Tag Archives: general assembly

Record number of UN countries call for moratorium on executions

A record number of countries this week backed a key United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty globally.

Amnesty International said 117 of the UN’s 193 member states voted in favor of the resolution at the UNGA plenary session in New York, while 38 voted against and 34 abstained. This was the fifth time a resolution on the issue was voted on by the UNGA. At the last vote in December 2012, 111 states voted in favor, 41 against and 34 abstained. 

“The record vote in favor is yet another indication that global support for the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past. This vote sends an important signal that more and more countries are willing to take steps to end the use of the death penalty once and for all,” said Chiara Sangiorgio, death penalty expert at Amnesty International. 

“The strong cross-regional support evident in today’s vote shows that ending the use of capital punishment is a truly global goal issue. The international community recognizes the death penalty as a human rights issue, and has opened up space for new dialogues on the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” 

Since 2007 there have been five resolutions calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty at the UNGA, with support increasing each time. Six more countries supported this week’s resolution compared to last time a similar vote took place in 2012. 

New votes in favor came from Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Niger and Suriname. Also, Bahrain, Myanmar, Tonga and Uganda moved from opposition to abstention. Papua New Guinea went from abstention to a vote against the resolution. 

Although UNGA resolutions are not legally binding, they carry significant moral and political weight. 

“This result is also a wake-up call for those 38 countries that still voted against the resolution. They are increasingly isolated in their support for this horrendous punishment.  The death penalty does not serve any legitimate purpose and is a stain on their human rights records,” said Chiara Sangiorgio. 

Amnesty International, in a news release this week, urged all countries that still retain the death penalty — the United States is one — to immediately establish a moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences and abolish the death penalty for all crimes. 

Some background 

When the UN was founded in 1945 only eight of the then 51 UN member states had abolished the death penalty. Today, 95 of the UN’s 193 member states have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and, in total, 137 have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. 

The UNGA resolution was first adopted as a draft by the Third Committee of the UNGA on Nov. 21 November, with 114 votes in favor, 36 against and 34 abstentions. The adoption of five resolutions since 2007 on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty has generated momentum to renew the commitment to the abolition of the death penalty. 

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

Amid strong field, Marina Dimitrijevic is best choice to represent Milwaukee’s 19th Assembly District

On June 6, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced to a cheering crowd at PrideFest that he was keeping the courthouse open that evening for same-sex couples to get married. Abele didn’t want lesbian and gay couples who’d been waiting for years to have to wait any longer after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban earlier that day.

Among the first to arrive at the courthouse to lend a helping hand was Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She stationed herself at the doors leading to the clerk’s office to hand out numbers for couples seeking a position in the growing line and to answer questions about required documentation and so on. 

It was not surprising to find Dimitrijevic at the forefront of the activity that night. LGBT equality is one of the issues she’s championed in the decade since she became the youngest woman elected to public office in Milwaukee. Her long list of accomplishments includes spearheading the effort to extend domestic partner benefits for county workers.

Now Dimitrijevic is a candidate in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary to choose a successor for state Rep. Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District. Richards is stepping down to run for attorney general.

The district includes the East Side, downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View and parts of Riverwest, making it not only one of the state’s most heavily progressive districts but also one that has among the highest concentrations of LGBT constituents.

Dimitrijevic faces three other challengers in the primary — each of them promising in his or her own way. All three have compelling narratives to support their candidacies, and all three hold the progressive, pro-equality values supported by a majority of the district’s residents.

But Dimitrijevic is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, and experience counts more than ever for progressives in Madison. The tea party majority rules the Assembly with an iron fist, and progressives need representatives who know the system well enough to recognize and exploit opportunities to work it. 

Moreover, Dimitrijevic has a proven track record of advocating for the issues of most concern to progressives, including environmental sustainability, public transportation, public education and rights for workers and immigrants (Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish). She’s the strongest candidate to replace Richards. We endorse her and expect a great future for her as a progressive leader.

Dimitrijevic’s other endorsements come from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Clean Wisconsin Action and more. To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to www.votemarina.com.

