Judge denies request to lift stay on Monroe County weddings

By : Jamie Hyman
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Same-sex weddings in Monroe County will continue to be on hold.

Circuit Judge Luis Garcia has denied an emergency motion requesting that he lift a stay on his July 17 ruling that overturned the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

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Judge asked to lift stay on Monroe County marriages

By : Jamie Hyman
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UPDATE! Florida attorney general has filed a response to the request to lift the stay on Monroe County marriages.

“The United States Supreme Court has issued orders staying lower court decisions regarding same-sex marriage lawsuits. So have several federal courts of appeals. And
many trial courts have stayed their orders on their own. They have all acted to maintain the status quo while the issues presented are resolved. This Court should likewise maintain the status quo and leave the automatic stay in place until further appellate proceedings are concluded,” the response reads, after stating that “This Court should deny the motion.”

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Judge rules Florida marriage ban unconstitutional

By : Staff Report
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UPDATE! Florida attorney general Pam Bondi has appealed the Judge Luis Garcia’s decision to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court,” reads a statement Bondi’s office released quickly after the ruling. 

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No ruling on same-sex marriage ban in Monroe County hearing

By : Staff Report
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A second hearing has come to a close, but there is still no ruling on Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by Key West couple Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones. They sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for marriage licenses.

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All eyes on Monroe County for gay marriage hearing

By : Staff Report
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All eyes are on Monroe County as Circuit Judge Luis Garcia hears arguments regarding Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Two men, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for marriage licenses.

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Key West judge resigns after Manhunt profile leaked

By : Wire Report
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KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) – A judge in the Florida Keys said his decision to retire early came after an “inappropriate invasion of my privacy.”

Judge David Audlin announced in April that he was retiring with four years left on his term. May 9 was the Monroe County chief circuit judge’s last day.

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Key West couple sues for marriage equality

By : Samantha Rosenthal
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KEY WEST – A gay couple in Key West is following suit, literally.

Aaron Huntsman and his partner William Lee Jones sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin on April 1, after the couple was refused a marriage license. Huntsman and Jones want to wed on June 10, which will be the 11-year anniversary of their relationship and the 10-year anniversary of their commitment ceremony in Las Vegas.

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Accused killer's friends, family react to arrest

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The family and friends of suspected murderer Peter Serge Avsenew are having a hard time accepting the fact that their loved one may be a killer.

Accused of killing a gay couple in their Wilton Manors home on Dec. 26, 2010, the 26-year-old Flanagan High School graduate, from Hollywood, Fla., is being held without bond on a probation violation.
 
That charge is unrelated to the deaths of Kevin Mark Powell, 47, and Steve Adams, 52, but police say Avesenew is expected to face charges related to their deaths.

The bodies of Adams and Powell were found inside their rented home early Sunday, Dec. 26, after one of the victim’s sister called police when her brother didn’t show up at her house for the holidays.

The pair met at a Gay Pride march in Cleveland when Powell was 18 years old, a relative told the Sun Sentinel. The men lived together in South Florida for several years, owning a home in Hollywood and then moving to Wilton Manors. Adams was a registered nurse at Jackson Health System and Powell was an interior decorator who set up large displays in department stores, including Macy’s.

Relatives and friends of Avsenew were shocked by the accusations of murder.

“Peter was like a brother to me, man,” recalled Richard McClendon of Davie, Fla. “I could never imagine him doing anything like that and I surely don’t think he did it.”

His ex-girlfriend, Farrah Willis, 33, spent 7 months with Avsenew as a couple in 2007, when they worked together at the popular T-Bones Steakhouse in Haines City, Fla.

“He was cool with all the employees, and many gay ones,” she said. “He was not anti-gay in any way. He was a really nice guy who had been doing well; a genuine person who liked to party a little.”

Farris added that Avsenew was very open about his probationary sentence for grand theft out of Monroe County, and that he was “working on getting his act together, and meeting with his probation officer regularly.”

