Friday, February 1, 2013

Same Sex Marriage Opponents File Dozens Of Briefs With Supreme Court, New Mexico Same Sex Marriage Bill Clears First Hurdle, Bloomington Indiana Officials Conduct Symbolic Same Sex Marriage, Virginia House Passes Bill 1617 Which Will Permit Student Groups To Discriminate Based On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity, United Kingdom High Court Rules Sperm Donors Can Seek Access To Children, United Kingdom Housing Agency Apologizes And Revises Training After Transgender Woman Initially Refused Help Because Staff Said Being Transgender Was “Choice,” Utah Boy Scouts Want National Organization To Delay Decision Revising No-Gays Membership Policy, Harry Styles Is A Birthday Boy

Opponents of same sex marriage got a barrage of legal support this week in the U.S. Supreme Court. The San Jose Mercury News reports that in dozens of court briefs, organizations aligned against gay marriage urged the Supreme Court to uphold both Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same sex nuptials, and the federal government's 1996 law forbidding benefits for same sex couples. In addition, 19 states that outlaw same sex marriage backed supporters of Proposition 8 in the Supreme Court, arguing that states have a right to define marriage and that courts should not interfere with the "integrity of their constitutions and democratic processes." The Indiana and Virginia attorneys general wrote the states' brief. In the two cases, more than 30 of the so-called "friend of the court" briefs were filed on behalf of ProtectMarriage.com, which is defending Proposition 8, and House Republicans, who are defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Proposition 8 case on March 26, and the DOMA case the following day. A federal appeals court declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional last year, finding that it stripped away a previous right of same-sex couples to marry in California. A different federal appeals court struck down DOMA last year in a case out of New York. Defenders of the state and federal gay marriage bans filed their arguments in the Supreme Court in January. Among the groups to back them this week were the Family Research Council and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Same sex marriage proponents are expected to file their arguments in late February.

In New Mexico, a push to legalize same sex marriage has passed its first hurdle. "Our country is not just and equal when it says one group of people can do something and another can't," same-sex marriage supporter Cristina Calvillo-Rivera said. The bill would let voters decide the issue of same sex marriage, but it also states churches would not be required to recognize the same sex marriage bill. After hearing very different opinions and personal experiences, lawmakers decided along party lines to pass the bill, which moves it to the next committee. "We should not discriminate. The state should be doing everything possible to encourage people to enter into committed, long-term relationships, especially when there's children involved," Representative Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) said. "What happens to those kids? Those kids were not created in that relationship," same sex marriage opponent Jose Vasquez said. Egolf said he's been contacted by hundreds of people who thanked him for sponsoring the bill. Nine states have legalized same sex marriage, and 10 others have allowed civil unions for gay couples. If the bill passes, legalizing gay marriage would appear on the ballot in November 2014.

In Indiana, a dozen Bloomington area couples were symbolically married Thursday night in a ceremony meant as a stand against a state ban on same sex marriage. Bloomington and Monroe County officials and clergy members participated. It was a long time coming for some couples, but participants were under no illusions about whether they gained any rights. Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan opened the ceremony by saying he hoped someday his role wouldn’t be symbolic—noting that mayors have the right to marry people in Indiana, just not same sex couples. The audience—many of them there to see a GLBTQ film festival—cheered the brides and grooms. And the couples sealed their unions with a kiss. Susan Ferentinos and her partner of 20 years, Danielle McClelland, were one of the couples to take part. Ferentinos says even if the pair don’t get the same rights as heterosexual married couples as a result of the ceremony, it’s a gesture she thinks lawmakers might notice. “Ceremonies like this are providing a means for people to see the folks that these laws are affecting," Ferentinos said. Kruzan said he believes more public officials may want to join him in conducting same sex marriages. “It is symbolic and it’s not power that’s vested in me as the mayor of Bloomington but I think it’s important for people to realize that there are a lot of people who depend on votes willing to stand up and say, ‘This is what we would like to have the power to do," he said. The ceremony came on the same day leaders in the Indiana House and Senate wavered on whether to debate putting a same sex marriage ban bill to a vote this session. Kruzan, a lawmaker for 16 years, said he believes more legislators may be publicly supportive of gay marriage now than during his eight terms in Indianapolis. “I know when I was in the state legislature, I think I was one of nine that voted to legalize same sex marriage," he said. "I think today you’d see that vote be a little bit different." Still, when the first votes to put the marriage ban to a constitutional referendum were taken in 2011, more than three-fourths of tallies were for the ban.

