Ecuador’s Highest Court Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Ecuador’s highest court authorized same-sex marriage Wednesday in a landmark case seeking to expand LGBT rights in the small South American nation.

The decision by Ecuador’s highest Court came after a lengthy legal battle waged by several couples and gay rights advocates.Ecuador's highest court

With the 5-to-4 ruling, Ecuador joins a handful of Latin American nations — Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Uruguay — that have legalized same-sex marriage either through judicial rulings, or less frequently, legislative action.

Plaintiff Efraín Soria told The Associated Press that he would immediately begin planning a wedding with his partner, Xavier Benalcázar, whom he met years ago and has been in a civil union since 2012.

Same-sex unions have been legal in Ecuador for a decade but civil partners enjoy fewer rights than married couples when it comes to inheritance and estate laws. In the ruling, the justices instructed congress to pass legislation ensuring equal treatment for all under the country’s marriage law.

The ruling is “a joy for our entire community and Ecuador,” said Soria, who is also president of the Ecuadorian Equality Foundation, an LGBT rights group.

A decision by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights affirming that countries should allow same-sex couples the right to marry paved the way for the case.

NYTimes.com by Associated Press, June 12, 2019

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Botswana’s High Court Decriminalizes Gay Sex

Botswana’s High Court ruled on Tuesday to overturn colonial-era laws that criminalized homosexuality, a decision hailed by activists as a significant step for gay rights on the African continent.

“Human dignity is harmed when minority groups are marginalized,” Botswana’s High Court Judge Michael Leburu said as he delivered the judgment, adding that laws that banned gay sex were “discriminatory.”Botswana's high court

Three judges voted unanimously to revoke the laws, which they said conflicted with Botswana’s Constitution.

“Sexual orientation is not a fashion statement,” Judge Leburu added. “It is an important attribute of one’s personality.”

The small courtroom in Gaborone, the capital, was packed with activists on Tuesday, some draped in the rainbow flag of the L.G.B.T. movement.

“It is a historical moment for us,” said Matlhogonolo Samsam, a spokeswoman for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, a gay rights group. “We are proud of our justice system for seeing the need to safeguard the rights of the L.G.B.T. community.”

“We still can’t believe what has happened,” Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, the chief executive of the gay rights group, said as celebrations began outside the courtroom. “We’ve been fighting for so long, and within three hours your life changes.”

The laws had been challenged by an anonymous gay applicant, identified in court papers only as L.M. In a written statement, read by lawyers in the courtroom, the applicant said: “We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant.”

Homosexuality has been illegal in Botswana since the late 1800s, when the territory, then known as Bechuanaland, was under British rule. Section 164 of the country’s penal code outlaws “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.”

NYTimes.com by Kimon de Greef, June 11, 2019

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Americans’ views flipped on the gay rights movement. How did minds change so quickly?

Fifty years after police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Manhattan, spurring days of riots thatwould become a catalyst for the gay rights movement, the leap in public opinion has been followed by leaps on the ground, even as work remains.

A record number of LGBT candidates have been elected to Congress, Colorado elected the country’s first openly gay governor, Chicago has a lesbian mayor and the first openly gay Democratic candidate is running for president.  The gay rights movement has come a long way.gay rights movement

But while it’s clear that the gay rights movement managed to change people’s minds faster than any other civil rights movement in memory, it’s less clear why. How, in 15 years, did Americans’ views flip on such a charged social issue? And why haven’t other groups that have also publicly fought discrimination managed to change public opinion as quickly? The answer lies in human behavior and demographic realities, as well as a winning strategy by gay rights activists that capitalized on both.

Steve and Teri Augustine met, fell in love and got married in a conservative evangelical Christian community. They grew up believing homosexuality was a sin, and that the “gay agenda” was an attack on their values.

Then, six years ago, their son Peter — their youngest child who loved theater and his church youth group — returned home to Ellicott City, Md., from his freshman year of college and came out to his family as gay.

Teri asked her son not to tell anyone else, and drove herself to a mall parking lot to cry. Steve questioned his son’s faith, reciting Bible passages from Corinthians. The Augustines decided to put their son through a year of conversion therapy, determined to “set him straight.”

But after the therapy failed, something changed. Steve and Teri Augustine started meeting Peter’s friends and inviting other gay Christians to dinner. Two summers after Peter came out, the family stood on the sidelines of the Capital Pride parade wearing rainbow beads and shirts with the words “I’m sorry.” Teri now hosts a support group for Christian moms of LGBTQ children.

