Rev. Amy Delong, tried by Methodists for being a lesbian, to preach at Bering Memorial Methodist Church

Rev. Amy DeLong

Paperwork can be the bane of any job. For Rev. Amy Delong a simple annual report catapulted her into the maelstrom of the United Methodist Church’s debate on accepting LGBT people. DeLong visits Houston’s Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (1440 Harold) on Sunday, Feb. 12 to preach at both the 8:30 and 10:50 service.

In 2009 DeLong was approached by two women who wanted to get married. After conducting premarital counseling with the couple Delong agreed to perform the ceremony. As a clergy person, DeLong was required to report on her activities at the end of the year, including any weddings she had performed. She knew that the Methodist Church did not allow same-sex marriage but thought “I don’t know if anybody even reads these.” Boy, was she wrong!

With-in three days she was hauled into the her boss’s (the bishop) office. DeLong’s relationship with her partner Val was well known to her colleagues. “I’ve never had a bishop or a leader in the church or a pastor who didn’t know that I was gay,” says DeLong. “Everyone knows Val.” But the church was determined now to make an example of her, and DeLon’s relationship would now be an issue.

In 2011 DeLong was tried in the church’s court with violating the Methodist “Book of Discipline” by being in a same-sex relationship and by performing a same-sex wedding. During the trial she refused to answer pointed questions about her and her partner’s sex life. “No heterosexual couples are ever asked if they
still engage in genital contact in their marriages,” says DeLong. That refusal left the court with no evidence against her on the first charge.

She was convicted of performing the wedding and suspended from ministry for 20 days. The court also required DeLong to work with a group of ministers to prepare a statement on how to “help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an advesarial spirit or lead to future trails.” “This sentence is complicated,” says DeLong. “It doesn’t lend itself well to media soundbites. So a lot of folks have been saying to me ‘I can’t tell, is this penalty good?’” DeLong responds with a resounding “Yes!” Saying that she welcomes the opportunity to write, teach and study on a topic dear to her heart.

DeLong recalls that during that initial meeting in the bishop’s office one of the bishop’s assistants referred to her as a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” To which she responded “Val and I aren’t practicing any more… we are pretty good at it by now.” The assistant laughed. More than anything that is the impression one gets of DeLong: someone with a lot of humor and aplomb who is unwilling to back down from a fight for justice.

After the jump watch a clip of DeLong talking about her experience.

—  admin

Agree with the pope? Nope!

Pontiff once again speaks out against LGBT equality, saying same-sex marriage is a threat to ‘the future of humanity’

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

When you hear someone with as powerful a voice as the pope say something is a threat to “the future of humanity itself,” you take notice. Pope Benedict uttered these weighty words this week, and what was he talking about? Nuclear capabilities in Iran? Global warming? Famine? Drought?
Nope.

The Holy Father was speaking about marriage equality. Apparently in the rarified air of the Vatican, allowing LGBT people to affirm their relationships and have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples would have apocalyptic results.

In his statement to a gathering of diplomats from 180 countries, the pope said that children need the proper settings in which to grow, and that “pride of place goes to the family based on the marriage of a man and a woman.”

He went on to assert that, “This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

This little gem was part of his yearly address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican. Unlike with any other religion in the world, the U.S. actually has an ambassador to the Vatican, representing the Catholic Church, as do many other countries.

It is a mystery I fail to understand, but it is what it is.

This statement comes on the heels of the elevation of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the status of cardinal. Not surprisingly, Dolan is one of the leading anti-LGBT voices in the Catholic Church.

And Pope Benedict himself is certainly no friend of LGBT folk either. In a 1986 pastoral letter he wrote before becoming pontiff, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said that homosexuality was “an intrinsic moral evil” and “an objective disorder.”

Now to put this in perspective, the Catholic Church claims 1.3 billion adherents worldwide. This is why what the pope says is news.

But I fail to see this statement coming from the voice of the moral high ground.

The Vatican has been implicated in numerous scandals in recent years, and most of them involve inappropriate sexual behavior with minors. Many of these same scandals not only involve priests, but the systematic coverup of the crimes.

The courts of the U.S. and Europe have been busy prosecuting these cases, and the new media has covered them ad nauseam.

