Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Showing Support For Students Rallying For Former Vice-President Fired For Wedding His Male Partner Lesbian Part-Time Musical Coach Announces She Is Marrying, Students Meet With Eastside Catholic High School President Sister Mary Tracey Seeking Answers As To Why Mark Zmuda Was Terminated And Announce National Day Of Support January 31, Four Same Sex Couples File Suit Against Arizona Challenging State’s Definition Of Marriage, New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez Announces She Will Not Seek Constitutional Amendment Banning Same Sex Marriage, Philadelphia Police Announce New Guidelines When Interacting With Transgender Individuals

In Washington State, according to the Associated Press, a part-time musical coach at a Catholic school in Washington state said Tuesday she is engaged to her same-sex partner and is nervous about how school leaders will handle the news after they forced out a vice principal who married his partner. Stephanie Merrow, who said she was hired for a second time to choreograph this year's spring musical at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, got engaged shortly after the departure of vice principal Mark Zmuda. Merrow and her partner have been together for five years and had been talking about getting married for months, and she said the timing of the engagement was a coincidence. They are planning a wedding for August. Students at Eastside Catholic have led protests in recent weeks over the departure of Zmuda. Merrow said she wanted to go public to support the students who have been leading protests on behalf of Zmuda. "I was so proud of them that it was time to say something to back them up," Merrow said. "They are really trying to change history and change the church. I value what they are doing." School attorney Mike Patterson said he couldn't comment on Merrow until he was able to gather more facts about her relationship with the school. A call to Sister Mary Tracy, head of the school, was not immediately returned. Merrow, who is not a teacher at Eastside Catholic, works only on the school musical, and does not know Zmuda, said she has not been impressed by the school's handling of Zmuda and wonders if she might be treated differently because she didn't sign the same teacher contract as he did. Her employment agreement was narrow in scope and didn't discuss following Catholic teachings on issues like gay marriage, she said. Merrow said she doesn't think that school leaders knew she was gay. The school and Zmuda have disputed the circumstances of his departure, with Zmuda saying he was fired and the school saying he resigned after acknowledging that his marriage violated Catholic teaching and, subsequently, the terms of his contract. Patterson has acknowledged that school leadership floated the idea that Zmuda could possibly get a divorce to keep his job. The lawyer, however, added the suggestion was a hypothetical idea that was never seriously explored. Eastside Catholic has about 900 students, mostly in high school.

Meanwhile, KIRO7 reports that a small group of students met with Eastside Catholic High's President Sister Mary Tracy on their first day back from Christmas break without their beloved vice principal. "It was kind of nice to hear her say this is really unfortunate, we wish this wouldn't happen this way but it did, in retrospect things maybe didn't go the way they should have, we are just going to have to move forward," said Ian Edwards. Students have staged protests almost from the moment they learned that their popular vice principal was let go after he married a man last summer. The school insisted Mark Zmuda quit because he had violated his contract. But in a student video, Zmuda said he was let go because he is gay. "They said, it was because I was married to a man and violated Catholic teaching," said Zmuda. No one was at his Issaquah home when we tried to talk to him Monday. Edwards said that Tracy explained why she did not look the other way when Zmuda married a man. "She said she felt a moral obligation to report to the archdiocese as a leader of a Catholic school, which we understood," said Edwards. Tracy also wrote a letter to parents before they returned to school on Monday, letting them know if they protested they would be kicked off campus and parents would be called. School administrators did not return our calls or emails for comment. The school's attorney, Mike Patterson, said that he understands the archdiocese supports the school's action on the issue. KIRO7 went to the Archdiocese of Seattle to talk to the archbishop, but a spokesperson said that he had no comment and that the diocese doesn't want to get in the middle of this. Students are also demanding a response from the archdiocese. "We just want to know that they're taking action, and we are hoping to have the church speak up because we've been speaking to them and they've been staying quiet up until now," said student Alex Kovar. He added, "I think it's in the best interest of the church to listen to what these younger people have to say, cause the church is a family and we're a part of the family." Edwards said that there aren't any other staged protests planned, but students do plan to wear orange on Wednesday in support of Zmuda. Eastside students are also asking students across the country to wear orange on Jan. 31 in an event they're calling "Z-Day."

