Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moscow Idaho City Officials Consider Ordinance Prohibiting Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity, President Obama Suddenly Urges Legislators To Legalize Same Sex Marriage Illinois, Defense Of Marriage Act Threatens To Deport Many Immigrant Spouses, British Roman Catholic Archbishop Warns Of Dire “Consequences” For Children If Same Sex Marriage Legalized, Harry Styles

City officials in Moscow in northern Idaho are considering an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The city's Human Rights Commission and the Fair and Affordable Housing Commission are working together to make a joint recommendation to the city council. Ken Nagy of the housing commission tells the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that there are discrimination protections based on race, creed, gender, age and religion, but that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected. The Idaho Senate declined to consider adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state human rights act earlier this year. Ken Faunce of the city's Human Rights Commission says that means cities have to find a solution themselves.

President Barack Obama is urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize same sex marriage in his home state as lawmakers are poised to take up the measure as early as this week in Springfield. "While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday. "As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," Inouye said. The lead sponsors of the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," state Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and state Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), intend to put the measure up for a vote during the upcoming January lame-duck session. The toughest challenge for gay marriage backers will be winning passage in the Illinois House. Prospects for approval in the Illinois Senate (where Obama once served) are brighter. The practical impact of Obama urging his home state to legalize gay marriage is to prod (and give political cover to) reluctant Democrats from conservative suburban and Downstate districts. Both chambers in Springfield are controlled by Democrats. Republicans cannot be depended on for widespread same sex marriage support. Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney has reported that Steans and Harris predicted there would be some Republican backing. Illinois passed a civil union law effective June 1, 2011. When lawmakers took up civil unions, only one Senate Republican voted for the bill - current Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford. While Obama rarely gets involved in statehouse battles, he has voiced support for gay marriage measures in the past year, issuing (through his re-election campaign) statements of support for gay marriage ballot questions up last November in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Those initiatives won, and a Minnesota referendum to ban gay marriage (which Obama also publicly opposed) lost. Obama himself endorsed gay marriage in May after grappling with the issue for several years. "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts. The leading Democrats in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, are urging lawmakers to send Quinn a same sex marriage bill he can sign.