For me, the big question is this: In a world with so many social and humanitarian problems, why is preventing LGBT people from marrying worthy of such hyperbole?

Will allowing my partner and me to marry for the purposes of gaining the 1,000-plus legal benefits awarded to straight couples in the U.S. going to shake the foundations of our country? Is a gay marriage going to cause straight people to throw up their hands saying, “Well there goes the neighborhood” and divorce?
Nonsense.

This all has to do with control — and few people understand control as well as the current pope. Cardinal Ratzinger was the “enforcer” for the Vatican before his elevation to pontiff. His office was the Supreme Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a group previously known as (until 1965) Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition.  You remember them and their always “unexpected” counterpart, the Spanish Inquisition?

The pope will continue to demonize LGBT people and oppose our relationships as long as it serves to increase his control. Much like right-wing politicians, the pope can use this issue as a wedge issue, prying the faithful away from any attempt at social justice in the matter of LGBT rights.

Moreover, this is also designed to bolster the argument that “hate speech” should be protected as a freedom of religion issue, a recent tactic being used by the far-right to oppose LGBT rights and anti-bullying efforts.

Am I suggesting that the pope is colluding with politicians to deny LGBT people their rights? Perhaps not. But his statements will surely be used by the right wing to bolster their arguments.

I just find it sad that the man who has assumed the mantle of the vicar of Christ can so conveniently ignore that Jesus said nothing about LGBT people in any recorded documents. He did, however, say something to the effect of, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit the prisoner.”
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas celebrates end of DADT

As ban on open gays and lesbians in the military ends, active-duty military personnel come out, some who were discharged consider re-enlisting

Johnson.Cully
Cully Johnson

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

As the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” became final this week, some active-duty service members came out while some who were discharged under the policy made plans to re-enlist.

Dallas celebrated the repeal with a reception at Resource Center Dallas during which

Dave Guy-Gainer, a board member of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, presented his archive of photos, papers and other memorabilia to the Phil Johnson Library.

Among the papers was correspondence with senators and representatives about supporting the repeal effort. Also included was correspondence with the White House that concluded with Guy-Gainer’s invitation to the final repeal signing ceremony in July.

Guy-Gainer said that he almost missed the invitation, because he almost forgot to check his email one Monday night. When he did remember and checked the inbox, he realized that he had received an invitation to the repeal certification signing ceremony in Washington that Wednesday.

Guy-Gainer said he immediately cleared his schedule and made plans to attend.

Despite repeal of DADT, Guy-Gainer said, SLDN’s  work is not over. Although gays and lesbians may now serve openly, those who are married will not receive 40 benefits that married heterosexual service members enjoy.

Those benefits include their partners having an identity card to get on base and using that card to shop in the PX or use the library.

Same-sex dependents will not be able to use the base attorneys to write wills and other legal papers.

Same-sex couples will not have the access to base housing that opposite-sex couples have, nor will they be eligible for subsistence payments to subsidize off-base housing. That money is offered to many heterosexual couples.

Dependents of heterosexuals also have access to full health care that same-sex partners of servicemen and women will not receive.

Across the country, a number of gays and lesbians who had been discharged under DADT started talking to recruiters Tuesday about re-enlisting, including Cully Johnson, one of the owners of Dallas Eagle.

Johnson was a captain and said he is consiering re-enlisting in the Air Force. He had an appointment with a recruiter to discuss the possibility on Wednesday, Sept. 21.

Johnson said he was stationed in Germany for the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When Turkey refused to allow American planes to use its airspace, he said, he was responsible for finding alternate routes and bases that allowed the mission to happen.

After serving more than nine years, Johnson was dismissed from the military under DADT.

But like many who were dismissed, Johnson never “told.”

Another member of the Air Force asked him out on a date. When he turned the man down, that airman went to Johnson’s superior and reported him as being gay.

Johnson said there was no defense he could present. His attorney said that explaining the story of why he was turned in would just be seen as retaliation.

So Johnson was given an honorable discharge and he returned to Dallas while the closeted gay man who turned him in remained in the Air Force.

Johnson said he would like to finish his 20 years to take advantage of full military retirement benefits. Although he is talking to a recruiter, Johnson said that in addition to his business, he recently purchased a condo and has a new partner.

His partner was taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Johnson’s re-enlistment.

