed conversation with his victim by means of a Ouija board in his jail cell.

The two men's paths crossed in a beach cruising area. Leonard came with a crossbow and arrows, which he says he was going to use to shoot fish. Leonard claims that Dempsey made a pass at him, including walking towards him in a suggestive manner after he'd warned him to come no closer-and even leering at him once dead. Leonard says he was not intending to kill Dempsey but only to keep him away, yet his arrow hit Dempsey in the heart. Nonetheless Leonard says Dempsey pulled the shaft out of his own chest, continued to approach and even tried to strangle him before collapsing.

Leonard then went to buy a present and join his mother for dinner to celebrate her birthday. Only after that did he return to Dempsey's body to make use of what he'd learned as a worker in a slaughterhouse. He dismembered the corpse, put the pieces in plastic bangs, carried them home, and stowed them in a freezer where he left them for four months. At that time he explained the situation to the girlfriend he'd met three months before and enlisted her help in renting a boat. He wrapped the body parts in chickenwire, transported them to the boat in several trips on his motorcycle, weighed them down with rocks, and finally dropped them overboard. Only Dempsey's torso was found, when it washed up on a beach on Dec. 21, 1994.

Leonard's conscience began to bother him when he first attended church after the murder, having dumped Dempsey's clothes on the way there. He made his confession in May 1995.

Prosecutors believe Leonard acted not out of self-defense but with every intention of killing a gay man, and the audiotape of the Ouija session is a key piece of evidence in support of that position. The jury heard the tape on Oct. 16. Leonard first asked the "spirit" to identify himself, saying, "What do you want to tell me? You want to give me a message from Dempsey? What do you want to tell me?" As Leonard spelled the letters out loud, the Ouija board responded, "F*** U" and went on to shower Leonard with more remarks in the same vein. Leonard said, "You know, I really enjoyed knocking you, you f***ing piece of shit."

The previous day, the jury heard another audiotape from a police wiretap of Leonard's home phone. In that tape, Leonard called a male brothel in hopes of getting a job there, and police later followed him to his job interview.

The trial continues....

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