Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Same Sex Marriages In England And Wales To Begin March 2014, New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee Scheduled To Hear Marriage Equality Act Bill Monday Which Would Write Into Law Gay Marriage, Human Rights Campaign Comes To Aid Of Former Catholic Teacher Fired For Announcing Plans To Wed Male Partner, Police Seek Public Help In Possible Hate Crime After Gay Portland Oregon Man Beaten At Bagby Hot Springs, New York City Police Investigating Hate Crime After Gay Man Taj Patterson Allegedly Attacked By Gang Of Hasidic Men

In the United Kingdom, the first same sex weddings can take place from March 29, 2014, Equalities Minister Maria Miller says. Initially it was thought the first same sex marriage in England and Wales would not take place until the summer. Couples wishing to be among the first to marry will need to give formal notice of their intention to marry on March 13. The BBC reports that it comes after the government's controversial legislation on the issue received Royal Assent in July. The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaderships all backed the proposals. BBC political correspondent Norman Smith says it is understood the government, following the passing of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, has been able to put in place the necessary arrangements much faster than previously thought. Ms Miller said, "Marriage is one of our most important institutions, and from March 29 2014 it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex. This is just another step in the evolution of marriage and I know that many couples up and down the country will be hugely excited that they can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love and commitment to each other by getting married." Ms Miller added that she was "working hard" to ensure that couples who wanted to convert civil partnerships into marriages - and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married - would be able to do so before the end of next year. From June, people will also be able to take part in same sex weddings in some British consulates and armed forces bases overseas or in military chapels.

In New Jersey, for two months, gay rights advocates have debated whether to let a court decision legalizing same sex marriage stand on its own, or to write it into state law. Now, a state Senate panel has decided the latter approach is the way to go — even if the debate is not yet totally settled. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday is scheduled to hear new bill called the "Marriage Equality Act," (S3109) which is a slightly modified version of a bill (S1) to legalize gay marriage that Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed in 2012. Gay marriage has been permitted in New Jersey since Christie in October dropped his appeal of the Superior Court decision to legalize it. Some have argued for the need to write it into state law, stating that a higher court could overturn the decision if factors change. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a bill sponsor, said that a key factor in Judge Mary Jacobson's decision to legalize same sex marriage was that gay couples in civil unions would be denied federal benefits because they are not married. If the federal government gave them benefits, Lesniak said, the rationale for the decision could be undercut. That, he said, is why the law is needed. "No future court can change that decision," Lesniak said. But other advocates argue that any legislation would curtail rights gay couples have under the judge's decision by recognizing certain religious exemptions. A draft copy of the bill (S3109) was not yet available online. The committee’s agenda says they will not hear testimony on the bill because it is similar to the original bill that had been debated extensively last year. Aside from doing nothing, another option for the Legislature would be to attempt to override Christie’s veto of the original bill. That would require the support of two-thirds of the members of both houses. Under the option the committee is pursuing, the Legislature would send Christie a "clean" bill that is slightly different from the one he vetoed. Nevertheless, at least one of the bill's sponsor said a final decision about what to do has not been made. “This is the step we’re taking right now. This is a very fluid situation," said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, another sponsor. "It could change.” Troy Stevenson, the executive director of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said nothing is settled. “We’re having long and detailed discussions with people in both houses. They’re going to have to be really careful about what they do to make sure it’s the best outcome,” he said.” Stevenson had spoken favorably of not writing gay marriage into law because the original bill contained restrictions not addressed under the court decision. Under the original bill, a group affiliated with a religion -- such as the Knights of Columbus -- would have been allowed to refuse to rent a hall to a gay couple who wanted to be married or have a reception. “We can’t stand by anything that will have any stronger exemptions or caveat our rights than what we’ve got right now,” Stevenson said. Lesniak said the new bill continues to have an exemption for religious organizations. But he said only church-affiliated groups that use an event space exclusively for their members would be able to turn away gay couples who wish to get married there. Clergy would not be required to perform gay marriages, but proponents say that exemption would be covered under the 1st Amendment anyway. “It does not go as far as the bill that the governor vetoed,” Lesniak said. “ If you open up your facilities, you can’t discriminate.” If the Legislature sends the new bill to the governor, he could sign it, veto it, or effectively veto it by simply not acting on it – what’s termed a “pocket veto.” The committee's chairman, state Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), said, “A position has to be taken. We’re going to hopefully pass it on Monday.” Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said "we will treat it as we do with all bills in the normal course." To get the bill to Christie, the full Senate and Assembly would have to pass it. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A civil rights group Monday came to the defense of a man who lost his teaching position at a Catholic school after announcing plans to marry his gay partner. The Human Rights Campaign said Michael Griffin of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, "served his school, and more importantly his students well for 12 years ... only to be fired for making a commitment to the person he loves." According to the New Jersey Cherry Hill Courier-Post, the nation's largest gay rights group called on Griffin's former employer, Holy Ghost Preparatory School of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, to "immediately cease discriminatory employment practices." The school's president, the Rev. James McCloskey, has said Griffin was fired Friday because his planned marriage "contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment." In a statement Saturday, McCloskey said Griffin "was aware of this provision in his contract, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately." Griffin, who taught Spanish and French at the all-boys school, could not be reached Monday. In a Facebook post Saturday, Griffin said he felt "hurt, saddened (and) betrayed" but added he is "trying to move forward with a peaceful heart." The HRC said Griffin was called into McCloskey's office after telling the school he might be late Friday because he was applying for a marriage license with his partner, Vincent Giannetto. The advocacy group acknowledged that "federal statutory and constitutional provisions" allow religious institutions to make employment decisions "based on their faith traditions." But it said, "That doesn't mean this kind of discrimination has to happen." Sharon Groves, director of the HRC's Religion and Faith Program, called Griffin's firing "part of a disturbing trend." She said 15 teachers have been fired from Catholic schools because of their sexual orientation in the past two years. A Holy Ghost representative declined to comment Monday. The school's president said in his statement that he realized Griffin's firing "has been difficult for everyone involved. ... We regret the pain that this has caused to any and all involved." Griffin, who is a Holy Ghost graduate, said the school "helped form me to be the person that I am today. "Even though I am no longer employed there, I wanted to share their mission and philosophy, because I feel like I have tried to make it my life's philosophy as best I can, even now."

