Thursday, December 13, 2012

Church Of England And Church Of Wales “Shocked” At United Kingdom’s Plan To Ban Them From Offering Same Sex Marriages, Same Sex Marriage Supporters In Illinois Say They Are “Within Striking Distance” Of Gathering Enough Votes To Pass Legislation In January, House Republicans Quietly Augment Funds For Defense Of Marriage Legal Team, Golden Globes, Eddie Redmayne

The Church of England and the Church in Wales have expressed their "complete shock" at the government's plan to ban them from offering same sex marriages, claiming they were not consulted over the proposed legislation, which would make them the only religious organizations to be legally barred from conducting the ceremonies. On Tuesday the culture secretary and equalities minister, Maria Miller, offered a comprehensive guarantee that neither church would have to marry same sex couples. Although the move was intended to reassure Tory MPs who are threatening a rebellion over the proposals, it was greeted with dismay by senior figures in both churches, who said they knew nothing of the legal plans until Miller made her statement to the Commons, according to the Guardian. The Church in Wales said that it would push to have the proposals amended. The Right Rev Tim Stevens, bishop of Leicester and the Church of England's lead spokesman in the Lords, told a closed meeting of bishops, Lords and MPs that the government had not consulted the church on the proposal, adding that the church had never sought the government's so-called "quadruple lock" on gay marriage. He also expressed his regret at the government's lack of consultation. A Church of England spokesman confirmed that the church had not been consulted over the government's plans, saying: "Bishop Tim is correct that the first mention of a 'quadruple lock' came when the secretary of state announced it in the Commons. We had not been privately informed of this prior to the announcement." Miller had been due to meet the Church of England representatives last Thursday but she cancelled the meeting at the last moment. The churches' claims pile further pressure on Miller, who came under fire in the Commons over the plans. It was announced that she is to face an investigation into her expenses by the parliamentary commissioner for standards after the Daily Telegraph alleged that she had breached rules over her second home. Officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are understood to have filled in for the culture secretary last week, and she is thought to have met representatives of the Church of England after the statement on Tuesday. Although the Church of England's position on same sex marriage is clear – its submission to the government's consultation in June this year stressed that "the canons of the Church of England define marriage, in accordance with Christ's teaching and the doctrine of the Church, as being between a man and a woman" – it is privately understood that there is astonishment within the church that it was not told about the final proposals. A spokesperson for Dr Barry Morgan, the archbishop of Wales, confirmed that the Church in Wales had not been consulted over the "quadruple lock" either, saying it had come "completely out of the blue" and had left the church "completely shocked,” adding, "We feel it's a step too far and we weren't consulted and we're now looking into what we can do. We will be pushing to have it amended, I would imagine." The spokesperson said the church had submitted its views on the sanctity of marriage as part of the consultation, it had not anticipated that the government would act as it had. "At that time, we thought that the government were saying that this law would be one that all churches would be able to opt into, so we were keen at that time to have sufficient legal safeguards around us to ensure that none of our clergy – or the church – would be prosecuted under equal opportunities [legislation]," she said. "But we had no idea that we would be completely exempt. There was no indication at all that, as a church, we would be completely exempt and it makes us look like we're exclusive and we're different to the other churches." Under the government's plans, four separate elements would ensure that no religious groups would be forced to act against their beliefs: the framework would guarantee that no religious minister would be compelled to marry same-sex-couples; would allow religious organisations wishing to do so to opt in to conducting marriages; would amend the Equality Act 2010 so that no discrimination claims could be brought against religious groups or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple, and would ensure that the canon law of the Churches of England and Wales would remain unaffected. According to the last guarantee, if either church wished to conduct a same-sex marriage, changes would be needed to both canon law and primary legislation. In her statement to MPs, Miller said, "Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same sex couples. This provision recognizes and protects the unique and established nature of these churches. The church's canon law will also continue to ban the marriage of same-sex couples. Therefore, even if these institutions wanted to conduct same sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law; Additional protection that cannot be breached." Although the Church of England's position on same sex marriage is clear — its submission to the government's consultation in June this year stressed that "the Canons of the Church of England define marriage, in accordance with Christ's teaching and the doctrine of the Church, as being between a man and a woman" — it is privately understood that there is astonishment within the church that it was not told about on the final proposals. A spokesperson for the DCMS insisted that relevant parties had been duly consulted, adding that the government had acted according to the church's wishes. "As part of our consultation process, and as we finalized our proposals, government officials met with a number of stakeholders, including the CoE," she said. "Clearly, it would have been inappropriate to discuss the fine detail of our proposals prior to them being announced in parliament. But the church made clear to us its wish to see legal provisions which would ensure that their position on not conducting same-sex marriages would continue." The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who was at the Lords meeting, said Stevens' revelation that the church had not been informed had drawn "audible gasps" from members of all parties. "It's absolutely extraordinary," he said. "The government gave the clear impression that this had been done at the request of the Church of England … but the bishop of Leicester said: 'We didn't ask for it' … and was very upset about it because it gave the impression that the Church of England were unfriendly towards gays." Asked why the government had chosen to propose the "quadruple-lock" guarantee, Bradshaw said: "The only explanation I can think of was that they thought it would help placate some of their homophobic backbenchers. But it seems to have backfired massively because the rightwing homophobes were out in force anyway and the Church of England now appears to be extremely upset that not only was it not asked, but it's added to [the] general misery over women bishops and now this. It makes the Church of England look much more reactionary and unreasonable than it actually is," he said.