The other candidates in the race also have drawn prominent endorsements and have promising futures. They’re worth getting to know (in alphabetical order):

Dan Adams, 31, a former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, is the candidate backed by Abele. Adams is unique in that he expresses a willingness to work with Republicans to ensure that Milwaukee gets its fair share of revenue and attention from Madison. He stresses pragmatism over knee-jerk partisanship.

Adams believes Milwaukee has great potential for developing a knowledge-based economy, and he says he’d work on bringing capital together with the city’s educational institutions to make that happen.

Philosophically, Adams casts himself politically in Abele’s mold: “We have the same outlook on public service — it’s not about the servant. It’s really about carrying the water for the community and not just the very vocal or the very powerful,” Adams says.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Adams signs have become increasingly visible in the district.

For more, go to adamsforassembly.com.

Jonathan Brostoff, 30, is also running a strong campaign. He took leave from his current position as district director for Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson in order to run for the Assembly. In that position, as well as through involvement in managing other campaigns, Brostoff likely knows Wisconsin politics better than any other candidate except Dimitrijevic.

Together with Larson, Brostoff co-founded DemTEAM, which has trained more than 110 progressive Milwaukeeans interested in elected office. Among DemTeam’s success stories are current state Reps. Daniel Reimer, Nikiya Harris and Mandela Barnes.

Brostoff has run a robust campaign that has focused increasingly on education. Like the other candidates in this race, Brostoff says he’ll fight to get better resources for Milwaukee’s public school system. He sees the growing voucher movement as part of the problem.

“I strongly believe that we need to not only not expand vouchers but sunset them here and now,” Brostoff says. “The experiment has played out and it failed. The heart of it is to siphon off public resources into private hands.”

Brostoff, who has a gay older brother, is an ardent equality supporter. The first of many volunteer positions he’s held was with Pathfinders, which provides services to homeless youth. Brostoff began volunteering with the agency at age 14. Among Pathfinders’ clients are relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian youth who are kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.

Brostoff also has volunteered for many other nonprofits. He says running for office is taking his commitment to his community to the next level. He cites retiring state Rep. Sandy Pasch as the type of leader he hopes to become, and she has endorsed him.

For more, go to votebrostoff.com. 

Sara Geenen, 32, has run the most low-key campaign of the four contenders, primarily because she’s the mother of a 4-year-old and a toddler, as well as a labor union attorney. But she says being a working mother gives her a unique perspective to take with her to Madison. 

“It’s important to have people from every walk of life representing the state, because the state has people from every walk of life,” she says.

Strongly pro-union, Geenen grew up in a union family “with headstrong beliefs in progressive values,” she says. Her endorsements include chapters of the United Steel Workers, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists.

Growing income inequality spurred Geenen to run for office, she says, and her campaign has focused on “jobs, education and investing in community.” Geenen sees herself as an advocate for the working poor, people who are unable to move out of poverty because all the rules are stacked against them. As examples, she offers the case of a woman three months’ pregnant who’s already distressed about finding day care for her child or the family forced to live in substandard housing because of their credit score, even though they can afford better housing.

Like the others in the race, Geenen is a deeply committed supporter of equality, quality public schools and the creation of family-supporting jobs.

“I think it’s important that you start to work incrementally to make change,” Geenen says. “It’s important to keep advocating.”

For more, visit sarageenen.com.

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Presbyterian general assembly votes to open doors to marriage equality

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, a church with nearly 2 million members, affirmed the marriages of same-sex couples. The General Assembly, by a 429-175 vote, passed an amendment to change the description of marriage in the PCUSA church constitution from a relationship between “a man and a woman” to that between “two people.”

This amendment will only become church law when approved by a majority of the church’s 172 presbyteries.

At that time, all couples can be married in their home congregations.

In another measure, by a 371-238 vote, the General Assembly passed an amendment now allowing clergy in marriage equality states to perform marriages.

“This is a giant step forward for the PCUSA Church and for people of faith everywhere. Presbyterian LGBT couples are now one step closer to being able to get married in the church of their choice,” said Sharon Groves, director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program. “Perhaps even more significantly, young people and their families can go into a Presbyterian church and know that their denomination has not turned a blind eye to them but has instead taken a giant step toward becoming a more loving and more welcoming place for all people to worship.”

