Thursday, December 19, 2013

State Attorneys Ask That Case Challenging Constitutional Validity Of West Virginia Same Sex Marriage Ban Arguing That Plaintiffs Have No Legal Standing, United Methodist Church Defrocks Pastor Who Performed Son's Same Sex Wedding, Dutch Senate Passes Landmark Transgender Law Including Barring Forced Sterilization

In West Virginia, the state attorney general's office asked a judge this week to throw out a federal lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same sex marriage, saying the plaintiffs in the case don't have a legal basis to challenge the law. In its motion, the state claims two reasons why the lawsuit filed by three same-sex couples should be dismissed: state law doesn't cause them any immediate harm and the couples aren't married, so the fact West Virginia doesn't recognize same-sex marriages from other states doesn't affect them, according to state attorneys. "The statute causes no concrete and immediate injury to Plaintiffs, who allege only the desire to marry each other in West Virginia and have not alleged that they are or intend to be married in another State," the motion filed in U.S. District Court on Monday by Assistant Attorney General Julie Ann Warren says. "Plaintiffs do not allege that they have valid marriages from other jurisdictions, that they have taken any steps to obtain valid marriages from other jurisdictions, that they intend to be married in other jurisdictions, or that they would have obtained a valid marriage from another jurisdiction if West Virginia recognized out-of-state same sex marriage." On October 1, three couples sued Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick and Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole, alleging that, by complying with state law and refusing to issue them marriage licenses, the clerks are unfairly discriminating against same sex couples, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. West Virginia law bans same sex marriages and does not recognize same sex marriages performed in other states. The lawsuit says that, by denying the couples marriage licenses, the clerks are denying them benefits such as health insurance, hospital visitation rights, family-leave and tax benefits. Lambda Legal, a national gay rights organization, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the three couples: Casie McGee and Sarah Adkins, Justin Murdock and William Glavaris, and Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton. "I'm tired of the soft discrimination we're met with every day because we can't use the same terminology other couples can," Murdock told the Gazette-Mail in October. "People say, 'Why don't you just go out of state and get married?' We don't want to do that. Will was raised in Logan County. I was raised in Wayne County. We've been in West Virginia our whole lives. We love this state." Last month, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey intervened in the lawsuit to defend state law. Chuck Bailey, McCormick's attorney, filed a motion Wednesday also asking Judge Robert Chambers to dismiss the case. Bailey writes the matter should be handled through the state's legislative process. The matter belongs to the state, Bailey writes, "McCormick prays this court will presently abstain from ruling on this issue, particularly in light of the upcoming legislative session." In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key piece of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that same sex couples who are legally married are entitled to federal benefits.

The United Methodist church defrocked a pastor from central Pennsylvania on Thursday for violating doctrine by officiating his son's gay marriage, leaving the minister shocked and upset that he could be punished for an "act of love." Frank Schaefer immediately appealed the penalty, which he believed was meted out reluctantly by many members of the regional Board of Ordained Ministry. "So many of them came to me and they shook my hand and some hugged me, and so many of them had tears in their eyes," Schaefer said. "They said, `We really don't want to do this, you know that, don't you?'" Board members declined to comment after the private meeting at church offices in Norristown, outside Philadelphia. But John Coleman, a spokesperson for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the denomination, said Schaefer left officials no choice after defying the order of a religious jury to resign. "When asked to surrender his credentials as required by the verdict, he refused to do so," Coleman said. "Therefore, because of his decision, the board was compelled by the jury's decision to deem his credentials surrendered." Schaefer has led a congregation in the town of Lebanon more than a decade. Earlier this year, a church member filed a complaint over Schaefer performing the 2007 wedding of his gay son in Massachusetts, where same sex unions are legal. Although the Methodist church accepts gay and lesbian members, it rejects the practice of homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars clergy from performing same sex unions. Last month, a church jury suspended Schaefer for 30 days and said he should use the time to decide whether he could uphold the church's Book of Discipline. If he decided he could not, he was told to resign from the clergy by Thursday. Schaefer said he told officials Thursday morning that he could not follow a book that he feels is contradictory and biased against gay people. He refused to voluntarily surrender his credentials when asked by the board president. "To which she said, `Well, we're taking them.' And that was the end of it," Schaefer said. The issue has split the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination amid a rapid shift in public opinion. Schaefer's defrocking came on the same day that New Mexico legalized same sex marriage, joining 16 other states and the District of Columbia; polls show that a majority of Americans now support it. Most other Protestant denominations have decided their position on the issue one way or another. But the Methodists, with about 7.7 million members in the U.S. and many more overseas, remain divided. At their last national meeting in 2012, delegates reaffirmed the church's 40-year-old policy on gays. But hundreds of Methodist ministers have publicly rejected church doctrine on homosexuality, and some of them face discipline for presiding over same-sex unions. Last month, in a public challenge to church rules, a retired Methodist bishop officiated at a wedding for two men in Alabama. Schaefer had held out hope as late as Thursday morning that officials would have a change of heart. "I said to myself, `You know, I just can't see them taking my credentials.' I mean, what I did was an act of love for my son. And they did anyhow," he said. Schaefer made his remarks at a gay-friendly, or "reconciling," Methodist church in Philadelphia. Despite the designation, regional Methodist officials defrocked its associate minister Beth Stroud in 2004 after she told the congregation that she was in a committed lesbian relationship. This week, Stroud told the Associated Press that public opinion has changed a lot since then. While she recalled receiving a lot of empathy and concern, there was also less surprise that she was put on trial and ultimately lost her credentials, Stroud said. Schaefer seems to be receiving the same type of support but with a measure of disbelief as well, she said. "(There's) a lot more shock and surprise that in 2013 a mainstream church would put a pastor on trial for officiating at a same sex wedding," said Stroud, "particularly the wedding of his son."

