All posts from “May 2012”

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May 31, 2012

DOMA Decision: Unconstitutional And Bound For SCOTUS

Court rules federal law unconstitutionally burdens both states and same-sex couples.

A federal appeals court ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Massachusetts, said that DOMA imposes a burden on both states and couples without a legitimate federal purpose. The decision is expected to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.

According to the court decision, DOMA affects more than 1,000 references to marriage in federal laws. As a result, same-sex couples who are married in U.S. states are denied substantial benefits from the federal government. Same-sex couples cannot file joint federal tax returns. Spouses cannot collect Social Security survivor benefits. Federal employees cannot share their health insurance with their spouses.

The First Circuit ruled that the burden placed on the more than 100,000 same-sex couples could not be justified. It rejected the argument that the underlying purpose of DOMA was “hostility toward homosexuality.” Support for traditional marriage, said the Court, did not mean moral disapproval of same-sex couples.

“Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held,” the court said.

Morality, too, was not a legitimate reason to define federal marriage as the union between one man and one woman. When passing DOMA, Congress said, “Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

The First Circuit cited the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. The Lawrence opinion said that morality was an insufficient justification for regulating homosexuality.

The First Circuit said that if the goal of DOMA was to strengthen and protect heterosexual marriage, then DOMA was a “poor remedy” to the problem. It ruled that Congress failed to show “any demonstrated connection between DOMA's treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage.”

The decision is limited to the constitutionality of DOMA and avoids broader claims that same-sex couples have a right to marry in any state. Rather, the court said that DOMA violates federalism by interfering in the choices of both same-sex couples and the states that grant them marriages.

The judges acknowledges that the principles in case, including federalism, civil rights, and congressional authority, are difficult to untangle and that “only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.”

“Invalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect” the First Circuit wrote. “But a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings (and even if it approves the result will formulate its own explanation).”

DOMA will remain in effect until the Supreme Court decides whether to review the decision.

The opinion was issued by a three-judge panel from the First Circuit. Michael Boudin, nominated by President George H. W. Bush, wrote the unanimous decision; the other two judges were chief judge Sandra L. Lynch (Clinton nominee) and Juan R. Torruella (Reagan nominee).

May 25, 2012

Black Americans on Gay Marriage: Is Obama Changing Opinion?

New poll shows opinion jump from African Americans in favor of same-sex marriage

President Obama's announcement supporting same-sex marriage could have an impact on opinion among black Americans. A new poll finds that 59 percent of black Americans support same-sex marriage, a jump from just 41 percent before Obama's announcement.

In previous surveys, support among black Americans for same-sex marriage has been consistently lower than among whites. A majority of black Americans polled over the past two years have opposed same-sex marriage (38 percent support vs. 52 percent opposition), according the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

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Black Americans who attend church are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are others.  According recent Pew polls, 70 percent of black Americans who attend church regularly oppose gay marriage, compared to 47 percent among those that do not.

With the relatively small number of black Americans in the Washington Post-ABC poll, it would be difficult to tell if the change in opinion occurred among more religious black Americans.

Continue reading Black Americans on Gay Marriage: Is Obama Changing Opinion?...

May 23, 2012

Are the World's Wealthiest Nations Doing Enough to Fight Hunger?

Groups appear less enthusiastic after the G8 summit’s position on food security and nutrition programs.

G8 leaders gathered at Camp David over the weekend where President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, striving to move 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. Organizations who work to reduce hunger and poverty commended U.S. leadership on food security, but some criticized other G8 nations for falling behind on their commitments to help the world's poor.

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Three years ago the leaders from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Russia gathered in L’Aquila, Italy. In a global recession, the world's wealthiest nations promised to assist the world's poorest countries, pledging $22 billion by 2012 to improve agriculture and food security. The U.S. is on track to meet its L'Aquila commitments by the deadline, but the G8 nations as a whole have given only 38 percent of their contributions, according to World Vision.

Adam Taylor, World Vision's vice president for advocacy, said the G8 nations need to fulfill their promises and distribute the remaining funds.

“While we applaud the real progress that has been made on food security and nutrition, if we had to give the G8 a grade right now, it would be ‘incomplete',” Taylor said in a statement.

Neil Watkins of ActionAid USA commended the U.S. for increasing its commitment to fight hunger, but he criticized other nations that have fallen behind on their commitments and have not promised to continue them into the future.

“Without a clear pledge to sustain L’Aquila public funding levels, this year’s G8 will be remembered as the summit that buried the L’Aquila pledge to fight hunger,” Watkins said.

Food security was not the top economic issues for the G8 nations that face their own recessions, a looming currency crisis, and austerity measures. With belt-tightening at home, G8 nations are less willing to provide aid to the world's poor.

Continue reading Are the World's Wealthiest Nations Doing Enough to Fight Hunger?...

