Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane To Announce That Her Office Will Not Defend State In Federal Suit Challenging State’s Ban On Same Sex Marriage, Freedom To Marry Advocacy Group Targets Four States For 2014, Expelled For Defending Himself From Anti-Gay Bullying Darnell Young Settles Suit Out Of Court With Indianapolis Public Schools, Exeter England Church Bans Same Sex Couple From Worshipping

In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane is expected to announce Thursday that her office won't defend the state in a federal lawsuit that challenges the state's ban on same sex marriage, the Daily News has learned. Multiple sources confirmed that Kane, who is named along with Gov. Corbett as a defendant in the suit, plans to make the announcement at the National Constitution Center. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit, known as Whitewood v. Corbett, on Tuesday on behalf of 21 state residents. The plaintiffs are 10 couples and one widow who want to marry here, want the state to recognize their out-of-state marriages or want equal protections granted to straight married couples. The suit was filed in Harrisburg and is believed to be the first federal case on the gay marriage issue since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last month. Pennsylvania is the sole state in the Northeast without same-sex marriage or a civil-union statute.

Activists will focus efforts to legalize same sex marriage in four U.S. states this year and next, hoping to capitalize on political momentum following Supreme Court victories for gay rights, the Freedom to Marry advocacy group said on Tuesday. The group is targeting Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey, where legislative measures to legalize same sex marriage have failed, and Oregon, where there is a drive to put a gay marriage initiative on the ballot in November. While the Supreme Court justices stopped short of declaring a nationwide right to same sex marriage, it ruled that the federal government must recognize same sex marriages in states where it is legal. "It's obviously a very exciting time in our movement and in our campaign," said Evan Wolfson, founder and head of Freedom to Marry. "We have tremendous momentum from the wins that we secured at the ballot last year, the three states that we've already won this year and of course the Supreme Court rulings." Thirteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage. Among them, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island legalized gay marriage this year. Opponents of same sex marriage called the Freedom to Marry's four-state strategy overly optimistic. "They're hugely overplaying their hand," said Thomas Peters, a spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage. "These are states where gay marriage advocates have been saying for months, if not years, that gay marriage is inevitable and they've made no progress." In Illinois, a bill to recognize same sex marriage stalled in the state legislature this year but could be revived when lawmakers return in the fall. New Jersey is shaping up as a battleground as Democrat lawmakers seek enough votes to overturn Republican Governor Chris Christie's veto of same sex marriage legislation last year. Freedom to Marry also said it is targeting at least six more states to pass same sex marriage in 2015 and 2016 that may include Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

