Saturday, June 1, 2013

Nebraska Committee Advances Bill To Legislature Allowing Foster Children To Be Placed With Gay Or Lesbian Families, Two Alabama Baptist Churches Cut Ties With Boy Scouts Of America Over Amended Policy Allowing Gay Troops, Gay Rights Group Push Protests Decision To Name Weber State Family Support Center After Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer

In Nebraska, a legislative committee on Friday advanced a bill to the full Legislature that would allow placement of foster children with gay or lesbian relatives or people with established relationships with a child. The bill (LB385), as amended, would help ensure all families willing to provide a loving home to abused or neglected children are given fair and equal consideration, said Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, the bill's sponsor, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. It prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation when determining the suitability of a placement or in issuing a foster care license. Nordquist said the bill would help remove barriers to placement of children with someone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Children tend to do better in homes in which they know or are related to caregivers, he said. The amendment narrowed the scope of placements from the original bill, but Nordquist said the fight for equality of groups that have faced discrimination is often accomplished in small steps. A number of mainstream health and child welfare organizations have policies supporting foster care fairness and opposing restrictions on parenting by LGBT families. They include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The committee vote was 5-1. The bill will not be debated in the waning days of this year's session, but could come up for debate early in the 2014 session.

In Alabama, the pastors of First Baptist Church of Pelham and First Baptist Church of Helena said that their churches will no longer host Boy Scout troops in response to a decision by the national Boy Scouts of America to officially welcome openly gay scouts. The Rev. Mike Shaw, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pelham and former president of the state's largest denomination, the Alabama Baptist Convention, that the church will no longer be able to sponsor Troop 404 as of January 1 when the new policy takes effect. "We don’t hate anybody," Shaw said. "We’re not doing it out of hatred. The teachings of the scripture are very clear on this. We’re doing it because it violates the clear teaching of scripture." He's hoping that Boy Scouts on the verge of earning their Eagle Scout badges can do so by the end of the year. Shaw said the church will find a way to continue sponsoring youth programs that teach youth moral character. "We’ve talked about it," he said. "We’re looking for options. We want to have a positive avenue for boys and girls. We’re trying to get our boys that are close to Eagles to go ahead and finish their badges." Shaw said he was surprised by the Boy Scouts of America policy change, since it won a U.S. Supreme Court decision a decade ago to turn away openly gay scouts because it violated their charter. Now they've voted to change the charter. "We expressed our concern and told them if that happened, we’d have to do this," Shaw said. "They did what they had to do, and so we'll do what we have to do. We don’t wish the Boy Scouts any harm." The scouting program at First Baptist of Pelham started without a vote years ago, and it will end without a vote, Shaw said. "We don’t vote on whether something violates scripture," he said. The Rev. Greg Walker, pastor of First Baptist of Helena, which hosts Troop 2, said the scouts would be allowed time to find another meeting place. "Christ will save every gay person that comes to Him in repentance and faith, the same as any heterosexual person," Walker wrote to in an e-mail. "The Boy Scout Leadership has handed down a decision that none of the children in Helena or elsewhere associate with why they are Boy Scouts. This is a decision that was made by adults that may or may not reflect the opinions of any Boy Scout in the troop that we host. I hold the Helena Boy Scout troop with no fault whatsoever." The Rev. Harry Reeder III, pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, said elders at his church would have to make the decision, but he expects that the church, which sponsors Troop 254, will decide to no longer host Boy Scouts. He said he expects most evangelical churches that host troops to reconsider in light of the decision. A Trussville attorney who earned his Eagle Scout badge in the 1960s at Huffman United Methodist Church said he's returning his badge in protest of the decision to allow openly gay scouts.

In Utah, A gay-rights group is protesting Weber State University’s decision to name a new family center after senior Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer. The Utah Stonewall Democrats say the center should not be named after Packer, who most recently stirred contention in April when he publicly warned against a "tolerance trap," apparently in referring to the legalization of gay marriage. "To name something that is family-oriented in honor of a person who has such a narrow vision of what a family is, a vision that quite frankly excludes a lot of Utah families, is reprehensible in my opinion," said Bob Henline, a board member of the Democratic caucus. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the group sent a letter Friday to Weber State Board of Trustees Chairman Alan Hall, though a school spokesman said Hall had not seen it as of Wednesday afternoon. An online petition pushing the university to change the name of the Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer Center for Family and Community Education had nearly 1,900 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. The family center is not a building, but rather a fundraising and support group for existing community programs. Weber State officials hope naming the center after the high-ranking president of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will drive up donations. Such namesakes "either have got to have money they’re willing to put in or the name recognition has to connect with folks that do have money," said Jack Rasmussen, dean of the College of Education. "There was no specific donation made by the Packers, but there’s been a lot of money come in support of that naming, a lot of kickback." About a month after the name was announced, the center had raised about 75-percent of its approximately $1.25 million goal, he said. The money will support eight community-outreach programs, including literacy and parenting programs for underprivileged families, a new elementary charter school on campus, the Storytelling Festival and the Families Alive Conference. The programs are funded through private donations rather than state money, and will run as they did before the naming. "This is in no way shape or form to suggest that it’s only going to serve certain kinds of people," Rasmussen said. "We’re not about that." Packer’s sometimes-stern sermons, though, have raised hackles several times in his decades-long service in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the past, he has spoken against interracial marriage, called same sex attraction morally wrong and declared the greatest threats to the LDS faith come from feminists, gays and intellectuals. Rasmussen said most people served by the center "would not know or have an interest" in those comments. "Only certain kinds of people would know about those remarks or worry about those remarks," he said. "A student whose tuition is being paid by someone in the center, I’m not sure they’re going to lose a whole lot of sleep thinking about [the name]." Boyd and his wife, Donna Packer, met at and earned associate degrees from Weber State, though they’ve had little connection with the school since then, Rasmussen said. Packer earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Utah State University and a doctorate from Brigham Young University. He became an LDS apostle in 1970. The university does not plan to reconsider the name, said spokesperson John Kowalewski. "Weber State does not make a decision like this lightly, nor do we back away from the decision once it is made," he said, comparing the reaction to protests in the 1990s over naming a scholarship in honor of Matthew Shepard, a gay man killed in a Wyoming hate crime. "Weber State tries to cultivate an environment that welcomes all viewpoints." In considering names for the center, College of Education officials brainstormed several people with connections to the school. They considered the furor caused by Packer’s comments, but ultimately decided that wouldn’t be a stumbling block, Rasmussen said. "There was a knowledge that there would be controversy [about the name] with some sorts of people," Rasmussen said, "but our thought was that if we did a good enough job explaining what the center did, people would not be overly concerned."

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