Compiled by Dawn Wolfe
House blocks court on pledge case rulings
WASHINGTON – The House passed 247-173 legislation Sept. 23 that would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from hearing cases involving the Pledge of Allegiance and its recitation and would prevent federal courts from striking the words “under God” from the pledge.
In a politically and emotionally charged debate, Democrats said majority Republicans in the chamber were debasing the Constitution in order to force a vote that could hurt Democrats in the election.
Supporters insisted that Congress has always had authority to limit federal court jurisdiction, and the legislation is needed to protect an affirmation of religion that is part of the national heritage.
The legislation has little chance of advancing in the Senate this year, but it laid down another marker for politicians seeking to differentiate themselves from their election opponents on the volatile social issues of the day. Other “wedge” issues that have or could come up before the election include gay marriage and flag-burning.
The Supreme Court in June dismissed, on a technicality, a 2002 federal court decision that the religious reference made the pledge unconstitutional.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., the author of the amendment on legislation before the House Sept. 23, said the high court is likely to rule differently if it considers the substance of the case and “if we allow activist judges to start creating law and say that it is wrong to somehow allow schoolchildren to say ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
In such a scenario, Akin said, Congress will have “emasculated the very heart of what America has always been about.”
Kerry spokesman says Bush owes apology over RNC mailing
LITTLE ROCK – President Bush should apologize to Arkansans for a Republican mass mailing warning that liberals would ban the Bible and allow marriage for gays, the head of Democrat John Kerry’s state campaign said Sept. 24.
The mailings depict images of the Bible labeled “banned” and of a man slipping a ring on another man’s finger labeled “allowed,” and carries a warning: “This will be Arkansas if you don’t vote.”
“(Bush) should come out and publicly apologize to the Arkansas people,” Rodney Shelton, the Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign chief in Arkansas, said.
The Bush-Cheney campaign did not immediately respond, but a Republican spokesman in Arkansas said the mailers posed legitimate issues for which the president owes no apology.
The Republican National Committee acknowledged it sent the mailings two weeks ago to recipients in Arkansas and West Virginia. RNC spokeswoman Lindsey Taylor said it targeted people opposed to activist judges legislating from the bench, but would not say specifically how many of the mailings were sent or to whom.
AIDSVote.org to launch major absentee ballot drive for 2004 elections
AIDSVote.org has teamed with four respected AIDS organizations – POZ magazine, the National Association of People with AIDS, Housing Works, and Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project – to launch a major absentee ballot drive for the 2004 elections.
Using a new interactive technology, visitors to POZ.com are now able to request absentee ballots, register to vote and change their registered address. Most states allow registered voters to request absentee ballots up until the week or day before the election.
The process is simple: POZ.com visitors answer a simple questionnaire customized for their state of residence. (In some states, users will be prompted to contact their local elections office directly.) A completed absentee ballot request form and customized envelope are then generated. The forms can then be printed and either be mailed or dropped off locally. People who are not yet registered to vote, or who need to register at a new address, can also do so through the website at AIDSVote.org.
Poll indicates voters want McGreevey to leave Nov. 15
TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey voters believe Gov. James E. McGreevey should stay in office until his chosen resignation date of Nov. 15, but a large majority say it would be a “bad thing” if he changed his mind and didn’t leave then, according to a new poll.
The Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 22 found that 56 percent believe he should stay until Nov. 15, while 41 percent believe he should leave office immediately.
But 61 percent expect him to keep his word and step down on the set date. Only 30 percent thought it wouldn’t be bad for the governor to change his mind and stay to the end of his term.
Those polled were evenly split at 48 percent on whether McGreevey should have resigned after his Aug. 12 announcement that he was gay and had an extramarital affair with a man.
Voters disapproved of McGreevey’s overall performance by 51 percent to 40 percent. Those numbers are similar to those in polls taken just before and after the governor announced his resignation.
Idaho’s high court issues mixed decision on gay father’s custody
BOISE, ID – The state Supreme Court on ruled on Sept. 21 that sexual orientation should not be the basis for custody decisions, but still denied a gay father’s bid for custody.
Gay-rights advocates hailed the decision as a guide for future custody cases, but expressed disappointment that it did not help Theron McGriff gain custody of his two daughters.
The court said in a prepared statement that sexual orientation should be considered for custodial purposes only if the orientation is shown to cause harm to the child.
“Sexual orientation, in and of itself, cannot be the basis for awarding or removing custody,” the court said.
But in its 4-1 ruling, the Supreme Court said there was still sufficient evidence to support a county magistrate’s 2002 conclusion that McGriff’s ex-wife, Shawn Weingartner, was best suited for sole custody of the children.
