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Carney mum on Obama reaction to Md. marriage bill

Spokesperson says he has no info on timing for POTUS marriage support

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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney (Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was tight-lipped on Monday about any reaction from President Obama on the recent failure of same-sex marriage legislation to advance in Maryland or whether the president would soon make an announcement in support of marriage equality.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Carney said he had no new information on the president’s position on marriage since the president’s announcement in December that he’s “wrestling” with the issue.

“Chris, the president’s position on gay marriage is well known,” Carney said. “He addressed this in December at the press conference and I don’t have anything new for you on that.”

Pressed on whether the president is unconcerned about the failure of the marriage bill to advance in Maryland, Carney replied, “I don’t have anything for you on that either.”

Last week, the Maryland House of Delegates by voice vote recommitted to committee a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Free State after proponents felt that they didn’t have the 71 votes necessary for passage. Backers of the bill said they would make another attempt to bring it to the floor in 2012.

Carney has previously said Obama is “grappling” with the issue of same-sex marriage. In an interview with The Advocate late last year, Obama said he’s “wrestling” with the idea of marriage equality, but isn’t yet in a position to support it.

“Like a lot of people, I’m wrestling with this,” Obama reportedly said. “I’ve wrestled with the fact that marriage traditionally has had a different connotation. But I also have a lot of very close friends who are married gay or lesbian couples.”

But Carney on Monday wouldn’t say whether this struggle would end in the president endorsing marriage rights for gay couples. Asked whether the president would come out in favor of same-sex marriage before efforts start again to legalize gay nuptials in Maryland in 2012, Carney replied, “I don’t have any timing for you on that either.”

In related marriage news on Monday, a total of 31 celebrities, athletes and leaders in the technology field in conjunction with Freedom to Marry sent a letter to President Obama urging him to endorse same-sex marriage in the wake of his decision to defend no longer the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Among the signers are lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and her spouse Portia; gay singer Rufus Wainwright; straight actress Anne Hathway; gay media mogul David Geffen; and Freedom to Marry executive director Evan Wolfson.

“Mr. President, marriage matters,” the letter states. “In law, in love, in life, marriage says ‘we are family’ in a way that nothing else does. Marriage is the coming together of two lives, marked by a public promise of love and responsibility in front of friends and family. And marriage brings not only public respect and personal significance, but also a safety net of legal protections, rights, and responsibilities for which there is no substitute.”

The letter says that the issue of whether to “end discrimination in marriage” is a problem that America has faced before and that “clarity from the president” is needed to move forward.

“You can offer hope to millions of young gay and lesbian Americans who are facing discrimination,” the letter states. “You can tell them that their future is bright, that they, too, will be able to grow up and marry the person that they love, that the pursuit of happiness truly belongs to all of us.”

Freedom to Marry is asking other supporters of same-sex marriage to sign the letter online. As of Monday afternoon, the letter had more than 10,000 signers.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said in response to the letter that Obama is committed to offering same-sex couples the same rights as married opposite-sex couples.

“The president has long said that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights and benefits as straight married couples, and his administration has already taken steps towards that end and will continue to do so,” Inouye said.

The partial transcript of the exchange between Carney and the Blade follows:

Washington Blade:  Last week, the Maryland statehouse recommitted a bill legalizing same-sex marriage to committee because proponents didn’t feel like they had enough votes for passage.  The measure is effectively dead for this year even though Democrats have control of the chamber.  By not supporting same-sex marriage, is the President, as head of the Democratic Party, giving cover to Democrats in that chamber who don’t support the bill?

Jay Carney:  Chris, the President’s position on gay marriage is well known. He addressed this in December at the press conference and I don’t have anything new for you on that.

Blade: So is the President not concerned that this measure failed to progress in that chamber?

Carney:  I don’t have anything for you on that either.

Blade: One last question, one last question. The proponents of this bill said they’re going to try again in 2012. You said he’s grappling with the issue of same-sex marriage. The president said he’s wrestling with it.  Is he going to pin down support for marriage equality and make an announcement before next year in time for these efforts —

Carney:  I don’t have any timing for you on that either.

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Oklahoma

White House, national groups respond to nonbinary Okla. teenager’s death

Nex Benedict died after reported assault

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Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student from Oklahoma, died on Feb. 8 after a fight at their high school. (Family photo)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and national advocacy groups issued statements on Wednesday about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict after they were allegedly assaulted in a high school restroom.

Benedict died on Feb. 8. According to ABC News, officials investigating the incident said they will be interviewing students and staff “over the next few weeks” and plan to share findings with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.

The victim’s mother told the Independent that Benedict had suffered bullying over their gender since the start of the 2023 school year, shortly after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill to prohibit students from using public school restrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported at school,” Jean-Pierre said in a post on X. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, their friends, and their entire school community in the wake of this horrific tragedy.”

Calling Benedict’s death a “gut-wrenching tragedy that exposes the chilling reality of anti-trans hatred,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “We are reaching out to the DOJ, we are encouraging the community to speak out.”

Along with Robinson’s remarks, HRC’s Press Team included a link to the organization’s blog post about Benedict and a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the HRC Transgender Justice Initiative:

“Extremist anti-LGBTQ+ hate accounts, like online troll Chaya Raichik, the woman behind ‘Libs of TikTok’, who was recently appointed to Oklahoma’s library advisory board, are perpetuating a vile and hateful narrative that is permitting these types of public attacks,” she wrote.

