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Gay libelous no more? A federal judge has ruled that being thought to be gay can no longer be considered a bad thing.

Libel litigation over the last century has seen parties I ranging from Oscar Wilde to Tom Cruise claim they had been defamed by being labeled gay. But that era may have ended on May 28 when Boston-based U.S. district judge Nancy Gertner threw out a suit by James Albright, a former boyfriend of pop star Madonna who contended he had been libeled because his name had erroneously appeared in a caption accompanying a picture of the singer walking with a gay man. The photo was in the biography Madonna by Andrew Morton, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001. "In 2004, a statement implying that an individual is a homosexual is hardly capable of a defamatory meaning," Gertner ruled.

Courts in other jurisdictions may still be divided on whether such a description is defamatory, Gertner wrote in her 23-page opinion. But in light of the Massachusetts supreme judicial court's November decision in favor of same-sex marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last summer striking down sodomy laws, that claim no longer holds water with her.

The decision contributes "to the recognition that nothing is wrong with being gay, and [society] should get over it," said Laurence II. Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor. Vickie L. Henry, cochair of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association, agreed. "It is a victory for our community," she said. "The standards [applied to] our community have evolved and are evolving. Her decision makes absolute sense."

Whether Gertner's verdict could be applied outside of gay friendly urban areas is still in question, say some legal experts. Homophobia in rural America could lead other courts to "come down differently on this issue," said Mark Mason, chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association's Same Gender Marriage Task Force. While Gertner acknowledged the persistence of homophobia, site quoted from the Massachusetts ruling to make her point: "Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect."

Paul Martinek, editor in chief of Lawyers Weekly USA, said Gertner is known as a liberal judge and that she was "obviously trying to make new law in this case." But until an appeals court adopts her reasoning, Martinek said, "it's just one judge issuing an interesting, novel opinion, and other judges will look at it and decide for themselves whether or not they agree with it."
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Title Annotation:Courts; Nancy Gertner
Author:Blotcher, Jay
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 6, 2004
Words:397
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