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Alabama Supreme Court to judges: Stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples

The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court on sided with a pair of conservative groups late on March 3 and ordered Alabama’s 68 probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

A previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade that gay-marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution does not preclude the judges from following state law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the court ruled.

It was not immediately clear what effect the court’s ruling would have, or what probate judges would do after opening their doors on March 4.

While a six-member majority of the nine-member court did not explicitly invalidate the marriages of hundreds of same-sex couples who obtained licenses in the state in recent weeks, the decision used the term “purported” to describe those licenses.

The court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself from the case and did not participate in the writing of the unsigned 134-page decision.

After Granade’s ruling, Moore told probate judges across the state not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer. Still others decided to issue the licenses.

Of the other justices on Alabama’s high court, one agreed with the ruling while citing some reservations, and one, Justice Greg Shaw, dissented.

In his dissent, Shaw said it was “unfortunate” that federal courts refused to delay gay marriage in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue nationally. But, Shaw said, the state Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to consider the issue and is creating more confusion by “venturing into unchartered waters (sic)” outside its jurisdiction.

The court released the decision while Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and most state leaders were assembled in Montgomery for the state of the state address. A spokeswoman for Bentley said the administration was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

The court’s ruling came in response to a request from the Southern Baptist-affiliated Alabama Citizens Action Program and the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, which asked the justices to halt same-sex unions.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he was very excited about the decision.

“We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have. It will be a devastating blow to the family, which is already struggling,” Godfrey said.

He said the decision will provide some stability in Alabama until the U.S Supreme Court rules later this year. The nation’s high court will hear oral arguments in April and is expected to issue a ruling by June regarding whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.

An attorney representing couples who filed suit to allow gay marriages said the Alabama Supreme Court showed “callous disregard” and overstepped its bounds by declaring the state’s ban on same-sex marriages constitutional, something she said the justices hadn’t been asked to consider.

“It is deeply unfortunate that even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

David Kennedy, a lawyer for the couple in the case that resulted in Granade’s ruling overturning Alabama’s gay-marriage ban, said the U.S. Supreme Court spoke on the Alabama case when it refused to block Granade’s decision.

“The Alabama Supreme Court has now demonstrated a willingness to defy and nullify a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the federal district court for the southern district of Alabama,” said Kennedy.

The Alabama court ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage isn’t discriminatory because it bans both men and women from marrying people of the same sex, and it said the law has a rational basis because it is meant to recognize and encourage ties “between children and their biological parents.”

While “traditional marriage” can be considered a fundamental right, gay marriage cannot since same-sex unions amount to a redefinition of the term, the court ruled.

It’s not enough to decide that gays should be able to wed because they are in love, the justices wrote, adding that polygamy would be legal were that a main test.

In advance of a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama is among several states dealing with a tide of lower federal court rulings favoring same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, a legislative committee scheduled debate for Wednesday on a bill that would let courthouse workers cite religious objections for refusing to carry out duties involving gay unions.

Gay couples exchange vows in Montana

As they stood linking arms and holding bouquets, Linda Gryczan and Constance Enzweiler of Helena married on Nov. 20 after waiting 31 years.

They were the first same-sex couple in the city to legally wed after a federal judge overturned Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage the day before.

“We’ve been married for 31 years in our hearts. The next 31 we’ll be married in the state,” Gryczan said.

Gryczan has a history with Montana gay rights issues. She was the lead plaintiff in a 1995 lawsuit challenging a separate state law that made gay sex illegal. That led to the unanimous 1997 Montana Supreme Court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.

She had kind words on Nov. 20 for two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Wednesday’s ruling on the voter-approved ban. Adel Johnson and Sue Hawthorne were married in Washington state but came to the courthouse to celebrate.

“Thank you, thank you, for sticking your necks out,” Gryczan told them.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson married Gryczan and Enzweiler and said he supports the ruling by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to throw out the ban, calling it a stain on the state’s constitution.

“I can’t tell you how big a decision that is,” he said. “It basically says that gay people have the same rights as everybody else, as they always should have.”

Statewide, 47 same-sex couples from 13 counties received marriage licenses on Nov. 20, said Jon Ebelt with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Randi Paul and Jill Houk of Billings lined up for theirs before dawn at the Yellowstone County Courthouse. Less than two hours later – and just minutes after paying $53 for a license – they wed in a courthouse hallway as friends, supporters and members of the media crowded around.

For Paul, a 28-year-old legal assistant, the occasion marked the realization of a dream of getting married in her home state.

“I’m a super Montanan. That’s a big part of who I am. The prospect of getting married somewhere else was upsetting,” she said.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is appealing the ruling, but won’t seek an immediate stay to block same-sex marriages while the case is pending. His spokesman, John Barnes, said the state was waiting for a San Francisco-based federal appeals court to set a schedule for the case.

Some couples said they were eager to say their vows in case Fox’s appeal prevails.

