Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Jersey Senate Approves Bill Banning Practitioners From Providing Gay To Straight Conversion Therapy To Minors Sending A3371 To Governor Christie, United States Supreme Court Declines To Take Up Two Gay Rights Cases Involving Arizona And Nevada, Openly Gay Representative Brian Sims Blocked From Talking About Ruling On Defense Of Marriage Act On Pennsylvania House Floor Because Of “God’s Law,” Openly Gay Alabama Representative Patricia Todd Announces Plans To Challenge State’s Constitutional Ban On Same Sex Marriage, Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy Tweets Then Deletes Anti-Gay Marriage Post

In New Jersey, a bill that would prohibit licensed therapists in New Jersey from providing gay-to-straight "conversion therapy" to minors won final legislative passage in the state Senate Thursday. The Senate approved the bill (A3371), 28-9; the Assembly passed it Monday. According to the Star-Leger, it now heads to the governor's desk for consideration. Gov. Chris Christie has publicly stated his opposition to conversion therapy, so supporters are hopeful he will sign it into law. Opponents say the bill violates the rights of parents to make decisions for their children. "This practice is an abuse of the term therapy and it is abuse in no uncertain terms," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization that lobbied for the bill's passage. "Any attempt to take an immutable and fundamental aspect of a person's character and change it to suit someone else's will is selfish and often soul destroying for the victim. The legislation passed today will save lives; it will protect our youth; and it is vital that the Governor sign the bill as soon as possible." “Conversion therapy not only has no basis in science, it has proven to be harmful to young people,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), one of the bill’s sponsor. “Most of the major psychiatric, psychological and counseling organizations have warned of dangers of this practice. I believe it is a type of child abuse that should be prevented.”

A day after deciding two major cases on same sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Thursday to take up two more cases on the issue. The cases concerned Nevada's ban on same sex marriage, and an Arizona law that denies state benefits to domestic partners. The court, which rejects the vast majority of cases that come before it, declined to hear the cases without comment, reports Reuters. The action means an appeals court ruling striking down the Arizona law stays in effect, while litigation over the Nevada law will continue. The cases, submitted months ago, were likely on hold while the court considered the other two cases it decided Wednesday. In those rulings, the justices struck down a part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same sex married couples and avoided deciding the constitutionality of a 2008 California law that banned gay marriage. The Arizona case concerns a law that limits health benefits to employees' spouses and dependents, thereby excluding domestic partners, including those in same sex relationships. Gay marriage is not recognized in Arizona. Before the law was enacted via a ballot initiative in November 2008, the state had for several months allowed same sex domestic partners to receive health benefits. Gay and lesbian state employees sued before the new law was due to go into effect in January 2011, saying it violated their equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the law from taking effect. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in September 2011, prompting the state's appeal to the high court. In the other case, supporters of Nevada's constitutional ban on same sex marriage asked the Supreme Court to rule definitively that states could limit the definition of marriage to opposite sex couples. The case arose when eight same sex couples tried to get married in Nevada or asked the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages. A federal court dismissed their claim. The case is pending before an appeals court, but supporters of the ban asked the Supreme Court to take an early look at the issue. The Arizona case is Brewer v. Diaz, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-33. The Nevada case is Coalition for the Protection of Marriage v. Sevick, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-689.

In Pennsylvania, openly gay state Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, was blocked from talking about the Supreme Court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday on the floor of the state House. His comments to his colleagues were ended by a procedural maneuver. In a part of the house session where members can speak on wide-ranging topics, Sims had just begun his remarks when he was shut down. "I wasn't planning on chastising anybody. I wasn't planning on discussing how far we have to come in Pennsylvania or that we really have no civil rights in Pennsylvania," Sims said. "It was really just going to limit my comments to how important the cases were." It takes just one legislator to end the impromptu remarks. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was one of the House Republicans who objected. "I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God's law," said Metcalfe (R-Butler). Two more Democratic legislators got up to speak in support of Sims. Neither was allowed to proceed. The objectors to a speaker are sometimes recorded in the official record, confirmed Parliamentarian Clancy Myer. In this case, the House speaker declined Democrats' explicit request to name the person who had objected. Reached by phone, Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, also refused to confirm who had blocked Sims from speaking. Miskin said he believed objectors were never recorded. He downplayed the entire incident, saying that disagreements happen in the House all the time. "Honestly, on the floor, it did not seem like it was that big of a deal. A lot of members went up and spoke with Representative Sims afterwards," Miskin pointed out. "There was a lot of discourse; Between both sides of the aisle." Sims, one of two openly gay members of the house, said that Republicans approached him afterward to apologize. Sims said that he will remember the moment, not for being silenced, but for the support offered from his colleagues in the Legislature.