In Indiana, a $65,000 out-of-court settlement might have brought to an end the controversy that began more than a year ago when Darnell “Dynasty” Young fired a stun gun in the air at Tech High School. Young’s action -- an attempt, he said, to scare away a group of Tech students who were bullying him -- led to his expulsion for violating IPS’ weapons policies. Young and his mother sued the district, saying the teen -- who is openly gay -- was forced to carry the “self-protection flashlight” to school because Tech staff had failed to take seriously his complaints of being bullied. As part of a settlement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the district also will expunge the expulsion from Young’s record. “I’m just happy that it’s over and I can move on and do better things with my activism,” Young said Wednesday. “I will have a chance to work with different wonderful people and can continue helping people by spreading awareness of bullying.” Attorneys for Young and IPS filed the proposed settlement Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The agreement still must be approved by a judge. In the suit, Young and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, claimed the district did nothing to stop the "relentless, severe harassment" of the gay student at Tech and then punished him when he protected himself. The family's attorneys said the district discriminated against Young because, despite repeated complaints, IPS didn't protect him from bullies who taunted him for being gay. “All students should be able to get an education without fearing for their physical safety, and they should be able to rely on school administrators to protect them when abuse does occur,” Christopher F. Stoll, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a prepared statement at the time. According to the suit, the assailants used homophobic slurs, spat at Young and threw rocks and glass bottles at him, but administrators blamed Young, who carried his mother's purses and wore her jewelry to school. “Rather than take effective measures to protect him, school staff told him that he was to blame for the harassment because of his appearance and told him to change his dress and behavior to conform to stereotypical ideas of masculinity and to be less ‘flamboyant,’ ” the suit said. The family's attorneys claimed in the suit that the district violated Young's civil rights and the U.S. Constitution because, among other things, it discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation and it tried to get him to change the way he dressed, a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of expression. The district, the School Board, IPS Superintendent Eugene White, Tech Principal Larry Yarrell and Assistant Principal Debra Barlowe were named as defendants. IPS spokesman John Althardt declined to comment Wednesday on the litigation. Grimes said she gave Young the stun gun so he could protect himself because she feared he would be hurt. He fired it in the air during a passing period April 16 when six kids allegedly approached him and threatened to beat him up. Young was expelled until January for having the device, but in August, the district reduced the penalty so he could start the fall semester on time. However, IPS said he would have to go to an alternative school. Young declined to come back to IPS and instead attended Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, for his senior year. He graduated in June. The suit also questioned whether the district followed proper expulsion procedures. It alleges that Young was told he would have to "dress and behave in a manner that conformed to Principal Yarrell's notion of appropriate masculinity" if he wanted to avoid expulsion. The school hasn't punished the people who allegedly threatened him because Young couldn't identify them, Yarrell said this spring. Young said Wednesday that he intends to use the money to pursue an education at Atlanta Metropolitan Community College, where he intends to major in political speaking and business. An attorney who helped represent Young and his mother expressed satisfaction at the settlement. “This settlement marks the end of two very difficult years for Dynasty,” said Brent Ray of the Kirkland & Ellis law firm. “He has persevered and it is great to see his positive attitude and warm spirit again. We know that Dynasty will continue to raise awareness about the serious problem of bullying in schools and look forward to seeing the great things he accomplishes.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights also assisted with Young’s case. “Bullying and harassment is a major problem facing our schools,” said Asaf Orr, an attorney with the center. “This case demonstrates the severe effects that bullying can have on students. We hope that this settlement will encourage school districts to implement safeguards to effectively address peer harassment and create a school environment where students feel safe learning.”

In the United Kingdom, a gay couple were refused permission to worship in a church in Exeter, an MP has told the House of Commons. Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said a "local conservative evangelical church" had turned away the unnamed couple, who do not want to be identified. The Dean of Exeter Cathedral said he could not understand why a gay couple were refused permission to worship in a local church. The Evangelical Alliance said members' responses varied on gay relationships. Bradshaw, one of the first openly gay MPs, mentioned the incident during a debate in the Commons after he asked "what guidance the Church of England planned to issue to parishes and church schools on pastoral care for same sex couples and their children.” He told the House: "I recently came across a case of a Christian couple in a same sex relationship and with children in the local church primary school to whom it was made clear by the local conservative evangelical church that they would not be welcome to worship in it,” adding, "Intolerance and bigotry have no place whatever in the Church of England." Exeter Cathedral's Dean, the Very Reverend Jonathan Draper, said he "did not understand why any church would want to deny someone the sacrament on the basis of their sexuality.” He said: "At the cathedral we are completely happy to have people of whatever sexual orientation, colour or nationality. And that means not just to come and worship but to play a part in what we do because we think it's an important sign of what we do as a Church." Tom Cook, of the Exeter Independent Evangelical Church, which did not refuse the couple, said, "We believe what the Bible says and it says that lots of different things are wrong, including homosexual relationships,” adding, "We have never faced that problem and I could not say for certain whether we would refuse someone to worship in the church." An Evangelical Alliance spokesperson said members believed in a "set of standards" which included "that sex should take place between a married couple of different sexes.” He said: "How churches respond will vary massively. It is one thing to have a theological position but how churches act with people in their community can be very different. I find it quite hard to see how a church can justify saying a gay couple is not welcome to worship. But if people wanted to be a member of the church we would ask people to respect those standards."

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