In Oregon, police are asking for the public's help in finding two men suspected of beating a gay Southwest Portland man and his friend man earlier this month at Bagby Hot Springs. The Oregonian reports that Lt. Robert Wurpes, Clackamas County Sheriff's Office spokesman, said the incident is being investigated as an assault and a possible hate crime. Wurpes said the attack occurred after Mik Holland and an out-of-town friend met two strangers December 2 while soaking at the popular hot springs. After the discussion turned to sexual orientation, the strangers – both described as having Eastern European accents -- attacked Holland and his friend. Wurpes said Holland was beaten on the head with a heavy-duty industrial flashlight. The two strangers then took off. Badly injured, Holland and his friend made their way down the trail from the hot springs, in the Mount Hood National Forest, 51 miles south of Estacada. After calling 911, the men were picked up by an ambulance and taken to OHSU Hospital, where they were treated for their injuries and released. Wurpes said deputies have recovered the flashlight. "We're processing it for fingerprints and DNA," Wurpes said. "It's a long shot, but we're trying." Holland gave an account of the incident to the Proud Queer newspaper website. He has declined further interviews. One of the assailants, who identified himself as "Alex," was described as about 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, with blue eyes and short blond hair. He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a green vest and a grey sweatshirt. The other assailant, who identified himself by a name starting with J – possibly "James" – was described as being in his early 20s, about 6-feet-tall, 200 pounds, with a graying hair and a "gut." Wurpes said deputies also were looking for a blue or charcoal-gray Dodge 2007-10 pickup with Washington license plates. Wurpes urged anyone with information about the incident or possible suspects to call the sheriff's confidential tip line at 503-723-4949. Confidential text messages can be sent to CRIMES (274637 on a cell phone keypad), with the keyword "CCSO" as the first word in the message. Tips also can be left on the sheriff's online Tip Sheet.

In New York City, a black fashion student says he was brutally attacked by a gang of Hasidic men who shouted anti-gay slurs at him while he was walking through Williamsburg after a night of partying, the Daily News reports. Taj Patterson, 22, was headed home to Fort Greene around 4:30 am on December 1 when he says more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox Jewish men began assaulting him on Flushing Ave. and yelling, “Stay down, faggot!” Patterson said, “I’m walking down some block by myself and then the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by a group of Hasidic Jewish men and they’re attacking me. I was alone. I was an easy target. I’m black. I’m gay, a whole slew of reasons.” Patterson was left with a broken eye socket, a torn retina, blood clotting, and cuts and bruises to his knee and ankles. He was rushed to Woodhull Hospital for treatment. The New York City Police Department confirmed Monday evening that the hate crimes unit is investigating the assault. Patterson was “highly intoxicated, uncooperative and incoherent,” after the assault, according to a police complaint — but he remembers the ringleader.
“There was a crowd around him, cheering him on and getting him rowdy, and he would grab me and push me against the wall,” Patterson said. While the instigator was kicking him in the face, “he told me to ‘stay down, faggot, stay the fuck down,’ ” Patterson recalled. “And that’s really all I can remember of that.” Evelyn Keys, an MTA bus driver, was rounding the corner of Flushing Ave. and Spencer St. when she saw the horrific attack unfold before her eyes. “I get out of the bus and all these men were standing up straight around him,” says Keys. “Taj is laying down on his back. I went up to him and he was in so much pain. He says, ‘I can’t see . . . I can’t breathe.’ ” Patterson’s mother, Zahra Patterson, 52, said she now fears for her son’s safety. “I mean, we’ve been living in this community for close to 30 years, so you’re telling me my son can’t walk there anymore?” she said. “You cannot attack people walking down the street.”

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