In Alabama, the first openly gay lawmaker in state history said Wednesday she is ecstatic about U.S. Supreme Court rulings in favor of gay marriage and plans to challenge Alabama’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage. “The reality is, unfortunately in Alabama, the only way we ever progress any civil rights in this state is through a court decision,” said Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham). “This is no different. We will have to use that process and move forward.” Todd, who plans to marry her partner September 14 in Massachusetts, said she expects a number of lawsuits in states where there is a ban on gay marriage. “The court really did open it up for us to have legal standing to challenge these,” she said. But House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) disagrees. “The Supreme Court rulings on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 do not in any way impact the gay marriage prohibition that Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006,” Hubbard said in a statement. “As long as I am speaker of the House, I will continue working to ensure that the laws on our books reflect the conservative principles and moral beliefs that the majority of Alabamians embrace.” Todd said she did not know how she would proceed legally at this point, said their attorney is reviewing the court decisions, and they will meet with their attorney and discuss possible options for a course of action. She said someone would have to apply for something, dealing with an issue such as taxes, an estate or health insurance coverage, and be denied to move forward with a legal issue. Bill Armistead, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, called the Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act “disturbing.” He said the Bible is clear on gay marriage, and said the ruling was “an affront to the Christian principles that this nation was founded on.” “I am disappointed to learn that (the Supreme Court) has struck down DOMA and will now require that federal benefits be extended to homosexual couples,” Armistead said in a statement. He pushed the ban on same-sex marriage when he was a state senator. He added that, “The federal government is hijacking marriage, a uniquely religious institution, and they must be stopped.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of gay rights advocates in two high-profile cases. The party chairman said that “U.S. taxpayers should not be forced by their government to reward those who choose to engage in activity that had been banned in 35 states,” Armistead adding, “Alabama’s state law banning gay marriage will prevent these benefits from being extended in Alabama, but our tax dollars will still go to support a lifestyle that we fundamentally disagree with.” The Alabama Legislature passed the ban on same-sex marriage in 1998. Alabama voters overwhelmingly, with 81-percent in favor, approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that prohibited gay marriage. Longtime Democratic state Rep. Alvin Holmes of Montgomery, who has repeatedly introduced legislation that would add crimes against people based on their sexual orientation to state hate crime laws, said he would support Todd and any legislative pushes to end the state’s prohibition on same sex marriage. “I think a person has a right to marry whoever they want ... and not be regulated by state government,” he said. Holmes said the Supreme Court did not go as far as to state that same sex marriage should be allowed in all states, which he would support. “I think the gay community sort of hit a home run with the Supreme Court ruling,” he said. “They didn’t hit a grand slam.” Holmes said there have not been any issues in the states that have legalized gay marriage. He believes Alabama’s ban is unconstitutional and violates the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Todd, who was first elected in a predominantly black district in Birmingham in 2006, said she would expect most of her Republican and some of her Democratic colleagues to disagree with her effort. She said their beliefs (which she said are generally based on their biblical interpretation of marriage), “does not make them bad people — we just have a difference of opinion.” She said this nation is based on the Constitution and while people “have a freedom to practice that religion however you want to, and I expect that, you cannot make law based on your religious interpretation of the Bible.” When asked how realistic it is that one day her marriage would be recognized in Alabama, Todd said “I have all of the confidence in the world now.” She said, at 57, she has seen a lot of social change in her lifetime. “It always comes with a struggle and with people saying the world is going to end. This will be no different,” Todd said. “But if you had told me five years ago we would have won this decision at this time, I would have never believed it, but we did. Now, it is time to move it a little closer by challenging state laws that are discriminatory.”

CNN Money reports Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy took to Twitter Wednesday to announce his disappointment with the Supreme Court's decisions on same sex marriage, but he deleted the tweet shortly afterward. It's hard to make a social media post disappear, however. Several Twitter users took a screen shot of the tweet, which read: "Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies." Chick-fil-A released a prepared statement that explained why Cathy's tweet was yanked. "He realized his views didn't necessarily represent the views of all customers, restaurant owners and employees and didn't want to distract them from providing a great restaurant experience." the company said. Chick-fil-A is accustomed to handling backlash against Cathy's comments on gay marriage. Cathy told a newspaper last summer that Chick-fil-A is "very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit." After Cathy's comments sparked protests -- including gay rights activists holding "kiss days" at the chain's restaurants -- Chick-fil-A released a statement saying its "intent is not to engage in political or social debate." The company also stated that it treats all customers with "dignity and respect," regardless of sexual orientation. The Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, which has 1,700 franchise locations across the country, makes it clear that the owner's religious ideals are a big part of the company's practices. Chick-fil-A's website states its corporate mission is, in part, "[t]o glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us." Company policy is to close restaurants on Sunday for both practical and spiritual reasons.

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