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Archive for May 2009

California’s supreme court upholds gay marriage ban

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The California Supreme Court has upheld a ban on same-sex marriage that was passed by the state’s voters last November. The court also upheld the validity of 18,000 gay and lesbian marriages performed before the ban, called Proposition 8, was enacted.

Gay marriage backers vowed to continue the fight at the ballot box in 2010, and more than a hundred supporters blocked San Francisco streets in a show of peaceful civil disobedience.

The court said the roughly 18,000 marriages that took place in the state before the November ban remained valid since the ban was not retroactive. That left the state of 37 million people with a tiny group of married same-sex couples that cannot grow.

“Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in the court’s opinion, arguing that the decision did not end broad protections for same-sex couples to form families.

Tuesday’s ruling was unlikely to be the last move in what is seen as a pivotal state in U.S. culture wars.

Social conservatives applauded but in Los Angeles gay advocates promised to try to change the state constitution again — to affirm gay marriage — in a battle seen as soon as November 2010.

“There is a smear on our constitution and the only way to get around it is through the ballot box,” Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told supporters.

The California court on Tuesday did not back away from its sweeping decision last year, which held that same-sex couples had fundamental constitutional rights and deserved special legal protections as a minority class. Proposition 8 was put to voters as a result of that court decision.

The proposition’s single line, reading “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” was too narrow to invalidate fundamental rights, the court held.

“Proposition 8 reasonably must be interpreted in a limited fashion as eliminating only the right of same-sex couples to equal access to the designation of marriage, and as not otherwise affecting the constitutional right of those couples to establish an officially recognized family relationship,” Chief Justice George wrote.

Activists planning a ballot initiative in favor of same-sex marriage say they will target minority communities, including Latinos and African Americans. Many minority voters supported Proposition 8.

One black community leader, Reverend Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles, hopes to reach out and change their minds.

“African Americans generally vote to uphold or restore the civil rights of people who have been oppressed or discriminated against,” said Lee. “So for that reason, for African Americans to get back to our history of fighting for civil rights for all people, our history of inclusion as opposed to exclusion, it’s necessary for that outreach to take place.”

In Los Angeles, Elissa Barrett, a lawyer and gay Jewish activist who married a woman last year, plans strategy with colleagues. She says it is time for outreach to the religious community.

“My wife has a saying: prayer and shoe leather go together. And I agree with her,” said Barrett. “And I think that there are a lot of people in churches and mosques and synagogues – wherever they were when this election happened last fall, have awoken.”

Before the California court’s move on Tuesday, a flurry of pro-gay marriage rulings and votes in Iowa and New England this year had appeared to reverse a trend toward banning them in the United States.

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May 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

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Sean Penn withdraws his petition to separate from Robin Wright Penn

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Sean Penn has called off his legal separation from his wife of 13 years, Robin Wright Penn, again.

Penn’s rep confirmed that the actor requested filed to dismiss their legal separation case at the Marin County Superior Court today.

The Academy Award winning actor told the New York Daily News, “It was an arrogant mistake.”

This is the second time in eighteen months that the couple had filed for separation and later dismissed it. They originally filed in December 2007, and the petition was dismissed in April of 2008.

The couple wed in 1996, and have two children, Dylan and Hopper Jack. They were last seen on the red carpet together at the Academy Awards where Sean Penn won Best Actor for his role in “Milk.” The 48-year-old actor neglected to thank his wife in his acceptance speech.

Robin Wright Penn has been seen this week at the Cannes film festival, while Sean Penn is in New York filming an upcoming movie.

Recent rumors suggested that Penn was dating actress Natalie Porman. However, Portman was quick to dispel those rumors last week.

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May 22, 2009 at 12:24 pm

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Barack Obama nominates Jenny Durkan for U.S. attorney in Seattle

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Out lesbian Jenny Durkan has been nominated by President Barack Obama to become U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington.

If confirmed by the Senate, Durkan would lead the Justice Department’s efforts in Western Washington, including prosecuting criminal and civil cases and defending federal agencies in court.

She would replace Jeff Sullivan, a Republican named to the position by the district’s federal judges after John McKay was controversially fired by the Bush administration.

“It is an incredible honor to be nominated for this office and the opportunity to serve our state and country,” Durkan said in an e-mail.

Obama himself said that all six of his nominees for U.S. Attorney “have distinguished themselves as fair, tenacious and respected attorneys throughout their careers in both public and private service.” And Gov. Gregoire had this to say: “I am so pleased the Obama administration also recognizes Jenny’s leadership and experience, and nominated her for this important position. I hope the Senate will act quickly on the nomination to confirm her.”

Durkan is the daughter of Martin J. Durkan Sr., a political giant in the state who served as chairman of the state Senate Ways and Means Committee and later became a powerful lobbyist. He died in 2005.

Her mother, Lorraine Durkan, the onetime executive editor of the Ballard News Tribune, died in February 2008.

Jenny Durkan has worked for years as a high-end criminal and civil attorney, simultaneously becoming a major figure in the Democratic Party.

Durkan also served on two panels, one appointed by former Mayor Paul Schell and another by Mayor Greg Nickels, to examine misconduct and accountability in the Seattle Police Department.

Durkan works as a solo practitioner in her own office now.

She began her legal career as an associate at the firm Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender and later worked for Williams & Connolly, one of the largest Washington, D.C., firms, and Foster, Pepper & Riviera.

She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Washington Law School.

Durkan is a lesbian who lives in Seattle with her partner and two sons. It was not immediately known whether she would be the first openly gay U.S. attorney; the Justice Department said it does not keep track.

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May 19, 2009 at 12:17 pm

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