Monday, December 17, 2012

Iowa Judge Rules Department Of Public Health Issue Death Certificate To Gay Couple Listing Both As Parents To Stillborn Child, Montana Supreme Court Rejects Request That Gay Couples Be Guaranteed Same Benefits As Straight Married Couples, Gay Marine Surprises Boyfriend With Proposal During White House Visit, Chris Kluwe First Professional To Join Athlete Ally, Russian Soccer Club Calls Demand By Fans That They Field A White-Only Non-Gay Team “Stupidity,” Australian Football League Amps Up Anti-Homophobia Campaign

Monday, in Iowa, a Polk County judge ordered the Iowa Department of Public Health to issue a death certificate to Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer that lists both of them as parents of their stillborn child, Brayden. The Sioux City Journal reports that in a 20-page decision released last week, Judge Robert Hutchison shot down the three main arguments the Department of Public Health’s attorney used to defend the department’s position that Jessica and Jennifer could not be considered “mother” and “father,” respectively, on Brayden’s death certificate. The Davenport couple had checked those boxes, but the department returned the certificate with Jennifer’s name erased. “(The department) has unconstitutionally interfered with a same-sex wife’s ability to receive the benefits of a certificate,” Hutchison wrote. “A categorical refusal to register a mother’s wife on a Certificate violates equal protection. DPH is required to modify its Certificate so as to identify both petitioners here as parents.” Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for Attorney General Tom Miller, said the office is “reviewing the judge’s ruling. We’ll talk with the Iowa Department of Public Health about the state’s legal options.” Miller’s office represented the department in the case. The ruling came a day after the Attorney General’s office represented the health department at a related hearing in front of the Iowa Supreme Court. In that case, Des Moines couple Heather Martin Gartner and Melissa Gartner are suing the state to force them to include both their names on the birth certificate of their daughter, Mackenzie. Camille Taylor, an attorney for the gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, represents both the Buntemeyers and the Gartners. A message left with the organization was not returned Monday. “In this case, the state was not only denying that Jenny and Jessica are both mothers, it was trying to erase Jenny from the family,” Taylor said in a news release. “A death certificate for Brayden is their sole legal record of his existence and his significance to their family.”

Also Monday, the Montana Supreme Court rejected an "overly broad" request that gay couples be guaranteed the same benefits as married couples. According to the Associated Press, the court wrote in Monday's 4-3 decision Monday that a lower court was within its discretion when it earlier dismissed the request. But the Supreme Court left the door open for the gay couples to modify their request and try again. A Helena district court judge dismissed the six couples' case last year after state prosecutors argued that spousal benefits are limited by definition to married couples. A voter-approved amendment in 2004 defined marriage as between a man and a woman. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock based his ruling in part on the state's marriage amendment and also said that an order to force state lawmakers to write new laws would violate the separation of powers. The majority justices upheld that decision. The court wrote that the gay couples want the court to intervene "without identifying a specific statute or statutes that impose the discrimination they allege." James Goetz, the attorney for the couples, said in April arguments before the high court that his clients were not asking to for the right to marry. But they are entitled to make the same decisions about their families' health care and finances as married couples under the Montana Constitution, and the state's refusal to expressly provide those rights is discriminatory, he said. Assistant attorney general Mike Black responded that the couples' demands were overly sweeping and they do not cite the specific laws that would have to be changed. Among the rights the couples are asking for in the lawsuit filed in 2010: Inheritance rights, and the ability to make burial decisions and receive workers compensation death benefits; The right to file joint tax returns, claim spousal tax exemptions or take property tax benefits; The right to make health care decisions for a spouse when that person cannot; and legal protection in cases of separation and divorce, including children's custody and support.

The cutest (and most welcomed) story of this Monday: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phelps made history Saturday at the home of his commander in chief. The 35-year-old active-duty officer proposed to his boyfriend, Ben Schock, 26, in the Grand Foyer of the White House at the end of a holiday tour. It’s believed to be the first time two gay men have gotten engaged inside the White House and a first for an active-duty member of the U.S. military. A transgender man proposed to his partner in the East Room earlier this year. “Our first date was to the White House, so I wanted to propose to him there,” Phelps told ABC News. “When I got invited to the holiday tour — six months to the day that we had been there on our first date — it was way too much of a coincidence to pass up.” The moment, which Phelps described as a complete surprise to Schock, was captured on camera by fellow tour-goers. Some of the images have since gone viral online. The White House declined to comment on the engagement. No word on whether the Obamas knew what happened in their halls. Phelps said his public engagement — made possible in part because of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — has been well-received among his Marine Corps peers. But he noted that there could be a rocky road ahead for their relationship after the nuptials planned for next spring. “The one thing that is overshadowing things,” he said, “is the fact that the Defense of Marriage Act is still in effect and the DOD [Defense Department] isn’t going to recognize our marriage. “I’m expecting to get orders to Japan next summer, but as of right now, because they’re not going to recognize Ben as my spouse, they’re not going to pay for him to accompany me; he’s not going to have any health care coverage; and, he’s not going to have access to the base while I’m gone,” he said. “I’d have to get permission to live out in town as a ‘single officer,’ so we’ll have to figure that out,” he said. The Supreme Court will later this year review the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage for federal purposes as between one man and one woman.

Athlete Ally, the organization founded by Hudson Taylor in January, 2011, announced that the NFL's Chris Kluwe has joined their Ambassador Program. In doing so, the Minnesota Vikings punter will represent the first professorial athlete in a program that already includes a long list of committed college athletes across the country who encourage other athletes, coaches, and fans to challenge homophobia in sports. Kluwe has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and according to an Associated Press report published late last week, his activism on and off the field has served as a source of friction between Kluwe and his position coach.