“We’ll deal with it when the time comes,” said his partner, who works for an employer that doesn’t offer nondiscrimination protection and asked not to be identified.

Because Johnson was an officer, there may not be an immediate slot for him in the Air Force. With President Barack Obama’s proposed drawdown of armed forces, many who want to re-enlist whose specialties have been filled will also have to wait for an opening.

Pepe Johnson had an appointment with a recruiter on Wednesday also. Before his DADT discharge, he had been named soldier of the year at Fort Sill and became a sergeant.

Today, the former Dallas resident, who still owns a house in Oak Cliff, works as a petroleum land man in West Virginia.

“I want to sit down with a recruiter and look at the options available to me,” Pepe Johnson said, adding that he holds no resentment against the Army for his 2003 dismissal.

“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a law created by Congress and imposed on the military,” he said. “The Army was an incredible experience for me.”

If he re-enters, Pepe Johnson said he would have to go through basic training again because of the length of time since he served. Then, he said, he’d like to enter officer candidate school.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dueling Iowa protests staged over gay marriage

A DIRE WARNING | Gay marriage supporters, left, look on as former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore speaks during an anti gay-marriage rally sponsored by The Family Leader March 15 at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Moore warned that gay marriage would result in child abuse and more divorces. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Former Alabama  justice ousted over 10 Commandments monument claims gay marriage would increase child abuse, divorce

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — About 500 people rallied Tuesday, March 15, at the Iowa Capitol, urging legislators to send a constitutional amendment to voters that would ban same-sex marriage.

The rally featured former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who said gay marriage will result in child abuse and divorce. He asked opponents to set an example.

“What happens in Iowa, the rest of the nation watches,” Moore said.

About an hour after Moore’s rally, dozens of supporters of gay marriage rights held their own counter-rally.

Moore made national headlines in 2003 when he refused to abide by a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building. He was later removed from office.

Moore praised Iowa residents for voting in November to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices who supported a unanimous 2009 decision that found a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the Iowa Constitution.

“I’m proud to say that the people of Iowa stood up to the justices on the Supreme Court and voted them out of office,” Moore said.

Also addressing the crowd was the Rev. Keith Ratliff, pastor at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, who charged that the gay community is hijacking the civil rights movement for its own purposes.

“In my humble opinion there is no parallel,” Ratliff said. “What an insult to the civil rights movement.”

Troy Price, the political director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay rights organization, said Ratliff is wrong.

“There are thousands of gays and lesbians across the state that recognize this is an issue of rights, the right to be with the person you love,” Price said.

Price said supporters of same-sex marriage have been working to tell legislators, especially Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, that there is wide support for the court’s decision.

A resolution calling for a statewide vote on whether to amend the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriages passed the Republican-controlled House in February with overwhelming support and headed to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and leaders have vowed to block debate.

The resolution would have to be approved by the current Legislature and the one to be elected next year to get onto the ballot.
Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has the authority to decide which issues are debated in the full Senate, and has said he will not allow a vote on the resolution.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Bullying from a different source?

Student at arts magnet school says she was bullied by a teacher; advocates say policy dealing with faculty behavior needs changes

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Delaney Hillan

Delaney Hillan kissed her girlfriend in the hall at school, and that’s when the trouble started.

Hillan, who came out during her junior year in high school, is now a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She said she didn’t expect to have problems being gay at the magnet school, but, she added, at least one teacher had problems with it.

“A teacher yelled at us [when I kissed my girlfriend] and said she didn’t want to see any of this again,” Hillan said, adding that the teacher threatened to report the incident.

Hillan said she understood that official school policy was no public displays of affection in school. But she said the kiss was more a “bye, see you later” kiss than making out in the hall. It was much less than what goes on regularly between heterosexual couples in school, she said.
And she wasn’t the only student to ever kiss her girlfriend in the school.

“It’s Booker T!” she said, the school many LGBT students choose to attend because it’s considered a safe place to go to school.
But the teacher persisted.

A few days later, Hillan said she was walking down the hall and the same teacher was standing outside her classroom. She stopped Hillan as she was passing to again admonish her.

Hillan said the teacher told her, “I want you to know I’m very disappointed in your behavior this year. I don’t appreciate your being so flagrant about it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

Hillan’s mother picked her up from school that day, and when she got in the car, she said, she began to cry.