“I knew that if I was going to get a handle on who my son was,” Teri said, “I really needed to step into that world.”

The transformation in the Augustine family parallels a shift in public opinion that social scientists say is unlike any other of our time.

As recently as 2004, polls showed that the majority of Americans — 60 percent — opposed same-sex marriage, while only 31 percent were in favor, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, those numbers are reversed : 61 percent support same-sex marriage, while 31 percent oppose it.

“You can’t find another issue where attitudes have shifted so rapidly,” said Don Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who has studied public opinion of LGBT rights over the years.

What’s perhaps most surprising is that support for same-sex marriage has increased among nearly all demographic groups, across different generations, partisan lines and religious faiths. Even among the most resistant religious group, white evangelical Protestants like the Augustine family, support for same-sex marriage has grown from 11 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2019, according to Pew.

WashingtonPost.com, by Samantha Schmidt, June 7, 2019

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Washington State Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Against Florist Who Refused a Same-Sex Couple

The nine-member Washington State Supreme Court refused on June 6 to back down from its earlier decision that Barronelle Stutzman and her business, Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws on February 28, 2013, when she told Robert Ingersoll that she would not provide floral arrangements for his wedding to Curt Freed. 

The Washington State Supreme Court also ruled that Stutzman had no constitutional privilege to violate the state’s anti-discrimination law based on her religious beliefs.  State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., 2019 Wash. LEXIS 333, 2019 WL 2382063.Washington State Supreme Court

The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in public accommodations, and the people of Washington voted in a referendum in 2012 to overrule a 5-4 adverse decision by their state supreme court and allow same-sex couples to marry.

Stutzman quickly announced that she would attempt to appeal the new ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which for several months has been pondering whether to grant review in another “gay wedding cake” case, from Oregon. She rejects the court’s opinion that that the Washington courts had “resolved this dispute with tolerance,” according to Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud’s opinion for the unanimous court.

The Washington court originally ruled on this case on February 16, 2017,see 167 Wash. 2d 804, but Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the anti-gay litigation group representing Arlene’s Flowers, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the state was violating Stutzman’s First Amendment rights of free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.  That petition reached the Supreme Court while it was considering the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the “gay wedding cake” case.

The U.S. Supreme Court had been asked in Masterpiece to reverse rulings by the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which had ruled that baker Jack Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  Phillips argued on appeal that his 1st Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech were unconstitutionally violated by the state proceedings.  The Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not provided Phillips with a respectful, neutral forum to consider his religious freedom claim.  See 138 S. Ct. 1719 (2018).  The Court reversed the Colorado court and commission rulings on that basis, focusing particularly on comments made by Commission members during the public hearing in the case, as well as the fact that at the time Phillips rejected the business, Colorado did not allow same-sex weddings so Phillips could have thought that he was not obligated to provide a wedding cake for such an event.  The Court did not rule directly on Phillip’s constitutional claims of privilege to violate the anti-discrimination statute, although it observed that in the past it had not accepted religious free exercise defenses to discrimination charges.

artleonardobservations.com by Art Leonard, June 7, 2019

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Parents can use sperm harvested from their dead son to make grandchildren, judge rules

West Point cadet Peter Zhu, who was unmarried, died after a skiing accident on February 23, Judge allows parent to use harvested sperm.

He had been found unresponsive on a ski slope on the grounds of the military academy in upstate New York.  Zhu was then taken to a hospital, where he was declared brain dead days later.  Judge now rules that parents may use their son’s harvested sperm.harvested sperm

In March, his parents petitioned the court to allow the hospital to have their son’s  harvested sperm retrieved and frozen at the same time harvest his organs for donation.

The petition was granted and the sperm was preserved at a sperm bank after the retrieval.  His organs were also harvested to help those waiting for a lifesaving transplant before he was buried in the West Point Cemetery.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo’s ruling gave Zhu’s parents the ability to attempt conception with a surrogate mother using their late son’s sperm.  “At this time, the court will place no restrictions on the use to which Peter’s parents may ultimately put their son’s sperm, including its potential use for procreative purposes,” Colangelo wrote.  “They shall possess and control the disposition and potential use of their son Peter’s genetic material.” 

Zhu’s case isn’t the first incident of this type, according to AP.In 2007, a court in Iowa authorized recovery of a man’s sperm by his parents to donate to his fiance for future procreative use.  In 2009, a Texas woman got a judge’s permission to have her 21-year-old son’s sperm extracted after his death, with the intention of hiring a surrogate mother to bear her a grandchild.

