|January 21, 2009|
|New US President commits to further LGBT rights|
|Newly sworn-in US President Barack Obama commits to oppose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, support full civil unions and federal rights of same-sex couples, expand adoption rights, fight workplace discrimination among others.|
|New President Barack Obama called for a ‘new era of responsibility’ as he took the oath of office as the United States’ 44th president – and first African-American president in the country’s history.
In his 20-minute inaugural address, the new president acknowledged how far African Americans had come in the country with one poignant line.
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
And doubly so as he was sworn in on the steps of the US Capitol Building which slaves helped build from the 1790s until the 1820s.
The 47-year-old president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white American mother.
President Obama’s address has been described by news outlets such as the New York Times as a ‘stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush’ despite being couched in indirect terms. He referenced a wide range of issues from interrogation policies to the invasion of Iraq and the use of its military power and spoke of the need to “restore science to its rightful place.”
He is expected to reverse some of the most contentious policies of the Bush administration such as banning the use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, giving a go-ahead for stem cell research and repealing the military’s Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy which bans openly gay and lesbian personnel from serving.
On Tuesday, the White House web site was updated with a list of commitments to further LGBT rights on his civil rights agenda:
THE AGENDA • CIVIL RIGHTS
“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.” – Barack Obama, June 1, 2007
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma – too often tied to homophobia – that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
|September 30, 2008|
|Keep gay sex a criminal offence: India government|
|By News Editor|
|The Union government has supported the stand of the Home Ministry in opposing the plea for decriminalisation of homosexuality, arguing that decriminalisation would promote delinquent behaviour and cause moral degradation in society.|
|Calling sexual relations a “social vice” and “a reflection of a perverse mind”, India’s Union government told the Delhi High Court last Friday it opposed scrapping of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code.
Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra said the government was not in a position to scrap the law at this time. “It (homosexuality) is a criminal offence,” he was quoted as saying in local media reports.
“Homosexuality is a social vice and the state has the power to contain it… If it is allowed then evils of AIDS and HIV would further spread and harm the people. It would lead to big health hazard. It would degrade moral values of the society,” Malhotra said before a bench of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S Muralidhar.
“Why do not you ban sexual intercourse (involving HIV infected person) if you want to contain the spread of HIV?” The bench hitted out at Malhotra’s often used argument that “homosexuality” causes the spread of HIV virus, reported The Indian Express.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code provides a punishment of up to life imprisonment for same-sex sexual relations. The hearing is the result of a petition filed by Naz Foundation in 2001 seeking to have Section 377 “read down” so that it does not apply to sexual acts between consenting adults. The same law is used to protect minors and non-consenting adults.
The petition filed by the Naz Foundation reads in part: “Section 377 demeans a gay man. It silences a gay man into accepting the discrimination against him. He will not come out to declare his orientation,” the NGO contended… “It can be criticised on the basis of moral grounds but it is illegal to make homosexual acts between consenting adults an offence.”
Last Thursday, advocate Shyam Diwan, appearing on behalf of Naz Foundation argued that morality cannot triumph over constitutional rights.
“For many homosexuals, their orientation is at the core of their identity… The moral argument cannot triumph over constitutional rights in a democratic society where fundamental rights prohibit any discrimination on the ground of sex.” He added that homosexuals in the country do not have full “moral” citizenship and are being treated as second-class citizens.
The Centre’s stand assumes significance in view of the contradictory stand taken by two of its ministries. The Health and Home Ministries have taken contradicting stands on the issue with the Home Ministry favouring to keep the status quo.
“Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and the disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private,” the Home Ministry had said in its affidavit earlier.
“Deletion of the section can open the floodgates of delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts,” it had said.
In referencing a judgment in a child sexual case by an Orissa court passed more than two decades ago, Malhotra’s attempts to link homosexuality as being “reflection of a perverse mind” failed to impress the court.
Justice S Muralidhar said, “We are concerned about homosexual acts among consenting adults in private so that judgement is not relevant here.
“Much water has flown under the bridge during last 25 years.”
The case continues this week.
For detailed court reports (filed by Lawyers’ Collective, India), visit www.lawyerscollective.org and media reports listed below.