“I never felt so dehumanized,” Hillan said.

With her mother’s support, Hillan spoke to the principal who said she would talk to the teacher.

“Ever since then, she’s been nice to me,” Hillan said.

She spoke sympathetically of the teacher and said she understood the source of the bullying was the teacher’s religious background. But she doesn’t want another student to feel dehumanized in school again.

“Booker T. Washington’s a place where you are accepted,” she said. “The rules and policies at the school are accepting of all.”

Hillan said school is a place of trust and not somewhere a student should ever feel attacked.

This year, Hillan is president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She has demonstrated with QueerLiberaction and she wanted to speak up for other students, especially those in less-safe environments.

“Students are pushed, yelled at and spit on,” she said. “Even if they’re not openly gay, but others think they are, they’re isolated. It’s hard to make friends when you have that label put on you.”

Kristine Vowels has worked on LGBT issues from within Dallas Independent School District for several years. She told Hillan that the DISD board was holding an open hearing about a new, inclusive anti-bullying policy and that she could tell her story to the public.

Hillan said speaking to the board in front of the packed room at the DISD meeting didn’t bother her.

“Maybe because I’m a theater major,” she said, “but I wanted to get across what was important.”

“Why would you go to a place you were scared of?” Hillan said.

Andy Moreno

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell said that the recently approved anti-bullying policy goes a long way to protect students throughout the school district.

But, he noted, the policy adopted addresses students, not faculty and staff. He said that the employee manual needs to reflect new policies in the student handbook.

McDonnell also said that training must be implemented to make sure faculty and staff understand what constitutes bullying against LGBT students and what they must do to stop it.

The anti-bullying policy includes gender identity and expression. The harassment policy already included sexual orientation and now must be updated similarly, McDonnell said.

That policy was written in the mid-1990s with the assistance of Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. However, protected groups should be consistent across different areas of conduct, McDonnell said.

He said that there must be a safe way for students to report bullying. “It’s harder to report your teacher,” McDonnell said.

Hillan had a receptive principal who didn’t hesitate to take action. But in the case of transgender student Andy Moreno at North Dallas High School, the bullying allegedly came from her principal.

Moreno wanted to run for homecoming queen but was stopped by the school’s new principal. But rather than just stopping her bid, Moreno thought the principal’s words crossed over into bullying.

The principal allegedly called Moreno an “it, or whatever you are” and threatened to close the school’s GSA in retaliation for Moreno speaking to Dallas Voice.

DISD trustee Lew Blackburn has said that the district needs a district-wide policy on homecoming elections.

Moreno believed that if a teacher were speaking to her inappropriately, she could have turned to the principal, but in her case there was nowhere to turn other than the press.

Hillan thinks the solution is simpler than that. Any bullying by faculty and staff needs to stop.

“Students shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” Hillan said. “And I shouldn’t be afraid of my teachers.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Eureka Springs adds DP benefits for city workers

(From Eureka Pride on Facebook)

Eureka Springs, Ark., long known as a gay tourist destination, has become the first city in the state to offer health benefits to the domestic partners of municipal employees, according to a press release we received Monday:

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — The only city in Arkansas with a Domestic Partnership Registry today became the first city in the state to provide health care coverage for the domestic partners of municipal workers.

The city’s insurance provider, the Arkansas Municipal League, notified the city that beginning January 1, 2011 both same- and opposite-sex partners of city workers will have the same access to health insurance as legal spouses.

The announcement culminated a year-long campaign by residents of the Northwest Arkansas tourist town which in June 2007 became the first city in the state to enact a Domestic Partnership Registry ordinance to officially recognize unmarried couples in committed relationships.

“Once again, Eureka Springs is leading by example, this time in the realm of workplace equality,” said Michael Walsh, who helped lead the effort to expand health care coverage. “Marital status shouldn’t be the deciding factor in access to ‘family plan’ insurance. Legally wed or not, all city workers should get the same employment benefits, including access to health insurance for their partners.”

Expanding the definition of “family dependent” was “the right thing to do,” Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy wrote to the Municipal League in August, just weeks before the city council passed a resolution endorsing domestic partnership insurance coverage.

