Friday, July 26 2013 00:56

National News - August 2013

By  Rachel Roth

The following news stories of LGBT interest happened in the United States in the weeks leading up to our August issue.

Down with DOMA, Prop 8

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and effectively opened the door for same-sex marriages to resume in California by turning away the defenders of the state's Proposition 8.

What’s Next?

While the nation’s highest court declared that legally married gay and lesbian couples deserve the same federal benefits as all other married couples, the rulings leave 37 states and 70 percent of Americans without marriage equality.

The federal director of Freedom to Marry said that the organization, along with others, are preparing to lobby congress to repeal the entire law as well as fight for marriage equality in the states that do not allow it.

In California, same-sex marriages resumed almost immediately. Prop 8 supporters filed a lawsuit July 12 asking the state’s high court to order county clerks to enforce the gay-marriage ban, claiming the measure was still valid because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month didn’t find it was unconstitutional. They sought an immediate injunction reinstating the law while the lawsuit proceeds.  

The request was denied but the court will hear arguments about whether the U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating Proposition 8 applies only to the couples named in the federal lawsuit.

Marriage Equality Updates

The ACLU is suing Pennsylvania, seeking to end the state's ban on same-sex vows. The state’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she will not defend the law banning the marriages of same-sex couples, saying she believes it to be "wholly unconstitutional.”

Per Pennsylvania law, it’s the attorney general’s responsibility to defend the constitutionality of the state’s laws.  However, the AG may allow lawyers for the governor’s office or agencies to defend a lawsuit if it’s more efficient or in the state’s best interests.  As of press time, it is unclear if Gov. Tom Corbett will defend the statute, but he has made it clear that he opposes same-sex marriages.

Polls in Virginia indicate significant public support for marriage equality.  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports that nearly 55 percent of Virginia voters now believe marriage between people of the same sex should be allowed, while 41 percent oppose it.

A federal judge says he’ll hear arguments Oct. 1 on the legality of Michigan’s ban on gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

In Arkansas,  11 couples filed suit against the state, seeking to repeal legislation banning same-sex marriage.
Lambda Legal and Garden State Equality filed a motion in New Jersey in an ongoing lawsuit asking the court there to “order that New Jersey allow same-sex couples to marry.”

Advocates in Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Oregon and Nevada are planning efforts to go to the ballot seeking to overturn state marriage ban amendments. It should be noted that levels of strength and support vary by state.

South Carolina ends “irrational” practice

The South Carolina Department of Corrections announced that it is abolishing its policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners, after a 26-year legal battle.  It is the final state in the U.S. to do so.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU), the establishment “HIV ghettos” in South Carolina prisons prevented positive prisoners from accessing critical services like mental health, substance abuse, educational, trade skills and vocational programs. Additionally, the practice permanently brands them by publicly “outing” their HIV status, and has led to longer incarceration terms.

When most prison systems began to experiment with HIV segregation, transmission risks were not fully understood and there was no effective treatment for the disease. Today, however, the Center for Disease Control opposes HIV segregation as “irrational and counterproductive.”

Calif. town says “no” to Pride Month

The city council of Porterville – a small town in the Central Valley area of California - voted to rescind a proclamation made last month by the mayor declaring June 2013 LGBT Pride Month.

The Porterville Recorder reported that – in a “very heated debate” – three council members argued that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community should not get “special consideration,” and voted to replace the gay pride proclamation with a resolution declaring June 2013 “a month of community charity and goodwill to all in Porterville.”

Watershed rulings for transgender workers

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that discrimination against transgender workers is forbidden under federal law. That decision resulted in the Justice Department’s recent ruling that a woman was denied a federal job due to her trans status, BuzzFeed reported.

The EEOC ruling is not as binding as a Supreme Court decision would be, but courts can defer to it, which opens up a legal avenue for transgender Americans who have experienced workplace discrimination.

In related news, legislation that would ban employment discrimination based on LGBT status nationwide passed a key Senate committee easily last month, with the support of all 12 of the committee's Democrats and three Republicans.  Seven Republicans voted no.

The hearing marked the first time in history that a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act cleared a congressional vote. The White House and Democratic leaders urged the Senate and House to also take up the measure.  While it is likely to clear the Senate, House Republican leaders have no plans to bring it up, according to The New York Times.

Gay blood drive highlights discrimination

The first national gay blood drive took place in July, in an effort to combat the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

Ryan James Yezak, lead organizer of the blood drive argued that the ban is “medically unnecessary” and preventing an entire population from donating much needed blood.  According to the American Red Cross, blood donations across the country were down ten percent in June.

Even though the FDA insists the ban is not discriminatory but rather based on the documented increased risk of transmissible infections, The American Medical Association voted to oppose the FDA ban.

"The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science," AMA board member Dr. William Kobler told CNN.

The AMA is advocating for a new policy to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are based on an individual's level of health risks instead of sexual orientation alone.

Miss. gay bar denied license

A gay-friendly bar in a small Mississippi town was denied a business license, citing “health and safety concerns.”

According to the Huffington Post, when Pat "PJ" Newton - a 55-year-old lesbian – was shocked by the atmosphere of what she expected to be a “routine” hearing before the Shannon Board of Alderman.

Newton she encountered a hostile crowd of more than 30 people, was confronted with a petition against the bar that was signed by almost 200 of the town's 1,800 residents and citizens and aldermen peppered her with questions laced with fear and insults.

Among the questions asked were “how she could call herself a Christian,” and whether she would let her daughter go into “a bar like that.”

At the end of the hearing, Newton was told that while she had met all the requirements for her application, it was denied by a 4-to-1 vote. The Southern Poverty Law Center has demanded that the board approve PJ's business permit or face a federal lawsuit.

Green card issued to gay couple

Julian Marsh and Traian Povov became the first same-sex couple in U.S. history to have a marriage-based green card application approved.  The gay, married couple is based in Florida and was represented by the DOMA Project. The move was made days after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented legally married same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits.

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