In Springfield, Illinois, same sex marriage supporters said Thursday they have moved to “within striking distance” of collecting enough votes to pass a bill in early January. Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Greg Harris unveiled plans to take up the measure in the closing days of the current General Assembly before a new set of lawmakers are sworn in January 9. The legislation would allow same sex marriage and protect the right of religious institutions to either consecrate or not consecrate such weddings, but church leaders from a variety of faiths have rallied staunch opposition. Nine states allow gay marriage, including three states --- Maine, Maryland and Washington --- that approved legalizing gay marriage. Both Steans and Harris said the ballot-box victories elsewhere last month represent a “sea change” that they are seeing among colleagues in Illinois. The Tribune reports that the two Chicago Democrats said they plan to put up the same-sex marriage bill for a vote and indicated they wouldn’t do that without believing it would pass. Still, they remained cautious. Steans said the two “don’t want to lose the momentum” and “we want to do it now,” and pointing out support from Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and President Obama, added, “Public sentiment is moving fast on this. It’s just a wave now. It’s moving very quickly.” The two have to muster 60 House votes and 30 Senate votes. If that happens, Quinn has indicated he would sign the bill into law. Such a measure would take effect in the summer, the lawmakers said. The measure also would recognize gay marriages performed in other states, they said. Harris said constituents have made arguments to a growing number of lawmakers, raising questions like, “Why would our state treat our lesbian granddaughter with less respect than our straight grandson?” The gay marriage push comes after the state first allowed civil unions for same-sex and heterosexual partners in 2011. Opponents of civil unions predicted that fight would open the door to making gay marriage legal in only a matter of time, but the timetable for action is moving quicker than many foes may have anticipated. Opponents cite religious concerns, saying the sanctity of marriage should be protected and the institution be defined as between a man and a woman. But Harris has said the question for Illinois has turned from whether the state would pass gay marriage to when. On Monday, Quinn said he hopes lawmakers would send him the gay marriage bill in January. But Harris had cautioned that the legislative agenda is filling up with so many big-ticket items like pension reform and casino expansion proposals that there might not be enough time and room for gay marriage to be taken up. Harris also wanted to make sure he had the votes to pass the bill before going forward on such a contentious issue. But with dozens of lame-duck lawmakers available to cast votes more freely as they prepare to walk out the door, they may be able to provide enough support to pick up the final votes needed to pass the gay marriage bill. Quinn called the House the “key arena at this time” and urged lawmakers sitting on the fence to “vote their conscience.”