“I am aware as well as you that some will construe this as a ‘gay issue’,” said Joy. “But the reality is that there are many heterosexual couples who chose to live together in a committed relationship – as a family – without entering into the civil contract of marriage,. These folks face the same ‘family’ challenges every day, not the least of which is providing health care for themselves and for those who are dependent on them. . . . the definition of family is at the center of our concerns.”

Joy and city Transit Director Lamont Richie met with the Arkansas Municipal League Nov. 4 to lobby for a more inclusive health insurance policy.

Today’s announcement that their efforts were successful “is a huge step forward,” said Richie.

“And though only employees of the City of Eureka Springs will be able to take advantage of it for now,” he said, “other communities in the state may be encouraged to adopt their own Domestic Partnership Registries as a means of providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners of their employees.”

—  John Wright

El Paso voters rescind domestic partner benefits for city workers — and possibly for retirees too

El Paso was home to one of the few, if not the only, anti-gay initiative on the ballot anywhere in the U.S. on Tuesday. And The El Paso Times reports that the measure to roll back domestic partner benefits for city employees passed easily:

The ballot initiative was supported by conservative religious groups that took aim at the city’s domestic partners ordinance from the time that it was passed by the City Council last year. But the way the initiative was worded caused confusion among some voters — and questions about how city officials will implement it.

“I’m sure there will be some legal action,” Mayor John Cook said.

Fewer than two dozen city employees receive the benefit. Opponents say it sends the message that the city approves of homosexuality and of heterosexual couples living out of wedlock.

And the initiative struck a chord with a majority of the El Paso electorate.

The story goes on to say there are problems with the wording of the initiative, which says, “The city of El Paso endorses traditional family values by making health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children.”

The meaning of “endorse” is unclear, according to the mayor, and city legal staff says the measure could be interpreted to exclude retirees from DP benefits.

Good. Let’s hope it gets tied up in court for a long time.

—  John Wright

Texas Republican seeking to intervene in marriage cases

Lamar Smith claims a ‘protectable interest’ in defending DOMA in Massachusetts lawsuits

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@mac.com

Claiming that the Obama Department of Justice is not doing enough to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Republican who represents Texas’ 21st district, has asked a federal court for permission to serve as an intervenor-defendant in two cases expected to come before the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Alliance Defense Fund announced Tuesday, Oct. 5,  that it had filed motions on behalf of Smith in the U.S. District Court for Boston, where Judge Joseph Tauro had ruled — in two cases — that one part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The Department of Justice still has until Oct. 12 and Health and Human Services has until Oct. 18 to give the court notice of whether the federal government intends to appeal those decisions.

In its Oct. 5 motions to intervene, the ADF claims the Department of Justice is mounting “no defense at all” for DOMA. The lawsuits in question challenge only DOMA Section 3, the section that limits the interpretation of “marriage” for any federal purpose to heterosexual couples.

“We should be strengthening and protecting marriage, not subjecting it to a hostile takeover through the courts,” said Dale Schowengerdt, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, in a press release. “If the Obama administration won’t defend marriage, we are ready and willing to do so.”

ADF claims the DOJ has failed to raise certain crucial arguments in defense of DOMA. For instance, it argues that DOJ should have noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s “decision” in the 1972 Baker v. Nelson “was binding precedent that DOMA is constitutional.”

“Under the new administration, which strongly supports DOMA’s repeal, the DOJ traded these winning rationales for anemic arguments never recognized by any court in a challenge to DOMA or a similar state marriage definition,” states the ADF’s motion to intervene.

Actually, the Supreme Court did not issue a “decision” in Baker; it dismissed the appeal of a gay couple who had sought a marriage license in Minnesota.

Dismissing an appeal has more significance than simply refusing to hear the appeal. But, in dismissing the Baker appeal, the high court explained it was doing so because there was no “substantial federal question” presented by the case.

There is dispute within legal circles as to whether that dismissal means anything today.

And Mary Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders that brought one of the DOMA lawsuits, said the lawsuits here are not — like Baker — about marriage.

Bonauto also said she wasn’t surprised to learn of ADF’s motion to intervene.

“The ADF tries to intervene in everything,” said Bonauto. “We’re just surprised it took this long.”

