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   DETROIT (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday put an indefinite halt to gay marriage in Michigan while it takes a longer look at a judge's decision overturning a 2004 ban on same-sex nuptials.
   The court granted the state's request to suspend a ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who declared the voter-approved ban unconstitutional on Friday. Hundreds of same-sex couples in four counties were married Saturday before the appeals court stepped in with a temporary stay that had been set to expire Wednesday.
   The 2-1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had pledged to rush to the U.S. Supreme Court if the court turned him down.
   Judges Karen Caldwell and John Rogers said a stay is appropriate, especially because the Supreme Court ordered a similar time-out in January in a gay marriage case in Utah.
   "There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did" in Utah, Caldwell and Rogers said. "Furthermore, several district courts that have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage similar to the Michigan amendment at issue here have also granted requests for stays made by state defendants."
   Appeals court Judge Helene White disagreed.
   It will be months before the next major step by the Cincinnati-based court. It set May and June deadlines for additional filings by the state and attorneys for two Detroit-area nurses who had challenged the gay marriage ban. The court has yet to schedule a day for arguments.
   "We will now focus on preparing an appeal in defense of the constitution and the will of the people," Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.
   Friedman, a judge in Detroit, ruled last week in favor of Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who live with three adopted children. They can't jointly adopt each other's kids because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage.
   The judge held a two-week trial, listening to experts mostly talk about the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Friedman said conservative social scientists and economists who testified for Michigan were "unbelievable" and "clearly represent a fringe viewpoint."
   Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
   Attorneys for Rowse and DeBoer had urged the appeals court to allow gay marriages in Michigan while the case was under review.
   "The public interest in this case lies on the side of ending discrimination, promoting equality and human dignity and providing security for children," they said.
   Nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters in 2004 approved adding an amendment to the constitution that says marriage only is between a man and a woman. Friedman, however, said the election result was no defense to discrimination against gays and lesbians.
   What remains unclear is the legal status of more than 300 couples who were married Saturday in Washtenaw, Ingham, Oakland and Muskegon counties. Supporters of same-sex marriage are urging the Obama administration to recognize the marriages for purposes of federal benefits as it has done in other states.
   Gov. Rick Snyder has not signaled if the state will recognize the marriages.
Published in National News
   PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer slapped down the right wing of her own party, vetoing a bill pushed by social conservatives that would have allowed people with sincerely held religious beliefs to refuse to serve gays.
   The conservative governor said she could not sign a bill that was not only unneeded but would damage the state's improving business environment and divide its citizens.
   Senate Bill 1062 had set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.
   Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement Wednesday night.
   Brewer pushed back hard against the GOP conservatives who forced the bill forward by citing examples of religious rights infringements in other states.
   "I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated," Brewer said. "The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."
   And she chastised the GOP-controlled state Legislature for sending her a divisive bill instead of working on a state budget that continues her economic expansion policies or an overhaul of Arizona's broken child welfare system, her top priorities.
   In a reference to the gay marriage debate that has expanded across the nation, she reached out to the religious right with sympathy but said 1062 was not the solution.
   "Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes," she said. "However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want."
   The bill was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays or others who offend their beliefs. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.
   Arizona was thrust into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill.
   Prominent business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if bill became law.
   Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation. The Hispanic National Bar Association cancelled its 2015 convention in Phoenix.
   In addition, three Republicans who had voted for the bill reversed course and two said it was a mistake. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote "was to create a shield for all citizens' religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance."
   Enough lawmakers have said they're against the bill to ensure there will be no override of the governor's veto.
   SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cite a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn't exist in Arizona.
   Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican who is running for governor and voted for the bill, said he was disappointed by the veto.
   "I am sorry to hear that Governor Brewer has vetoed this bill. I'm sure it was a difficult choice for her, but it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial," Melvin said.
   Democrats said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people.
   Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said he would remain vigilant of other legislation that could also target gays.
   "The effect is that again we got a black eye," Gallego said. "But it also shows that Arizona can stand united"
   The Center for Arizona Policy helped write the bill and argued it was needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law. It accused opponents of mischaracterizing the bill and threatening boycotts of Arizona.
   "It is truly a disappointing day in our state and nation when lies and personal attacks can overshadow the truth," said Cathi Herrod, the leader of the group.
   Similar religious-protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona's plan is the only one that has been passed by a state legislature. The efforts are stalled in Idaho and Kansas, and was withdrawn in Ohio Wednesday among concerns it would have unintended consequences.
   The push in Arizona comes as an increasing number of conservative states grapple with ways to counter the growing legality of gay marriage. Arizona has a ban on gay marriage.
   Federal judges have recently struck down those bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but those decisions are under appeal.
   On Wednesday, a federal judge declared Texas' ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, but he left it in place until an appeals court can rule on the case.
Published in National News
   SOCHI, Russia (AP) - A Russian human rights activist says two members of the punk band Pussy Riot have been detained near the Olympics in downtown Sochi.
   Semyon Simonov says he was with Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at the time. He says the two women have been accused of theft, and says several other activists were also detained by police.
   Alekhina and Tolokonnikova spent nearly two years in prison but were released in December. They were convicted of hooliganism after staging a protest in Moscow's most prominent cathedral in opposition to President Vladimir Putin's government.
   Alekhina and Tolokonnikova recently visited the U.S. to take part in an Amnesty International concert.
 
Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) - Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk took to the U.S. Senate floor for the first time since suffering a stroke to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

   The bill would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

   Seated at a desk, Kirk said it was especially important for an Illinois Republican to speak out for the legislation in the tradition of Everett Dirksen and Abraham Lincoln. Kirk hadn't taken the Senate floor since suffering a stroke in January 2012.

   Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. But it doesn't stop an employer from firing or refusing to hire workers because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

   All of the Senate Democratic majority and at least five Republicans are expected to vote for the bill.

 
Published in Local News
Thursday, 24 October 2013 02:44

IL gay marriage opponents invoke God at rally

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Opponents of gay marriage have rallied outside the Illinois Capitol a day after thousands of supporters rallied for the legislation.

   The "Defend Marriage Lobby Day" began Wednesday with a morning prayer service outside the Capitol. Attendees clustered around a large wooden cross that had been placed at the Lincoln statue. Some participants carried pictures of the Holy Family - Jesus, Mary and Joseph - and posters emphasizing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

   The event included pastors who hope to influence moderate Republicans and socially conservative members of the House Black Caucus.

   Same-sex marriage legislation passed the Illinois Senate in February, but gay activists say they're a few votes short in the House.

 
Published in Local News

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Thousands of disappointed Illinois residents are expected at the state Capitol to rally for same-sex marriage.

   Organizers say several thousand people are expected to take part in the "March on Springfield" -a grassroots effort to urge the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in Illinois.

   The Illinois Senate approved the measure last February, but the measure has stalled in the House. Speaker Michael Madigan has said about a dozen votes are still needed.

   The event will begin with a noon concert followed by a rally at 1 p.m. and a 2:30 p.m. March. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn are participating in the event. The governor says he will sign legislation if passed by the General Assembly.

   Currently 13 states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.

 

 
Published in Local News

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge in Los Angeles ruled Thursday that a lesbian Army veteran and her spouse should be entitled to disability benefits given the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

   U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall said that a federal code defining a spouse as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional "under rational basis scrutiny" since the high court's decision allowing legally married gay couples the right to health care benefits.

   "The court finds that the exclusion of spouses in same-sex marriages from veterans' benefits is not rationally related to the goal of gender equality," in the code, Marshall wrote in her four-page ruling.

   The Department of Veterans Affairs denied an application from veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris and her spouse seeking additional money and benefits that married veterans are entitled to receive. Cooper-Harris suffers from multiple sclerosis and receives disability benefits.

   She and Maggie Cooper-Harris got married in California during the brief period in 2008 when same-sex unions were legal in the state. The plaintiffs' attorneys had said previously the couple would receive about $150 more a month in disability payments, and Maggie Cooper-Harris would be eligible for about $1,200 a month in survivor's benefits if her wife died.

   The Justice Department had asked for Cooper-Harris' case to be tossed out on the grounds that veterans' claims can only be heard by an administrative Board of Veterans' Appeals. But Marshall said the case could move forward.

   The law on VA benefits specifically defines spouse and surviving spouse as someone of the opposite sex, which has prevented same-sex married couples from accessing such benefits as enhanced disability or pension payments.

   In a letter to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. earlier this month, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said no court had deemed the provision unconstitutional, nor has Congress taken up a bill to change the definition of spouse. He noted, however, that if spousal definitions were determined to be unconstitutional, the agency would be prepared to update its policies.

   The Defense Department has said that same-sex spouses of military members will be eligible for the same health care, housing and other benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses starting Sept. 3.

 
Published in National News
Thursday, 08 August 2013 02:44

Same-sex spouses may get military benefits

   WASHINGTON (AP) - Same-sex spouses of military members could get health care, housing and other benefits by the end of August. That's according to a Pentagon proposal under consideration.

   But the agency may reverse earlier plans to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married. According to a draft Defense Department memo, the department instead may provide up to 10 days of leave to military personnel in same-sex relationships so they can travel to states where they can marry legally.

   While no final decisions have been made, the memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to top defense leaders would reverse the earlier plan that would allow same-sex partners of military members to receive limited benefits, such as access to military stores and some health and welfare programs.

 
Published in National News

   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A U.S. Supreme Court decision about federal benefits for gay couples has prompted the Missouri Supreme Court to take a second look at a pending case.

   The state's high court heard arguments in February on a challenge to a Missouri law that denied survivor benefits to the same-sex partner of a Highway Patrol officer who died in the line of duty.

   In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that that barred legally married same-sex couples from receiving benefits from the federal government.

   The Missouri Supreme Court has asked attorneys involved in the Highway Patrol officer's case to submit additional written arguments in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That could further delay a decision in the Missouri case.

   

 
Published in Local News

   CHICAGO (AP) - Gay marriage supporters are launching a $2 million statewide campaign to approve same-sex marriage in Illinois.

   Illinois Unites for Marriage is a coalition representing gay rights, civil rights and political groups.

   In a statement Tuesday, the group says it will place 15 field organizers throughout the state to engage supporters. They plan to target legislators who oppose a measure to lift Illinois' ban on same-sex marriage.

   The Illinois Senate passed the bill in February. It wasn't called for a vote in the House because the bill's sponsor said it didn't have the votes to pass.

   Jim Bennett is chairman of the coalition. He says the next few months are critical because lawmakers could take up the bill in the fall.

   Opponents say marriage should be between a man and woman.

 

 
Published in Local News
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