Congressman Raul Labrador (R – Idaho) presented his new bill to defend the religious freedom of those who believe in marriage, at The Heritage Foundation on Monday
WASHINGTON – Congressman Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) presented his new bill to defend the religious freedom of those who believe in marriage, and experts discussed the threats religious liberty faces in the public square.
The Health and Human Services contraception mandate and cases where homosexuals sue religious florists and bakers for refusing to do business with them "are creating a climate of intolerance and intimidation for citizens who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," Labrador declared at The Heritage Foundation on Monday. He discussed his bill, H.R. 3133, The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, "to prevent adverse treatment of any person on the basis of views held with respect to marriage."
"We have a fundamental misunderstanding of religious freedom going on," said Sarah Torre, policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Torre argued that the Obama administration is "watering down religious freedom to just freedom of worship" by insisting that faith "is not something that you bring into your workplace." Instead, the current policies presume that "faith is something that you keep in your home and place of worship."
Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed. He explained that many recent legal cases "portray same-sex couples as victims and that just hasn't been the case in the way all these things have happened." In cases where homosexuals sue companies for discrimination, they get the service originally denied them, and they force believers to undertake difficult legal battles.
The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act
Congressman Raul Labrador (R – Idaho) presented his new bill to defend the religious freedom of those who believe in marriage, and experts discussed the threats religious liberty faces in the public square. Sarah Torre, policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, and Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, watch Labrador speak at The Heritage Foundation on Monday.
Labrador explained his bill, H.R. 3133, in terms of current events. He referred to the HHS mandate as an example of "the administration forcing religious and other faith-based organizations to spend money on things like abortion pills that violate their most basic beliefs." Labrador argued that, in light of the Internal Revenue Service targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups, the federal government needs to be restrained from discriminating against those who uphold traditional marriage.
"We should not assume that the IRS will be any friendlier to organizations that support and want to continue practicing traditional marriage," the congressman warned. "My bill is narrowly tailored to prohibit the federal government from inappropriately targeting organizations or individuals who hold a religious belief that marriage is a union of one man and one woman."
The bill prohibits the federal government from "making tax exempt status contingent on the group's beliefs about marriage." Labrador articulated the basic premise of the bill, saying "all Americans should be free to believe and act in the public square based on their belief about marriage without fear of any government penalty."
"Am I understanding that because I believe that God creates life in His image, male and female, at conception, somehow I could lose a tax benefit?" this local DC-Area pastor asked at The Heritage Foundation on Monday.
Can It Pass?
Labrador insisted that the bill "doesn't take away anything from anyone," but instead protects the religious freedom of those who uphold traditional marriage. "This is something both social conservatives and libertarians can rally around, and it can generate support in both parties and actually pass both houses of Congress and become law," he said.
The bill already has 100 cosponsors, with five of the six House Ways and Means Subcommittee chairmen declaring their support, Labrador reported. "We actually have a couple of Democrats who are already cosponsors of the legislation," he added.
The Persecution Problem
Nimocks laid out the "massive distinction between acting because of a deeply-held belief about marriage and acting because you don't like somebody who defines themselves as gay or lesbian." Many of the defendants ADF supports have no problem with homosexuals, but choose not to involve themselves in marriage ceremonies because of their religious convictions.
The lawyer brought up "the florist in the state of Washington who was asked to provide flowers for two men" as an example. Nimocks explained that they were friends and would frequently hug each other. "But when it came to 'we want you to participate in and celebrate our ceremony,' that's where she respectfully drew the line."
Although they hugged before the man requesting flowers left, the florist ended up served with a lawsuit.
"In each instance the same-sex couple or gay/lesbian at issue got what they wanted," Nimocks explained. Occasionally, they received the desired service at a discount, or even for free, as in the case of t-shirts for a gay pride parade. After receiving what they originally wanted, "they then turn around and go after people with religious beliefs."