The Washington Post reports that Kelly Costello and Fabiola Morales had a storybook wedding in the summer of 2011, with 12 bridesmaids and matching white gowns. Their fathers gave them away at a Unitarian ceremony in the District, and both extended families were on hand for dancing and champagne afterwards. But because of a law that denies federal rights and benefits to gay spouses, the Potomac couple could soon be forced to live 4,000 miles apart. Morales, a registered nurse with two U.S. academic degrees, is a native of Peru. If she were a man, Costello could automatically sponsor her for a green card. But because they are both women, Morales could become deportable as soon as her student visa expires next year. “We love each other. We want to share our lives and raise a family and be happy like everyone else,” said Morales, 39, who came to the United States six years ago and has since been hopping between work and student visas. “Our families are very supportive. We are good people and we have worked hard to make a contribution. We deserve equality.” Morales and Costello, 30, an elementary school teacher of English as a second language, are among a growing number of binational gay couples who are caught between state laws that allow them to marry and federal laws that bar the U.S. citizen spouse from sponsoring the immigrant spouse for legal residency. Advocates estimate that more than 36,000 such couples are in the same situation. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, defines marriage as the legal union between and man and a woman. It denies gay spouses a long list of federal benefits, including access to pension and inheritance funds after their partner dies, as well as blocking their right to immigrate through marriage. However, 10 states and the District have moved to legalize gay marriage since DOMA was passed. As the concept of same-sex legal unions has gained more public acceptance, a legal and political movement against DOMA has grown. Lawyers for the Obama administration have found that portions of the law are unconstitutional, and federal courts in eight cases around the country have agreed. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality this spring, based on a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union in which Edie Windsor, a widow whose same sex spouse died, was forced to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes that a husband would not have had to pay. If the high court rules in favor of Windsor, it will wipe out the same section of DOMA that denies immigration rights to gay foreign spouses. In the meantime, a coalition of national rights groups and some lawmakers have asked the Obama administration to defer all pending green card petitions for gay spouses until the Supreme Court rules. “This law hurts same-sex couples in many ways, and immigration is one of the cruelest,” said Ian Thompson, a legal adviser at the ACLU in Washington. He noted that when DOMA became law, it was mostly symbolic, because no states allowed same sex marriage. “Today, you have thousands of couples whose legal marriages are not recognized by the federal government,” he said. “Now the harms are tangible.” Maryland residents voted to legalize gay marriage in a referendum last month, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a supporter of the measure, met with Costello and Morales recently. Last week, he sent an open letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking that the couple’s green card application be set aside pending the high court’s decision. Van Hollen described the two women as a hard-working couple who have “contributed greatly to our community.” Forcing Morales to leave the United States, he wrote, would bring special hardship, in part because Costello is expecting twins and in part because Morales suffers from multiple sclerosis and is receiving experimental treatment at Georgetown University. “The emotional trauma they would face is both extreme and obvious,” he said. Somewhat surprisingly, conservative leaders of Maryland’s movement against illegal immigrants have not criticized the effort to extend green-card rights to gay spouses. Brad Botwin, who heads Help Save Maryland, a group that strongly opposed Dream Act legislation for undocumented immigrants, said his group was content to wait and see what the Supreme Court decides on DOMA. “Every situation has opportunities for abuse, but this is not really an immigration issue,” said Botwin. He noted that his daughter is engaged to a man from England and will probably apply for a green card for him. “The question is, which should have more legal standing, that a person got married or that the person is an immigrant? We need to let the legal process play out.” On a national level, more than 50 organizations — including gay rights groups and Hispanic and Asian-American advocates — appealed this month to President Obama to allow all pending immigration petitions for gay spouses be “held in abeyance” until the high court rules. Immigration Equality, one of the groups, filed the green card petition for Morales and Costello and also filed suit on behalf of several other gay binational couples, arguing that DOMA violated their rights to equal protection under U.S. laws. “Pablo and I have been together for more than 20 years. We never wanted to break the law or create any problems. We just want what’s fair,” said Santiago Cortez, 57, a retired school psychologist in the New York borough of Queens whose partner Pablo Garcia, 52, is a native of Venezuela. The couple married last year in Connecticut. “We fulfill every requirement for his green card but one,” Cortez said. “We are both men.” Despite its own stated concerns about DOMA, the Obama administration appears unlikely to grant the requests for a blanket “abeyance” on green-card applications. Although U.S. officials have leeway to suspend individual deportations on humanitarian grounds, they say they are required to enforce DOMA and do not possess the same legal flexibility to tinker with federal benefits such as green cards. In a statement Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security reiterated that “the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect” and that the department “will continue to enforce it unless and until Congress repeals it, or there is a final determination that it is unconstitutional.” For Costello and Morales, who met through friends in 2007, life has been good in many ways. Their immediate families have embraced their relationship and rallied to their cause. Both women have built solid careers, and Morales, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing from Georgetown University, has been able to parlay her studies and skills into a string of work and student visas. The two live a quiet life in the affluent Maryland suburbs, staying with Costello’s parents to save money. Morales’s Peruvian relatives, who live in Miami, often visit for Christmas and other holidays. The women love to show visitors their wedding album and the sonogram with the twins Kelly is carrying, due in July. But now, their excitement is tinged with tension and worry for the future. “We were made for each other,” Morales said, taking Costello’s hand nervously as they sat on a sofa in the family’s spacious Potomac home. “She is my best friend, my motivation in life. Our future as a family is here, together. Why should I have to choose between her and another country?”

In the United Kingdom, the Government's proposals to legalize same sex marriage could have unforeseen impacts on children, a leading Roman Catholic archbishop has warned. In a pastoral letter to churches and chapels throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley claimed the Government could not predict the impact of its legislation on children. In his letter, being read to worshippers Sunday to mark the Feast of the Holy Family, the Archbishop of Birmingham said: "Government policy cannot foresee the full consequences, for the children involved or for wider society, of being brought up by two mothers without a father's influence or by two fathers without a mother's influence. We first learn about diversity and acquire a respect for difference through the complementarity of our parents." Archbishop Longley went on: "The complementary love of father and mother is a precious gift that we should wish for every child. We know that many single parents courageously and generously look after their children and often struggle to give them a fine upbringing. If it had not been for the understanding of St Joseph, our Lady herself might have had to face the difficulties of being a single parent. Even so, the experience of growing up with our father and mother to teach and guide, to console and love us unconditionally is an invaluable blessing in life."

Harry Styles (working a must-have Burberry pea coat) spotted at Heathrow Airport, en route to New York City and Taylor Swift, Styles having shown up for an earlier flight without his passport.

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