May 13, 2010 at 9:10 am EDT | by Staff reports
National news in brief

Embattled minister steps down from anti-gay group

SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of allegations that he had sexual contact with two male escorts, an anti-gay organization’s board member is resigning his membership with the group.

But George Rekers said in a statement published Tuesday to the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality’s web site that he is not gay “and never have been.”

“I am immediately resigning my membership in NARTH to allow myself the time necessary to fight the false media reports that have been made against me,” he said. “With the assistance of a defamation attorney, I will fight these false reports because I have not engaged in any homosexual behavior whatsoever. I am not gay and never have been.”

Rekers drew international media attention — and jabs from television comics — last week after the Baptist minister was photographed at Miami International Airport with a man he allegedly met through, a gay web site.

The BBC reported that Rekers said he hired the man as a travel assistant and “was not involved in any illegal or sexual behavior.”

Various outlets later reported the man Rekers hired said the two had sexual contact. A second man reportedly came forward May 7, claiming he had a sexual encounter with Rekers in 1992.

In the statement published Tuesday on its web site, NARTH noted that it “has accepted Dr. Rekers’ resignation and would hope that the legal process will sufficiently clarify the questions that have arisen in this unfortunate situation.”

Gay couples ask judge to toss Defense of Marriage Act

BOSTON — Seven gay couples and three widowers who married in Massachusetts after it became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage went to court May 6 to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The couples filed a lawsuit last year, arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act is discriminatory because it denies same-sex couples access to federal benefits given to heterosexual couples. U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro held the first hearing in the case last week.

The Associated Press reported that the couples include a Social Security Administration retiree who was denied health insurance for his spouse; three widowers who were denied death benefits for funeral expenses; and couples who have paid more in taxes because they are not allowed to file joint returns.

Mary Bonauto, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the 1996 law, known as DOMA, got the federal government involved in regulating marriage, something it had left to the states for more than 200 years. She said the law denies gay couples access to more than 1,000 federal programs and legal protections in which marriage is a factor.

“What DOMA does is negate their marital status,” Bonauto argued during the hearing, according to the Associated Press.

The law was enacted by Congress in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording Social Security and other benefits to same-sex couples.

Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

W. Scott Simpson, a Justice Department lawyer, said the Obama administration is opposed to the law, but the department has an obligation to defend the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress.

“This presidential administration disagrees with DOMA as a matter of policy and would like to see it repealed, but that does not affect the statute’s constitutionality,” Simpson said.

Simpson said the law does not interfere with the rights of individual states to “experiment in the area of marriage, but that should not dictate how the federal government applies federal law.”

Tauro did not indicate when he would rule on the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and the couples’ request to declare the law unconstitutional.

Pope: Church’s own sins to blame in sex scandal

LISBON, Portugal — In his most thorough admission of the church’s guilt in the clerical sex abuse scandal, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday the greatest persecution of the institution “is born from the sins within the church,” and not from a campaign by outsiders.

The Associated Press reported the pontiff said the Catholic church has always been tormented by problems of its own making — a tendency that is being witnessed today “in a truly terrifying way.”

“The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying. “Forgiveness cannot substitute justice.”

Benedict was responding to journalists’ questions, submitted in advance, aboard the papal plane as he flew to Portugal for a four-day visit.

In a shift from the Vatican’s initial claim that the church was the victim of a campaign by the media and abortion rights and pro-gay marriage groups, Benedict said: “The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church.”

Previously, he has taken to task the abusers themselves and, in the case of Ireland, the bishops who failed to stop them.

Benedict has promised that the church would take action to protect children and make abusive priests face justice. He has started cleaning house, accepting the resignations of a few bishops who either admitted they molested youngsters or covered up for priests who did.

Critics are demanding more. They recall that while Benedict has scolded his church and accepted some bishops’ resignations, none of them has been actively punished or defrocked, even those who admitted molesting children.

“Many are tiring of hearing about his ‘strong comments.’ They want to see strong action,” said David Clohessy, director of the main U.S. victims’ group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Portugal has reported no cases of abuse, and the pontiff was expected to address other issues during his appearances here, especially the neglect of Christian values.

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