Soccer fans of two-time defending Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg are calling for non-white and gay players to be excluded from the team, another sign of the racism that is plaguing the country that will host the World Cup in 2018. Landscrona, the largest Zenit supporters' club, released a manifesto Monday demanding the club field an all-white, heterosexual team. It added that "dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit's throat now, which only brings out a negative reaction" and said gay players were "unworthy of our great city." The club quickly sought to distance itself from the fans. Without directly referring to their manifesto, Zenit's Italian head coach, Luciano Spalletti, said on the club's website that "tolerance for me is most of all the ability to understand and accept differences,” adding, "Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any kind of stupidity.” The club, which is owned by state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, also told the R-Sport news agency it picked players on ability alone, insisting that "the team's policy is aimed at development and integration into the world soccer community, and holds no archaic views." Zenit was the only top-flight Russian team without a black player until this summer, when it acquired Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel for 80 million euros ($105 million). French midfielder Yann M'Vila declined a move to the club in August after receiving death threats. "I can personally assure you that I will do everything I can to help those who seek to explain to people what tolerance is, and the need to respect other cultures and traditions," Spalletti said. "I think that Zenit has proven through its work that the club understands what tolerance is, and what it means to have tolerant behavior. The team has gathered players from different countries and ethnic groups who work together to achieve a common goal, and work well." Fans insisted that "we are not racists and for us the absence of black Zenit players is just an important tradition that underlines the team's identity and nothing more." Russia has struggled to deal with racism and violence at its stadiums as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup. Black players are frequently the targets of monkey chants and some, including Anzhi Makhachkala's Robert Carlos and Christopher Samba, have had bananas thrown at them by fans. Officials have at times shown little enthusiasm for targeting racism. When Lokomotiv Moscow fans held up a banner in 2010 thanking an English team for signing their black striker Peter Odemwingie with a picture of a banana, the head of Russia's World Cup bid awkwardly claimed they were referencing a quaint, little-used Russian expression meaning "to fail an exam." Zenit's fans have long been the country's most problematic. Dick Advocaat, the team's former Dutch manager, once admitted that "the fans don't like black players" and that it would be "impossible" for Zenit to sign one. Several black players have also singled out Zenit's fans as particularly racist. Former Russian top scorer Vagner Love told a Brazilian newspaper in April that Zenit was "the most racist team in Russia" and the only one whose fans had abused him in his seven years playing for CSKA Moscow. Five years earlier, Krylya Sovetov Samara's former Cameroon international Serge Branco told a local newspaper that Zenit's management were "the real racists" for not combating the problem, adding that "in a civilized country they'd smack them down to the third division for their fans' behavior." Zenit's fans have also come under the spotlight recently after one of them threw a firecracker that injured Dinamo Moscow's goalkeeper during a match in November. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, himself a Zenit fan, called for violent spectators to be banned for life from attending matches. Parliament has drafted a bill that would ban hooligans for a year.

The Australian Football League’s first “gay pride” game is being proposed between the powerhouse clubs Sydney and Hawthorn next season as part of a broader plan to tackle homophobia and make football more inclusive. The Sunday Age reports that the round 23 game at ANZ Stadium between 2012's grand finalists has been earmarked by AFL and club bosses as a potential themed fixture to promote sexual diversity. And in a sign that football is taking homophobic vilification seriously, first-year players at January's draftee induction camp will be taught about the impact of anti-gay abuse. League chief Andrew Demetriou, and other senior AFL officials, have also been invited to take part in February's Pride March in Melbourne and are considering the offer. While details of the themed game are still being discussed, it is believed the Swans - based in a city that hosts the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras and has a large gay community - are receptive to the idea. Former Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has also been personally lobbying Demetriou to back a pride game. In September, beyondblue, the anti-depression organization, launched a national campaign highlighting the link between homophobic discrimination and depression. Football's move to embrace the gay community comes after a Yarra Glen player, Jason Ball, launched a petition in September calling for the league to introduce a pride round, and for anti-homophobia ads to be played at the 2012 grand final. More than 27,000 signed and the AFL later agreed to show the ads on big screens at preliminary finals. Ball, who was recently asked by Kennett to be a beyondblue ambassador, has now been invited by the AFL Players Association to address young players at the draftee induction camp in January about life as a gay footballer. AFLPA chief executive Matt Finnis said he thought players would be largely supportive of a pride game, and that Ball's experiences would be instructive for draftees. “Jason has an interesting story about what football means to him in terms of his sexuality and his sense of self and his place in the community, so they will get a sense of the responsibility that goes with their positions,” Finnis said, adding, “It will mean different things to different players, but it's an important symbol among a broader conversation about the importance of football being an inclusive environment, and that everyone needs to reflect on the impact of their actions on others.” While AFL corporate affairs manager James Tonkin would not confirm specifics, it is believed discussions between Hawthorn, Sydney and the league are well advanced. Tonkin said the AFL was continuing to work on its policy approach to promote diversity, inclusion and tolerance and was committed to making further progress. “Initial discussions have been held about the possibility of a pride match or something similar to celebrate diversity, but it remains a work in progress at this early stage.” Hawthorn chief executive Stuart Fox said it was too early to comment on the pride game. Ball, 24, said it was encouraging that the Hawks and Swans were showing leadership on homophobia by considering a pride game, and he welcomed the opportunity to speak to AFL draftees. “My teammates didn't understand that the language they used had an effect on me,” he said. “It chips away at your self-esteem and your confidence and your ability to be yourself. It was that constant reminding that in their minds being gay is being weak or being lesser. As soon as they knew I was gay they actually wanted to make a change in their behaviour because I was one of their teammates, one of their friends. I would hope that sharing that story would have a similar effect on new AFL players.” The AFLPA is also considering producing a series of videos in which current and former players would interview young gay and lesbian football fans about their experiences.

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