The PCUSA General Assembly meets biennially and consists of commissioners elected by each of its 172 presbyteries nationwide. The proposal voted on June 19 was originally submitted to the assembly by the Oregon-based Presbytery of the Cascades.

The written proposal stated: “We believe that God created each of us with many differences, including sexual preferences, and that those differences are to be celebrated as part of the creative plan of God.”

The final vote took place after days of testimony, question and answer and meditation.

Suburban Illinois mayors back gay marriage bill

Seven suburban Chicago mayors are signing on in support of same-sex marriage.

Nonpartisan officials largely comprise the group from Plano, Geneva, North Aurora, St. Charles, Elburn, DeKalb and Sleepy Hollow.

They released a letter this week through the gay marriage advocacy group Illinois Unites for Marriage. The mayors say same-sex couples and their families are denied full protection under Illinois law.

Same-sex marriage legislation got a February Senate OK but has not been called for a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

Activists are targeting moderate suburban Republicans as well as socially conservative members of the House Black Caucus Democrats to get the votes needed in a fall veto session.

Illinois allowed civil unions in 2011. There are now 14 states, plus Washington D.C., that allow gay marriage.

18 lawmakers sponsoring Wisconsin medical marijuana bill

Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach say their medical marijuana bill has 18 co-sponsors.

That number includes Taylor, a Democrat from Madison, and Erpenbach, a Democrat from Middleton.

Others who’ve signed on to push for passage of the Jacki Rickert Medical Cannabis Act include Reps. Chris Danou, D-Trempeleau; Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha); Terese Berceau, D-Madison; Fred Clark, D-Baraboo; Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay; Diane Hesselbein, D-Middleton; Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood; Sony Pope, D-Cross Plains; Melissa Sargent, D-Madison; Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point; Leon Young, D-Milwaukee and Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee.

In the state Senate, co-sponsors include Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee; Tim Cullen, D-Janesville; Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee and John Lehman, D-Racine.

The bill now goes to the Assembly and Senate clerks for bill numbers and committee assignments.

Republicans ready to defend right-wing laws in North Carolina courts

After passing politically divisive legislation on voting laws and setting in motion new abortion restrictions, North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly has given itself the authority to defend them in court.

Last month, in a last-minute move before adjourning for the year, lawmakers inserted two sentences into legislation clarifying a new hospital-billing law that would give the state House speaker and Senate leader the option to defend a state statute or provision of North Carolina’s constitution and not rely on Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has until Aug. 25 to veto the measure.

Cooper hasn’t refused to defend the state in any case, though counterparts in California, Illinois and Pennsylvania said they would not defend their states’ same-sex marriage bans.

GOP lawmakers don’t trust Cooper to fully defend Republican initiatives in court after he publicly criticized North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage as well as the voting and abortion regulations, said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.

“There’s some cases that other people need to present through the courts,” Stam said.

Stam said his suspicion of Cooper increased when the attorney general started a petition drive urging McCrory to veto the election law changes. Cooper complained they were tailored to make it harder for people to register and vote. After McCrory signed the voting rules into law last week, Cooper sent a campaign email to supporters saying: “I’m appalled that the bill is now law.”

Cooper previously said abortion regulations passed by GOP lawmakers and signed by McCrory would force clinics to meet excessive conditions and make it harder for doctors to perform the procedure. Cooper also opposed a legislative proposal to eliminate the need for getting a pistol permit from a local sheriff before buying a handgun. In 2011, he angered Republican lawmakers by refusing to join 26 other states in a legal challenge against the federal health care law.

Also, with rumors that Cooper is angling to run for governor in 2016, Stam said Republicans have reason to doubt the attorney general will put full effort into a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s year-old constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Cooper didn’t dismiss the idea that he’s weighing a run for governor or other office in a recent interview.

“I’m concerned that North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction, and I want to do what I can to try and change it,” he said. “My ultimate duty is to the people of North Carolina, and I’m going to let them know what I think about laws that have an impact on their lives.”

