A legal hurdle was removed Thursday for gay couples hoping to wed in Maryland at the stroke of midnight January 1, the day the state’s new same sex marriage law takes effect. The Washington Post reports that in a lengthy opinion, the state attorney general’s office said it is permissible for clerks of county courts to start processing marriage licenses a few days ahead of time to facilitate New Year’s Day marriages and comply with a waiting period in Maryland law. The opinion leaves it to counties to decide whether to make such an accommodation, however. The formal advice was issued in an attempt to clear up confusion in the wake of this month’s passage of Question 6, the ballot measure upholding Maryland’s gay nuptials law. The measure passed 52-percent to 48-percent. Early word out of the attorney general’s office was that same sex marriages in Maryland would likely not take effect until January 4. That’s because Maryland has a two-day waiting period once clerks issue licenses. With January 1 being a holiday, that would mean licenses could not be issued until the following day. Under Thursday’s opinion, it will be possible for clerks to issue licenses in advance of January 1 and make them effective on New Year’s Day. Loretta E. Knight, clerk of the Montgomery County Circuit Court, said Thursday afternoon that she had just received the state opinion and was reviewing it. “We’re going to try to be consistent with other courts,” said Knight, who is also president of the Maryland Association on Circuit Court Clerks.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton paid tribute to the State Department’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies organization. The ceremony was held in the State Department’s historic Ben Franklin room for the first time. According to ABC News, after receiving a standing ovation Clinton thanked the crowd for what she called their courageous actions in the face of historic discrimination. The secretary lamented that homosexuals could not serve openly in the State Department until 1992. “The policy forced people to lie or mislead or give up their dreams of serving this country all together,” she said noting that it was under her husband’s first administration that federal gay employees received equal rights and partner benefits. Clinton said during her tenure she’s made expanding State Department policies to be more lgbt friendly a priority. “Our people should not have to choose between serving the country they love and living the life with the people they love,” she said. The secretary has also been a champion for homosexual and transgender rights globally. On International Human Rights Day last December, Clinton gave a speech in Geneva declaring that for the United States, “gay rights are human rights,” and led the effort to get the first ever UN resolution on human rights for LGBT community passed. “When I gave that speech in Geneva and said that we were going to make this a priority of American foreign policy, I didn’t see it as something special, something that was added on to everything else we do, but something that was integral to who we are and what we stand for.” Clinton asked the crowd, a mixture of veteran and young gay State department employees, to stop and reflect on how much progress America has made in advancing gay rights, and how far behind much of the rest of the world still is. “Remind yourself, as I do every day, what it must be like for a young boy or a young girl in some other part of the world who could literally be killed, and often has been and still will be, who will be shunned, who will be put in danger every day of his or her life,” she said. “I want you to leave this celebration thinking about what more each and every one of you can do…to make not only the agencies of our government, but our world more just and free for all people.”
The war against HIV/AIDS is far from over, U.S. health officials said on Thursday, with gay and bisexual men in urban centers accounting for most new infections in the United States. U.S. News reports that nearly 29,000 new cases of HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, were attributed to gay and bisexual males in 2010, and 82-percent of those cases occurred in large cities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. "The HIV epidemic in the United States highlights inequities," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "One is that gay and bisexual men are over 40 times more likely to have HIV than heterosexuals, and urban areas of the United States have higher HIV prevalence than rural areas." Another expert said the findings have real value in the fight against the virus. "These findings allow us to focus prevention efforts," noted Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, who had no part in the study. However, this is a challenging group to reach with education and prevention strategies, he said. "There is a problem when you are young and healthy and have a lot of sexual desire -- you feel indestructible," Hirsch said. In 2010, gay and bisexual males represented 62-percent of new HIV infections in large cities, 56-percent in smaller cities and 54-percent in non-urban areas, according to the study, published in the November 30 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. And nearly half of the new HIV infections reported among gay and bisexual men occurred in these seven cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Houston. In addition, four of the areas with the highest number of HIV infections among gay and bisexual men were in California: Los Angeles, Fresno, Modesto and Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura. The U.S. National HIV Strategy has a goal of reducing HIV infections by 25-percent, the CDC's Mermin said. "That is a challenging but achievable goal. We won't reach it if we don't decrease HIV infections among young and old gay and bisexual men." Disparities in HIV also exist in racial/ethnic groups, Mermin said. "We see marked racial disparities, 60 percent of youth with HIV infections were African American, 20-percent were Latino and 20 percent were white," he said. "And black gay and bisexual men made up 54-percent of new HIV infections," he added. He said that what is needed is more education -- especially education that targets groups such as blacks and Hispanics. Making testing more accessible and commonplace will also help, Mermin said, as would better access to treatment, especially for the poor. Hirsch attributed some of this increase in HIV cases among gay and bisexual men to a reduced awareness of HIV. "It's a time when the HIV epidemic is portrayed completely differently in the media compared to different eras," he said. "There is a downplaying of the impact of the disease. I think HIV is being more understood as a chronic disease that is easily controlled." Although that's largely true, prevention is vital, Hirsch said. "When the long-term risks of HIV are downplayed and when many people in the community are living long healthy lives with HIV, there is an underestimation of what it feels like to be HIV-positive," he said. People who are HIV-positive carry a psychological weight, in addition to the medical and financial burdens, Hirsch said. "In addition, taking medications on a day-in, day-out basis and having constant medical monitoring kind of reorganizes one's life," he said. A positive health message about being HIV-free and healthy and active is essential to stem the problem, Hirsch said. Hirsch advises young gay and bisexual men to take precautions to avoid HIV infection. "You're too young and healthy to start a life confronting the real limitations and vulnerabilities of HIV," he said. "Take care of yourself and have a safe and active love life." The study authors said programs that could reduce the number of HIV infections in cities include HIV testing, better care, and treatment of those already infected, and risk counseling.
