Greece & Italy Move Towards Legal Status For Same-Sex Couples

Two stories out today show positive steps for same-sex couples in Greece and Italy.

Almost 18 months after the European Court of Human Rights told Greece the same-sex couples needed some inclusion to legal protections, the Greek government looks intent on legalizing civil partnerships for all couples.

While encouraging, several months of work still lay ahead for the legislation. The bill is expected to go before the Greek Parliament later this summer.

Also, Italy’s Lower House passed a motion to approve civil unions by a vote of 204-83.

The language of the legislation (similar to the civil unions law in Germany) states that the government will commit “to promote the adoption of a law on civil unions, particularly with regard to the condition of the people of same sex”. It also says the government will “ensure equal treatment throughout the nation” of civil unions.”

No Same-Sex Marriage For Germany Despite 75% Approval For Marriage Equality

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel

Germany will not be following in Ireland’s footsteps in joining the 21st century by legalizing same-sex marriage.

Reuters reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has agreed to small improvements in the country’s domestic partnership laws, but according to spokesman Steffen Seibert, “Same-sex marriages are not a goal of this government.”

Although there are growing divisions within the party, Merkel’s Christian Democrats are still overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriages partly due to fears it could upset voters on the right.

However, polls show 75 percent of Germans are in favour of legalising gay marriages, as are the Social Democrats (SPD) and all opposition parties.

Merkel’s cabinet gave same-sex couples more rights but this move was dismissed by critics as inadequate for a country that in 2001 became one of Europe’s first to allow registered civil partnerships.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas, of the SPD, sounded disappointed that Germany could not take a bigger leap.

“Expanding rights for registered partnerships is another step toward giving same-sex unions the same rights as marriages,” said Maas. “We haven’t reached the goal yet.”

Denmark: 25 Years Ago Today

Eigel Axgil and Axel Axgil became the first couple in the world to enter into a same-sex civil union.
Photo – Francis Joseph Dean

On this day, October 1st, in 1989, the very first same-sex civil union took place in Denmark.

The legal name was “registered partnership.”

Sounds loving, doesn’t it? But it was the first step in a long journey.

At the time, Eigil Axgil said, “Be open, come out, keep fighting. This is the only way to move anything. If everyone comes out of the closet, then this will happen everywhere.”

Check out this site with lots of pics.

(h/t JMG)

Wisconsin’s domestic partnerships ruled constitutional by state supreme court

Lambda Legal announced today via press release that Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership registry has been found to be constitutional by the state supreme court, thus ending an almost two year legal fight over the limited protections:

Today the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the state’s domestic partnership registry as constitutional, bringing a joyful end to a long legal battle by Lambda Legal on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and five intervening defendant couples.

“We’re thrilled that Wisconsin same-sex couples can keep the limited but very important protections that the domestic partnership registry grants them,” said Christopher Clark, Counsel for Lambda Legal. “The statute is clearly constitutional, and the Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed with us. Gay and lesbian couples in Wisconsin no longer have to fear that the protections they have will be taken away by unnecessary anti-gay legal action.

Throughout the fight for marriage equality, we often hear that there’s no animus towards LGBT folks regarding these rights.  It’s just the word “marriage.”

And yet, even with the limited rights provided by domestic partnerships in Wisconsin, the haters attempted to take away those protections.

So, when you hear “I have nothing against gays” – be warned.

The 7th Circuit Appeals Court originally assigned a date of August 13 to hear arguments regarding overturning Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban, but promptly cancelled the arguments with no comment.

Walmart to offer same-sex partners benefits

Walmart to offer employment benefits to same-sex couples - domestic partners

Well, this is a big deal.

Yesterday Walmart employees received a memo from Sally Welborn, Walmart’s Senior VP of Benefits:

This week our associates will receive a pre-enrollment postcard at their homes announcing the dates for annual enrollment and providing highlights of the 2014 benefit offerings. Among the information highlighted on the postcard: We will cover domestic partners in the medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness and accident plans. This means Walmart will offer these benefits to an associate’s same- or opposite-sex spouse or unmarried partner.

The memo didn’t stop there, though. Welborn’s memo also made note of several other unrelated changes to the company’s benefits plan and then adds this:

It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets.

The Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “ObamaCare”) inextricably linked health insurance with employment. As such, for our associates for whom we offer health insurance, we want to be sure we are providing access to as many individuals and their families as possible.

Given the diverse world we live in today, a comprehensive benefit package that includes domestic partner benefits appeals to the contemporary workforce. Many companies, including most of our competitors, already offer spouse/partner benefits to their employees. Of 30 retail competitors, all but two (Publix and Stop and Shop union plan) provide either same- or opposite-sex domestic partner coverage.

