International News

Australian blackmailer gets jail

A gay man who attempted to blackmail a closeted member of Australia’s Parliament was sent to prison on March 2.

Jake Michael Della-Vedova, 25, will serve four months behind bars. He pleaded guilty Feb. 27 to one count of blackmail.

The name of the politician has been suppressed. All that is known about him is that he is married.

“You intentionally exploited an aspect of the victim’s sexuality, which you knew made him vulnerable, especially in light of his position in our community,” Judge Lisa Hannan said during his sentencing. “It is sad that this remains the sort of information that in our society is used for blackmail, but it is the reality.”

The court in Melbourne was told that Della-Vedova met the politician last June on a gay chat site. Over the next month, the pair exchanged text messages and agreed to meet at Della-Vedova’s home.

Prosecutor Simon Cooper told the court that after having sex, Della-Vedova complained that he was short of money and the politician gave him $150 that he had in his wallet. During another visit, the politician handed over $250.

The politician did not know at the time that Della-Vedova had secretly videotaped the sexual encounters. Della-Vedova later began threatening the man with exposure if he did not hand over more money.

The politician instead went to police. Della-Vedova was arrested when he arranged to meet the politician to get the cash.

Police later searched Della-Vedova’s home and found the taped sexual encounters on a computer. Under questioning, Della-Vedova confessed.

Della-Vedova could have received up to 15 years behind bars.

Pope rescinds bishop promotion

On March 2, Pope Benedict XVI formally rescinded the promotion of an ultraconservative priest who came under fire for suggesting that God punished New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

The Vatican announcement confirmed a previous decision by the priest, the Rev. Gerhard Maria Wagner, to give up the promotion.

In January, Benedict promoted the 54-year-old Wagner to the post of auxiliary bishop in Linz, Austria’s third largest city.

The move sparked an outcry from Austrian Catholics and church groups, who argued the decision could motivate people to leave the Catholic Church.

Wagner had questioned whether the “noticeable” increase of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina was a result of pollution caused by humans or the result of “spiritual pollution,” such as the acceptance of homosexuality.

Wagner also has characterized Harry Potter novels as satanic.

Following the controversy, Wagner said he was giving up the job as auxiliary bishop.

He said he considered his decision to be in the interest of the church and that he looked forward to continuing his job as pastor in the Upper Austrian town of Windischgarsten.

The Vatican’s brief announcement said the pope had “exonerated … Wagner from accepting the office of Linz auxiliary bishop.”

Wagner’s promotion was one of two recent controversial decisions by the Vatican that led to unusually open criticism of Vatican policy, even from top Roman Catholic churchmen. The other involved lifting the excommunication of a bishop who had said that no Jews were gassed during the Holocaust.

Later, the Vatican distanced itself from British Bishop Richard Williamson’s remark and demanded that he recant it.

The lifting of Williamson’s excommunication and that of three fellow members of the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X had been part of the pope’s effort to reach out to ultraconservatives.

Priest suspended for condoms

A Catholic priest serving in the Brazilian Congress has been temporarily suspended from his priestly duties for supporting the free distribution of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The Rev. Luiz Couto has been suspended from his work in the northeastern state of Paraiba.

Archdiocese spokesperson Eisenhower de Albuquerque said the church took the action because of Couto’s public stance “in favor of the use of condoms, his support of gay marriage and his opposition to priestly celibacy.”

Couto spokesperson Jose Moreira said the priest is not a gay-marriage advocate but is an opponent of discrimination, “including discrimination against homosexuals.”

Poll: Irish support gay marriage

A group campaigning for full marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Ireland has revealed the results of a new survey suggesting widespread support.

MarriagEquality said 81 percent of those polled believe that all people living in Ireland should receive equal treatment from the state regardless of sexual orientation.

Additionally, the poll found that six out of 10 people believe that denying marriage to lesbians and gays is a form of discrimination.

The government has announced that civil-partnership legislation will be brought before the Irish parliament this spring.

The proposed legislation will grant same-sex couples legal recognition in areas such as pensions, social security, property rights, taxes and inheritance.

The government has ruled out gay marriage, claiming it would require a change to the country’s constitution and a potentially divisive referendum.

MarriagEquality reported that 62 percent of those polled said they would vote in favor of same-sex marriage if a referendum on the issue were held.

“The report is the first of its kind to reveal such unequivocal support for lesbians and gay men having the choice to marry in a civil ceremony in Ireland,” said Grainne Healy, co-chair of MarriagEquality. “The government has a stated policy of equality, and these findings support our call that government must actively recognize that equality includes the human and civil rights of lesbian women and gay men to marry. The findings support MarriagEquality in our search for access, not to religious marriage, but to access marriage in a civil ceremony, which will result in equal rights and recognition of our relationships and our children.”

In Northern Ireland, civil partnerships have been legal since 2005. The law provides same-sex couples with the same rights and obligations as opposite-sex couples, including issues related to the care and welfare of children.

Asians criticize Oscar censorship

Gay Asians voiced indignation after television broadcasts of the Academy Awards in their region censored the words “gay” and “lesbian” in speeches that called for equal rights for homosexuals.

The speeches by actor Sean Penn and writer Dustin Lance Black, who won Oscars for their work in “Milk,” were shown in full during live broadcasts of the Oscars that were screened across Asia on the morning of Feb. 23.

But viewers who caught recorded telecasts that evening on STAR, an Asian satellite-TV service that reaches more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries, noticed that the sound was removed whenever both men mentioned “gay” or “lesbian.”

“As a gay man, I am truly offended,” stated Pang Khee Teik, a prominent Malaysian arts commentator, in a letter to several media organizations. “Stop censoring the words that describe who I am.”

Pang said the move “sent a message … that gays and lesbians are still shameful things to be censored from the public’s ears.”

Users of Internet forums in Singapore and India also complained about the censored speeches.

Jannie Poon, STAR’s Hong Kong-based spokesperson, stressed that the company had no intention of upsetting any viewers, but said it has “a responsibility to take the sensitivities and guidelines of all our markets into consideration.”

Viewers first noticed that the words were silenced when Black offered a tribute to slain American gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk while accepting the Oscar for best original screenplay.

“If Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he would want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight … that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you,” Black said.

Humanists conduct first gay marriage

Humanists in Norway are claiming to have conducted their first legal same-sex marriage ceremony.

Cecilia Patricia Stensland, 24, and Janne Lemvig Abrahamsen, 38, wed in Oslo in late February.

New legislation on same-sex marriage, which came into force in January, amended the definition of civil marriage in Norway to make it gender-neutral and extended parenting rights for gay and lesbian couples.

It replaced a 1993 law that gave same-sex couples the right to enter into civil unions.

Couples with a pre-registered civil partnership can convert it to marriage.

The Church of Norway is allowed but not compelled to bless same-sex marriages.

Human-Etisk Forbund, the Norwegian Humanist Association, held its first legal same-sex marriage ceremony, conducted by Rolf Solheim.

“Our authorized celebrants have conducted partnership/civil union ceremonies since 2007,” he said. “However, this year Norway introduced a marriage law which gives gays and lesbians the right to use the term ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse.’”

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].