Danielle Egnew, a 45-year-old Billings musician, said she and Rebecca Douglas, 44, wanted to marry “in a positive legal climate.” She said the two already have a date for a larger ceremony – Sept. 15 – but were exchanging vows Thursday to be safe.

Montana, Kansas and South Carolina have continued their legal fight against gay marriage despite rulings in favor of the practice from federal appeals courts that oversee them.

In South Carolina, Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson said he would fight to uphold the state’s constitutional ban even though the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied his emergency request to block gay marriages being performed there.

The first licenses were issued Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina, and a lesbian couple exchanged vows on the courthouse steps.

Wilson noted the nation’s top court has not yet resolved conflicting rulings by federal appeals courts. He said a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding gay marriage bans in several Midwest states means the matter likely will go to the high court.

Amy Wagner, 56, and Karen Langebeck, 48, of Livingston were among the first Montana couples to get their license after spending 22 years together.

“Being able to get married and introduce Karen as my wife – that’s a big deal,” Wagner said. “Now I have a way to describe this relationship that everybody understands.”

Before crucial meeting, Catholic cardinals debate marriage

The battle lines are being drawn before a major church meeting on family issues that represents a key test for Pope Francis.

Five high-ranking cardinals have taken one of Francis’ favorite theologians to task over an issue dear to the pope’s heart: Whether Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment can receive Communion.

They have written a book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” to rebut German Cardinal Walter Kasper, whom Francis praised in his first Sunday blessing after he was elected pope as “a great theologian” and subsequently entrusted with a keynote speech to set the agenda for the two-year study on marriage, divorce and family life that opens Oct. 5.

Kasper, for a decade the Vatican’s top official dealing with the Orthodox and Jews, delivered his remarks to cardinals earlier this year on the issues to be discussed during the synod. At the pope’s request, he asked whether these divorced and remarried Catholics might be allowed in limited cases to receive the Eucharist after a period of penance.

The outcry that ensued has turned the 81-year-old Kasper into the biggest lightning rod for internal debate that the Catholic Church has seen in years.

Conservatives, including the five cardinal authors, have vehemently opposed Kasper’s suggestion as contrary to Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

The second most powerful man in the Vatican has backed their view: Cardinal George Pell, one of Francis’ key advisers, wrote in another new book that debating something that is so peripheral to begin with and so clear in church teaching amounts to “a counterproductive and futile search for short-term consolations.”

“Every opponent of Christianity wants the church to capitulate on this issue,” Pell wrote. “We should speak clearly, because the sooner the wounded, the lukewarm and the outsiders realize that substantial doctrinal and pastoral changes are impossible, the more the hostile disappointment (which must follow the reassertion of doctrine) will be anticipated and dissipated.”

Francis, however, seems to think otherwise. He praised Kasper’s speech, calling it “profound theology” that did him much good and represented a true love for the church.

Church insiders say Francis is none too pleased by the war of words that has ensued, such that he instructed one of the book authors – Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s top doctrinal chief – not to promote it.

The unusually raw and public debate has crystalized the growing discomfort among conservatives to some of Francis’ words and deeds, and sets the stage for a likely heated discussion on family issues.

Church teaching holds that Catholics who don’t have their first marriage annulled – or declared null by a church tribunal – before remarrying can’t participate fully in the church’s sacraments because they are essentially living in sin and committing adultery. Such annulments are often impossible to get or can take years to process, leaving untold numbers of Catholics unable to receive Communion.

Francis has asserted church doctrine on the matter but has called for a more merciful, pastoral approach. He reportedly told an Argentine woman earlier this year that she was free to receive Communion even though her husband’s first marriage was never annulled.

Knowing the issue is divisive, though, he has convened the whole church to discuss it.

The new book asserts there really is no better solution – and no grounds to argue for it since Catholic doctrine is clear. Aside from Mueller, the authors include another high-ranking Vatican official: Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American head of the Vatican’s supreme court.

“These are not a series of rules made up by the church; they constitute divine law, and the church cannot change them,” the book says. Kasper’s assertions, reading of history and suggestions for debate “reinforce misleading understandings of both fidelity and mercy.”

Kasper has agreed there can be no change to church doctrine and no sweeping, across-the-board allowances. But he has said the matter must be looked at on a case-by-case basis, that mercy is God’s greatest attribute and the key to Christian existence, and that God always gives faithful Catholics a new chance if they repent.

It is rare for cardinals to publicly and pointedly accuse one another of being wrong, and rarer still for a cardinal to question the pope, as Burke has done.

Regarding the purported phone call to the Argentine woman, Burke told the EWTN Catholic channel: “I wouldn’t for a moment impute that Pope Francis intended to give a signal about church doctrine by calling someone on the phone. This is just absurd.”

Burke has also questioned Francis’ first encyclical on the excesses of capitalism and obliquely criticized Francis’ decision to not focus on abortion.

Francis last year removed Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, as a member of the powerful Congregation for Bishops. A leading Vatican insider has reported that his days at the Vatican high court are numbered.

Appeals court hears arguments today in Utah marriage equality case

With its recent string of high-profile victories in federal court, the gay marriage movement is hoping to build momentum to help it attain its long-held goal: A Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

But first they must convince federal appellate courts of the merits of their case.