Energizing the Young
Torre proposed a strategy to alert Millennials to the religious freedom issue. "I think you tell them stories," she explained, about "these salt of the earth people who are doing the good work of restoring lives, of educating the next generation, providing health care for Americans." These public servants "are not able to do that under this rule, in accordance with the beliefs that motivated them to do that in the first place."
"You want to talk about social justice, you want to talk about empowering the poor, about taking care of those in need, you have to let people do that in accordance with their values and not penalize them through a government penalty," Torre declared.
Speaking at an event by a gay lobby group in New York on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department will treat same-sex marriage on par with traditional marriage in all federal legal matters, even in states where gay marriage is not legal.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Orlando July 16, 2013. Holder told the major civil rights convention that controversial "Stand Your Ground" self-defense laws that have been adopted in 30 states should be reconsidered.
On Monday, the Justice Department will send "formal instruction" to all its employees "to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law," according to excerpts of Holder's speech.
"In every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law," Holder said at the Human Rights Campaign's New York City gala, according to Reuters.
Federal benefits, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits, will also be extended to 34 states that do now allow same-sex marriage, but those benefits will apply only where the federal government has jurisdiction, Holder added, according to CNN.
The government will not contest rights of gay married couples in states where previously prosecutors could argue that the marriage is not recognized in the state where the couple lives, Holder added.
"Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher," Holder said. "As attorney general, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history."
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the action.
"This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better," Griffin said in a statement. "While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all."
However, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins strongly condemned the move.
"The news that the Justice Department will extend sweeping recognition to 'marriages' of same-sex couples, even in states that do not recognize such unions, is yet another illustration of the lawlessness of this administration," Perkins said in a statement.
"While the Supreme Court's ruling in the Windsor case last summer required the federal government to recognize such unions in states which also recognize them, the Court was conspicuously silent on the status of such couples when they reside in a state which considers them unmarried," Perkins pointed out. "The Obama administrations haste to nevertheless recognize such unions in every state actually runs counter to the Windsor decisions emphasis on the federal government's obligation to defer to state definitions of marriage."
Holder's announcement "illustrates the importance of Congressional action to pass the State Marriage Defense Act (H.R. 3829), introduced by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas)," Perkins added. "It would require the federal government to defer to state definitions of marriage -- as required by Windsor -- by not treating persons as 'married' when they are unmarried according to the law of their state of legal residence."
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, also criticized Holder's announcement.
"The American public needs to realize how egregious and how dangerous these usurpations are and how far-reaching the implications can be," Brown said in a statement. "The changes being proposed here to a process as universally relevant as the criminal justice system serve as a potent reminder of why it is simply a lie to say that redefining marriage doesn't affect everyone in society."
Three years ago, the Obama administration had announced it would stop defending cases in court involving the Defense of Marriage Act. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled that the DOMA was unconstitutional.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
BY KATHERINE WEBER, CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
February 8, 2014|10:21 am
Alabama's chief justice has jumped into the debate on same-sex marriage by encouraging all 50 U.S. governors to push for an amendment to the U.S. constitution that would define marriage as being solely between a man and woman.
Roy Moore, chief justice of the state's Supreme Court, sent a letter to all 50 governors on Wednesday, encouraging their legislatures to approve of a convention that would address a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, both on a state and federal level. In the letter, Moore cited the U.S. Constitution's Article V, which forces Congress to address an amendment if 34 states vote that a convention is necessary. Moore told The Associated Press that he feels employing the Amendment V Convention is a better option than the alternative two-thirds vote amendment approval by each house of Congress.
"I think the time is ripe for that to happen with the political atmosphere in Congress. They can't get along or agree on anything," Moore said of an Article V Convention, which has never been held. The chief justice added that a state-initiated constitutional amendment would stop judges from legalizing same-sex marriages on a state-wide level, as seen recently in Utah. "Government has become oppressive, and judges are warping the law."
"The moral foundation of our country is under attack," Moore added.
Moore sent his letter to all 50 states, including Virginia, where recently the attorney general refused to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage, and a federal court has now agreed to hear a bid that may overturn the state ban. Moore also sent a letter to Oregon, where voters may be able to approve of same-sex marriage in the November 2014 elections.
