Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Focus on Family demands politicians’ records in judge’s impeachment
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Focus on the Family is demanding notes, e-mails and phone records from legislators who voted against impeaching a judge involved in a lesbian custody case. The Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian ministry has also requested Gov. Bill Owens’ correspondence under the state’s open records law. The ministry denounced judge Coughlin’s ruling in a case involving two women who adopted a child while in a lesbian relationship.
Supporter of controversial mayor wins seat on New Paltz board
NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – A supporter of the mayor who brought the small village of New Paltz into the national debate over marriage equality won election to the Village Board May 4. Michael Zierler defeated Rick Remsnyder 444-306, a margin of 59-41 percent, in a special election some saw as a referendum on Mayor Jason West’s performance.
Remsnyder, 57, ran on a promise to “take back the village” from West, 26, and the Green Party majority that took control of the five-member board last spring. New Paltz has been a flashpoint in the national marriage debate since West performed rapid-fire marriages for 25 gay couples Feb. 27. West faces misdemeanor charges of solemnizing marriages without a license.
More companies offering domestic-partner benefits, report says
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Private employers are introducing domestic-partner health insurance benefits to same-gender couples at the rate of three companies a day, according to a study by the Human Rights Campaign.
The analysis by the HRC Foundation found more than 1,000 private employers and colleges and universities added domestic-partner benefits in 2003, 18 percent more than the year before. Some 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies now offer domestic-partner benefits, including nearly 70 percent of the 50 top businesses.
The report says providing such benefits enhances morale, productivity, recruiting and competitiveness. One of the study’s authors, Kim I. Mills, said the 18 percent rise was an indication that employers are deciding it is good for business.
The report said 7,149 private employers and colleges and universities provided health coverage to employees’ domestic-partners in 2003, though that was less than 1 percent of the total number of such employers.
The study also found that in 2003, 11 Fortune 500 companies modified their nondiscrimination policies to include gender identity or gender expression or both, bringing the total to 26.
The report says a “significant proportion of corporate America is already well positioned to deal with changes in the law that will result from the advent of legal marriage for same-sex couples.”
Anti-gay adoption law passes
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate’s Republican leader is praising a new law designed to overturn an attorney general’s opinion on recognizing adoptions by same-sex couples in other states. But a lawyer for an organization that represents gay and lesbian couples says the measure puts children of homosexual parents at risk.
The bill was signed into law without comment May 3. The issue came up after out-of-state couples who adopted Oklahoma children sought birth certificates from the state Department of Health. The law will permit the health agency to issue birth certificates to only one member of a gay couple, a policy it had before the Attorney General’s opinion was rendered.
Brian Chase of Lambda Legal in Dallas was the attorney for two men, Greg Hempel and Ed Swaya, who got an Oklahoma birth certificate after the Attorney General’s opinion. Chase said the two men were picked by the birth mother to adopt her daughter, Vivian, and “the adoption was perfectly legal in the State of Washington.”
He said the new Oklahoma law is written so broadly that “if Greg and Ed come to Oklahoma to see the birth mom or on other business, I’m not sure what kind of protection Vivian gets.”
“It seems like the way this thing is written, the courts in Oklahoma will not respect her connection with her parents.”
Lesbian allowed to seek parental rights
SEATTLE – A woman who hasn’t been allowed to see the child she and her same-sex partner were raising before the couple separated will be allowed to seek parental rights. The state Court of Appeals ruled May 3 that Sue Ellen Carvin can return to a King County Superior Court and seek to prove that she has a parental relationship with the girl, now 8 years old. The ruling could create a new class of parent in the state.
Carvin sued her former partner, Page Britain, in November 2002, alleging that Britain had unfairly cut off access to Britain’s biological daughter.
Carvin has not seen the girl in two years.
The women became romantically involved in 1989 and decided to have Britain artificially inseminated in 1994. Carvin has maintained that the couple agreed she would be the girl’s primary caregiver.
Then the women split and Britain married the sperm donor. When Carvin was subsequently barred from seeing the girl she sought legal help. A court commissioner sided with Britain, as did King County Superior Court Judge Michael Trickey, who dismissed Carvin’s petition to be declared a parent early last year.
On May 5, the appeals court agreed Carvin did not have standing under the state’s Uniform Parentage Act. But the three-judge panel found she could seek status as a “de facto or psychological parent” by presenting evidence of a parent-child relationship.