Violating that probation, however, is the preliminary basis for his new arrest and no bond. Formal charges in the double homicide of Powell and Adams are pending. One thing is clear to homicide detectives, though.

“It was not a random act or a break in,” said Wilton Manors police Sergeant Chuck Howard. “The victims knew the accused assailant.”

Sources confide that detectives are exploring “how and where the men met.” Additionally, police are not saying they have a confession in hand, though it appears Avsenew may have made admissions to third parties.

The arrest also surprised Avsenew’s 21-year-old niece, Erica Howard, from Sarasota, who could only describe her uncle in glowing terms.

“He was and is an amazing uncle and he was always there for me,” Howard said. “And he never let anything bad happen to me, he was more like an older brother. I love him with all my heart and I could never imagine him doing anything like this.”

But most of those reached had not seen Avsenew lately, and were unaware that he had done jail time at least twice this year, getting out once in June. His own posting June 24 on Facebook read that he was excited to be free, announcing that “this was the first day of the rest of his life and he was going to make the most of it.”

It was at Avsenew’s mother’s home in Dundee, Fla., where he was apprehended without incident Dec. 28. That is also where the victims’ stolen car was recovered.

PeterAvsenewSuspectKiller_687311650.jpgAcross the state, Avsenew has been taken into custody more than a dozen times since 2003, state records show. He has been convicted of vehicle theft, robbery, grand theft and engaging in fraud through bounced checks. He also has pled no contest to marijuana possession, loitering, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal mischief and resisting an officer without violence.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Avsenew has relied on about eight different aliases, including the name Peter Avsenen.

Wilton Manors police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies are working together on the case.

Anyone with further information is asked to contact WMPD Detective Biagio Balistreri at 954-390-2150. To provide anonymous information about this case, the public can contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS.

Editor’s note: Norm Kent is a reporter with the South Florida Gay News and this article is used with permission.

Reactions to arrest of suspect in Wilton Manors double homicide

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The family and friends of suspected murderer Peter Serge Avsenew are having a hard time accepting the fact that their loved one may be a killer.

Accused of killing a gay couple in their Wilton Manors home on Dec. 26, 2010, the 26-year-old Flanagan High School graduate, from Hollywood, Fla., is being held without bond on a probation violation. 

That charge is unrelated to the deaths of Kevin Mark Powell, 47, and Steve Adams, 52, but police say Avesenew is expected to face charges related to their deaths.
The bodies of Adams and Powell were found inside their rented home early Sunday, Dec. 26, after one of the victim’s sister called police when her brother didn’t show up at her house for the holidays.

The pair met at a Gay Pride march in Cleveland when Powell was 18 years old, a relative told the Sun Sentinel. The men lived together in South Florida for several years, owning a home in Hollywood and then moving to Wilton Manors. Adams was a registered nurse at Jackson Health System and Powell was an interior decorator who set up large displays in department stores, including Macy’s.

Relatives and friends of Avsenew were shocked by the accusations of murder.

“Peter was like a brother to me, man,” recalled Richard McClendon of Davie, Fla. “I could never imagine him doing anything like that and I surely don’t think he did it.”

His ex-girlfriend, Farrah Willis, 33, spent 7 months with Avsenew as a couple in 2007, when they worked together at the popular T-Bones Steakhouse in Haines City, Fla.

“He was cool with all the employees, and many gay ones,” she said. “He was not anti-gay in any way. He was a really nice guy who had been doing well; a genuine person who liked to party a little.”

Farris added that Avsenew was very open about his probationary sentence for grand theft out of Monroe County, and that he was “working on getting his act together, and meeting with his probation officer regularly.”

Violating that probation, however, is the preliminary basis for his new arrest and no bond. Formal charges in the double homicide of Powell and Adams are pending. One thing is clear to homicide detectives, though.

“It was not a random act or a break in,” said Wilton Manors police Sergeant Chuck Howard. “The victims knew the accused assailant.”

