Friday, March 13, 2009

This week's news: March 11, 2009

Queery News 3.11.09

Baldwin to introduce DP bill this month

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, intends to introduce legislation this month that would benefit partners of gay federal government employees. Baldwin said during a Center for American Progress conference call Thursday, she intends to introduce the Domestic Partner Benefits & Obligations Act “shortly.”

Baldwin spokeswoman Jerilyn Goodman later said Baldwin hopes to introduce the legislation this month.

The bill would grant partners of gay federal employees the same benefits available to spouses of straight employees. Versions of the bill considered in the last session of Congress would have granted benefits such as access to health benefits, life insurance and disability benefits.

As in the last session of Congress, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will sponsor legislation in the Senate and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, will co-sponsor the Senate bill., Goodman said.

Baldwin intends to drop the House version of the legislation simultaneously with the introduction of the Senate version of the bill.

Baldwin announced her intention to reintroduce the legislation in a conference call geared toward the release of a report on federal benefits that are denied same-sex couples because of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Center for American Progress report draws attention to three Social Security benefits that are denied to gay couples, even if they are married in a state that recognizes same-sex unions.

The three benefits are: the spousal retirement benefit, which enables a spouse to receive one-half of their partner’s benefits upon retirement in lieu of their own benefits; the spousal survivor benefit, which entitles a spouse to take their partner’s entire benefit after their death; and the lump-sum death benefit, which entitles a surviving spouse to receive a $225 lump-sum payment for funeral arrangements.



Call for Nationwide Rallies on Marriage Decision Day

While Californians and people across the country wait for the state supreme court's decision on same-sex marriage, activists are asking people to come together and make their voices heard.

Activists are organizing gatherings in protest or celebration on what they have dubbed the Day of Decision – the day California's supreme court rules whether to uphold or strike down a marriage ban narrowly approved by California voters in November.

The demonstrations, spearheaded by Robin Tyler and Andy Thayer, will mirror events that followed the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized gay sex between consenting adults. The demonstrations in 2003 were held in 50 cities across the country.

Thayer, co-founder of Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network said: "By organizing now, we are also sending a message to the court that people are watching what they do, and that if it's a bad decision, our community will not go softly into the night. If we win, these actions will be celebrations and an attempt to push the momentum of a California victory to other states and regions."

The court is required to rule within 90 days to reject or uphold Proposition 8, the measure rescinding the same court's ruling from last May that allowed 18,000 gay and lesbian couples to marry in California. There will be 24 hours' notice before the ruling is released.

For more information on the events or to organize one, visit DayofDecision.org.


Kentucky anti-gay adoption bill advances

Legislation that would bar unmarried couples in Kentucky from adopting or fostering children has passed a key committee and now advances to a vote on the floor of the Senate.

The measure states that anyone “cohabitating with a sexual partner outside of marriage” cannot be considered as a foster or adoptive parent.

Although the bill affects all unmarried couples living together, it’s seen as specifically targeting same-sex couples.

Opponents of the measure accused Republican Senate leaders of dirty tricks over the way the committee vote was taken.

The Justice Committee meeting was announced as the Senate was being adjourned for the day and the bill passed 9-0 with no discussion.

Opponents said Friday that no notice that the committee was about to hold a vote on the bill was given.

Democrat Sen. Kathy Stein, who opposes the bill, called the move “legislation by ambush.”

Last week, almost 200 people demonstrated against the measure at the Capitol.

The Fairness Campaign, an LGBT civil rights group, organized the rally.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign said: “I find it very interesting that this was a secret meeting that very few people knew about. This seems purposeful to exclude any real debate or discussion.”

But Republican Sen. Robert Stivers, a key supporter of the bill, denied there had been an underhanded move to hold the vote although he admitted he did not know if notices of the committee meeting had been distributed.

The bill is modeled after a similar ban that was approved by voters in Arkansas last November.

Minnesota bill would make marriage gender neutral
Legislation that would amend Minnesota’s marriage law to make it gender neutral has been filed in the state Senate.

Currently the law defines marriage as a contract between “a man and a woman.” The bill, proposed by five Democrats, would change the definition to “two persons” opening up marriage to same-sex couples.

The bill also would remove a ban to gay marriage and the section preventing the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from another state or country.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but no hearings have been scheduled.

Democrats control both houses of the legislature, but Republicans say Gov. Tim Pawlenty would likely veto the bill, should it pass.

In a bid to make the legislation more palatable to Pawlenty, the author’s included wording that it in no way condones homosexuality or “any equivalent lifestyle.” The bill also states the measure cannot be used to promote homosexuality in public schools.

Still, Republicans say they will vote against the bill. GOP leaders also said they’re looking at a new attempt to advance a proposed amendment to the state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.

The proposed amendment was filed in the legislature in 2004 and 2006. It never made it out of committee.

Last year, an attempt to pass same-sex marriage legislation failed, but LGBT rights groups say they now believe they have the votes.


(Jacksonville, Florida)

An attorney for two gay students at a north Florida high school told a federal judge Thursday they should be allowed to form a campus club promoting tolerance toward gays, despite a school prohibition.

But a lawyer for the Nassau County School Board said the group’s name, Gay-Straight Alliance, is against school policy.

Yulee High School students Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, are suing the school board to overturn its decision banning them from forming the club. Yulee is about 25 miles north of Jacksonville, near the Georgia state line.

ACLU Attorney Robert F. Rosenwald Jr., argued that Page and Brock had been the target of anti-gay epithets and threats of violence at school and wanted to start the Gay-Straight Alliance to open discussion among students.

Attorney Frank Sheppard, who represents the school board, said the district’s main complaint is the name of the group, saying it does not approve of groups dealing with sexual orientation and noted the school has an abstinence-based sex education curriculum.

He said: “If they change the name and comply with Nassau County School Board policies, they can meet.”

After the hearing, Page said the group doesn’t want to change its name because it represents what the club is about.

School officials had no problem with the idea of tolerance and rejecting bullying, Sheppard said, but they believe the club will be disruptive.

Rosenwald noted that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meets on campus. He told the judge that an FCA booklet includes references to sexual issues, including a student pledge to remain sexually pure and an article about dealing with homosexuality in the locker room.

The ACLU recently won a similar case in Okeechobee. A judge there ruled schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Rosenwald said the Okeechobee County School Board paid $326,000 in attorney’s fees in the case.


National interest in PFLAG growing

The passage in November of anti-gay measures in four states and the release of the films “Milk” and “Prayers for Bobby” have led to increased interest in the group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays or PFLAG.

The national organization said since election day it has received at least 75 inquiries about starting new chapters in communities across the country.

PFLAG, which has nearly 500 chapters and affiliates across the country, said it’s working with local allies who have expressed interest in bringing the organization to their communities.

California, Florida and Arizona passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in November and Arkansas voters approved a law barring gays from adopting or fostering children.

The critically acclaimed “Milk” profiles the election of Harvey Milk, one of the earliest gay politicians, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated a year later. “Prayers for Bobby” tells the true story of mother Mary Griffith’s journey from rejecting her gay son to becoming an advocate for LGBT rights.

Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s national executive director said: “If there’s a silver lining to the set-backs our families experienced on Election Day, it’s that our allies in communities across the country have started to mobilize at the local level and work for change. Today, our families, allies and loved ones are organizing and pressing for change as they never have before.”

Huckaby said PFLAG’s national headquarters has received inquiries about starting new chapters in states including Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio , Florida, California, Utah, Texas and Idaho.

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