Suit: Online adoption site refuses gay clients
SAN FRANCISCO – A California gay couple sued the Internet site Adoption.com May 4, alleging the site won’t help them adopt a child because they are homosexuals. Michael and Richard Butler of San Jose, who legally changed their last names so they would be the same, have been domestic partners for about eight years and share a house, according to the suit.
After deciding to adopt and being certified by California to do so, they sought the services of Adoption.com, which lists the profiles of hundreds of birth mothers as well as qualified persons wanting to adopt. The suit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleges the site has unlawfully rejected the Butlers’ application to join the site.
The site’s legal director wrote in a letter to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is suing on behalf of the Butlers, that heterosexual couples are better suited to adopt than homosexuals.
Idaho high court takes up gay father’s call for rights
BOISE, Idaho – Homosexuality should be no more of a factor when determining child custody than a health condition like epilepsy, the attorney for a gay father argued before the Idaho Supreme Court May 3. Theron McGriff of Idaho Falls appealed to the high court after a magistrate ruled in 2002 that he could no longer see his two daughters if he lived with his partner of many years.
In 1938, said McGriff’s attorney Richard Hearn, the Idaho Supreme Court found that a mother could not be denied custody because she remarried three weeks after her divorce, though at the time such behavior was stigmatized. The court made a similar ruling when presented with a parent suffering seizures from epilepsy, Hearn said.
A county magistrate had sided with McGriff’s ex-wife, Shawn Weingartner, in the case. She said she feared the children would suffer backlash in conservative Idaho Falls because of their father’s sexuality. She wanted McGriff to undergo counseling about how to present his relationship to the girls. Marie Tyler, representing Weingartner, told the high court that McGriff refused to speak to his ex-wife about the matter as the animosity between them grew.
Some justices questioned the motives behind the custody dispute.
“The only thing I can find here are several allegations with regard to an intimate relationship with the same sex,” said Justice Wayne Kidwell. Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout noted that the children, now ages 13 and 9, are fully aware that their father is gay.
Hearn and McGriff said outside the courthouse that they’re optimistic the court will rule in McGriff’s favor. A ruling is expected by the end of the year.
Authorities investigate bias claim against firefighters
NEWARK, N.J. – Two gay men have complained that firefighters who work next door to their house threatened to kill them, tried to break into their house and damaged a fence in a series of escalating incidents.
Authorities are investigating the allegations involving a half-dozen members of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department.
Peter de Vries, 55, and Timothy Carter, 45, said that during the same tirade last month, the firefighters tried to break in, damaging the fence.
The men said the attack was a terrifying climax to several months of less direct confrontation by a group of younger firefighters who regularly rang their front door bell and ran. On several occasions, Carter and de Vries said they found their back deck littered with used condoms.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward J. DeFazio called the alleged behavior “reprehensible” and said that the county bias crimes unit was reviewing police reports. The mayor of Secaucus has condemned the alleged misbehavior and the police chief said his office took the allegations “extremely seriously.”
No firefighters have been identified individually, and no charges have been filed.
Democrats say Centers for Disease Control undercounting HIV cases
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Democrats on May 7 said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is undercounting HIV cases nationwide by refusing to accept data from California and other states that don’t record patients’ names.
Fifteen lawmakers released a letter to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding urging her agency to accept data from states that, for privacy reasons, track HIV cases by alphanumeric codes.
The method is used in 14 states, as well as in the District of Columbia. The undercounting will become an issue if the federal government starts using HIV infection data to determine funding levels for programs to fight AIDS and HIV. Presently, the government uses data about how many people have been diagnosed with AIDS as opposed to how many have the HIV virus that causes AIDS to decide how to distribute money, a change many AIDS advocates would like to see.
A decision is due in July from the Department of Health and Human services on whether to make the change for the main federal law that funds HIV and AIDS health services.
A CDC spokeswoman, Jessica Frickey, said that data from states that don’t collect names have not proven up to the agency’s standards of reliability. Concerns include duplication of cases. She said the CDC was working on ways to accept data from all states.
Many AIDS advocates want the federal government to switch from using AIDS cases to HIV cases to determine funding levels under the Ryan White CARE Act. They say there is a big discrepancy between the number of people infected with HIV and those who have developed AIDS – a discrepancy that didn’t exist when the act passed in 1990. The change is due to better treatment of HIV.
