Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bill C-32 Allowing Same Sex Couples Married In Canada To Divorce Suddenly Passed Through Parliament, 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals Says It Will Wait Twenty-Five Days Before Making Decision Whether Same Sex Marriage Can Resume In California, Pentagon Moves To Extend Benefits To Same Sex Spouses In Wake Of Defense Of Marriage Act Being Struck Down, Russian Parliament Gives Final Approval To Legislation Banning Adoption Of Children By Same Sex Couple Abroad, French Mayor To Be Taken To Court After He Refuses To Wed Same Sex Couples Saying He Would Rather Be Hung Than Perform Ceremony, Seattle Mariners To Become First MLB Team To Fly Pride Flag

In Canada, more than a year after it was introduced and with not a word of debate in the House of Commons, the bill allowing same sex couples married in Canada to get a divorce has sailed through Parliament. Bill C-32, the civil marriage of non-residents act, passed third reading in the Senate last Friday. The bill allows for people married in Canada because same sex marriage isn't allowed where they live, to get a divorce from a Canadian court. The bill creates a process for divorce specific to people who don't reside in Canada. It arose because of a lesbian couple who tied the knot in Canada and wanted a divorce but their marriage was not recognized in their home jurisdictions of Florida and London, England. Canada's Divorce Act includes a one-year residency requirement and the women challenged that in court and sought an exemption. The case exposed a loophole in the Civil Marriage Act, the law that made same sex marriage legal in Canada, and prompted a lot of confusion because of how Crown attorneys argued the case. They said the women couldn't get divorced in Canada because they weren't legally married in Canada in the first place and their marriage wasn't valid. The federal government clarified its position, however, and said it had no intention to re-open the same sex marriage debate and that it would introduce legislation to fix the "anomaly" in the law so that the marriages are legally valid and can legally be dissolved. The bill was first introduced in the House of Commons in February 2012. CBC News reports that little was heard about it again until last week when it was included among a package of bills that all parties agreed to pass before the summer break. Instead of following the normal process for a bill where it is debated and voted on at various stages and studied by MPs on a committee, C-32 was declared passed at all stages in the Commons and it moved on to the Senate where it was also dealt with quickly. It landed in the Senate Wednesday and was passed Friday. But until last week the bill had languished for more than 15 months and when Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's office was asked why, his press secretary said it was the NDP's fault. "Over the past year, the government House leader [Peter Van Loan] has sought several times to obtain unanimous consent from opposition parties to pass this legislation expeditiously. But the NDP has steadily refused to give its consent. The NDP is set on revisiting the same sex marriage debate, which was settled by Parliament in 2005, and again in 2006," Julie Di Mambro wrote in an e-mail, speaking on behalf of Nicholson. She said there was "no reason" why the NDP shouldn't have given its consent. The NDP, however, says it wasn't trying to block the bill; it was trying to fix a flaw. "It remains a mystery why the government took so long to bring this bill forward," the NDP's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues critic Randall Garrison said in a statement. "We in the NDP never threatened to delay or defeat the legislation, but we always said we thought it could be improved." The government did in the end agree to an amendment proposed by the NDP dealing with court documentation and that's how it was finally passed as Parliament wrapped up for the summer. "We were happy to work with the government to build the best legislation possible for same sex couples married in Canada. This was never an issue of partisanship but rather an issue of equality," Garrison said. C-32 still has to get royal assent before becoming law.

In San Francisco, a federal appeals court said Wednesday it will wait at least 25 days before making a decision on whether same sex marriages can resume in California. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said backers of Proposition 8 — the state ban on gay marriages — have that long to ask the Supreme court to rehear the case. The San Francisco-based court said it may continue to bar gay marriages even beyond that time if proponents of Proposition 8 ask for a rehearing. The Supreme Court's ruling earlier in the day cleared the way for same sex marriages to resume, but sidestepped the larger question of whether banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. The justices voted 5-4 to let stand a trial court's August 2010 ruling that overturned the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban, holding that the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified Proposition 8 for the ballot did not have authority to defend it after state officials refused to do so. The practical effect of the Supreme Court ruling, however, is likely to be more legal wrangling before the state can begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples for the first time since Proposition 8 passed in November 2008. "While it is unfortunate that the court's ruling does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court's order against Proposition 8, we will continue to defend Prop 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop 8 unenforceable," said Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the ban's supporters. Gay marriage had been legal for 4 1/2 months in the state and an estimated 18,000 couples wed before passage of Prop 8. Gov. Jerry Brown said he has directed the California Department of Public Health to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples as soon as the appeals court hold is lifted. The battle over same sex marriage in California started at San Francisco City Hall in 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. On Wednesday, he brought the biggest cheers from the City Hall gathering when he said San Francisco is a city of "doers" that not only tolerates diversity, but celebrates it every day. The measured enthusiasm contrasted with the exuberant cheers that greeted word earlier that the Supreme Court had struck down a federal law that prevents the U.S. government from granting marriage benefits to gay couples.

