March 10, 2011 at 4:01 pm EST | by Staff reports
National news in brief: March 11

Same-sex unions bill moves in Colo.

DENVER — Legislation aimed at recognizing same-sex civil unions in Colorado passed its first test Tuesday, despite cries from the religious right that the legislation would undermine marriage and encourage a “shameful” gay lifestyle, several Colorado newspapers, including the Denver Post, reported this week.

Senate Bill 172, introduced by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) was backed by the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-3, with one Republican joining Democrats to advance the legislation.

The marathon controversial legislative hearing felt at times more like a Christian revival meeting, with critics of SB 172 making arguments against sodomy and gay lifestyles while reading from Leviticus, the Post reported.

Many critics argued that gay couples are unfit to raise children, and pointed out that in 2006, Colorado voters defined marriage as between one man and one woman, while also rejecting a proposal to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships in Colorado.

Senate Bill 172 would recognize civil unions between same-sex couples in Colorado. Along with the recognition would come similar legal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

Faith leaders would not be required under the law to conduct same-sex civil unions if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Steadman, who is gay, said the issue is about providing stability to couples as they navigate life.

Judge lets Minn. marriage ban stand

MINNEAPOLIS — A Hennepin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to make same-sex marriage legal in Minnesota, according to an Associated Press report.

Judge Mary Dufresne rejected arguments by the group Marry Me Minnesota that the state’s 13-year-old Defense of Marriage Act violates same-sex couples’ rights to due process, equal protection, religious freedom and freedom of association. The Star Tribune reported Wednesday that the judge wrote in an order Monday that she’s bound by a 1971 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that says the legislature has the power to limit marriage to one man and one woman. Doug Benson, executive director of Marry Me Minnesota, says the group is disappointed and will appeal. He says the ruling is a slap at thousands of gay and lesbian couples who want the same rights their neighbors have, the AP reported.

Sailor discharged for falling asleep with man

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Navy petty officer facing discharge for falling asleep in bed with another male sailor last month says his ouster is motivated by homophobia, not a legitimate crime, a claim that has some gay rights advocates worried about life after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to an ABC report.

Stephen Jones, 21, a student at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C., says he and friend Brian McGee inadvertently fell asleep together while watching “Vampire Diaries” on a computer in his quarters Feb. 6. Jones was wearing pajama pants and a white T-shirt, lying on top of the covers; McGee was in boxer shorts under the blanket on Jones’ twin bed, according to both men’s account of the situation. When Jones’ roommate, Tyler Berube, walked in shortly after midnight, the sleepy sailors woke up, got dressed and went back to their rooms.

Several days later, however, Jones and McGee were cited with dereliction of duty for “willfully failing to exhibit professional conduct in his room,” according to a Navy report specifying the charges. McGee accepted the charge and received docked pay. But when Jones refused to accept a penalty, instead hoping for a court martial to prove his innocence, he was ordered separated from the Navy for good, the ABC report said. While there was no evidence of homosexual conduct presented in the statements given by the three men to military investigators, Jones and his civilian attorney Gary Meyers believe homophobic suspicions were motivation for the charge.

“The roommate is concerned about what he sees, even though he sees nothing,” Meyers told ABC. “And his statement doesn’t indicate he saw anything. Two men woke up and they left the room. It’s a bizarre overreaction.”

Meyers contends that because the command had too little evidence to start an investigation under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which is still technically military policy, it used a subterfuge to achieve the same result.

“I asked several times about what was unprofessional about what I did, and every time they said it’s just unprofessional. Period,” said Jones, who is appealing the decision.

Worker defending gays fired for saying ‘faggot’

NEW YORK — An elderly New York man who worked 54 years for American Airlines was fired this week for saying faggot during a training session. Referring to his military service, 82-year-old Freddy Schmitt said, “Back then a faggot could have saved my life.” He made the comment in reference to a statement saying that gays should be allowed to serve openly. The company refused to let Schmitt return to his role as a ground-crew worker despite an excellent employment record, the New York Post reported. Schmitt is appealing the decision and says he wants to end his career on good terms.

Gay lawmakers playing pivotal role in debates

NEW YORK — The 85 openly gay state legislators in the U.S. — out of 7,382 total — are playing a key role in the advancement of marriage and civil union battles across the country, the AP reported this week.