The high court agreed with the magistrate that McGriff’s children were having difficulty handling joint custody arrangements, and that the Idaho Falls man’s refusal to communicate directly with his ex-wife provided a sufficient basis to consider changing the custody arrangement.
The magistrate ruled that McGriff can see his daughters only if he does not live with his male partner of eight years. That restriction stands.
Many same-sex couples wary of new domestic partners law
SAN FRANCISCO – California’s landmark domestic partners law goes into effect on Jan. 1, but many gay and lesbian couples are choosing not to register, or are even dissolving their current legal partnerships.
Many committed couples are worried they could lose public benefits or face financial or legal trouble under the new law, which extends state marriage rights and responsibilities to same-sex partners.
More people terminated their state domestic partnerships in July and August – 202 and 111, respectively – than in any month since January 2000, when the registry started.
Over the summer, the 28,083 couples who have registered under the current, weaker law received letters from the secretary of state’s office, warning of potentially undesired consequences of the new law and the Jan. 1 deadline for opting out. Observers wonder if those letters prompted many of the domestic partner terminations.
For some gay couples, particularly those starting new families, registering is critical because the new law guarantees parental rights to the nonbiological parent.
But for others, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Some couples worry that they’ll lose their Medi-Cal coverage if they register with the state. Eligibility for Medi-Cal and other programs for single parents, Supplemental Security Income for disabled people and the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants are partly based on a married couple’s income and assets.
The state concedes that such benefits could be at risk, while Medi-Cal says it has not yet figured out how to treat domestic partners under AB205.
Paying taxes is another complicated matter, partly because registered partners won’t be allowed to file either federal or state taxes jointly.
Advocates are also advising undocumented immigrants in relationships with U.S. citizens to stay away from the registry because it could be interpreted as an intent to stay in the United States, possibly leading to deportation.
GLMA’S ‘Moving Forward Together’ Oct. 21-23
PALM SPRINGS – Palm Springs, CA will host the world’s largest gathering of LGBT health care professionals, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s 22nd Annual Conference, Oct. 21-23.
The conference offers LGBT physicians, medical students, nurses, nurse practitioners, other health care professionals, researchers and policy makers three days of networking opportunities and accredited continuing education. Conference attendees represent the full range of medical specialties.
This year’s conference will provide a rich mix of lectures, panel and group discussions designed to broaden and enrich the work of all professionals interested in LGBT health. Programs addressing lesbian health, mental health, primary care, HIV/AIDS, sexual health and other topics will be viewed through the lens of diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, race and culture.
GLMA is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to sponsor continuing medical education for physicians. The Conference will offer a minimum of 16 CME hours. For more information visit www.glma.org.
Minneapolis church sanctioned for gay ordination
MINNEAPOLIS – Two months after Bethany Lutheran Church ordained an openly gay man as a minister, the church is being sanctioned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Associate pastor Jay Wiesner, who was ordained July 25 and installed as Bethany’s associate pastor Aug. 1, said he anticipated the sanction.
Under the policy of the Chicago-based ELCA, anyone in a same-sex relationship cannot be ordained unless they remain celibate.
Bishop Craig Johnson of the ELCA Minneapolis Synod said in a letter Sept. 25 that he was “censuring and admonishing” the church, but said he would not take any disciplinary action until the ELCA can vote on two key issues.
Johnson said he had asked Bethany Lutheran not to ordain Wiesner at least until after the ELCA had decided whether to ordain those who are gay and in committed relationships, and whether there should be a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. The ELCA could vote on those issues next year at its churchwide assembly in Orlando, Fla.
The Rev. Steven Benson, Bethany’s pastor, said Johnson’s action against the church could have been more harsh. The letter represents a healthy compromise, he said.
In Other News
PlanetOut signs $1 million Gay Games sponsorship
CHICAGO – In a sponsorship agreement valued at just over $1 million, online global media company PlanetOut Inc. announced Sept. 23 that it has become a Premium Sponsor of Gay Games VII Sports and Cultural Festival, scheduled for 15-22 July 2006 in Chicago. PlanetOutÕs sponsorship is the largest corporate sponsorship ever for an international LGBT sporting event.
Gay Games VII Sports and Cultural Festival will take place July 15-22, 2006. Over 12,000 athletes from more than 100 countries will compete in 30 sports ranging from softball to dancesport, swimming to tennis. The weeklong event will include an arts festival, band, cheerleading and chorus performances, and a series of community-organized social events and parties. Hundreds of athletes and artists from countries as diverse as Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, the Netherlands, Canada and the USA have already signed up. Athletes and artists can register now for Gay Games VII at www.gaygameschicago.org. Tickets to Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as gold medal competitions, special shows and parties will go on sale to the general public later in 2004.