The number of gay and bisexual men being diagnosed with HIV in the United Kingdom reached an "all-time high" in 2011, according to the Health Protection Agency. The BBC reports that it said there had been a "worrying" trend since 2007, with more and more new cases each year. Nearly half of the 6,280 people diagnosed last year were men who had sex with other men. Overall, one in 20 such men is infected with HIV. Of those diagnosed in 2011, nearly two-thirds had not been to a sexual health clinic in the previous three years. The HPA said the figures showed there was "room for improvement" in testing people in at-risk groups. Dr Valerie Delpech, the organization's head of HIV surveillance, told the BBC, "Obviously this is a serious illness and it is worrying that we're still seeing a lot in men who have sex with men and this is a record year. Transmission in the UK is largely sexual, so safe sex is the best way to prevent yourself getting HIV." The total number of people living with HIV in the UK rose to 96,000, up from 91,500 the previous year. The issue is most intense in London. Due to advances in drug treatment, having HIV should not affect life-expectancy. However, the data suggests that one in four people with HIV are completely unaware of the infection, meaning they cannot receive treatment and may still be spreading the virus. The chief executive of the National Aids Trust, Deborah Jack, said, "It is vitally important that gay men test at least once a year for STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV, and every three months if they're having unprotected sex with new or casual partners. HIV-negative gay men diagnosed with an STI should really treat it as a 'wake-up call'. You are at serious risk of getting HIV in the near future and need to take steps to prevent that happening - such as consistent condom use and reduction in number of sexual partners." Sir Nick Partridge, the chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said, "HIV is an entirely preventable condition, yet each year we see thousands more people across the UK receive this life-changing diagnosis. Reducing undiagnosed HIV by encouraging those in high-risk groups to test more regularly is one way we can put the brakes on the spread of infection."
Poland’s Supreme Court Wednesday recognized the right of gay partnerships to succeed to tenancies in this staunchly Catholic country where legislators have for years stonewalled attempts to introduce civil unions. The court issued an interpretation of an article of Poland’s Civil Code, which states that the surviving partner in a marriage or an informal union assumes the rights of a tenant in a leased apartment. It was asked to interpret the phrase “a person who factually remained in cohabitation with the tenant” for the purposes of an appeal lodged by a person denied tenancy by the city of Warsaw after his partner of nine years died. A district court in Warsaw, ruling in the first instance, upheld the city’s decision, saying cohabitation is understood to be a union of a man and a woman. The claimant, whose name wasn’t disclosed, appealed that verdict and the court of appeals asked the Supreme Court to interpret the law. The Supreme Court said Wednesday that same sex partners are entitled to inherit tenancies. Because Poland’s law is not based on precedents, the Supreme Court’s response to the lower court is binding only in the case in which it was given. The Supreme Court’s responses aren’t legally binding for lower courts in other cases, but are customarily observed due to the tacit assumption that the court would rule similarly in the future. The country in 2002 lost before the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in a similar case, Piotr Kozak vs. Poland, that “a blanket exclusion of persons living in a same sex relationship from succession to a tenancy cannot be accepted as necessary for the protection of the family.” The country’s society is largely against the introduction of same-sex civil unions, but in favor of allowing gay couples to enjoy some rights now available only to opposite-sex partners and married couples, a poll showed earlier this year. In July, lawmakers in the Sejm, lower house of parliament, rejected without reading proposed legislation that would introduce civil unions. Polish conservatives have said homosexuals face no discrimination in Poland, and have referred to some of the rights gay activists are seeking as privileges given to families to ease their burden of raising children. Draft civil unions legislation was proposed in 2005, but Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, a left-leaning parliament speaker and a presidential hopeful at the time, didn’t bring the bill to a debate before the house’s term ended later that year.
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