In Hawaii and Illinois, gay state representatives were lead sponsors of civil union bills signed into law earlier this year. In Maryland and Rhode Island, gay lawmakers are co-sponsoring pending bills that would legalize same-sex marriage. In New York, gay state Sen. Tom Duane is preparing to be lead sponsor of a marriage bill in his chamber later this session. The gay lawmakers have impact in two important ways.

Their speeches, often evoking personal themes, sometimes can sway wavering colleagues, and they can forge collegial relationships even with ideological foes through day-to-day professional and social interaction. Hawaii and Illinois are now among seven states that allow civil unions or their equivalent — state-level marriage rights in virtually everything but name.

Prop 8 sponsors oppose lifting marriage ban

SAN FRANCISCO — Lawyers for the sponsors of California’s same-sex marriage ban are urging a federal appeals court to continue blocking same-sex unions while it considers the constitutionality of Proposition 8, according to an AP report.

The lawyers said in court papers filed Monday that the rationale for keeping the voter-approved ban in effect are the same now as they were last summer, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a trial judge’s order overturning Proposition 8 on hold.

They say the Obama administration’s recent announcement that it would no longer defend the federal law prohibiting the government from recognizing same-sex marriages has no bearing on the state ban.

Lawyers for two gay couples are asking the 9th Circuit to let same-sex marriages resume in California by lifting its stay on the lower court’s order.

Kan. lawmakers say being gay should be criminal

TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas state Reps. Jan Pauls (D, Hutchinson), and Lance Kinzer (R, Olathe) said this week that being gay or lesbian should remain a crime there, according to a Kansas City Star report.

Pauls made, with Kinzer’s support, the successful motion in the Kansas Legislature’s Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee to keep the criminalization of gay and lesbian relationships on the books. Their action removed key language from HB2321, proposed by the Kansas Judicial Council, which would have resolved inconsistencies in Kansas criminal code, as well as remove unconstitutional laws.

“Jan Pauls was trusted to be a judge before becoming a state representative, and should know better than to support unconstitutional laws, breaking her oath to defend the Constitution,” said Jon Powell, Chair of the Hutchinson Area chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition. “We are fed up with her obvious support of harassment of gays and lesbians. We will not be bullied.”

Although one remains on Kansas’ books, all state laws criminalizing gay and lesbian relationships were struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 2003.

Gay student’s campaign posters vandalized

CEDAR CITY, UTAH — Openly gay Southern Utah University Student Association Activities vice presidential candidate Payden Adams found his campaign posters defaced this week, according to a report from the St. George Daily Spectrum, a Gannett Utah paper reported. A vandal wrote derogatory comments in red marker on one of Adams’ campaign posters, according to a release from the Association’s Queer-Straight Alliance on Monday.

The incident was not the first, according to the release. Several of Adams’ posters have been destroyed, often with shreds left at the sites. Campus Police Chief Rick Brown said he was made aware of the incident, but was awaiting more information before investigating.

Brown said the incident would be treated as a criminal mischief case if someone is arrested. Upon hearing the alleged victim of the vandalism was gay, Brown said that would bring in a separate case against the suspect for a hate crime.

“It wasn’t brought to my attention that someone was targeted for his sexual orientation, but if that is the case when I receive more detail, it would be considered a hate crime,” he said. “We would look at the severity of the case and see if that is a different charge.

Poll shows majority support for gay marriage

DENVER — A new poll shows for the first time that more Americans support same-sex marriage than oppose it, the Colorado Independent reported this week.

The General Social Survey, a biennial poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, has been a much-cited resource for sociologists since it began in 1972. The 2010 poll’s findings, analyzed by Darren Sherkat, a sociologist/blogger from Southern Illinois University, found that about 46 percent of those polled support gay marriage as opposed to about 40 percent who are opposed. Only 12.4 percent supported it when the Survey first asked it in 1988.

Sherkat analyzed the data based on religious and political views and found that almost inevitably, “philosophical” Christians who believe that the stories in the Bible are fables designed for moral instruction were much more likely to support same-sex marriage than both those who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and literalists who believe the Bible depicts the actual history of the world. Biblical literalists offered the most opposition to same-sex marriage, and Democrats of all types were significantly more likely than their Republican counterparts to support same-sex marriage.

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