Sources confide that detectives are exploring “how and where the men met.” Additionally, police are not saying they have a confession in hand, though it appears Avsenew may have made admissions to third parties.

The arrest also surprised Avsenew’s 21-year-old niece, Erica Howard, from Sarasota, who could only describe her uncle in glowing terms.

“He was and is an amazing uncle and he was always there for me,” Howard said. “And he never let anything bad happen to me, he was more like an older brother. I love him with all my heart and I could never imagine him doing anything like this.”

But most of those reached had not seen Avsenew lately, and were unaware that he had done jail time at least twice this year, getting out once in June. His own posting June 24 on Facebook read that he was excited to be free, announcing that “this was the first day of the rest of his life and he was going to make the most of it.”

It was at Avsenew’s mother’s home in Dundee, Fla., where he was apprehended without incident Dec. 28. That is also where the victims’ stolen car was recovered.

Across the state, Avsenew has been taken into custody more than a dozen times since 2003, state records show. He has been convicted of vehicle theft, robbery, grand theft and engaging in fraud through bounced checks. He also has pled no contest to marijuana possession, loitering, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal mischief and resisting an officer without violence.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Avsenew has relied on about eight different aliases, including the name Peter Avsenen.

Wilton Manors police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies are working together on the case.

Anyone with further information is asked to contact WMPD Detective Biagio Balistreri at 954-390-2150. To provide anonymous information about this case, the public can contact Broward Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS.

Editor’s note: Norm Kent is a reporter with the South Florida Gay News and this article is used with permission.

State subsidizes adopted son of gay man

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Florida’s ban on adoption by gay people took another hit this month when state child welfare administrators decided to provide health insurance, college tuition and other benefits to the adopted son of a gay Key West man.

Previously, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) had refused to give the subsidy to Wayne LaRue Smith’s son. Smith raised the boy in foster care, and a Monroe County judge approved his adoption in fall of 2008. This month, DCF attorneys decided to provide the teenager with the benefits typically enjoyed by other children who are adopted from state care.

In comments to the Miami Herald, the DCF continued to maintain that the settlement does not detract from DCF’s position that a child outside state care is not entitled to a subsidy.

Democratic leaders converge on Key West

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More than 120 LGBT Democratic activists, elected officials, and candidates representing all 13 of the Caucus’ chapters headed down to the Summer Conference of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus in Key West last month. The conference was hosted locally by the Lambda Democrats of Key West, and Central Florida sent a delegation from the Rainbow Democratic Club of Orange County, the Hillsborough GLBTA Democratic Caucus, and the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County. 

Several Key West officials welcomed the group, including Rep. Ron Saunders, the incoming Democratic leader of the Florida House, as well as a slate of openly-gay elected officials including Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, Key West City Commissioner Teri Johnston, and Key West Police Chief Donnie Lee.

The morning session featured Democratic candidates running for statewide office, including openly-gay U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Burns, Attorney General candidate Dan Gelber and Florida Agricultural Commissioner candidate Eric Draper. Florida CFO and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink joined the proceedings via conference call, reiterating her support of LGBT issues. 

Subsequent sessions featured the following highlights: Terry Flemming and Cathy James from Organizations United Together (OUT) revealed their goal of creating a single bureau that can be used to keep all statewide groups and organizations informed on issues affecting the LGBT community, a phone call from Harvey Milk associate Cleve Jones, who is organizing the October GLBT March on Washington and openly-gay Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who said she believes Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act will most likely be addressed in the beginning of 2010. 

Central Florida was recognized as an important participant in the GLBT Caucus.  The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County, whose president, Rick Boylan, is also secretary of the Florida Democratic Party, will host the winter 2010 conference (dates TBD). Additionally, the Rainbow Democratic Club of Orange County will host the Caucus during the FDP’s Convention in October, as well as host the Caucus’ 2010 Summer Conference.