In Virginia, the House of Delegates passed a bill Thursday that could allow student organizations at Virginia public universities to openly discriminate against potential members without fear of reprisal on an 80-19 vote, sending the measure on to the state Senate. The bill, HB1617, sponsored by Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties), prohibits public institutions of higher education from "discriminating against a student organization or group on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical or other content of the organization or group’s speech." It also allows religious or political student organizations to determine whom they may admit as members "in furtherance of the organization’s religious or political mission." The measure passed the lower chamber overwhelmingly, with 66 Republicans, 1 independent who caucuses with the Republicans, and 13 Democrats voting in favor of it. Nineteen Democrats, largely from metropolitan areas, opposed the measure. The bill now heads to the state Senate, where it will be receive a committee hearing. Kevin Clay, a spokesman for Equality Virginia, the commonwealth's major LGBT-rights organization, said Equality Virginia opposes the bill, which he says could potentially allow student groups at publicly funded universities to discriminate against LGBT individuals if they cite religious beliefs or political philosophies. "Our concern with the bill is it allows discrimination with publicly accessible funds," Clay said, adding that universities, even if they have a non-discrimination policy, are unable to deny funding or resources to groups that openly discriminate, because under current Virginia law, campus non-discrimination policies are not legally binding. "This protects the student organizations, not the individual students," Clay said, stressing that Equality Virginia is asking concerned citizens to call their senators to oppose the bill.

In the United Kingdom, men who donate sperm can apply to seek a role in the lives of their biological children, the High Court has ruled. The decision could have implications for families using donated sperm and donors, who have no legal role as parents of their biological child. Mr Justice Baker ruled that two men, whose sperm was used by lesbian couples they were friends with, could apply through the courts for contact. The judgement does not mean that any future application would be successful. The cases, heard at the High Court's Family Division, centred around two men in a civil partnership and two lesbian couples they were friends with. There was contact with the couples after the birth of the children involved. However, there were disagreements about the level of the men's involvement and they applied to the courts. Mr Justice Baker said that lesbian couples and their children had exactly the same legal status as any other parent and child; however "it is still open to the court, after considering all relevant factors, to grant leave to other persons to apply for (contact) orders.” He ruled that, in this case, it was "appropriate" for the biological fathers to apply for a contact order, which would set out when they could see the child such as on certain weekends or during school holidays. Kevin Skinner, who is from the firm Goodman Ray and represented one of the lesbian couples in the case, said that, "Although the judge's decision makes clear that the family unit should be protected, the possibility of donors being able to apply for courts orders will be a scary prospect for many parents, both gay and straight. What is crucial is that anyone planning on having a child through the use of fertility treatment should make sure that proper plans are in place before the process begins." However, it is thought the cases may be solved through mediation rather than returning to the courts. The fertility regulator, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, said that, "This raises the question of whether, following donor conception treatment, a known donor can seek access to a child that he is biologically related to, even if he is not the legal father. The case has not yet been heard so we do not know whether access will be granted. If contact is granted this may raise concerns for families who have had donor conception treatment using a donor known to them - whether through a private arrangement or through a licensed clinic."