In response to Moore's letter, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told AP that he has no problem with Moore's new effort but also believes the issue of same-sex marriage should be left up to the states' voters.
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"I am a states' rights person. Marriage licenses are issued by the state. I do believe that most things should be left on a state level," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a response to Moore's move, with Executive Director Susan Watson saying in a statement Thursday that she believes Moore is contributing to a more oppressive government. "Chief Justice Roy Moore said that government has become oppressive and this is yet another perfect example of his contributions to the matter," Watson said, according to al.com.
"His definition of marriage as 'one man-one woman' is a religious one. We support everyone's rights to have their own religious beliefs, but he is chronically imposing his beliefs on others."
Moore has previously gained national attention for his fight to keep a Ten Commandments monument at the state judicial building that he installed in 2000. He was eventually kicked out of office in 2003 for refusing to remove the monument following a lawsuit, and was re-elected in 2012.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Even while addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, Barack Obama could not resist the opportunity to promote same-sex marriage. He did it subtly, lamenting how faith, in his view, is twisted to "justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love."
I know such rhetoric appeals to many young people. But all healthy societies reject such sentimentality and try through law and custom to discourage certain types of "love." An adult who is sexually attracted to a child and acts on that attraction is and should be discriminated against and jailed.
Every civilization prohibits legal recognition of incest because that particular form of "love" is fraught with obvious dangers. Likewise, until the last 15 years or so, virtually every society and every major faith discouraged same-sex relationships and never considered extending it to marriage.
I suppose it is possible that throughout all of recorded history every society was wrong and that we have experienced true enlightenment only in the last decade. I don't buy it.
I do not believe we are becoming more enlightened. Instead, America is being ripped away from its Judeo-Christian worldview. Same-sex marriage is already being followed by demands for legal polygamy. The legitimization of incest won't be far behind.
Monday, February 3, 2014
NDIANAPOLIS — Republican Gov. Mike Pence said Friday he would like lawmakers to restore language blocking civil unions in the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Indiana, a move that would place the issue on track to get on the November ballot.
Language that banned civil unions was removed by the House earlier this week, after a group of Republicans joined Democrats to support the move. That phrasing, which became known as "second sentence," was a sticking point for many Republicans who otherwise supported banning gay marriage. The proposal is now in the Indiana Senate.
The measure would not need Pence's approval before going before votes on the November ballot if it's approved by lawmakers before the end of the legislative session in March. But during his State of the State address earlier this month, he asked lawmakers to approve the amendment as it was first proposed last year to ban both the gay marriage and civil unions.
"Let me say I support traditional marriage, and I expressed support for the resolution that the Legislature passed during the last session and considered at the outset of this session," Pence told WISH-TV on Friday.
He also told the television station that he would not comment again on the issue until the Legislature completes its work in March.
Pence's comments marked the first time he had spoken about Monday's vote, which could push the proposed amendment to the November 2016 ballot. Under state law, lawmakers must approve the same measure they approved in 2011 in order for it to appear on the ballot this November. Removing the civil unions language would reset the clock on Indiana's constitutional amendment process.
The governor has kept the issue at arm's length throughout the debate. Constitutional amendments do not cross the governor's desk for approval, but Pence still controls the bully pulpit as the state's chief executive.
Pence's staffers also have attempted to shield him from talking about the volatile issue. A spokeswoman opened a news conference Wednesday saying that Pence would not answer questions on anything other than the state's propane shortage. The governor later darted from the news conference while a staffer cut in front of a reporter trying to reaching him.
The governor said he would address the issue "later" because he was "late for what I'm late for right now." A spokeswoman said she would not divulge the pressing event that caused Pence to bolt from the room.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, announced Thursday that the Senate would likely take up the measure the week of Feb. 10. Long has been mum on whether he supports reinserting the civil unions ban, but said he would like to see any effort to restore that part of the measure play out in front of the entire Senate, instead of in a committee.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Three years ago, President Obama closed his 2011 State of the Union address by declaring: "We do big things."
