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Saturday, September 17, 2005

NJ Domestic Partner Law - Doesn't Cover Inheritance 

New Jersey's domestic partnership law, which took effect in July 2004, provides some of the legal rights of marriage to same sex couples who register. Included are hospital visitation, some state tax benefits, and some benefits to state employees. It is silent, however, on the issue of inheritance and intestacy.

This silence is now being argued as not excluding inheritance by a registered domestic partner whose spouse died without a will. Betty Jordan and Rene Price registered as domestic partners in late 2004. They had been together for 19 years when Price died this past July. Their house, car and bank account had all been in Price's name, and she unfortunately did not leave a will. Under NJ law, the surviving spouse in a married couple inherits the estate if the decedent was intestate. The state has determined that this particular facet of the law does not apply to registered domestic partners. Jordan is challenging the interpretation of the domestic partner legislation. She is currently still in residence at the home and is using the car, however.

The lessons to be learned in the meantime? Don't believe it when those who opposed marriage equality but offer civil unions or domestic partnership registries as the legal equivalent. They're not. And as long as states and the federal government can choose not to recognize another state's legal marriage, civil union or domestic partnership system, even those rights aren't guaranteed.

Finally - think you don't need a will, or not yet at least? Think again.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Massachusetts: No Amendment 

The joint meeting of the state legislature has voted 157-39 against forwarding to the voters the proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same sex marriage but establish civil unions. The amendment passed last year 105-92 after days of heated and emotional debate, but needed to pass again this year in order to proceed. The debate on the issue this year was less than two hours.

Next up: The citizen's petition seeking to place a ballot question before the voters that would bar marriage equality, bar civil unions, and nullify existing marriages between same sex couples. The question's backers must collect 65,825 signatures before it can be brought before the legislature. A citizen's petition must be approved by 25% of the legislature in two sessions before it can go to the ballot, so the earliest we might see this at the polls is November 2008. But hopefully it will fail well before then.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Gay Couples Welcomed to British Military Housing 

Now that Britain has dropped its ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, and now that Britain also has a civil union registry open to same sex couples, the Ministry of Defense has taken the next step and has opened up military housing, along with all other marriage-related benefits, to same sex couples who have registered their civil unions.

The United States, meanwhile, is getting ready to appeal a Third Circuit injunction against enforcement of the Solomon Amendment, which bars institutions of higher education from receiving federal funds if they don't provide access to military recruiters on campus. Many schools object to the US military's don't ask, don't tell policy which bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly. In Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, a group of law schools challenged the Solomon Amendment as an infringement of their rights to free expression and association. The case is scheduled for argument on December 6, 2005.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Weld Dares Not Offend 

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, now a contender for governor of New York, stated during a meeting with New York Republican party officials that:

...although he supports "100 percent equality of rights" he would not favor gay marriage because the idea offends many New Yorkers.

He also stated that unless he wins the governor's spot in New York, he no longer wishes to be addressed as "Governor," and that just "Mister" will do just fine.

Well Mr. Weld, I'm pretty sure there are a good number of voters in New York who are offended by the idea of a gubernatorial candidate catering to those who find equality offensive.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Honor Student, Forced to Transfer, Sues School 

A 17-year old honors student has filed suit with the ACLU against Garden Grove Unified School District for allowing discrimination and harassment. Last year she was told by the school that either she or her girlfriend would have to transfer to a different school because they kissed on campus. She had previously been suspended for a week because the two had hugged on campus. That suspension cost her a spot on the National Honor Society.

Charlene Nguon is in the top 5% of her class and takes several AP and other honors classes, but was forced out of the school for the same behavior that goes on each day by straight teen couples. After the ACLU contacted the district on Nguon's behalf this summer, she was allowed to return to her school, but with no assurances against similar disciplinary actions.

The complaint and statements from the parties can be found at ACLU of Southern California.

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California: Veto 

California's elected Senate and Assembly passed legislation this week establishing marriage equality in the state of California. I mentioned in an earlier post that Gov. Schwarzenegger seemed to be changing his mind from his earlier statements that same sex marriage would be "fine" with him if established by court ruling or legislative action. Of course, that was when legislative attempts hadn't been successful, and a state high court ruling was perhaps years away (perhaps even past the time of the next election).

Now that an actual law has been presented to him, it's a different story. The governor announced last night that he will be vetoing the bill, and stated that the legislature's actions are in conflict with ballot initiative Prop 22, which bars California from recognizing out of state same sex marriages. Speaking once more through his press secretary:
"We cannot have a system where the people vote and the Legislature derails that vote," Thompson, said. "Out of respect for the will of the people, the governor will veto (the bill)."

Earlier this week the potential justification given was that the question is before the courts, "where it belongs." Which is it? Should this question be resolved by ballot initiative, by the courts, or by the elected legislature? It seems that the answer for antimarriage activists is that the answer should be found by whatever body doesn't favor equality.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

California: One Signature to Marriage Equality 

The California Assembly late last night passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Protection Act, which provides for marriage equality, while specifically stating that no religious group opposed to same sex marriage has to provide the ceremony.

The state senate already passed the legislation, so now it awaits Gov. Schwarzenegger's signature. Last year the governor stated that marriage equality would be "fine by me" if the state courts ruled on it or the legislature passed it.