Bonauto said her organization would oppose Smith’s motion to intervene “on multiple grounds.”

The motions to intervene will be decided by Judge Tauro sometime during the next few weeks or so. Bonauto said she doesn’t imagine the motions will be granted if the federal government decides to appeal the two cases.
The ADF motion claims that Rep. Smith has a “protectable interest” in the outcome of these lawsuits because, as ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, he has a duty to see that federal laws “are fully defended and that adverse decisions are appealed.”

The motion says Smith asked Attorney General Eric Holder, by letter, on Aug. 9, whether DOJ intends to appeal the DOMA cases. DOJ had not yet made a decision, notes ADF.

“[I]t is difficult to understand to DOJ’s indecision,” says ADF’s brief.

Attorneys for the HHS have until Tuesday, Oct. 12, to file notice that they intend to appeal the decision in the state’s case, Massachusetts v. HHS. DOJ attorneys have until Oct. 18 to file notice of appeal in GLAD’s case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. GLAD’s Bonauto said it is common for the appealing party to give the court notice of its appeal in the last couple of days remaining to do so.

Thus, the timing of ADF’s motion could have the political benefit of appearing to prod DOJ and HHS to file notice. But Arthur Leonard, a long-time legal scholar on LGBT cases, says it’s also not unusual for Smith to file the intervenor motion.

“There have been occasions in the past where members of Congress have sought to intervene in order to present what they think would be stronger arguments than the Justice Department is likely to present, especially when the administration that is defending the statute is different from the administration that signed it into law,” said Leonard.

“But,” he added, “to the extent this is about getting particular arguments before the court of appeals, I can’t imagine that an appeal of the DOMA case won’t attract plenty of amicus briefs that would make all the arguments that Rep. Smith would want to make.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

German court: Gay couples get inheritance equality

Associated Press

BERLIN — Germany’s highest court ruled Tuesday, Aug. 17 that gay couples in civil partnerships are entitled to benefit from the same favorable inheritance tax rules as married heterosexual couples.

The Federal Constitutional Court decided in favor of two homosexual plaintiffs who had each lost their partner and contested rules under which they had to pay inheritance tax as if they were distant relatives of the deceased.

The court found that there is no reason to discriminate against people in registered homosexual partnerships. Such unions have been possible in Germany since 2001 but legally fall short of marriage.

At present, a spouse pays an inheritance tax of between 7 and 30 percent on inheritances in excess of 560,000 euros ($718,000), but homosexual partners have to pay between 17 and 50 percent.

The court said that granting legally registered homosexual partnerships tax equality does not interfere with the government’s constitutional duty to protect and support marriage and family. The government must present legislation to end the discrepancy by the end of the year, it said.

“This is a good day for homosexuals in Germany,” said Volker Beck, a leading lawmaker from the opposition Greens who is openly gay.

A draft law already produced by the government aims to iron out the inheritance tax difference, but the supreme court went even further and demanded that the legislation be retroactive — applying to all cases that came up since civil partnerships were introduced in 2001.

—  John Wright

NJ Supreme Court rejects gay marriage case

ANGELA DELLI SANTI  |  Associated Press Writer

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s Supreme Court won’t consider whether the state’s civil union law provides equal rights to gay couples before the case is heard in a lower court.

The court announced Monday, July 26 it cannot consider the merits of the claim by six same-sex couples that New Jersey’s civil union law is unconstitutional until there is a trial record.

Gay couples unsuccessfully sued New Jersey four years ago for the right to marry. They claim that by creating civil unions, the state has not fulfilled a court order to treat them the same as heterosexual couples seeking to marry.

The justices were split 3-3, one vote shy of the four needed for a motion to be granted.

Justice Virginia Long, who wrote the dissenting opinion, agreed there is an insufficient record for debating the merits of the claim, but she said hearing oral arguments would have helped guide the justices on how best to go about creating a judicial record.

Steven Goldstein, who leads the state’s largest gay rights group, Garden State Equality, said the decision perpetuates the unequal legal status of same-sex couples and their children.

“Same-sex couples will continue to be denied the consistent right to visit one another in the hospital, to make medical decisions for one another, and to receive equal health benefits from employers, all because of the deprivation of the equality and dignity that uniquely comes with the word marriage,” he said in a statement.

—  John Wright