StandardMedia.com, May 30, 2019, by Charles Odero

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Which Box Do You Check? Some States Are Offering a Nonbinary Option

As nonbinary teenagers push for driver’s licenses that reflect their identity, a fraught debate over the nature of gender has arrived in the nation’s statehouses.

Ever since El Martinez started asking to be called by the gender-neutral pronouns “they/them” in the ninth grade, they have fielded skepticism in a variety of forms and from a multitude of sources about what it means to identify as nonbinary.nonbinary

There are faculty advisers on El’s theater crew who balk at using “they” for one person; classmates at El’s public school on the outskirts of Boston who insist El can’t be “multiple people”; and commenters on El’s social media feeds who dismiss nonbinary gender identities like androgyne (a combination of masculine and feminine), agender (the absence of gender) and gender-fluid (moving between genders) as lacking a basis in biology.

Even for El’s supportive parents, conceiving of gender as a multidimensional sprawl has not been so easy to grasp. Nor has El’s suggestion that everyone state their pronouns gained much traction.

So last summer, when the Massachusetts State Legislature became one of the first in the nation to consider a bill to add an “X” option for nonbinary genders to the “M” and “F” on the state driver’s license, El, 17, was less surprised than some at the maneuver that effectively killed it.

Beyond the catchall “X,” Representative James J. Lyons Jr. (he/him), a Republican, had proposed that the bill should be amended to offer drivers 29 other gender options, including “pangender,” “two-spirit” and “genderqueer.” Rather than open the requisite debate on each term, leaders of the Democratic-controlled House shelved the measure.

“He articulated an anxiety that many people, even folks from the left, have: that there’s this slippery slope of identity, and ‘Where will it stop?’” said Ev Evnen (they/them), director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, which is championing a new version of the bill.

As the first sizable group of Americans to openly identify as neither only male nor only female has emerged in recent years, their requests for recognition have been met with reservations that often cross partisan lines. For their part, some nonbinary people suggest that concerns about authenticity and grammar sidestep thornier questions about the culture’s longstanding limits on how gender is supposed to be felt and expressed.

“Nonbinary gender identity can be complicated,” said Mx. Evnen, 31, who uses a gender-neutral courtesy title. “It’s also threatening to an order a lot of people have learned how to navigate.”

And with bills to add a nonbinary marker to driver’s licenses moving through at least six legislatures this session, the expansive conception of gender that many teenagers can trace to middle-school lunch tables is being scrutinized on a new scale.

NYTimes.com, May 29, 2018 by Amy Harmon

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Russia: Chechnya Gay Purge Responders Threatened

Reports of Forced Entry, Death Threats for Chechnya Gay Supporters

Russian authorities should urgently and effectively investigate the break-in at the home of an LGBT rights activist and the death threats he and his colleagues have received, Human Rights Watch said today.chechnya gay

Russian LGBT Network, a national nongovernmental group that has coordinated the evacuation of dozens of gay and bisexual men from Chechnya since 2017, has reported that unidentified assailants forced their way into one of its volunteers’ home on May 17, 2019 and threatened him and other staff with physical violence and murder. 

“Russian LGBT Network has been a vital resource for gay men escaping the brutality of the Chechnya purge,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian government, which has dragged its feet on investigating what’s going on in Chechnya, needs to put a stop to attacks on people who are providing life-saving services to the victims.”

From February to April 2017, police in Chechnya rounded up men they suspected of being gay, held them in secret locations for days or even weeks, and tortured, humiliated, and starved them, forcing them to hand over information about other men who might be gay. The attackers returned most of the men to their families, exposing their sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging their relatives to carry out “honor killings.”

Despite a sharp international outcry and Russian authorities’ repeated promises to investigate the 2017 crackdown, the government has taken no effective action. In early 2019, police in Chechnya carried out a new round of unlawful detentions, beatings, and humiliation of men they presume to be gay or bisexual.

The Russian LGBT Network reported that seven men broke into the St. Petersburg apartment of one of their volunteers on May 17. The men, whom the volunteer did not recognize, searched the apartment and threatened to beat and kill the volunteer. They said they were looking for Russian LGBT Network’s emergency program coordinator, David Isteev, and a Chechen woman who recently fled fearing persecution because of her presumed sexual orientation. Some of the attackers implied that they were police officers but refused to show identification.

HRW.org, May 28, 2019

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Trump Administration Proposes Rollback of Gender Identity Protections

The Trump administration has formally proposed to revise Obama-era civil rights for transgender people in the nation’s health care system, eliminating “gender identity” as a factor in health care and leaning government policy toward recognizing only immutable characteristics of sex at birth.

