National Briefs

Posted on 15 Feb 2007 at 8:22pm
By Staff and Wire Reports

Montana legislators table gay rights bill preventing discrimination

HELENA, Mont. A Senate panel shelved a bill Wednesday, Feb. 14, that would have outlawed discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill by Sen. Christine Kaufmann, an openly gay Helena Democrat, would have added “gender identity or expression” and “sexual orientation” as categories under the laws prohibiting discrimination. The laws currently cover race, religion, gender and other areas.

The measure was tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee after it failed on a 7-5 vote.

In a legislative hearing earlier this month, opponents said the measure discriminated against Christians who believe homosexuality is immoral, and extended legal privileges that will be used in ways that can’t be predicted.

Supporters, which included civil and gay rights advocates and the governor’s office, said it made good on promises of equality set out in the state and U.S. constitutions. Kaufmann compared the measure to the civil rights movement.

A similar bill failed in the 2005 Legislature.

Man convicted of murdering gay artist sentenced to death again in retrial

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. A death row inmate who was granted a retrial in the fatal slashing of a gay artist nearly two decades earlier was again sentenced to death Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Richard Laird, 44, turned his head away from the jury as the verdict was read. Led out in handcuffs and shackles, he declined to comment.

The jury said it accepted that the defense had proved mitigating factors including that Laird was physically and sexually abused as a child, but found that the aggravating fact that 26-year-old Anthony Milano was kidnapped before his throat was slashed outweighed that.

Milano’s father, Vito, and sister, Annamarie, held hands, listening solemnly without visible reaction as the verdict was read.

Laird’s court-appointed defense attorneys, John Kerrigan and Keith Williams, said they would talk to Laird about appeal options.

“I don’t think the jurors understood the process,” Williams said.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Michelle Henry asked the jury to consider the fear Milano was subjected to as Laird forced him to drive into a secluded wooded area, dragged him from the car and came after him with a box cutter.

“He of all people deserves the death penalty,” Bucks County District Attorney Diane Gibbons said. “He played with his victim, he tortured his victim, and then he killed his victim.”

Laird and Frank Chester, now 39, of Tullytown, were both sentenced to death in 1988. Chester is also appealing.

Prosecutors said the two abducted Milano, of Bristol Township, from a Route 13 bar on Dec. 15, 1987, and forced him to drive to nearby woods.

Milano’s body was found near his burning car. A medical examiner testified that he was slashed “too many times to count.”

The death penalty verdict culminated a seven-day retrial in Bucks County court. The jury had again convicted Laird of first-degree murder on Feb. 9.

Indiana senators OK amendment banning same-sex marriage, bill now goes to House

INDIANAPOLIS A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage advanced out of the Republican-controlled Senate Monday, Feb. 12, after little debate.

The resolution passed 39-10 and now heads to the House, which Democrats control 51-49. House Speaker Patrick Bauer said last year that he would allow a vote on the proposed amendment.

The General Assembly two years ago overwhelmingly approved a resolution on the amendment. For the amendment to become official, it would have to pass the General Assembly this year or next without any changes, and then be approved in a statewide vote in the 2008 general election.

“By passing this amendment, we give voters the right to decide whether the definition of marriage should be preserved in its traditional form,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield. “I trust Hoosiers to make the decision.”

Hershman and other proponents say the amendment is needed to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage from lawsuits and activist judges. But opponents say the proposal is discriminatory and could have unintended consequences for laws and policies that affect all unmarried couples.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the amendment may put into jeopardy some of the state’s domestic violence laws that apply to both married and unmarried couples.

“We can rest assured that some crafty criminal defense attorneys are going to be using that to their advantage,” he said.

The amendment has two sections: The first says that marriage in Indiana is solely the union of one man and one woman; the second says the state constitution or state law cannot be construed to provide the benefits of marriage on unmarried couples or groups.

The proposal next moves to the House. Bauer said last year that he would allow a second vote on the proposed amendment during this session. Bauer said it was unnecessary because existing state law prohibits gay marriage, but said that allowing a second vote was the only way to prevent Republicans from fanning flames over the issue.

House Republicans tried to get the proposal passed a first time in 2004, but they were in the minority and Bauer refused to let it advance or even be debated. Bauer’s refusal to allow debate may have contributed to Democrats losing control of the House later that year because Republicans used it as a major campaign issue in some races.

Michigan lawmakers introduce measure to allow same-sex couples to adopt

LANSING, Mich. A Democratic state lawmaker introduced legislation Monday, Feb. 12, that would allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt children in Michigan.

Rep. Paul Condino of Southfield said letting only married couples jointly adopt leaves children, including many foster children, with just one legal parent. The other parent can’t make medical decisions and other choices for their children, he said, causing serious problems if something happens to the legal parent.

“We are folks that are promoting children and taking care of the most vulnerable,” said Condino, who was joined at news conferences in Detroit and Lansing by social workers, lawyers and other supporters of the bill.

Gay and lesbian couples once were allowed to jointly adopt children in Washtenaw County. But the practice was stopped in 2002 after the county’s chief judge said such adoptions violated state law, which allows only individuals and married couples to adopt.

Condino introduced a similar bill in 2005, but it never got a hearing in the House, which was then controlled by Republicans. Democrats now control the House, and Condino the chamber’s Judiciary Committee chairman plans a hearing in May.