Today, however, it's Obama's struggle to push forward on the "big things" -- including tax reform, entitlement reform and gun legislation -- and a vexingly brittle relationship with Congress that threatens to curb his second term ambitions.
His annual address on Tuesday gave only passing mention to big-ticket legislative goals. Obama is instead vowing to use his executive powers to take what could only be described as modest steps in 2014 on the economy and education.
"I didn't hear any new ideas, that's for sure," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Fox News after the address.
The speech reflected the frustrated state of Obama's presidency in his second term. After enjoying the benefits for two years of a Democratic majority in Congress -- which he used to pass the health care law, the stimulus and other major bills -- a more Republican-dominated Capitol Hill continues to stymie Obama's wish list in his second term.
Gun control was a focus of last year's address in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, but the president could not sway Congress to back a bill tightening background checks. Last year's lofty talk of tax and entitlement reform also came back to earth, giving way in recent weeks to a more basic two-year budget deal.
Immigration legislation remains on the table, but Obama is now waiting on House Republicans to pitch their plan.
But instead of offering new proposals to Congress Tuesday night, Obama vowed to set out on his own to chip away at his agenda items via executive action.
"Some of my ideas, I'll need Congress, but Americans can't just stand still if Congress isn't doing anything," Obama said Wednesday during a stop at a Costco in suburban Maryland. "I'm not going to stand still either. Wherever I can take steps to expand opportunities for more families, I'm going to do it, with or without Congress."
The president spoke later at a steel plant near Pittsburgh -- to pitch a new retirement savings plan and talk about wages.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was on hand at the U.S. Steel Corp. plant in West Mifflin, Pa., as Obama directed the Treasury to create a new savings program geared toward those whose employers don't offer retirement plans -- about half of all U.S. workers, according to the White House.
The idea is to offer a "starter" account to let people start saving even if they can't afford the large initial investment often needed for a private, commercial retirement account. Savers can start with just $25, and could opt to have contributions of as low as $5 deducted automatically from their paychecks.
Dubbed "myRA," the program will operate like a Roth IRA, so contributions to the plan will be made with after-tax dollars. That means account-holders could withdraw the funds at any time without paying additional taxes. The funds would be backed by U.S. government debt, similar to a savings option available to federal employees.
Initially a pilot program, the accounts should be available through some employers by the end of 2014, the White House said. Investors can keep the accounts if they switch jobs or convert them into private accounts.
Obama is also preparing to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for workers carrying out new federal contracts to $10.10, up from the current $7.25. Although the measure will only help a limited number of people, it's intended to boost Obama's repeated call for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10.
The stop at a Costco in Lanham, Md ., also gave Obama an opportunity to highlight efforts that many states are undertaking to try to improve wages for their workers. Maryland's Democratic governor is pushing to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10.
On Thursday, Obama will visit a General Electric gas engines facility in Waukesha, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. He'll also speak at a high school in Nashville, Tenn.
Speaking on Fox News, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen acknowledged that at this stage, "speeches aren't going to change [the] outcome of policy."
The Maryland congressman stressed the struggles the president is having with lawmakers.
"The president would like Congress to work with him to pass a national minimum wage," he said. "He understands he can't do that by himself as president, but he does understand as chief executive, when it comes to the federal government procuring goods and services he can allow federal government to lead by example and say if you want to do business with the federal government, at least pay employees a wage that allows them to stay out of poverty if they've got a couple kids."
A lawyer at a prominent law firm in Washington, D.C., has reportedly left his reputable job to help Utah defend its same-sex marriage ban, citing his strong Mormon faith as the motivation behind his decision.
Gene Schaerr, formerly a partner at the Winston & Strawn legal firm, reportedly sent a firm-wide email to coworkers on Jan. 17 announcing his plans to lead the state in defending its ban on same-sex marriage, which was struck down by a federal judge in December. Schaerr cited his dedication to his faith and family as the reason for his departure.