The Department of Health and Human Services published its proposed regulation Friday, which eliminates gender identity protections created by a 2016 regulation inserted by the Obama administration that redefined discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include gender identity.gender identity protections

The Obama administration adopted the rule in question in 2016 to carry out a civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act, known as Section 1557 creating these gender identity protections. That provision prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in “any health program or activity” that receives federal financial assistance. The 2016 rule further defined the term “gender identity” to mean a person’s “internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.”

In December 2016, a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled that “Congress did not understand ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity,’” and the Trump administration, rather than appealing, has said it will bring the civil rights provision of the Affordable Care Act into compliance.

“When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform,” said Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the department in a statement announcing the new rules on Friday.

“The American people want vigorous protection of civil rights and faithfulness to the text of the laws passed by their representatives. The proposed rule would accomplish both goals,” he said.

Transgender rights groups reacted with alarm.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s latest attack threatens to undermine crucial nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people provided for under the Affordable Care Act,” said David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement. “The administration puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Last year, Mr. Severino pushed for a legal definition of sex Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was obtained by The New York Times. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

NYTimes.com, by Erica L. Green and Abby Goodnough, May 24, 2019
 
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Alabama Same-Sex Marriages: Alabama passes law to eliminate marriage licenses to spite same-sex couples

Lawmakers have passed legislation that would eliminate marriage licenses in the state. The measure is widely seen as a punitive attack on the LGBTQ community after the Supreme Court legalized Alabama same-sex marriages years ago.

A license would no longer be required to get married under the new law. Instead, couples would file an affidavit that they were married and it would be recorded.

Judges in the state have been using a loophole to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples already. The law says probate judges “may” issue licenses but does not require them to do so. Some judges refuse and couples have to go to a different judge to get the license.

The bill’s author, Republican state senator Greg Albritton, has pushed the bill since the court ruling. This is the first time it has passed both chambers. It now awaits Governor Kay Ivey’s signature.

Ivey, a far right Republican, recently signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws despite national outcry from both sides of the aisle. The measure effectively outlaws abortion – even in cases of rape and incest. She is expected to sign this bill as well.

Albritton has been trying to sell the legislation as a way to “respect” marriage equality by removing government permission altogether.

May 24, 2019, by Bill Browning, LGBTQNation.com

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Both Parents Are American. The U.S. State Department Says Their Baby Isn’t.

James Derek Mize is an American citizen, born and raised in the United States. His husband, who was born in Britain to an American mother, is a United States citizen, too.  Now the State Department is dictating the citizenship of their child.

But the couple’s infant daughter isn’t, according to the State Department.

She was born abroad to a surrogate, using a donor egg and sperm from her British-born father. Those distinct circumstances mean that, under a decades-old policy, she did not qualify for citizenship at birth, even though both her parents are American.

“It’s shocking,” said Mr. Mize, 38, a former lawyer who lives in Atlanta with his husband, Jonathan Gregg, a management consultant. The couple received a letter denying their daughter’s citizenship last month.

“We’re both Americans; we’re married,” Mr. Mize said. “We just found it really hard to believe that we could have a child that wouldn’t be able to be in our country.”

Their case illustrates the latest complication facing some families who use assisted reproductive technology, like surrogacy and in vitro fertilization, to have children. For years the techniques have set off provocative legal and ethical debates about what defines parenthood. Immigration and citizenship are the latest frontier in those debates.

At issue is a State Department policy, based on immigration law, that requires a child born abroad to have a biological connection to an American parent in order to receive citizenship at birth. That is generally not a problem when couples have babies the traditional way, but can prove tricky when only one spouse is the genetic parent.

The policy has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid lawsuits arguing that the State Department discriminates against same-sex couples and their children by failing to recognize their marriages. Under the policy, the department classifies certain children born through assisted reproductive technology as “out of wedlock,” which triggers a higher bar for citizenship, even if the parents are legally married.

In one instance, a married Israeli-American gay couple had twin sons in Canada using sperm from each of the fathers. The biological son of the American received citizenship, but his brother, the biological son of the Israeli, did not. In February, a federal judge sided with the couple, calling the State Department’s interpretation of the immigration law “strained.” The department is appealing.

The government is also fighting a similar suit from a lesbian couple in London, who did not use a surrogate. One is American and one is Italian. They took turns conceiving and carrying their two children. Only the child born to the American mother was granted citizenship. Last week, a federal judge allowed the case to proceed, calling the family’s predicament “terrible” and “outrageous.”