Study: Lesbian, bisexual girls more likely to smoke
BOSTON, Mass. – Researchers at Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s say that lesbian and bisexual girls may have a greater risk of becoming addicted to tobacco, and that more prevention efforts targeting young girls are needed.
For the study, researchers used data on 12- to 17-year-olds participating in the Growing Up Today Study, an ongoing national health study involving more than 16,000 adolescents nationwide. The researchers found that lesbian and bisexual girls were 10 times more likely to smoke regularly compared to heterosexual girls.
The researchers determined that the same behavior did not hold true with gay and bisexual boys. According to the study, gay and bisexual boys were no more likely to smoke than heterosexual boys.
“We were surprised by the very high rates of smoking by lesbian and bisexual teenage girls,” said lead author S. Bryn Austin, a researcher at Children’s Hospital. “Antigay stigma and harassment, rejection from family, friends, peers and sometimes even physical violence can create a hostile environment for many young people coming to terms with their sexual orientation. This, combined with the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to lesbian and gay communities, is putting lesbian and bisexual girls in harm’s way. We are concerned that these girls may be slipping under the radar screen when it comes to tobacco-prevention efforts in schools and communities.”
Top Methodist court will not revisit case of lesbian pastor
PITTSBURGH – The top United Methodist Court ruled May 4 that it has no authority to review the acquittal of a lesbian pastor who acknowledged she had a female partner and was charged with violating church law. But while the Rev. Karen Dammann could claim a victory, a companion decision by the Judicial Council appeared to give more ammunition to those who want to stop the appointment of gay clergy in America’s third-largest denomination.
The high court, which convened in the midst of the Methodist General Conference, said that in future cases a bishop cannot legally appoint someone who was found at church trial to be a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.” The council’s ruling came on a day when delegates to the national policy meeting rejected resolution after resolution that would have signaled broader acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church.
A jury of 13 pastors had outraged conservatives in March by acquitting Dammann of practices contrary to Christianity at her church trial in Bothell, Wash. The jurors effectively ruled that church law did not make it a chargeable offense for gay clergy to be sexually active.
Presbyterian commission: church law doesn’t ban same-sex couples from marrying
CINCINNATI – A church court ruled that a Presbyterian minister did not violate church law by marrying same-sex couples, reversing a ruling by a lower court.
The permanent judicial commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) synod that oversees churches in Ohio and Michigan ruled 6-4 that the denomination’s constitution does not prohibit ministers from marrying same-sex couples. The ruling, released May 3, reverses the lower church court’s conviction of the Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken for marrying same-sex couples.
The constitution of the 2.5 million-member denomination defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. The church’s highest court ruled in 2000 that ministers may bless same-sex unions, but cannot marry those couples.
That interpretation makes same-sex marriages impermissible, but “it avoids an outright prohibition by using the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’ in guidance for church bodies and ministers,” the judicial commission ruled.
Van Kuiken, a married heterosexual, was a pastor in Cincinnati when he was removed as pastor. He was later reinstated while his appeal was pending. Van Kuiken was the first Presbyterian minister to be tried on accusations of marrying homosexuals.
In other news:
Central Texas school changes policy on same-sex prom dates
LAGO VISTA, Texas – Amid threats of a lawsuit, a Central Texas school district has suspended a policy prohibiting students from buying prom tickets for same-sex guests. The Lago Vista district “will suspend the prom attendance guidelines for the remainder of the year until the district has an opportunity to further evaluate its role in the sponsorship of school social activities,” district lawyer Marquette Maresh wrote in a letter.
The letter was sent to lawyer Jeremy Wright, who represents the People for the American Way Foundation. The Washington-based civil rights group, which claims 600,000 members, had threatened to sue the district if the policy was not rescinded by May 7.
Wright’s group questioned the policy after Sherrell Ingram, a 16-year-old junior, noticed a sign detailing the rule against same-sex prom ticket purchases last month, just as her mother was about to buy tickets for her and a best friend. Ingram and the girl have been best friends since the sixth grade. Ingram said she is not a lesbian but thought the policy discriminated against her gay friends.
People for the American Way claimed the policy violates a federal law banning any federally funded education program from discriminating because of a person’s sex. The letter also said the policy infringes on the constitutional rights of the school’s gay and lesbian students.