May 21, 2008
By Mayur Suresh
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court will begin final arguments in the constitutional challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. Filed in 2001 by the Naz Foundation, a NGO working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health issues, the petition points to that the provision criminalises private sexual acts between consenting adult men. Naz Foundation is broadly arguing that this provision is hampering efforts at HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment since it drives gay men underground, and that it violates the constitutionally protected rights of equality and privacy.
The petition has attracted its fair share of attention. In 2003, an association of AIDS-denialists, The Joint Action Council, Kannur, made them selves parties to the case and in their written submissions argued that there is no evidence that HIV/AIDS exists and that it is spread through sexual activity. Soon after, Mr. B.P. Singhal, a member of Parliament from the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party entered the fray and in his written petition before the Court argued that homosexuality was unnatural and against Indian culture.
In October 2007, a coalition of human rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights and child rights organisations, known collectively as ‘Voices Against 377’ became a party to the case. They argued that Section 377, while rarely used in actual prosecutions, is used to target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and that sexual minorities face discrimination, harassment, blackmail, violence, rape and even murder as a result of this law.
Seven years after it was filed, final oral arguments began on Monday, May 19 before Justices Sikri and Midha of the Delhi High Court.
The proceedings began on an amusing note with the federal Home Ministry upholding the law and the federal Health and Family Welfare Ministry all but supporting Naz Foundation against Section 377. The Home Ministry, in its affidavit, says the law is right as Indians largely disapprove of homosexuality and that the law should continue as a deterrent for such kind of “immoral” acts.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare however, in its affidavit, says it is against enforcement of Section 377 as it pushes homosexual men underground, hampering efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS among this high risk population.
Monica Garg, the lawyer for the federal government, told an amused Court that she would argue the brief of the Home Ministry but also draw from arguments made by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry.
Anand Grover, lawyer for the Naz Foundation, introduced the case to Justices Sikri and Midha. Before a packed courtroom, he set out the structure of his case and said that the Naz Foundation challenges the constitutional validity of Section 377, on the grounds that it violated certain fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, namely Articles 14 (equality), 15 (non-discrimination), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (life and liberty).
The anti-sodomy law presently on the statute books in India, was taken by the British to all its colonies. Mr Grover pointed out however, that not only has the law been repealed or struck down in many of its former colonial possessions, like Canada, Australia and more recently Fiji and Hong Kong, but was also repealed by the United Kingdom, the birth place of the law, more than 40 years ago. He began his arguments by drawing upon the history of the section 377 and traced it back to biblical injunctions against buggery, and which found expression in British law as the ‘vice to horrible to be named.’
The apparent disgust with even naming or describing sodomy, is similarly expressed by Lord Macaulay, who drafted the provisions of the Indian Penal Code in the middle of the nineteenth century. He said that the provisions “relate to offences respecting which it is desirable that as little as possible be said… we are unwilling to insert either in the text or in the notes anything which could give rise to public discussion on this revolting subject, as we are decidedly of the opinion that the injury which could be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with greatest precision.”
Mr Grover, stated that it is this refusal to define the offence clearly is what rendered the provision unconstitutional. The offence criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ and he argued that it is not clear, on the face of it, of what this means. He argued that the section 377’s vagueness runs counter to any basic principle of modern criminal and constititonal law that a penal law must be clear and precise and everyone should know exactly what the law penalises. In its 148-year history, there have been a few reported cases and even in those cases there has been considerable debate on what sexual acts the section covered.
He further argued that the law was unconstitutional because it did not take into account elements of consent. He said that the law was problematic particularly because it criminalised homosexual acts between adults even where the people involved consented to these acts.
He then referred to the Wolfenden Committee report of the United Kingdom, which recommended the repeal of the British sodomy laws. Relying upon the point in that report that the enforcement of morals on acts committed in private was not the domain and proper function of criminal law, he stated that the very same question now presented itself before the Delhi High.
Mr Grover is expected to continue his oral arguments till early next week. With Court holidays starting at the end of June for a month, a decision is not expected within the immediate future. The Court adjourned the matter and set the next date of hearing on May 21.
Mayur Suresh is a lawyer in New Delhi. He will continue to report on the case.
May 16, 2008
Lesbian talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres and her long-time partner Portia de Rossi are among those planning on wedding bells, as the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday.