"I have accepted that position so that I can fulfill what I have come to see as a religious and family duty: defending the constitutionality of traditional marriage in the state where my church is headquartered and where most of my family resides," Schaerr, a Mormon, said in the email, which was reportedly leaked to the Above the Law blog.
Schaerr reportedly concluded his email by blessing his colleagues, saying he had faith in his choice, and referencing the Bible by writing "all things work together for good to them that love God."
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced earlier in January that Schaerr will be leading the defense team in arguing for the constitutionality of the state's Amendment 3 ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by 66 percent of voters in 2004. Schaerr's official title at his temporary role will be Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Utah.
In a statement issued last week, Reyes was quick to clarify that Schaerr, a Utah native and graduate of Brigham Young University, was not hired by the state for religious reasons, but rather because of his knowledge of and experience with constitutional and appellate law. "Mr. Schaerr was hired because he was the most qualified applicant, and gives us the best chance to win," Reyes said in a statement.
"Any intimation that he was hired for reasons other than his qualifications, his understanding of the Constitution and his mastery of the legal issues in this case are offensive and detract from the civility this case merits."
According to KSL.com, Schaerr completed his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and then earned a law degree from Yale. He reportedly has an 80 percent win rate in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the state is appealing a judge's previous ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. Additionally, Schaerr has reportedly won 75 percent of the federal appeals he has represented.
Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz told BuzzFeed that Schaerr's decision to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage for religious reasons was "wrong," adding that "when you become an attorney, you take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not any particular religious doctrine."
The Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank based in Utah, was reportedly heavily involved in the hiring of Schaerr and has offered to pay legal fees. The think tank's executive director, Paul Mero, said in a statement his group would foot the bill for the "right counsel and the right strategy, adding that Schaerr is "our guy."
"He meets the criteria that Sutherland Institute has been insisting on. I think he has the capability to provide a deep, rich, meaningful case before the 10th Circuit, and a winning case," Mero said.
Schaerr's decision to leave his firm is similar to the previous decision of lawyer Paul Clement, who in 2011 resigned from the firm King & Spalding after it dropped out of representing the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Clement said at the time that he resigned from the major law firm due to the "firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client's legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do." Clement went on to defend the statute with a smaller law firm.
The state is currently appealing federal Judge Robert J. Shelby's Dec. 20 ruling overturning the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Following Shelby's ruling, over one thousand same-sex couples received marriage licenses in the state before the Supreme Court granted Utah a stay while Utah appeals the ruling. The state has frozen any recognition of the same-sex marriages until its case plays out in court, but the Department of Justice has agreed to recognize the marriages on a federal level.
Schaerr is one of three outside attorneys hired by Utah's attorney general's office to assist in the state challenge against Shelby's ruling, which will take place in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver beginning Feb. 3, when the state will file its brief.
Conservative pro-family groups and Republican lawmakers are decrying Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's recent decision not to defend the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
Virginia residents cast their vote for who will be the state's next attorney general, Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring or Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain.
The Family Research Council denounced Herring's recent announcement, citing the state's 2006 ban on same-sex marriage that was approved by 57 percent of Virginia voters.
"This lawlessness is an insult to the voters of Virginia who approved the marriage amendment by a large majority," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement following Herring's announcement on Thursday. "The 'left' is becoming a law unto itself."
The Republican Party of Virginia has also spoken out against Herring's decision. "By running for the office, Mark Herring asked for the challenge of defending Virginia's constitution and all it contains," Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins said in a statement.
"If Mark Herring doesn't want to defend this case, he should resign, and let the General Assembly appoint someone who will. Mark Herring owes the people of Virginia no less," he added.
The state's attorney general, who was elected to his post just last month, announced Thursday that as the state's principal legal officer, he will no longer defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in federal lawsuits despite the fact that it was voter-approved, saying he personally finds the ban to be unconstitutional. Even though the gay marriage ban passed through the state's democratic process, Herring has decided to ignore the public vote on the issue and instead has said that he will be siding with the two same-sex couples, Timothy B. Bostic and his partner Tony C. London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, in their current lawsuit challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage.
"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring said in a statement Thursday.