In Arizona, four same sex couples are challenging Arizona’s definition of marriage as between only one man and one woman. Their federal class-action lawsuit echoes arguments used in a challenge to Utah’s ban on same sex marriage. The Utah case was thrown into legal limbo Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court halted same sex marriages in the state while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the arguments. “We are asking for relief on behalf of all married and unmarried same sex couples in Arizona,” said attorney Shawn Aiken. “Now is the time to take up this issue.” The couples in the Arizona case are: Joseph Connolly and Terrel Pochert, a Pinal County couple that has been together 18 years and was legally married in California in 2008; Suzanne Cummins and Holly Mitchell, a Maricopa County couple that has been together for seven years and have two children adopted through the state’s foster-care system; Clark Rowley and David Chaney, a Maricopa County couple that has been together for five years; and Mason Hite and Christopher Devine, a Maricopa County couple that has been together for 11 years, legally married in California in 2008 and have a child adopted through the state’s foster-care system. Their complaint argues that the federal courts must declare unconstitutional Arizona’s definition of marriage based on the Supreme Court ruling last year in the United States vs. Windsor case that deemed unconstitutional the denial of federal benefits to legally married same sex couples. “We’re saying, ‘Look, follow that rationale and make the same declaration as to the law in Arizona,’ ” Aiken said. “It’s that simple.” Under that ruling, same sex couples who married legally in other states and live in Arizona now have varying access to federal benefits, but the state still does not recognize their marriages. Arizona is among 32 states that define marriage as between one man and one woman. The definition was established in Arizona statute in 1996 and voters amended the Arizona Constitution to include the definition in 2008. Aiken said the Arizona case is one of 25 filed in 16 states challenging laws that restrict same sex couples from marrying. Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative advocacy group the Center for Arizona Policy, which led the push to define marriage in Arizona said her organization’s attorneys will watch the case closely. “Throughout this country, those in favor of same sex marriage are trying to obtain through the courts what they have not been able to obtain by a vote of the people,” Herrod said. “We would hope the courts would defer to the Arizona voters that clearly defined marriage as only being between one man and one woman.” The Arizona Court of Appeals in 2003 upheld Arizona’s definition of marriage. Herrod declined to predict what the courts may do a decade later, but she said she believes Arizonans still support the constitutional definition they passed. “There is no evidence that Arizona has changed its mind on same sex marriage,” she said. Gov. Jan Brewer and Attorney General Tom Horne are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Brewer spokesperson Andrew Wilder said Monday night they could not comment on litigation they hadn’t yet received. Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said they are reviewing the lawsuit. The Supreme Court justices on Monday did not rule on the merits of the Utah case or on same sex marriage bans in general, leaving both sides confident they’ll ultimately win. The decision stays in effect while the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the long-term question of whether gay couples have a right to wed in Utah. For those couples who just got married — or were planning their nuptials — the latest twist in the legal battle clouds what was seen as a cause for celebration. “It feels like we are second-class citizens during the stay,” said Moudi Sbeity, who is waiting to get married until the legal process plays out. “There’s also the fear of the unknown of what might come next.” Sbeity and partner Derek Kitchen are among three couples who brought the Utah lawsuit that led to the surprise Dec. 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who said the state’s ban on same sex marriage violated gay and lesbian couples’ constitutional rights. State officials praised Monday’s decision to put a hold on things, saying it should have come earlier. Two previous courts turned down their request for a stay. “Clearly, the stay should have been granted with the original District Court decision in order to have avoided the uncertainty created by this unprecedented change,” Gov. Gary Herbert said. The Supreme Court’s unsigned order did not indicate anyone dissented from the decision to halt same sex marriages in Utah. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency appeals from Utah and the five other states in the 10th Circuit, turned the matter over to the entire court. Many believe the Supreme Court will settle the issue for good. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the court’s decision indicates an interest in Utah’s case, and he hopes the justices issue a final answer. Others doubt the high court will step in any time soon. In June, the justices decided not to weigh in on the constitutionality of defining marriage as being between a man and woman, relying instead on a technical legal argument to resolve the issue in California and clear the way for same sex marriage in the state. The ruling Monday doesn’t necessarily give any indication of how the justices would rule on the issue, said Douglas NeJaime, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. He believes justices want the issue to work its way through normal legal channels before they weigh in. Meanwhile, the state is trying to determine whether the marriages that have already taken place are still valid. Marriage licenses issued in 2008 in California prior to the passage of the state’s same sex marriage ban were eventually upheld by the state supreme court. But marriages licenses issued in San Francisco in 2004 after mayor Gavin Newsom told city officials to grant them were later invalidated by the state supreme court. That leads NeJaime to believe a court will need to rule on Utah’s marriages. If the Utah attorney general challenges the validity of the licenses as expected, that might lead to several months of limbo for the couples, he said. Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide, said Utah may choose not to recognize the marriages in the interim, but predicted the federal government and other states will honor them since they were granted in accordance with the law at the time. For 17 days, Utah was the 18th state to allow gay couples to wed. More than a thousand couples flocked to county clerks offices, marrying on courthouse steps in darkness and celebrating a judge’s decision that the 2004 voter-approved ban on same sex marriage in the state was unconstitutional. It was a surprising development in a state where nearly two-thirds of the 2.8 million residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mormons dominate the state’s legal and political circles. Though the church has softened its stance toward gays and lesbians in recent years, it still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin and stands by its support for “traditional marriage.” Shelby’s ruling overturning the state’s ban was the first by a federal judge to overturn a state marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions on same sex marriage in June. The justices at that time struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented legally married gay and lesbian couples from receiving a range of tax, health, pension and other federal benefits. On the same day, the court left in place a trial court’s decision that struck down California’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage. The action now shifts to Denver, where the appeals court will consider arguments from the state against same sex marriage as well as from the three gay and lesbian couples who challenged the ban in support of Shelby’s ruling. The 10th Circuit has set short deadlines for both sides to file their written arguments, with the state’s first brief due on January 27. No date for argument has been set yet. Many of couples who have already tied the knot are choosing to move forward as planned, optimistic the ruling will be upheld by the appeals court. Alan Britton and his husband, Nathan London, have already updated their health insurance to show they are married and plan on filing taxes jointly. They are planning a wedding celebration in the next month. “It makes me uncomfortable,” said Britton about not knowing how things will turn out, “but it’s not going to change the way I feel about my husband.”