In a 4-3 ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting state marriage laws as discriminatory. The broadly worded decision is also expected to have the effect of invalidating virtually any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
Lesbian talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres announced her plans to wed her long-time partner Australian actress Portia de Rossi during the taping of her talk show on Thursday (to be aired on Friday in the US), the day the California Supreme Court announced its ruling.
The long awaited court decision stemmed from San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom’s highly publicised move to allow same-sex weddings in 2004. Four-thousand gay couples wed before the Supreme Court invalided the marriages and put a halt to the practice after a month.
Two dozen gay couples along with the city and gay rights organisations then sued.
The turn of events spurred a national dialogue over gay rights and a conservative backlash in a presidential election year which resulted in several states passing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Today, 27 states have such amendments.
Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the 121-page majority opinion, said the state Constitution’s guarantees personal privacy and autonomy which protects “the right of an individual to establish a legally recognised family with the person of one’s choice.”
He said the Constitution “properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples.”
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who previously has vetoed two bills in favour of gay marriage, issued a statement saying he “respects” the decision and “will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn” it.
However religious and social conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage said the court had overstepped its bounds and are seeking to override the court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage.
Until that happens, same-sex couples are likely to be able to tie the knot in as little as a month. And unlike Massachusetts – the only other state where same-sex marriage is legal, California has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license; meaning gays from around the country are able to go to California to be wed.
Prior to the ruling, California, New Jersey and Vermont have legislation which grants same-sex partners many of the same legal rights as married couples.
The ruling is considered monumental by virtue of the state’s size – 38 million of the total population of 302 million are Californian residents. According to U.S. census figures, there are some 100,000 same-sex couples in California, about a quarter of whom have children.
The California Supreme Court was the first state high court to strike down a law barring interracial marriage in a 1948. The United States Supreme Court did not follow suit until 1967.
|February 12, 2008|
|ceremonial aspects of same-sex union ”unacceptable,” ACT govt told|
|By News Editor|
|The Attorney-General says the federal government is opposed to the Australian Capital Territory’s intention to restore the original version of the ACT Civil Unions Act which was struck down in 2006.|
|Laws that would allow same-sex couples to form civil unions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) were originally scheduled to be debated in parliament this month but it stalled as it faced heavy pressure from PM Kevin Rudd’s new government.
One of the main points of contention is that the territory is insisting on a system of civil unions that would allow gay couples to hold a ceremony.
In response to a rally held on Feb 2 which demanded the restoration of the original version of the ACT civil unions act, Australia’s federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland told the February 7 Australian that the Rudd government thinks “a civil unions register along the lines of Tasmania is appropriate” while the “ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate.”
The register, which has been in effect in Tasmania since 2004, differs from a civil union in that it recognises a broad range of relationships, including de facto heterosexual relationships and familial relationships, for the purposes of recognition by government. The state of Victoria is considering a similar measure.
At the Feb 2 rally, ACT Labor Attorney-General Simon Corbell and openly gay ACT Labor MP Andrew Barr reiterated their commitment to civil unions in the territory.
“The [ACT] government will not walk away from the principle that people in a same-sex relationship should be entitled to enter that relationship legally before the law and to do so through a formal ceremony that is recognised by the law”, Corbell told the rally.
“We should be able to say, if we want to recognise same-sex relationships in this way, and if the democratically elected [ACT Legislative] Assembly chooses to legislate in that way, then that is what the law should be.”
On Jun 13, 2006, the former federal Liberal government in a rare move used its powers under the ACT Self Government Act to strike down a law which was fast-tracked by the Territory’s Labor government, to grant civil unions between same-sex couples.
“The Tasmanian scheme met the needs and wishes of the Tasmanian community. However, the ACT community clearly preferred a civil unions model and that is the model that the Government is pursuing,” a spokesperson for ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope told The Canberra Times.
The spokesperson added that the Bill would not be brought forward until “policy differences” between the Territory and the Commonwealth are resolved.
ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, who crossed the floor to vote against his government’s overturning of a gay rights Bill in 2006, labelled it “hypocrisy” as the Labor Government was now “baulking” at similar legislation.
He was quoted as saying in The Times on Feb 10 that the territory had the right to govern itself and suggested that the Rudd Government wasn’t serious in 2006 and just wanted to have a go at the federal government and to presumably exploit the gay vote.