But Cooper said attorneys commonly go to court arguing for clients they may neither agree nor sympathize with.

“It’s important for the attorney general to let people know when bad laws need to be changed. At the same time, we do have committed attorneys in this office who represent the state in court every day whether or not they think it’s the best public policy. That’s their job. That’s their duty,” Cooper said. “This office is going to continue to do its duty to defend laws. Nothing has changed.”

The new law would allow legislative leaders to step in as parties involved in a lawsuit, though judges would have a final say on their involvement.

Laws authorizing lawmakers to defend their work with outside attorneys are already in force in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas, according to a memo from attorneys with the General Assembly’s non-partisan research division. Courts in New Jersey and Minnesota have allowed legislative leaders to intervene in litigation even though state laws didn’t explicit say they could, researchers said. 

Judges are inclined to allow legislators defend a law if an attorney general or others won’t, Wake Forest University constitutional law professor Eugene Mazo said.

North Carolina law allows governors and state agencies, with the governor’s permission, to hire outside attorneys if the attorney general finds it “impracticable” to provide legal services. The state Supreme Court said in 1987 that governors can hire legal help without the advice of the attorney general.

The legislature also has hired outside attorneys to represent lawmakers over challenges to the General Assembly’s redistricting of state and federal legislative districts, and in a long-running lawsuit by poor school districts over funding. Legal bills totaled $1.8 million in the past two years.

If Cooper and legislative leaders end up on opposite sides of whether courts should uphold a state law, “it’s not hard to appreciate that this could all result in some confusion,” said Michael Crowell, a professor at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in judicial authority.

“It seems pretty clear that the attorney general is the lawyer for the state in all cases. What’s been disputed in other states and not here is whether that’s exclusive – whether only the attorney general can represent the state,” he said.

Illinois expected to vote on marriage bill today

The Illinois House is scheduled to conclude its business today (May 31). And the schedule for the last day of business does contain a second reading of the state marriage equality bill.

The House business begins at 9:30 a.m. CST in Springfield.

It was unclear when the marriage bill, S.B. 10, would be taken up.

Sixty votes are needed to pass the measure, which is sponsored in the House by openly gay state Rep. Greg Harris, a Democrat from Chicago.

The bill has passed the Senate and has the support of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

If the measure, which contains protections for religious institutions that do not support same-sex marriage, passes, Illinois will become the 13th state in the country to legalize civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Three other states have legalized gay marriage this year – Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Here are some key questions lawmakers are weighing as they make their decisions:

Who supports the legislation?

The Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition – led by three gay-rights advocacy groups – is among the driving forces behind the bill. In addition to Quinn, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is among Democrats in support. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the state’s top elected Republican, also supports the proposal, as does outgoing state Republican chairman Pat Brady.

Who opposes the legislation?

The bill has faced fierce opposition from religious organizations and other groups that believe same-sex marriages undermine the sanctity of such unions. The Catholic Conference of Illinois has distributed a toolkit to churches and schools outlining the church’s position that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Prominent pastors of several large black churches in the Chicago area have fought the measure through radio commercials and robocalls.

Does the bill force religious institutions to perform same-sex marriages?

The proposal states that religious institutions are not required to carry out same-sex weddings, but opponents are concerned the bill would force them to allow such ceremonies in fellowship halls, parish centers or even sanctuaries. Before the bill was sent to the House, lawmakers tweaked it to say that no church or other religious organization may be sued should it refuse to make its parish available for same-sex marriage ceremonies. But businesses, health care and educational facilities and social service agencies are not exempt.

What is the difference between a gay marriage and a civil union?

Approving gay marriage would give same-sex couples the same legal standing in Illinois as heterosexual couples. Civil unions give couples many benefits, including the right to make funeral and end-of-life decisions, the right to share a room in a nursing home, automatic hospital visitation, adoption and parental rights, but marriage could give couples additional benefits under state and federal law. Advocates argue the main issue is equality.

What federal benefits could a married gay couple receive?