Florida governor says Republican “‘probably’ should not spend money on amendment

TALLAHASSEE Gov. Charlie Crist said this week the Florida Republican Party should “probably not” give any more money to a petition campaign seeking a constitutional ban on gay marriage, according to reports published in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida’s Republican Party gave $300,000 over the last two years to the Florida4marriage.org campaign committee, which is collecting voter signatures to put a marriage amendment on the statewide ballot. The drive fell short of getting on the ballot last November but organizers say they now need only about 28,000 more signatures to get on the 2008 ballot.

The amendment would define marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. State law already provides such a definition but backers of the amendment are concerned that courts might strike down the statute.

The new chairman of the Republican Party, Jim Greer, said Monday, Feb. 12, that the GOP will continue to support the amendment. Greer said the party backs it as a matter of principle, not just a way of motivating social conservatives to get to the polls in an election year.

When Crist was asked if he thought his party should continue giving money to Florida4marriage.org. He paused briefly and said simply, “Probably not.”

The governor did not elaborate on his position.

Conservative group gives LGBT literature course “‘dishonorable mention’ tag

BOULDER, Colo. A self-proclaimed conservative group targeting college liberalism is assailing a University of Colorado course that examines gay and lesbian literature.

The Young America’s Foundation, based outside Washington, D.C., gives the CU course “Introduction to Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Literature,” a “dishonorable mention” in a study titled “The Dirty Dozen: America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses.”

While it didn’t make the top 12, the foundation includes the CU course among eight others just missing the cut.

The foundation claims the country’s college students should be studying weightier subjects than gay literature or other courses it is targeting, including electives studying the male genitals, adultery novels, American Indian feminism and nonviolent responses to terrorism.

Foundation spokesman Jason Mattera said the courses edge out traditional scholarship and waste money and time. A recent poll, he said, finds Americans are more likely to identify the characters on the television cartoon “The Simpsons” than rights included in the First Amendment.

Instructor Jesse Stommel said he’s proud of his course’s inclusion on the list and says he isn’t trying to influence any students to think in any one particular way. Students say there is a wide diversity of philosophies and ideologies in the class of about 35 students.

There is also a waiting list of students eager to take the course.

On its Web site, the Foundation says, “The nation’s campuses continue to be staffed and controlled by leftist radicals who seek a monopoly on what is said and thought.”

Topping the Dirty Dozen list, Occidental College’s course “The Phallus;” The University of California-Los Angeles’ “Queer Musicology;” Amherst College’s “Taking Marx Seriously: Should Marx be given another chance?” the University of Pennsylvania’s “Adultery Novel;” and Occidental College’s course “Blackness.”

Former Arkansas governor says don’t treat marriage as an “‘experiment’

NASHUA, N.H. Republican Mike Huckabee said Friday, Feb. 9, that marriage shouldn’t be treated as an experiment in response to questions about whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter should have the right to wed.

The former Arkansas governor, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said heterosexual marriages face enough challenges without adding new configurations to the mix.

“Taking on a new definition doesn’t make sense right now,” Huckabee said in an interview with The Associated Press after speaking to business leaders in New Hampshire.

Mary Cheney, 37, announced in December that she and her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, were starting a family. She has not said how the child was conceived. The baby is due in the spring and will be the vice president’s sixth grandchild.

Huckabee declined to comment on Mary Cheney’s decision.

“I wouldn’t get near specific cases,” he said.

But when pressed, he said the historic definition of marriage has worked for so long for a reason.

“People have a right to decide how they live their lives. But they have to respect not changing the definition of marriage,” said Huckabee, who served as a pastor in Baptist churches before becoming governor in 1996.

In 2004, the year Arkansas approved a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Huckabee said the ban was needed to quiet activists looking to rewrite the nation’s social code. But Huckabee also said it was OK to say a person’s sexual preference was nobody’s business, “even though it’s not consistent with the Biblical norm of male and female.”

In 2006, when the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected a ban on gay foster parents that had been put in by a state board, Huckabee said through a spokeswoman: “I’m very disappointed that the court seems more interested in what’s good for gay couples than what’s good for children needing foster care.”

N.H. legislators to consider bill giving gay couples right to adopt jointly

CONCORD, N.H. Gay couples across the state would gain the explicit right to adopt children together under a bill being proposed to end discrepancies in how each country handles such requests.

The state’s existing adoption law allows children to be adopted by married couples or single adults. Gay individuals can adopt children, but same-sex couples can adopt only in certain counties because probate judges interpret the law differently.

Six counties Belknap, Carroll, Coos, Rockingham, Strafford and Sullivan have allowed same-sex couples to adopt. Probate judges in the other four Merrimack, Hillsborough, Cheshire and Grafton have not. Judges in those counties have said the language of the law does not apply to same-sex couples because they cannot legally marry in New Hampshire.

In one Merrimack County case, two Concord women were denied in their attempt to both become the legal parents of their daughter. Betsy Peabody, who gave birth to the girl, wanted her partner of 14 years, Dianne Harhigh, to adopt their daughter, but Judge Richard Hampe said the best he could offer was dual guardianship. At the end of their case, both the women and Hampe agreed on one issue: The Legislature should clarify the law.

Seeking to do just that, Rep. Frank Tupper, D-Canterbury, is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow unmarried couples to adopt a child if they live together and share financial obligations, such as rent or mortgage.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 16, 2007.

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