House Republicans have quietly raised the value of a contract with a private law firm that is handling the chamber’s Supreme Court defense of a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-California) signed off in September on a $500,000 increase in the maximum value of the contract with the firm, Washington-based Bancroft. Republicans have raised the cap of the contract twice: first on September 29, 2011, from its original maximum of $500,000 to $1.5 million, and again on September 28 to its new maximum of $2 million. Although the latest lifting of the contract cap occurred almost three months ago, House Democrats — and the public — were in the dark about the move until this week. House Republicans did not share the revised contract with Democrats until Thursday, according to Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) Hammill provided a copy of the contract modification to CQ Roll Call. Indeed, Democrats were so out of the loop that Pelosi’s office released figures on October 16 showing that the taxpayer expenses for the defense of the law nearly had hit their cap of $1.5 million. But that was almost three weeks after Lungren had raised the cap to $2 million. Pelosi blasted House Republicans in a statement Thursday for “wasting taxpayer dollars to defend the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act,” adding, “Hiding this contract from voters in the midst of an election season was a cynical move at best, and a betrayal of the public trust at worst. Republicans should not be spending $2 million to defend discrimination in our country.” Republicans have been forced to raise the contract’s maximum value as legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act have mounted in courts across the country. The GOP-led House is defending the measure because the Obama administration decided in February 2011 that it views the statute as unconstitutional and will no longer do so. The Supreme Court agreed December 7 to evaluate the constitutionality of the statute, which prevents same-sex couples who are married legally under state law from receiving a host of federal benefits. The court is expected to hear arguments in March, with a decision likely by the end of June. In an interview Thursday, Lungren said he did not know whether the Supreme Court’s review of DOMA — and the heavy workload it might put on Bancroft and its lead attorney, former solicitor general Paul D. Clement — would force Republicans to raise the contract cap again in the future. Lungren noted that besides evaluating the constitutionality of the statute itself, the court has asked whether the House has the standing to defend the measure in court. That question, he said, could add to Bancroft’s workload because it might require additional briefing and preparation. “I don’t know whether that would require more expenditure of funds, but it is a serious argument that has to be seriously dealt with,” said Lungren, who lost his re-election bid and will be succeeded as head of the committee next year by Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Michigan). Other observers, however, have said that the taxpayer costs of the legal defense may taper off now that the high court has stepped in, since the justices’ review of the law has put similar cases in the lower courts on hold. The question of taxpayer costs has been a delicate one for House Republicans, who have remained largely silent on DOMA even as Democrats have sharply criticized them for using public money to defend the statute. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was asked about the rising costs at a news conference Thursday, but gave a one-sentence reply. “If the Justice Department is not going to enforce the law of the land, the Congress will,” Boehner said. House Republicans initially said they would tap the Justice Department’s budget to mount their legal defense of the marriage law, since it was the department that stopped defending the statute. In reality, however, much of the funding for the legal defense has come from the legislative branch budget — specifically, from the “salaries, officers and employees” account of the Chief Administrative Officer, according to congressional testimony. The House tapped $742,000 from that account to pay for its defense of the marriage law, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee in March. Since that time, the costs for the legal defense have increased sharply. But it is unclear whether the additional money also has been transferred from the Chief Administrative Officer’s budget or from other sources. A spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer could not immediately confirm that the additional funding came from the agency’s budget.

The Golden Globe nominations were announced Thursday, with Lincoln earning a total of seven nominations, including Best Picture, Drama. There were some surprises, particularly the Best Actress, Drama nomination for Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea (a very good film hardly anyone saw), a number of nominations for the very enjoyable Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and the exclusion of Mad Men, shut out of the Best Television Drama category for the first time since its debut in 2007.

Eddie Redmayne spotted arriving at LAX Thursday, working a scarf in way only he can.

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