“They wanted to get gay people to believe they were on their side, but now that it comes down to making a real decision, they no longer seem to be on that side and think there are more votes to be lost by supporting such legislation.”
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group activist Rodney Croome pointed out that “what opponents of the Stanhope government’s proposal are saying is that gay relationships are fine as long as they aren’t visibly and officially celebrated.”
“The Rudd Government should listen to what Canberrans want instead of trying to arm-twist an outcome that appeases Christian lobbyists,” Croome told Eevolution.com.au.
The Federal Government’s stance on civil unions or any scheme that excludes an official ceremony is similar to what the Australian Christian Lobby has officially said it would support.
While ACT is a very small jurisdiction with a population of some 339,000 – majority of whom live in the capital city of Canberra, observers say that the issue is closely watched not only by the gay and lesbian community but also parts of the Christian community Australia-wide and the outcome would set a precedence for other states.
Key features of the Tasmanian relationship registry
The relationship registry is administered by the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and was opened on January 1st 2004.
Any two people can register a Deed of Relationship including those in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships (called “significant relationships”), and those in companionate and familial relationships (called “caring relationships”).
When two people register a Deed of Relationship they enter into a new legal union and acquire virtually all of the rights of married couples in state law.
There is no official, ceremonial component to entering a Deed of Relationship, but some couples arrange their own ceremony to coincide with the signing of their Deed of Relationship.
Tasmanian registered relationships are automatically recognised in countries such as the UK as civil partnerships. They are beginning to be recognised in federal law as proof of the existence of a relationship in areas such as immigration.
Source: Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group
|Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group|
|January 15, 2008|
|drug-resistant ‘flesh-eating’ MRSA bacteria hits MSM in san francisco and boston|
|By News Editor|
|A new, highly drug-resistant strain of the “flesh-eating” MRSA bacteria – which is known to thrive mainly in hospitals – is now being spread among gay men in San Francisco and Boston, researchers reported on Monday.|
|Sexually active gay men in San Francisco were 13 times as likely to contract methicillin- resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, than their heterosexual counterparts, said researchers at the University of California at San Francisco.
Based on a review of over 300 patients’ medical records from nine hospitals in San Francisco and two outpatient clinics in San Francisco and Boston, and through chemical analyses, it is also found that the bacteria is spreading among the gay communities of San Francisco and Boston.
Researchers have found that the new strain of bacteria called USA300 is growing resistant – or unresponsive – to three or even four classes of widely used antibiotics.
The study – published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine – warned that the new strain which seems to have “spread rapidly” in gay populations in San Francisco and Boston, “has the potential for rapid, nationwide dissemination” among gay men.
The bacteria, which typically produces boils that can grow to the size of tennis balls, can lead to sepsis (blood poisoning) or a deadly flesh eating form of pneumonia that devours the lungs in severe cases.
Researchers estimate that about 30 percent of all people carry ordinary staph chronically and most of those who do carry it in their noses or may manifests as an abscess or cellulitis in the buttocks, genitals and anal area.
Staph infections often look like raised red dots on the skin. Left untreated, the areas can swell and fill with pus.
“Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable,” said Binh Diep, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study. “That’s why we’re trying to spread the message of prevention.”
And prevention could just be as simple as soap and water.
“Taking a shower after sexual contact may minimise contamination,” says Dr Chip Chambers, co-author of the study and director of infectious diseases at San Francisco General.
“Ordinary soap will do. It dilutes the concentration of bacteria. You don’t need antibacterial soap.”
Previously, MRSA infections have been documented in sports teams, prison populations, gym-goers and the community at large.
In December last year, a infectious disease expert in Hong Kong warned that visiting massage parlours or having facials may increase one’s chances of contracting MRSA.
Even though the Department of Health conceded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to show a link between infections and massage parlours, the warning came after a finding that 10 percent of patients infected with MRSA in 2007 had visited massage parlours within 12 months of the onset of symptoms.
According to the health department, the number of reported community- associated cases jumped from 32 in 2006 to 175 in 2007, with two deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2005 some 94,000 people in the US became infected with MRSA, of which some 19,000 succumbed to it.
|Emergence of Multidrug-Resistant, Community-Associated, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Clone USA300 in Men Who Have Sex with Men|