Wednesday, January 2, 2013

California Governor Brown Appeals Injunction Blocking Enforcement Of Law Prohibiting Practice Of Conversion Therapy On Minors, Illinois Same Sex Marriage Bill Hits Procedural Snag, Chair Of Illinois Republican Party Says He Is Putting “Full Support” For Marriage Equality Legislation, Minnesota Senate To Debate Same Sex Marriage Law In 2013, Garden State Equality Chair Steven Goldstein Steps Down, Representative Brian Sims Makes History As First Openly Gay Lawmaker Elected To Pennsylvania Legislature

In California, Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday appealed a court injunction that has blocked the enforcement of a new law that prohibits providing gay minors with therapy aimed at converting them to being heterosexual. The notice of appeal was filed on behalf of Brown and the Medical Board of California by state Attorney General Kamala Harris with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided December 21 to block the law that took effect January 1 pending a decision on its constitutionality. A small group of therapists and religious groups argued that the law infringes on their rights to free speech, but Harris has called conversion therapy "unsound and harmful." Harris asked the court Wednesday to look at a recent decision by U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller upholding the law. "Defendants wish to apprise the 9th Circuit of a related case currently pending before it … denying a motion for a preliminary injunction that would have enjoined enforcement of Senate Bill 1172," Harris wrote. "Both appeals involve the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1172 and raise the same and/or closely related legal issues."

In Illinois, a measure legalizing same sex marriage hit a snag Wednesday night but supporters hope to seek committee approval Thursday. Democratic Sen. Heather Steans couldn't get support to bypass a Senate rule that would have let her attach the marriage-equality language to existing legislation. Steans was aiming for a Senate Executive Committee vote Wednesday. A spokeswoman says Senate Democrats now are looking for another bill to use for the gay marriage measure and hope to move it through the committee Thursday. Illinois would be the 10th state to legalize same sex marriage. Steans says she has enough support to pass the landmark proposal in the Senate.

That news, meanwhile, arrives as reports suggest that the momentum continues to build for same sex marriage in Illinois. On Wednesday, Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he was putting his "full support" behind marriage equality legislation pending in Springfield. "More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way," Brady said. "Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles; it strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value - that the law should treat all citizens equally,” adding, "Importantly, the pending legislation would protect the freedom of religion. No church or religious organization would ever be required to perform a union with which it disagrees."

The Minnesota state senator who will take the lead in that chamber on a bill to legalize same sex marriage says backers will wait at least a month or two into the upcoming legislative session before they start to push it hard. Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis says Wednesday that Democrats taking power at the Capitol next week plan to focus early in the session on what he called "kitchen-table issues" of improving the economy and creating jobs. But he says gay marriage backers in the Legislature want a vote in 2013. Dibble, who is gay, says he believes allowing same-sex couples to marry is a kitchen-table issue too. Another DFL senator, John Marty, has pushed for a gay-marriage vote in 2013 but says he'll let Dibble take the lead. A push to define marriage as only between a woman and a man in the state constitution, strengthening state law which already bans gay marriage, was defeated by Minnesota voters in November.

Steven Goldstein, New Jersey’s most visible gay rights activist, is stepping down from leading the advocacy group he founded to take a job at Rutgers-Newark. Goldstein will leave his post as chairman of Garden State Equality, which he formed in 2004 to fight for equality for the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender community. He has been named Associate Chancellor for External Relations at Rutgers-Newark. "Steven has long been among New Jersey’s most compelling voices and steadfast leaders for the public interest," Philip Yeagle, Rutgers-Newark’s interim chancellor, said in a statement. "His political savvy and legendary tenacity has made him known in Trenton and across the state for making big things happen." Troy Stevenson, Garden State Equality’s managing director for advocacy who worked on the field staff of President Obama’s re-election campaign in Pennsylvania, will replace Goldstein at the helm of the group. Garden State Equality claims nearly 125,000 members and says it is New Jersey’s largest civil rights group. "This is hardly the end of an era," Goldstein, 50, wrote in an e-mail to Garden State Equality members tonight. "Working by my side, Troy is the person I someday wanted to take my place, which you bet he can. So many of you know and love him. He is an extraordinary field operative, political talent and all-around human being." Goldstein will remain involved in the organization as a member of its executive board and its chair emeritus. Goldstein said Garden State Equality helped pass 213 laws in New Jersey at the state and local levels. That included a 2004 law to allow domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, a 2006 law upgrading them to civil unions, and the 2011 "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights." But Garden State Equality’s biggest battle — legalizing same sex marriage — has faced heavy resistance, most recently from Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed it after the Legislature passed it. Garden State Equality is also a plaintiff in a court case that seeks to legalize same sex marriage. "Steven has been the voice, the face of the push for marriage equality in the State of New Jersey," said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a sponsor of the bill to legalize gay marriage. "He has been single-minded of purpose, and he has a personality that goes with being such a strong advocate. Rutgers is very lucky to have him and the gay rights community will find a new strong voice until we get marriage equality here in New Jersey." Prior to forming Garden State Equality, Goldstein spent years as a Democratic political operative. He has also served as a lawyer for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in Washington and was a television news producer. Goldstein said he will continue to teach a class on legislative advocacy at Rutgers Law School. In his new job, he will focus on government relations and communications. It pays $143,000 a year. He will leave Garden State Equality on January 20 and begin at Rutgers-Newark three days later.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia lawyer made history on Tuesday when he was sworn in as the first openly gay lawmaker elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. Brian Sims, 34, ran unopposed in the November election after ousting longtime Rep. Babette Josephs in the Democratic primary in the Center City district. "The tide has changed," said Sims, a civil rights advocate who recently stepped down as board president of Equality Pennsylvania, the statewide lesbian and gay advocacy organization. "2012 will go down in history as when being anti-gay puts you in the minority." By coincidence, Sims will be one of two openly gay lawmakers in the General Assembly this year. In a surprise announcement last month, Rep. Mike Fleck, a sitting Republican lawmaker from Huntingdon County, revealed that he was gay. Sims said that with two gay members, the legislature would have a more difficult time ignoring gay civil rights issues such as discrimination in the workplace and in housing - the focus of legislation he has already introduced - as well as hate crimes and bullying. He said he also wants to work on bills to address gun violence, an issue on the minds of Philadelphia lawmakers long before the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Sims says he recognizes that gun control measures will face resistance in a legislature dominated by rural lawmakers but hopes to find common ground. "We had more murders last year in Philadelphia than in all of Germany," Sims said. "Some people may have a deer problem. We have a murder problem."

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