In Washington, D.C., the Defense Department said Wednesday it would immediately begin the process that will lead to providing benefits to the spouses of military servicemembers in same sex marriages. The announcement follows the Supreme Court ruling striking down part of a law that denied federal benefits to married same sex couples. "The Department of Defense intends to make the same benefits available to all military spouses -- regardless of sexual orientation -- as soon as possible," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a prepared statement. The benefits include medical care, housing allowance and internment at Arlington National Cemetery. "We'll follow the law of the land and the law of the law has just changed," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon press briefing. The Pentagon said the changes would extend a range of benefits to same sex married spouses, including medical, internment at Arlington and housing allowance. It is not clear how long that process will take, but the Pentagon said it would take six to 12 weeks to overhaul the system that provides identification cards to the spouses of servicemembers. The Pentagon said it has not yet determined how much the changes will cost taxpayers. "There is going to be a whole range of new options opening up to same-sex couples in the military," said Alex Nicholson, legislative director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. The act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, prevented the Defense Department from providing many of the benefits that would go to marriages between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court ruled part of the act unconstitutional Wednesday. Advocates say the military has likely been planning for the possibility of the ruling and should be able to roll out benefits fairly quickly. "My expectation is they've prepared for this," said Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partner Association.

In Russia, legislation to ban adoptions of that country’s children by same sex couples abroad was given final parliamentary approval on Wednesday and, to become law, needs only to be signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has already declared support for it. The bill is a continuation of a recent clampdown on homosexuals by the Russian government. Earlier this month, lawmakers passed legislation introducing steep fines for the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” toward minors. That legislation's vague wording may enable individuals to be implicated for even telling children that gay people exist. The adoption ban bill, passed by the upper house of parliament on Wednesday after being approved by the lower house last week, would also disallow unmarried foreigners from adopting if they live in the more than a dozen countries where same sex marriage is legal. On Tuesday, Putin emphasized that the rights of sexual minorities in Russia were not being violated in any way. When asked about the “non-traditional sexual relations” bill, Putin said that sexual minorities “are full-fledged members of our society and are not being discriminated against in any way.” Soon that bill will also be considered by the upper house of parliament.

In France, a gay couple have taken a mayor to court for discrimination after he refused to wed them under the new same sex marriage law. An attorney for the two men lodged a complaint with prosecutors against Jean-Michel Colo, mayor of a village near the south-west city of Bayonne. Colo, who has been in office three decades, said he would rather be hanged than officiate at a gay wedding. He could face five years in prison and a 75,000-euro (£64,000; $98,000) fine. The mayor, 60, is the first French official formally to refuse to officiate at the wedding of a gay couple. Public opinion in France remains bitterly divided over the new law on same sex marriage and adoption, which saw the biggest conservative protests in decades. Socialist President Francois Hollande made the legislation a key part of his program. Jean-Michel Martin and Guy Martineau-Espel, a couple in their fifties who have been together for 16 years, were hoping to get married in August in Arcangues, where they have a property, Le Figaro newspaper reports. The couple have a property in the village; However, Colo told the regional authorities that no same sex weddings would be held in his village. "For me, marriage is for a woman and man to have children," he said. "I am not discriminating as a same-sex couple is sterile. It's a parody of equality, it's a big lie." The mayor said he would "go to the gallows" rather than back down. Martineu-Espel told AFP news agency that the couple had tried to tell the mayor that the nuptials would not be played out in the media, but he had failed to persuade Colo to marry them. Isabelle Duguet, the couple's lawyer, said she had filed a case against Colo for discrimination and refusal to carry out his official duties. Interior Minister Manuel Valls has warned Colo of "significant sanctions", telling reporters that any public servants refusing to respect the letter of the law would be guilty of discrimination.

The Seattle Mariners will become the first Major League team to fly the rainbow gay pride flag at a game this weekend, in a show of support for same sex marriage. According to a spokesperson for the team, Safeco Field will fly the flag during the game against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, which is also the same day as the city's Pride parade. Seattle Out and Proud reports that the team has pledged to publicly display the flag during Sunday's game because the owners "thought this was an appropriate gesture on a day that is very meaningful to the LGBT community," says Rebecca Hale, spokesperson for the group. "We're a part of this community," Hale said. "Our fans are a reflection of our community." Flying the rainbow Pride flag in Seattle's public and private spaces has been a point of contention in years past. City Hall made the decision to fly the flag for the first time this year, raising it on June 1, while the Space Needle has drawn some criticism for its decision not to raise the flag during Pride weekend. Seattle Out & Proud spokesperson Adam McRoberts says that the organization is "thrilled to have so much community support in Seattle," and that they "greatly appreciate the leadership from the Mariners in promoting equality and acceptance in professional sports." The Mariners' decision was announced just one day before the Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same sex marriage in California.

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