Also in the United Kingdom, a transgender woman facing discrimination from neighbours has offered to help a housing group train their staff in equality issues after they initially refused to help her. Stephanie Elliott Lowther, 46, visited Middlesbrough’s Erimus Housing to request help with a move away from abusive neighbours. Ms Lowther claims a member of staff then told her that she could not expect help from the organization because being transgendered was a "lifestyle choice" and something of her own doing. She said, “Erimus has a plaque on its wall about supporting diversity but I came away from there believing that they did not understand what being a transsexual was about. I was frustrated and told her that if I had any choice in the matter, I would not choose to be transgendered.” After registering a formal complaint, Ms Lowther received an apologetic e-mail from the company who pledged to offer more training on the issue to their staff. She is now in negotiations with Erimus to help deliver the training. She said that, “I hope this ensures others who go down this route find an easier reception when being dealt with. Only time will tell but it is encouraging to see Erimus tackling this matter head on.” Saliah Hameed, Diversity Manager for Fabrick, the parent company of Erimus Housing, said that, “We are committed to equality and diversity and will not tolerate discrimination on any grounds. All our members of staff undergo full equality and diversity training which is regularly updated and this situation has in fact highlighted the need for staff to undergo further even more enhanced training, which we have immediately started to look into. In fact we are now working with the customer to determine whether she would be able to help us with these training requirements and give us an even more realistic picture of the issues faced and how these can be handled sensitively. This was a genuine mix-up by a member of staff who immediately recognized she had not worded things correctly and apologized.”

Boy Scouts leaders in Utah want the national organization to slow down and take a breather before it pushes forward with a proposal to move away from its no-gays membership policy. The Boy Scouts of America announced Monday that it may replace its long-standing ban on gays with a policy that would let troop sponsors make their own decisions. The national executive board is expected to discuss the change Wednesday. Troop leaders and families of Boy Scouts in Utah were caught off guard by the announcement and need more time to evaluate the consequences of the proposed change, said Kay Godfrey, a spokesman for Boy Scouts in the Great Salt Lake Council. It is a "sensitive issue" that is causing members "emotional distress," a post on the council's website says. "This effort by the national executive board is ill-conceived and frankly, being forced through," Godfrey said. "We want time to evaluate this process. We're the largest council in the U.S. and we weren't even aware this was being considered." Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith said the organization "recognizes, deeply respects and appreciates the sincere beliefs about this issue," but he said there are no updates about plans on the topic. In Utah, nearly all scouting troops are sponsored by the Mormon Church, which has its worldwide headquarters in Salt Lake City. The Boy Scouts' policy change comes on the heels of the most significant move yet from the Mormon Church to soften its stance toward gays and lesbians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched a website in December encouraging members to be more compassionate in discussions about homosexuality. Church officials aren't changing Mormon teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that same sex relationships are sinful, but the website instructs Mormons to be loving and respectful toward gays and lesbians, while appealing to gay and lesbian Mormons to stay in the church. The church sponsors 99-percent of the 5,000 Scout troops in the Salt Lake City area, Godfrey said. Nationally, the Mormon Church has more Boy Scouts than any other denomination, with 37,000 troops and 420,000 youth members, according to figures from the Boy Scouts of America. Officials at the Mormon Church's headquarters in Salt Lake City declined to weigh in on the announcement this week, opting to wait until it becomes official. Young Mormon boys are expected to join Boy Scouts, said John Gustav-Wrathall, a former member of the Mormon Church who is gay. Gustav-Wrathall, 49, became an Eagle Scout before revealing he is gay and becoming ex-communicated from the church. In recent years, he began attending a Mormon church in Minneapolis again where he feels welcome. "People are excited, this is good news," Gustav-Wrathall said this week about the Boy Scouts' proposed change. "This is another sign of where things are going. If the Boy Scouts are willing to shift in this way, it's a very positive thing." Whether the change actually makes a difference in Mormon scout troops, however, will depend on how Mormon bishops and troop leaders handle situations, Gustav-Wrathall said. In the Great Salt Lake Council in northern Utah, troop leaders are unsettled by the idea of the change. They've "expressed some real concerns about the direction this is going," Godfrey said. The council expects to release an official stance on the issue early next week.

Harry Styles spotted outside the Groucho Club in London, Styles having turned 19 February 1.

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