His press secretary however, yesterday responded to the legislation and inquiries about whether the governor would sign it, by stating,
"The governor believes that the people spoke when they voted in Proposition 22,'' which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, Thompson said. "t's now before the courts, which is where the governor believes it belongs. He will uphold whatever the court decides.''

That doesn't sound like "fine by me." That sounds more like, okay, the legislature passed it, but let's hold off as long as possible by waiting for a court decision.

When Massachusetts courts ruled on marriage equality, the big push was that they were activist judges who should leave the lawmaking to the legislature - the elected representatives of the people. Now that California's elected representatives of the people have done their job, now it's up to the courts?

A proposed constitutional amendment to bar both marriage equality and the state's domestic partnership registry is making the rounds in California. I guess that way even if both the courts AND the legislature decide on equality, those who oppose it still have a chance to push their nonequality agenda.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Milan Hospital Under Fire for Refusing Gay Blood Donor 

The Policlinico hospital in Milan is under investigation by Italy's minister of health after turning away a blood donor after he stated that he is gay. Italy in the past had a blanket prohibition on men who had ever had sex with another man, but now the policy bars individuals who have had more than three sexual partners in the previous 12 months. Sexual orientation is not to be considered.

The hospital is relying on the "room for discretion" in the law, and maintain that their internal policy of barring anyone man who has had sex with another man in the previous five years as permissible.

United States policy bars men who have sex with any other man at any point since 1977. It also bars anyone who has ever exchanged sex for money or drugs. Anyone who has had sex in the last 12 months with anyone who would be barred for these reasons is also deferred.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

The Roberts Court 

Now that Pres. Bush has modified his previous Roberts nomination to be Judge John Roberts, nominee for Supreme Court Chief Justice, we're back to our earlier question: who will he nominate to replace Justice O'Connor?

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Vermont-Virginia Custody Case 

Last year a Virginia judge ruled in a custody case that the commonwealth did not have to acknowledge a custody judgment from Vermont, since that custody decision stemmed from a dissolved civil union, which Virginia law does not recognize.

The couple was originally from Virginia, but traveled to Vermont to obtain a civil union, then returned to Virginia. They had a child through artificial insemination, then later relocated to Vermont. About a year later they filed for a dissolution of their union. Lisa Miller, the birth mother, returned to Virginia with their daughter, while Janet Jenkins remained in Vermont. The Vermont court handling the dissolution has granted Jenkins visitation based on her parental status as the parent of a child of a civil union. Miller both appealed the Vermont judge's ruling, while also filing in Virginia court to have herself declared the child's sole parent, and to terminate Jenkins' visitations. The Virginia court did just that. The battle continued, and the Vermont Supreme Court will be hearing Miller's appeal this week, and the Court of Appeals of Virgina will hear Jenkins' appeal next week.

Of note is that both sides are waving federal laws to support their cases: Miller's attorney is relying on DOMA to support the claim that Virginia is not obligated to recognize the relationship or the judgments related to dissolution, while Jenkins' attorney is relying on the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which mandates that when a parent tries to override one state's custody decision by filing later in a second state, the first state's judgment must be honored.

The Vermont cases (they have two being heard on September 7 at 11:00 am) are 2004-443 and 2005-030, Lisa Miller-Jenkins v. Janet Miller-Jenkins.

The Virginia case (will be heard on September 14 during the 9:00 am session) is 2654-04-4.

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Chief Justice Rehnquist, 1924-2005 

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist died yesterday of thyroid cancer, after having been diagnosed with the disease last fall. Already the United States is preparing for the confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, nominee to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor. Judge Roberts' nomination has been decried by many progressive groups, including Human Rights Campaign.

Now with the Chief Justice position vacant, Pres. Bush will have the opportunity to exert even stronger and longer-lasting influence on the high court. The president has frequently stated his admiration for sitting Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and it will not be a surprise to see Justice Scalia heading for nomination hearings for the center chair. The president will then select a nominee for Justice Scalia's vacant position. Justice Scalia is no friend of the gay and lesbian community, nor of most progressives in general. He holds the constitution out as a stagnant document that must be applied in terms of 18th century thought and understandings of society, rather than as a series of guiding principles designed to evolve and grow as does society. His most recent controversial remarks came just last week at Chapman University in California.

Fasten your seatbelts, we're in for a bumpy ride.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

NC Anti-Marriage Amendment Dies 

Once again a proposed marriage limitation amendment to North Carolina's constitution has failed even to come to a vote. North Carolina does have a DOMA in place, but the constitutional amendment's backers have stated their intention to try again in the spring.

Closer to NESL, remember that September 14 is arriving shortly, and with it the next convening of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, at which they'll be considering and voting on the proposed amendment here. If it passes this round, it goes to the voters in 2006. NESL OUTLaws is joining up with some other area GLBT law student groups to be a presence outside the State House during the day. Contact me if you'd like to take part, and I'll send you the info.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Joint Effort: Bake Sale! 

In a demonstration of building bridges, NESL OUTLaws are teaming up with the NESL Christian Group to put on a bake sale, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross to assist with their hurricane relief efforts.

The event will be this coming Tuesday, 9/6, from 11:30 to 6:30 in the NESL main lobby. So stop on by and have some treats for a good cause, and to say hello.

OUTLaws members - can you contribute baked goods or some time staffing the table? Contact me!

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