In New Zealand, Eugene Sisneros has described his hurt and humiliation after allegedly being rejected for a priest training programme because he was in a same sex relationship. A Human Rights Tribunal hearing into the alleged discrimination opened at Auckland District court Monday. Sisneros is taking the Anglican Bishop of Auckland to the tribunal, claiming he was barred because of his sexuality - a claim the bishop has denied, saying he was simply following the church's doctrines. Sisneros said his rejection from the program has had long-term effects. "I am deeply affected by this discrimination as a human being. I am not equal. My feelings of humiliation and disappointment continue to this day,'' he told the hearing. Sisneros, a 38-year-old American who holds New Zealand residency, is an events coordinator for St Matthew in the City. In 2006 he began a Bachelor of Theology degree and started signalling his desire to enter the Anglican Church's training program for priests by writing to Bishop of Auckland John Paterson, who said there was opposition to the ordination of gay clergy. In 2009 Sisneros entered a "permanent, exclusive and stable relationship'' with his current same sex partner. When existing Bishop of Auckland Ross Bay took over the role in 2010 he said there was no resolution over the ordination of unmarried clergy same sex relationships, so Sisneros withdrew his application, he said. Sisneros was rejected "by reason of the defendant not being chaste in terms of canons of the Anglican Church,'' Bishop Bay told ONE News. That means anyone wanting to become ordained needs to be in what the Anglican Church deems to be a chaste relationship - a marriage between a man and a woman or committed to a life of celibacy. Sisneros said he was "very disappointed'' by his exclusion from the program and felt he had wasted six years of study towards his goal of becoming a priest. He had "overwhelming'' support for his progress into the program from St Matthew in the City, where ordained priests who were public about being in same sex relationships had given sermons, he said. Since 2008, Sisneros had given sermons three or four times a year, he said. The hearing is scheduled for nine days.
In Minnesota, lawmakers prepared Monday for what could be a pivotal week at the Capitol for the bid to legalize same sex marriage in the state. The Star-Tribune reports that dozens of opponents of the measure demonstrated at the Capitol, hoping to slow the bill's progress. At the same time, another House Democrat whose vote was seen as important to its success or failure said he would vote for it, and the bill was scheduled for a last-minute hearing in a powerful House committee. Rep. Tim Faust (DFL-Hinckley) joined a growing list of Democrats from mostly rural districts committed to vote for the bill. But House Democratic leaders and gay marriage lobbyists wouldn't publicly reveal how close they are to the 68 votes needed to pass the bill. There are 73 House Democrats, but some hail from socially conservative districts that supported last fall's gay marriage ban on the ballot, and so far not a single House Republican has publicly supported the bill. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy wouldn't reveal the result of any head counts of her caucus members but said it was too soon to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. "We are talking with members and when we feel confident and ready to go, we will proceed," Murphy said. The last day of the legislative session is May 20. It's also possible the state Senate, where passage appears more certain, could take up the bill first to boost its prospects in the House. At least one Republican senator intends to vote for the bill, and a handful of others are publicly undecided. The House and Senate committees that approve all state spending were scheduled for last-minute hearings to review the bill, after state fiscal analysts said it would mean a small increase in state employee health insurance costs and a bit of revenue from an expected spike in marriage licenses. The bill was scheduled for hearings late Monday in the House Ways and Means Committee and Tuesday morning in the Senate Finance Committee. With the issue edging into the spotlight at the Capitol, gay marriage opponents gathered for a news conference and to demonstrate outside the House chamber. Several small children held bright pink signs that read "Don't erase moms and dads from public policy." Opponents argued that legal gay marriage could force business owners and government officials to go against their own religious beliefs in interactions with legally wed or engaged gay couples. Jason Adkins, director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, predicted it would fall short in the House. "Right now we believe the votes are not there to pass a redefinition of marriage," Adkins said. But same sex marriage supporters picked up their latest commitment to vote yes from Faust, a Lutheran pastor. Faust said he respected the religious concerns raised by opponents but that the argument cuts both ways. "We have churches that want to bless legal gay marriages. The only way to give them that option is to pass this bill," Faust said. His east-central Minnesota district backed last fall's gay marriage ban with a vote of nearly 60-percent, but Faust said he hoped constituents would respect that it was a difficult decision. In all, 17 House Democrats hail from districts that supported the gay marriage ban. If Democrats were to pass the bill without Republican support, at least 12 of those members would have to vote for it. So far, seven of those members are either definitely voting yes or say they're leaning toward it. Only one House Democrat, Rep. Mary Sawatzky of Willmar, is a definite "no" vote.