State schools superintendent Ryan Walters, who last year called transgender youth using public restrooms “an assault on truth” and a danger to other kids, was responsible for naming Raichik to the library media panel.

“The assault on Nex is an inevitable result of the hateful rhetoric and discriminatory legislation targeting Oklahoma trans youth,” Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma wrote in a joint statement.

“We are deeply troubled by reports the school failed to respond appropriately to the altercation that preceded Nex’s death and demand a thorough, open investigation into the matter,” the groups wrote.

Their statement also notes the organizations’ lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Senate Bill 615, the bathroom bill signed by Stitt last year.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Alito renews criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling

Obergefell decision allowed same-sex couples to marry around the country

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito speaks at a conference in D.C. in December 2023 (YouTube screenshot)

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday renewed his criticism of the landmark 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that established the nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

His remarks came in a 5-page order that was written in connection with the High Court’s decision not to hear Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney — a dispute over whether a juror’s position that “homosexuality, according to the Bible, is a sin” can be the basis for striking him from an employment discrimination case that was brought by a lesbian.

The conflict, Alito argued, “exemplifies the danger” he foresaw in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which was decided by a 5-4 majority with Alito among the justices who dissented.

Specifically, Alito raised concern in his statement that “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.'”

“The opinion of the court in [Obergefell] made it clear that the decision should not be used in that way,” the justice wrote, “but I am afraid that this admonition is not being heeded by our society.”

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Oklahoma

Nonbinary Okla. high school student dies after fight

Nex Benedict passed away Feb. 8

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Nex (Dagny) Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary high school student, died from injuries suffered in a physical altercation at Owasso High School on Feb. 7, 2024. (Family photo)

Located in Tulsa County on U.S. Highway 169 six miles north of Tulsa’s city limits, Owasso, which is home to 39,328 people, is grappling with conflict and accusations after Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old Owasso High School sophomore who was nonbinary, died after a physical fight in a restroom at the school.

However, according to school officials there was no notification or staff awareness of the fight until the young student had been taken to hospital and later died. The Owasso Police Department is now investigating the circumstances surrounding the student’s death. 

According to the local newspaper, the Owasso Reporter:

“On Wednesday, Feb. 7, around 3:30 p.m., police were called to Bailey Medical Center by the parent of a 16-year-old Owasso High School student who allegedly had a physical altercation at the campus earlier that day, according to the police report.”

It states that no initial report of the fight was made to police prior to their admission to Bailey, although information was taken by a school resource officer at the hospital.

On the evening of Feb. 8, police were made aware that the student was rushed back to the hospital where they were pronounced dead from a medical episode, the report states.

KJRH in neighboring Tulsa reported that a person knowledgeable of the events leading to the teen’s death, who claimed to be the mother of the victim’s best friend, told the station regarding the teen’s death:

“I think complications from brain trauma, head trauma, is what caused it,” she said.

The woman wouldn’t say the victim’s name but said Benedict was a sophomore. Bailey said the victim was outgoing and loyal once they got comfortable and was not afraid to be outspoken. The woman said three older girls were beating on the victim and her daughter in the girl’s bathroom.

“I know at one point, one of the girls was pretty much repeatedly beating [Benedict] head across the floor,” she said. That’s when [Benedict said] a teacher walked in and broke it up.

“[Benedict] couldn’t walk to the nurses’ station on [Benedict] own, and staff didn’t call the ambulance, which amazes me,” she said.

The woman told KJRH the victim’s grandmother, who [Benedict] primarily lived with, brought [Benedict] to the hospital after the fight. She said the victim was released that evening but was brought back the next day and died.

KJRH reached out multiple times along with other media outlets to Owasso Public Schools. A school district spokesperson responded saying there would be no comment “because this is an active police investigation.”

The Owasso Police Department also declined to comment except for noting investigators still don’t know if the fight was related to the teen’s death or if a separate medical issue was the cause. OPD said they’re waiting on the corner-medical examiner’s report before releasing more information.

Owasso Public Schools released this statement about the student’s death:

“The Owasso Police Department has notified district leaders of the death of an Owasso High School student. The student’s name and cause of death have not yet been made public. As this is an active police investigation, we will have no additional comment at this time. Further inquiries should be directed to the Owasso Police Department.”

“The district will have additional counselors at the school to provide support to students and staff beginning on Friday.”

On Feb. 15, after a service was held at Mowery Funeral Service Chapel, Benedict was buried at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Collinsville.

LGBTQ advocates and others are angered by the death, the misgendering in local media and the fact that the school district, which has been previously targeted by the far-right anti-LGBTQ extremist Libs of TikTok’s creator Chaya Raichik, seems unable to grapple with anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Raichik was named to sit on an Oklahoma committee reviewing school library content by far-right leaning State Superintendent of Schools Ryan Walters.

In 2022, Raichik targeted a now former Owasso 8th grade teacher for speaking out in support of LGBTQ students who lacked acceptance from their parents. That teacher, Tyler Wrynn, was labeled a “groomer” and a predator in social media posts.

According to LGBTQ advocacy groups, Raichik’s endless targeting only seems to encourage more violence against LGBTQ youth. 

Lance Preston, the CEO of the Indianapolis-based Rainbow Youth Project, which has been working to assist queer youth in the state, posted a video expressing his frustration and anger over this death and the other anti-LGBTQ violence.

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