Your behavior matters. The words you use also matter. We are counting on you to be thoughtful, supportive and understanding of multiple viewpoints. Your visibility can make a big difference to how associates feel.

Walmart has 1.3 million U.S. employees and is the largest employer outside the Department of Defense.

I don’t shop at Walmart. For many reasons. However, I applaud this move by America’s largest private employer and certainly my opinion feels a shift due to these policy shifts.

Good for Walmart.

Screen capture of memo details inclusion of domestic partners in company benefits
Click image to enlarge.

(via JMG)

Michigan: Court strikes down domestic partner ban due to “targeting” gay families

Via press release the ACLU announced that a federal judge has ruled the Michigan law barring domestic partner benefits is unconstitutional:

A federal judge today ruled that a state law that would have barred many public entities from providing health insurance to the domestic partners of their employees is unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union and Kirkland & Ellis LLP challenged the law on behalf of five gay and lesbian public employees, as well as their long-term domestic partners, who either lost their health insurance or would have lost their insurance as a result of the law.

“We’re breathing a sigh of relief right now,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. “This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn’t count.” In striking down the law, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson found it discriminated by forcing cities, counties, school districts, and community colleges to cancel family benefits for gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships while heterosexual employees had the ability to marry their partners to maintain health insurance. Same-sex couples cannot marry in Michigan.

Wyoming to consider LGBT marriage or other protections

Marriage equality, or some form of legal protections for gay and lesbian couples, could become a reality in Wyoming sometime soon.

The Jackson Hole Daily reports on a pair of bills that have been introduced with bipartisan support, backed by Jackson Republican Rep. Keith Gingery and Laramie Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly:

House Bill 169 would change the state’s
definition of marriage to say that marriage is a civil contract between
“two natural persons.” Current law says that marriage is a contract
between “a male and a female person.”

This piece of legislation
would plug gay marriage into the state’s existing framework for
marriage, Gingery said. It simply would open the rights afforded to
heterosexual couples to gay couples as well.

“Legally speaking, I would prefer the gay marriage bill,” he said. “We already know how it works.”

House
Bill 168, which Connolly filed Monday, would create a legal framework
for domestic partnerships, allowing same-sex couples to “obtain the
rights, responsibilities, protections and legal benefits provided in
Wyoming for immediate family members.”

The law would consider a member of a domestic partnership to be a spouse under all state rules and laws.

Gingery is a Catholic and says the bills protect church policy.

(via Towleroad)

Nevada lawmaker looks to repeal ban on marriage equality

A Nevada lawmaker is aiming to challenge the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality with legislation that would reverse two voter-approved ballot initiatives that have restricted marriages only to heterosexual couples.

Nevada Assemblyman Elliot Anderson will be introducing a bill after the legislature convenes in February which would begin the process to eliminate the state-wide ban on marriage equality because.

Nevadans approved the constitutional ban on marriage equality in 2000 with 69.6% of the vote. A final vote on the matter in 2002 was approved by 67% of the vote.

In 2009, Nevada passed domestic partnerships which reportedly gives same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.

(source)

Date set for Nevada gay marriage lawsuit

U.S. District Chief Judge Robert Jones has set November 26th as the date he will hear oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal Defense against the state of Nevada over differences in rights granted by the state’s domestic partnership law (passed in 2009) and the gay marriage ban that became part of the state’s constitution in 2002.

Judge Jones told lawyers from both sides that he plans to rely on written arguments, not courtroom testimony from people offered as experts. He also indicated that he looks to decide the matter quickly.

Arizona Governor looks to Supreme Court to strip same-sex couples of domestic partner benefits

When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) assumed power in 2009, she quickly advanced a law that would have stripped same-sex couples of their state domestic partner benefits. Lambda Legal fought back in a case now known as Diaz v. Brewer and won in both federal district court and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the law discriminated against same-sex couples who could not otherwise obtain the benefits through marriage.

Now, Brewer is asking the Supreme Court to step in and reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal is confident that the injunction against the law taking effect will stand:

BORELLI: We are confident that the lower courts’ decisions upholding domestic partner coverage for lesbian and gay employees will continue to carry the day. Arizona’s arguments have been turned down again and again by the federal courts, and we expect it will be no different here.

The argument against Brewer’s law strongly parallels the case against California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court will also have an opportunity to hear this coming year. In both cases, the law in question attempted to strip away a right that was already in effect for same-sex couples. The Court could, however, rule that both are unconstitutional for that reason without mandating that either Arizona’s benefits or California’s marriages are fundamental rights that gays and lesbians deserve access to.

Via ThinkProgress