"The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied," he continued.
Herring, who in just 2006 said he supported traditional marriage as between one man and one woman, has since flip-flopped on his position, now claiming that he has reflected more on the meaning of discrimination. "I was wrong for not applying it to marriage," Herring said about his views on discrimination. "I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people."
Completing his u-turn on the divisive issue, Herring stressed his support for gay marriage in his attorney general campaign last year.
"The Supreme Court is clear: The United States Constitution is the law of the land, the supreme law of the land," Herring added. "I believe the freedom to marry is a fundamental right, and I intend to ensure that Virginia is on the right side of history and the right side of the law."
Herring's change on the issue holds political importance in a state like Virginia, where Democrats have recently replaced Republicans in top state political offices. Along with Herring, the state's newly-elected Governor Terry McAuliffe is also a democrat. According to CNN, Virginia is often regarded as a "purple state" because of its Republican-dominated general assembly and conservative-leaning social policies.
Despite Herring's recent announcement, Republican lawmakers in the state have vowed to do what is in their power to protect the sanctity of marriage and will fight any push to redefine marriage.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said in a statement that it is not the attorney general's right to personally decide the legality of the same-sex marriage ban.
"Here in Virginia, the state's Marriage Amendment is a matter of perennial legislative debate, and that Amendment could well fall: the voters could repeal it or a court may strike it down," Obenshain, who lost to Herring in the recent attorney general race, said in a statement. "But it is emphatically not the role of the Attorney General to make that determination unilaterally, and that may well be the consequence of Attorney General Herring's decision."
Republican House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford added that focus should be on "the dangerous precedent [Herring's decision] sets with regard to the rule of law."
Additionally, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group supporting traditional marriage, released a statement saying the attorney general's decision is an example of "malfeasance and neglect of duty" that "is not only a disgrace, it's an impeachable offense under the constitution."
The United Nations AIDS taskforce has announced its plans to pursue legal action against the African country of Malawi over its laws criminalizing homosexuality. The lawsuit, which will be carried out by the AIDS taskforce and various human rights groups, is considered rare.
In March, UNAIDS, the Malawi Law Society and local human rights groups will ask a high court to overturn the southern African country's law on homosexuality by ruling it unconstitutional. "Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered," Felicia Kilembe, a spokeswoman for the Malawai Law Society, told Reuters.
Malawi's laws regarding homosexuality have made international headlines in the past. In 2009, a transgender woman and a man were arrested for holding an engagement party. The couple had their alleged offenses pardoned later in 2010. Punishment for homosexual acts in the African country includes a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.
The country's laws regarding homosexuality have created friction between Malawi's President Joyce Banda and international aid groups, as the impoverished African county desperately needs help but aid groups do not want to be entangled in possible human rights violations.
The recent, rare legal action taken by the United Nations reflects international ire over African countries' laws regarding homosexuality. Earlier in January, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Prohibition Act of 2014, which illegalizes gay marriage and gay relationships and inflicts a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for offenders.
Western governments had urged Nigeria not to pass its recent law, threatening tighter sanctions if the country goes through with the legislation. Although aid-dependent countries like Uganda or Malawi respond more readily to western threats regarding homosexuality laws, Nigeria's rich economy, fueled by oil output, allowed it to pass its anti-gay law without fear of reprimand from western powers.
Rumors swirled that the U.S. would withdraw financial aid for Nigeria's fight against AIDS/HIV due to the legislation, but United States Ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle later clarified that the U.S. government will continue to provide aid to the African country, although it is possible that the new law will interfere with what type of aid can actually be provided.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last week that he fears Nigeria's new law could result in an increase in prejudice and violence. "The Secretary-General fears that the law may fuel prejudice and violence, and notes with alarm reports that police in northern Nigeria have arrested individuals believed by the authorities to be homosexuals, and may even have tortured them," Ban's press office said in a statement, adding that the law "also risks obstructing effective responses to HIV/AIDS."