In Iowa, a former rural state court official pleaded guilty Monday to forgery for filing false documents to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple from central Florida, in the first case of its kind in Iowa. Former Grundy County deputy clerk Brigitte Van Nice, 42, received a fine and a suspended sentence after entering the guilty pleas to perjury and forgery charges at the courthouse in Grundy Center, where she used to work. The resolution drew criticism from Joab Penney of Williston, Florida, who says Van Nice's actions duped him out of $150 and gave him an unending legal headache. Penney said he was outraged when court officials advised him Monday he should hire an attorney to petition to void his marriage license — which he said should have never been issued in the first place. "They found her guilty, but what I wanted — to have my marriage voided — didn't happen," he told the Associated Press. "Now I'm going to have to pay for voiding something that never even happened." Referring to the sentence issued by Judge Bradley Harris, he said: "That's really light. That's a legal document. If that was me or you, we would be going to prison, wouldn't we?" Van Nice was arrested and suspended from her job in October after investigators discovered that she issued a license last year to Penney and his then-boyfriend Joseph Parker, who had never set foot in Iowa. She was later fired for violating judicial branch policies, court administrator Linda Nilges said. Penney and Parker contacted Van Nice's office randomly when inquiring about how to get a license, which they could not get in Florida, where same sex marriage is outlawed. Iowa allows same sex marriage for couples who come to the state for a ceremony witnessed by two people. Prosecutors say Van Nice issued them a license after she filed documents falsely claiming she had officiated a Valentine's Day wedding for the couple and faked two witness signatures. Van Nice falsely told colleagues that she had met the men at a Waterloo truck stop, where they asked her to officiate and had lined up the witnesses. The Florida men discovered the fraud months later, when Penney contacted an attorney to seek a divorce. The attorney was suspicious because the men had never been to Iowa and Van Nice mailed the application materials from her home, not the courthouse. The attorney contacted authorities asking for an investigation. Penney said he now wants to marry a woman in Florida, but officials there say that he's legally married to Parker and needs to obtain a divorce first. "My marriage never happened. It should be voided: Period. Done. Never happened," he said. "The lady told me a bunch of crap and got money out of me." County Recorder Charles Kruse said Monday he had no idea whether Penney's marriage remained valid, but that he advised him to "contact an attorney and petition the court." Harris found Van Nice guilty of one count of aggravated misdemeanor forgery, and issued a deferred judgment on two other counts of forgery and perjury, meaning they will be wiped off her record if she stays out of trouble. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation has said that Van Nice's arrest was the first of its kind in Iowa, which was the first Midwestern state to allow same-sex marriage in 2009. National experts on gay rights also said the case appeared to be unique. Penney said he has been frustrated by the lack of answers from officials in Iowa and the legal limbo he's in. "I want to get married here to a woman, and I can't," he said. "It's a major headache. I've changed my lifestyle because of all of this. It has offended me that much."
In Texas, Governor (and failed GOP presidential candidate) Rick Perry spoke via Skype to the Family Research Council’s “Stand With Scouts Sunday” program, where he applauded the Boy Scouts for taking a principled stand against gay membership and leadership. According to the Dallas Morning News, Perry, an Eagle Scout who wrote the book On My Honor about the importance of scouting values, said the group should be respected for upholding its principles and likened the gay rights movement to a passing fad. “For pop culture to come in and try to tear that up because it just happens to be the flavor of the month, so to speak, and to tear apart one of the great organizations that has served millions of young men…that is just not appropriate,” Perry said. Perry, speaking from the library in the Governor’s Mansion, referred to a portrait of Sam Houston, whom he called Texas’ greatest governor. He told how Houston’s principled stand against slavery and Texas’ joining the Confederacy cost him his governorship. “That’s the type of principled leadership, that’s the type of courage that I hope people across this country on this issue of Scouts and keeping the Boy Scouts the kind of organization that it is today,” Perry said. “If we change and become more like pop culture, young men will be not as well served, America will not be as well served and Boy Scouts will start on a decline that I don’t think will serve this country well as we go into the future,” Perry said.