That quest begins today (April 10) in Denver and continues next week when a three-judge panel will hear arguments on whether they should uphold separate rulings by two federal judges that threw out same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

They do so, however, in a climate far different than 2004, when voters overwhelmingly approved the prohibitions in both states.

After the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, eight federal judges in all have struck down state bans on gay marriage or on the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

As the panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals considers the Utah case today (April 10), experts say pressure is on the judges at a time when polls show a majority of Americans backing same-sex unions.

“The challenge for conservative judge would be: Do you want to be the only court of appeals that upholds discrimination that the country is rapidly galloping to renounce?” William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale University, said. “The handwriting is on the wall.”

Opponents say that shouldn’t factor into the judges’ calculations.

“There are strong political factors that seem to be driving these district court decisions,” said Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., adding that expectations that the Supreme Court will ultimately find that gays have the right to marry may also feed into it.

“It’s not the job of lower courts to predict where the Supreme Court will go,” he said.

Despite the legal momentum, attorneys say it is distinctly possible the 10th Circuit could rule against gay marriage backers and argue the issue is best settled at the ballot box.

“It’s an institutional argument that we’ve seen at the Supreme Court and we’ve seen in state litigation,” Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine, said. “If the court wanted to not say something about the merits, but uphold the ban, they could go that direction.”

The three judges picked randomly to hear the case, and next week’s appeal of the ruling that struck down an Oklahoma gay marriage ban, include two Republicans and one Democrat.

One of the Republicans, Jerome A. Holmes, appointed by President George W. Bush, initially voted against staying the trial court’s ruling, which allowed more than 1,000 gay couples to wed in Utah in December before the Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the initial ruling.

The other two judges are Carlos F. Lucero, appointed by President Bill Clinton, and Paul J. Kelly, Jr., appointed by President George H.W. Bush.

Kenneth Upton, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund who watches the 10th Circuit carefully, said the panel is a perfect representation of a court that is generally moderate and centrist.

“If you wanted to pick a panel where you could do a straw poll of the judiciary, this is a pretty good sample,” Upton said.

It will likely be months before the panel issues a ruling, which will become law in the six states in its jurisdiction unless it is stayed. Those states are Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. New Mexico’s Supreme Court has already legalized gay marriage in that state.

Even if the panel upholds the lower court’s decision, the argument will only be settled when it moves one more level up to the Supreme Court. The high court could get a case either from the 10th circuit or one of the at least four other appeals courts scheduled to consider the issue.

Still, both sides say the stakes are high today.

“Having a victory from the 10th Circuit would be electrifying,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs in the Utah case. “It would be extremely encouraging and help continue the incredible momentum.”

Jim Campbell, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents religious organizations, said: “The stakes are whether the people can continue to define marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Lawyers for Utah and several other organizations that have filed briefs supporting the state’s side argue the ban should stand because the state has a right to promote marriage between a man and a woman, which is optimal for childrearing.

The plaintiffs and gay rights proponents counter there is little data backing up the state’s case on parenting and that the ban improperly deprives gay couples of the right to marriage.

The Supreme Court sounded skeptical of the childrearing argument in its ruling last year, noting that gay couples raise children who are harmed by their parents’ marriages not being recognized. The state Wednesday night filed papers distancing itself from a study it cited that purported to show children of heterosexual parents did better than children of gay ones.

Underscoring the political pressure in the case, a pro-gay marriage group began airing ads supporting same-sex weddings in Colorado, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. About 200 gay marriage supporters Wednesday night held a rally outside the Denver courthouse where the hearing will occur.

The gay marriage movement is moving so quickly that several new lawsuits challenging state same-sex marriage bans are filed each month. The latest came Wednesday in North Carolina.

Andrew Koppelman, a law professor at Northwestern University, said that societal change has made the final outcome inevitable.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in this case, but it’s clear that the same-sex marriage movement has won,” Koppelman said. “Federal judges know that. You bring these cases before them, and they don’t want to say `No.'”

Russian airline forces gay flight attendant to wed to keep his job

Gay activists in Russia are organizing a boycott of Aeroflot over reports that Russia’s leading airline forced a gay flight attendant to marry a woman in order to keep his job.

Gay flight attendant Maxim Kupreev, 25, claims the airline demanded that he enter into heterosexual marriage with his former high school girlfriend after he tried last year to create an LGBT group within the company, reported GayStarNews.com.

The boycott is set to be launched Feb. 9 at a rally outside the airline’s main office in Moscow.

Kupreev claims that his high school friend Sofia Mikhailova had to end an authentic marriage in order to marry him and help him keep his job. is and it also means ‘defect’.

“Aeroflot effectively broke a real marriage and created a sham one,” said Moscow Pride founder Nikolai Alekseev.

In July 2011 gay activists tried to picket Aeroflot’s office to protest the treatment of the founders of the company’s LGBT employee group. But Moscow authorities banned the event, citing “security concerns.”