The law on transgender rights that the Dutch Senate approved on December 18, 2013, is an important step toward equality, Human Rights Watch said Thursday. The new law will allow transgender people to change the gender marker in their official identity papers to their preferred gender. It does away with previous requirements for taking hormones and surgery, including irreversible sterilization, though it is a step short of complete personal autonomy for the decision. The law was adopted by a vote of 51 to 24. As it had already been approved by the other parliamentary chamber, the law now only needs to be countersigned by the king to be official. It should come into force on July 1, 2014. "The new law is an important step toward equality for transgender people in the Netherlands," said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "It puts people in a much stronger position to change their gender identity without intrusive and abusive medical requirements." These requirements in an outdated 1985 law violated transgender people's rights to personal autonomy and physical integrity, and denied them the ability to define their own gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch published an 85-page report in September 2011, "Controlling Bodies, Denying Identities: Human Rights Violations Against Trans People in the Netherlands," which documents the impact of the 1985 law - article 28 of the civil code - on the daily lives of transgender people. Human Rights Watch had recommended amending the law on the grounds that article 28 violated the human rights of transgender people. Human Rights Watch interviewed 28 transgender people for the report, as well as medical professionals, legal experts, government officials, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and academics. The report was referred to several times in the debates over the new law in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Under the new law, anyone over age 16 may file a request to change their gender. But the request must be accompanied by an expert statement affirming the person's permanent conviction to belong to another gender. Human Rights Watch believes it is better not to introduce a minimum age, but instead to review a proposed change on a case-by-case basis. The requirement for an expert opinion could lead to long waiting lists because only a limited group of medical professionals are currently designated as experts. However, the government promised the Senate to speed up the review of the law from 5 years to 3. During the review these two aspects will be re-evaluated. In 1985, the Netherlands was among the first European nations to adopt legislation enabling transgender people to change their registered gender. Over a quarter of a century later, though, the Netherlands had lost its leading edge. Legislation that at the time represented a progressive development became wholly out of step with current best practice and understandings of the Netherlands' obligations under international human rights law. Several European countries like Germany--through a ruling by the Constitutional Court-- Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Austria have already done away with the surgical and hormonal requirements. Argentina's law neither requires surgical and hormonal intervention nor any third party involvement. The Dutch constitution protects transgender people's rights to personal autonomy and physical integrity, subject to restrictions imposed by the law. Several international human rights instruments ratified by the Netherlands also protect transgender rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. In revising the law, the Netherlands was also guided by the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The Yogyakarta Principles encourage countries to consider measures that allow all people to define their own gender identity. The Yogyakarta Principles are not binding,but are endorsed by the Dutch government. "The requirement for an expert opinion in the new law undermines the right of the transgender person to determine their own identity without interference of a third party," Dittrich said. "The new law is a good step forward, but the Netherlands should move quickly to complete personal autonomy in letting people determine their gender identity."

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