The answer hangs on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this summer. If the nation’s highest court strikes down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it would allow legally married gay couples or, in some cases, a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage, to have access to breaks on estate taxes, health insurance for spouses of federal workers and Social Security survivor benefits.

Does the Illinois bill affect school curriculum?

No. School curriculum is not part of this bill. Local school boards make curriculum decisions in Illinois.

How soon could the state start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples?

Gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to marry 30 days after the governor signs any legislation.

Will the existing civil unions of same-sex couples continue to be valid?

Yes. Couples who have entered a civil union are not required to obtain a marriage license. But if they choose to get married, they can take their certificate to a county clerk’s office and ask to be issued a marriage license. The exchange of documents will be free during the first year.

Where do Illinoisans stand?

A September poll for Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found 44 percent of those surveyed said they believe same-sex couples “should be allowed to legally marry.” That’s a 10-point increase from 2010, when only 34 percent backed gay marriage in a poll by the same institute.

How much support did the bill get in the Illinois Senate?

The bill was approved 34-21. The only Republican voting yes was Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington. Two House Republicans – Reps. Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove – are expected to support the measure.

How many states allow gay marriage?

Twelve states and the District of Columbia. Minnesota is the most recent state to allow same-sex couples to marry after Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation into law May 14. In Iowa, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Iowa’s constitution required that same-sex couples be given the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

The bill is SB10.

On the Web…


Coalition of churches backs marriage equality in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island State Council of Churches this week called upon state lawmakers to pass, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee to sign marriage equality legislation in 2013.

Ray Sullivan of Rhode Islanders United for Marriage called the Rhode Island State Council of Churches “a beacon of religious tolerance and a strong voice for protecting families in the Ocean State.

The endorsement, he said, “is an important recognition that many Rhode Island faith traditions welcome and affirm same-sex marriages. We welcome the Council to our broad and growing coalition, and look forward to working together to extend the unique protections that only marriage affords to all Rhode Island families.”

The executive minister of the council, the Rev. Don Anderson, said the organization believes marriage equality is about tolerance and freedom.

The council, in its statement, noted that Rhode Island is the only New England state to deny marriage equality to citizens.

The council consists of 12 denominations and six member organizations representing more than 300 churches in the state.

The statement from the council…

Whereas, The General Assembly in Rhode Island has an opportunity to make Marriage Equality unanimous in New England and to become a beacon for the balance of the country, and

Whereas, The faith community represented by the Rhode Island State Council of Churches has a long track record of being a voice of conscience and justice for Civil Rights, and has long embraced the Rhode Island heritage of separation of church and state,

Be it resolved that, The Rhode Island State Council of Churches, seeing compelling issues of social justice involved, calls on the Governor, members of the General Assembly, and citizens of all faith traditions to join with us in calling for the passage of a Marriage Equality bill that affords all the rights and responsibilities of heterosexual couples to same gender couples while, at the same time, protecting the rights of all clergy to follow their consciences and convictions in the exercise of their pastoral responsibilities; and

Be it further resolved that, The Council calls on all people of faith to examine, discern, and share views related to the complex and difficult gender issues related to marriage. We call for mutual respect and guidance that seeks the good of all, even with our different views on this matter. As we live together with disagreement, we encourage traditions, congregations, and, indeed, all persons of faith to accompany each other in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.

Gay congressman responds to gay marriage vote in his state

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a gay Democrat, was the only member of the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee to vote for a gay marriage bill in 2001. Now, in 2013, the committee he once served on has unanimously sent a gay marriage bill to the full House for consideration.

The vote could come as early as Jan. 24.

Cicilline has sent a letter to members of the Rhode Island General Assembly encouraging their support.

In a statement, he said, “I applaud the action of the House Judiciary Committee. Following President Obama’s inaugural address that called for gay Americans to be treated equally under the law, I am pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has taken the first step towards enacting full marriage equality in our state.”

He continued, “This important effort has received the support of a growing number of Rhode Islanders from nearly every political background and religious tradition, and I believe it is time our state recognizes the dignity and value of relationships between committed and loving individuals of the same gender by enacting full marriage equality in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island is the only New England state where gay marriage is not legal.