In New Mexico, Governor Susana Martinez said at a news conference Monday that she won’t push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state in the upcoming legislative session. Martinez said several times last summer — when several county clerks across the state began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples — that she believed state voters should decide the issue by way of a ballot question on whether to amend the state constitution. “I think what I said before was that yes, the people should have decided on it, but the Supreme Court has decided,” the governor said Monday when asked by a reporter about the issue. “And it’s now the law of the land.” Asked whether that meant she wouldn’t push for the Legislature to pass a measure like Sen. Bill Sharer’s Senate Joint Resolution 6, Martinez responded, “It’s the law of the land. The Supreme Court has spoken.” Sharer’s measure would put on the general election ballot a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Proposed amendments to the constitution aren’t subject to a governor’s veto. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled last month that it violates the state constitution to deny same sex couples the right to marry. Immediately following the decision, county clerks across the state began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The court rejected the main argument by a group of lawmakers, including Sharer, that the state has an interest in not allowing gays to marry because children do better when raised by a mother and a father. Eight counties, including Santa Fe County, had been issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples for several months. Some, like Santa Fe, did so at the order of state district judges. But some county clerks, such as Doña Ana’s County’s Lynn Ellins, did so on their own interpretation of state law, which didn’t expressly prohibit or allow gay marriage. On the day of the high court’s Dec. 19 decision, Martinez released a statement that seemed to imply that there are more important issues for the state to deal with. “While there will surely be intense debate about this decision moving forward, I encourage New Mexicans to continue to respect one another in their discourse, as this is an important issue for many New Mexicans on both sides,” the statement said. “As we move forward, I am hopeful that we will not be divided, as we must come together to tackle very pressing issues, like reforming education and growing our economy, in the weeks and months ahead.”

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Police Department will soon implement a new set of guidelines for how officers interact with transgender people. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel worked with members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to fine-tune the nine-page directive, police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said. "The times have evolved, and not just within the Police Department," Stanford said yesterday. "You see it across the board in so many different areas. We have to learn to adapt to the times." The policy, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily News, offers basic definitions of transgender men and women, and how best to sort out names and identities during interviews or arrests. The directive also instructs police officers to: Ask transgender individuals which pronouns - he/him, she/her - that they prefer the officers to use; Never use demeaning or derogatory language, or stop and question an individual just to call attention to the person's gender identity; Use a person's preferred gender identity - based on information the person or family provides, rather than what's listed on the individual's government-issued ID - when releasing information about a suspect, victim or witness to the media; Transport and house transgender suspects separately from other inmates when possible. Stanford said the department's top brass are in the final stages of deciding when to roll out the new policy, and how best to bring cops up to speed. "It's not something that will happen across the board overnight," he said. "It's going to take time for folks to understand and learn all of the terminology," Stanford said. "We want to make sure that we're treating people fairly, and trying to build some better relationships." Kathy Padilla, a longtime local LGBT advocate and founding board member of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, said certain portions of the policy have been around for a number of years. "My impression is that a lot of this is updating an older policy, but the media section is new and it looks good," she said. "Not using someone's status as a pretext for questioning them is a nice policy . . . and the guidelines about the pronouns and the preferred names are a good move forward for the Police Department."

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