Thursday, January 23, 2014
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
RICHMOND, Va. — Following a seismic political shift in Virginia's top elected offices, the new attorney general has concluded that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and he will no longer defend it in federal lawsuits, his office said Thursday.
Virginia, widely considered a battleground state in the nationwide fight to grant same-sex couples the right to wed, will instead side with the plaintiffs who are seeking to have the ban struck down, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring said in an email to The Associated Press.
"After a thorough legal review of the matter, Attorney General Herring has concluded that Virginia's current ban is in violation of the U.S. constitution and he will not defend it," spokesman Michael Kelly wrote.
Herring, a Democrat who campaigned in part on marriage equality, was to file a brief Thursday with the federal court in Norfolk, where one of the lawsuits is being heard, as notification of the state's change in position in the case, Kelly said.
The state's shift comes on the heels of court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.
The lawsuits in Virginia say the state's ban violates the Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses.
The decision by Herring drew divided responses — celebration from attorneys challenging the ban and condemnation from conservative activists.
Tom Shuttleworth, representing the couples challenging the ban in Norfolk, praised Herring's position "on the basic human right of being able to marry the person of your choice."
"It's a nice day to be an American from Virginia," he wrote in an email.
Lambda Legal, which has challenged the state's gay marriage ban in federal court in Harrisonburg, called Herring's decision critical as he is "the keeper of the federal and state constitution in the commonwealth.""
But the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia called the development "disappointing and frightening."
The Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates said Herring was setting a "dangerous precedent."
"The attorney general has a constitutional and statutory obligation to enforce and defend the duly adopted laws and Constitution of Virginia," William J. Howell said in a statement. "This is not an obligation that can be taken lightly."
Herring's announcement comes two weeks after Democrats who swept the top of the November ballot took office, changing the state's political landscape.
With the election of Democrats Terry McAuliffe as governor and Herring as attorney general, Virginia made a hairpin turn away from the socially conservative officeholders they succeeded, particularly Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an activist on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. McAuliffe issued an executive order on inauguration day prohibiting discrimination against state employees who are gay.
Virginia voters approved the same-sex marriage ban 57 percent to 43 percent in 2006. But a Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 50 percent of registered Virginia voters support same-sex marriage, while 43 percent oppose it. The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
It is not the first time an attorney general has decided to stop defending their state's gay marriage ban. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said last year that she would stop defending that state's gay marriage ban, also calling it unconstitutional. An outside law firm was hired to represent the state in a lawsuit over the ban.
Proponents of striking down the state's ban say the issue resonates in Virginia in particular because of a landmark 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Virginia couple and interracial marriage.
Mildred and Richard Loving had been married in Washington, D.C., and were living in Virginia when police raided their home in 1958 and charged them with violating the state's Racial Integrity law. They were convicted but prevailed before the Supreme Court.
The legal costs in the Norfolk case are being paid for by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was behind the effort to overturn California's gay marriage ban.
David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, the high-profile legal tandem that brought down California's prohibition on same-sex marriage, lead the legal team in that challenge. Both cited Virginia's history when they announced their challenge.
"This case is about state laws that violate personal freedoms, are unnecessary government intrusions, and cause serious harm to loving gay and lesbian couples," Olson had said.
The Norfolk lawsuit's plaintiffs are two couples: Timothy Bostic and Tony London, and Carol Schall and Mary Townley. Bostic and London applied for a marriage license with the Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk's office in July 2013, but their application was denied.
Schall and Townley were legally married in California in 2008. They have a daughter, whom Townley gave birth to in 1998, but Schall can't adopt her because Virginia law doesn't allow same-sex couples to adopt children, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues that Virginia law stigmatizes gay men and lesbians, along with their children and families, because it denies them the same definition of marriage afforded to opposite-sex couples.
In that state General Assembly, Democratic legislators are still widely outnumbered in the House of Delegates, but they have been emboldened by the shift away from a reliably conservative state. They took immediate aim at the state's ban on gay marriage, but proposed constitutional amendments face a long road. The earliest voters could see a proposed amendment is in 2016.
There are currently 17 states that allow gay marriage.