May 14, 2012

Obama Campaign Taps Young Adviser, Michael Wear, for Faith Outreach

A 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office will head the campaign's faith outreach.

President Obama's re-election campaign has tapped a 23-year-old executive assistant in the White House faith-based office to head up its outreach to religious communities.

Michael R. Wear, who has worked in the White House for the past three and half years, will move to Chicago to become the campaign's Faith Vote director next week, White House officials confirmed on Monday.

"It has been an honor working with Michael Wear to create positive faith-based and nonprofit partnerships to serve people in need," said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wear was DuBois' executive assistant. (CT profiled then 26-year-old DuBois in 2009)

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Wear was an intern during Obama's 2008 campaign, specializing in outreach to religious groups. He helped arrange candidate Obama's appearance at a presidential forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California as well as a meeting between Obama and prominent Christian leaders in Chicago.

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May 10, 2012

After Meeting with Black Southern Baptists, Richard Land Apologizes Again over Trayvon Martin Comments

The Southern Baptist leader said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has issued a lengthy public apology for his racially charged comments about the Trayvon Martin case, and said he has sent a personal letter to President Obama seeking forgiveness.

Land, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, issued the two-page apology Wednesday (May 9), a week after a five-hour meeting with African-American leaders and other Southern Baptist officials.

Because of that meeting, “I have come to understand in sharper relief how damaging my words were,” he wrote in the statement released through his denomination’s news service.

Land had previously apologized for his comments, which charged Democrats and civil rights leaders with exploiting the killing of the unarmed Florida teen. He also has apologized for failing to attribute the material he used when discussing the case on his radio show.

Continue reading After Meeting with Black Southern Baptists, Richard Land Apologizes Again over Trayvon Martin Comments...

May 9, 2012

Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer

Who was involved in National Day of Prayer events?

Last week’s National Day of Prayer drew attention to the role of prayer in public life, but for some, it also raised questions about whether the event is too exclusive. In Congress, the only openly atheist Congressman called for a National Day of Reason to replace the National Day of Prayer. And in Michigan, the Catholic Church in Michigan called on state lawmakers to welcome “elected officials of any faith” into the legislature’s new prayer caucus.

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In Michigan, there were concerns about the Day of Prayer from the Catholic Church. Church leaders were concerned about the Michigan Legislative Prayer Caucus, a new legislative group that held its first event on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and around 30 lawmakers met at the state capitol for prayer and a singing of “God Bless America.” The caucus held a similar event on Thursday as part of the National Day of Prayer and the Michigan Day of Prayer.

The caucus describes itself as "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles and Religious Liberties that were widely practiced by the Founders of these United States of America and the state of Michigan."

Dawud Walid, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI) said that while elected officials may be guided by their religious beliefs, the new caucus sent a mixed signal.

Continue reading Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer...

May 4, 2012

Why Mitt Romney’s Upcoming Liberty Commencement Address Fits the University’s Past Speakers

Romney will continue a long line of speakers who find common ground with Liberty on political issues.

Mitt Romney will speak at next week’s commencement at Liberty University, an addresss that follows the university’s history of politically conservative speakers. For Romney, the speech is an outreach to conservative Christians who have been wary of him, both for his political positions and his Mormon faith. For Liberty, Romney will continue a long line of speakers who find common ground with Liberty on conservative politics, not religious affiliation.

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The Liberty speech is one of many events Romney has planned that will allow him to shore up support with conservatives while beginning to sound themes for the general election. Two weeks ago, Romney spoke at the National Rifle Association meeting. While Romney tipped his hat to second amendment rights activists, he spent most of the speech on taxes and the economy.

Romney is likely to follow a similar strategy at Liberty, one that commencement speakers John McCain (2006) and George Bush (1990) used to avoid hot button social issues to focus on foreign policy and other issues.

Continue reading Why Mitt Romney’s Upcoming Liberty Commencement Address Fits the University’s Past Speakers...

May 3, 2012

Oklahoma Supreme Court: Personhood Amendment is Not OK

The decision may be a bellwether for future court challenges.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected earlier this week an initiative that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person, unanimously agreeing that the personhood initiative was “clearly unconstitutional.”

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The court's decision comes on the heels of the defeat of a personhood bill in the state legislature, where Republican leaders kept the bill from coming up for a vote before it adjourned last week.

The decision is not binding on any other state, but it could be a bellwether for future court challenges. Compared to other state courts, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is a moderate court, far from the more liberal courts of Hawaii and the northeastern states but also more moderate than the conservative courts in the South.

The unanimous verdict, however, is important. Even the most conservative members of the court agreed that the personhood initiative violated U.S. Supreme Court precedent and was therefore unconstitutional.

The decision likely means that other state courts will also decide that other personhood legislation and initiatives are unconstitutional.

Continue reading Oklahoma Supreme Court: Personhood Amendment is Not OK...