Showing posts with label Gay Couple. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Couple. Show all posts

December 2, 2016

Walmart Settled Lawsuit That Denied Health Insurance to Same Sex Couples

 We married because we are a family. Respect us!

Walmart announced on Friday that it had settled a lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against gay and lesbian employees when it denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.

Under the deal, Walmart will set aside $7.5 million, mostly to compensate employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits during the three years before Jan. 1, 2014, when the company changed its policy. More than 1,000 people may be eligible.

But the agreement also signals how legal doctrine on discrimination against gays and lesbians is rapidly changing, making it increasingly likely to be considered a form of sex discrimination. Such a doctrine would generally make it easier for gay and lesbian plaintiffs to prevail in court, as federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination.

“We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution,” Sally Welborn, a Walmart senior vice president, said in a statement. “We will continue to not distinguish between same- and opposite-sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan.”

Since the late 1980s, the primary way for plaintiffs to fight discrimination based on their sexual orientation has been to argue that an employer treated them unfairly because they did not conform to gender stereotypes.

So, for example, a gay plaintiff might win in court by arguing that he was denied a promotion because he did not appear sufficiently masculine. But he was unlikely to win by arguing that he had been denied the promotion because he was gay or in a same-sex relationship. This frequently limited plaintiffs’ ability to prevail.

In recent years, however, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with some federal courts, have found that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “inherently” sex discrimination, as the commission wrote late year, and therefore outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The commission’s stance could change under President-elect Donald J. Trump, who will nominate new commissioners to the agency over time. But by then there could be an emerging consensus in the federal courts, making a reversal less relevant.

The Walmart settlement, pending preliminary approval by the judge in the case, William G. Young of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, appears to reflect the growing acceptance of the commission’s analysis by private sector employers.

In their motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, lawyers for the lead plaintiff, Jacqueline Cote, argued that Walmart had discriminated against Ms. Cote because she was married to a woman. They also made the more traditional argument that the company had discriminated against Ms. Cote because she did not conform to the stereotype that women must marry only men.

Although Walmart did not endorse any particular legal theory as part of the settlement, it also did not move to dismiss the case on grounds that the arguments were flawed.

“Some employers, as well as some employee groups, will be wondering if this reflects Walmart’s assessment of where courts might be moving,” said Helen Norton, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Ms. Cote began working as an associate at Walmart in Maine in 1999 and worked continuously at the company there and in Massachusetts through 2015. In 2004, she married Diana Smithson, another Walmart associate, in Massachusetts, where she lived.

In 2008, Ms. Smithson left the company to become the primary caregiver for Ms. Cote’s mother. Around that time, Ms. Cote began trying to enroll Ms. Smithson in Walmart’s spousal health insurance plan. The company repeatedly blocked her from signing up because of its policy of denying health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.

In 2012 Ms. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the couple ran up some $150,000 in uninsured medical expenses over the next few years.

Under the deal, Walmart will reimburse current or former employees affected by its previous policy for the full out-of-pocket cost of their spouse’s health care from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2013, if they submit documentation of the costs incurred. The company will also pay 250 percent of out-of-pocket costs for those who submit documentation for expenses of $60,000 or more in health care expenses for their spouse.

The settlement identifies roughly 1,100 people who may be eligible for compensation, though it acknowledges that the number could be higher.

The company also committed to treating same-sex couples and heterosexual couples equally when administering its health benefits. Walmart made same-sex spouses eligible for health benefits in 2014, but even after this it claimed it had no legal obligation to do so. Ms. Cote’s lawyers argued in their complaint that this left same-sex couples in a more precarious financial situation, since Walmart could easily rescind the coverage.

“We are glad that as part of the settlement Walmart will continue to provide the same health insurance benefits regardless of the gender of the associate’s spouse,” Peter Romer-Friedman, one of Ms. Cote’s lawyers, said in a statement.

A judge’s preliminary approval in this sort of settlement typically happens within a matter of weeks.

The broader legal landscape suggests a coming shift in federal courts’ thinking on whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates existing civil rights law.

While much of the recent litigation in this area has focused on employment-related issues, plaintiffs may successfully challenge similar discrimination in the realms of housing and lending, where federal law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. At least one plaintiff has brought such a complaint.

Cases litigating the question of whether sexual orientation discrimination is inherently sex discrimination are pending in multiple federal appeals courts, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch told BuzzFeed this spring that the Justice Department was “looking” at whether to adopt the new position. (The department declined to comment on when it would reach a conclusion.) The issue could come before the Supreme Court in the next few years.

One prominent case had a rehearing last month before the full United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, after a three-judge panel from the court had rejected the new discrimination doctrine. At the rehearing, the judges appeared sympathetic to overturning the court’s previous position.

“The trend lines are very positive,” said P. David Lopez, general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The courts have really drilled down and started to re-examine whether prior precedent makes sense.”

He added: “Walmart is the latest data point in what we’ve seen is a real fundamental shift.”


September 5, 2016

Gay Couple Thrown off London Bus under Vile Attack by Driver

Omar Okai claimed he and his boyfriend were kicked off the bus for being gay (Picture: Facebook/Omar Okai) 

A theatre director describes how he was kicked off a London bus after its driver launched a vile racist and homophobic tirade at him and his boyfriend.
Omar Okai said the “humiliating” incident happened after he had enjoyed an evening out with his boyfriend in central London on Friday.
He said the couple were left "shocked and disgusted" after the driver challenged them with an apparently innuendo-laden remark after they boarded the bus at the rear.
The 51-year-old, from Bethnal Green, alleged that the driver told them: "I bet you like it in the backdoor" during the confrontation near Tottenham Court Road station. 
Mr Okai and his Spanish partner Juan Salas Carranza, 36, have now formally complained to Transport for London and the police over the alleged incident.
Behind the wheel: Omar Okai took a photograph of the bus and driver following the incident. (Omar Okai)
"We put our hands out to get the bus but he looked at us and pointed at something and just drove on," Mr Okai told the Standard. 
“We caught up with the bus at another stop. The front doors were closed but people were on the bus. The back door was open so we got on and go straight to the front and put our Oyster cards on the machine.
“He then said, the front doors were closed for a reason. We apologised and said ‘but we have paid, is it ok?’
“He just kept repeating, ‘how long have you been using buses in this country?’ I made it very clear I am British but he kept repeating it. It was really aggressive, it was vile.
“He then said, ‘why did you use the backdoor?’. We again apologised and he said, ‘I bet you like it in the backdoor anyway.’
“I kind of stopped and said, ‘what do you mean’. He said, ‘you heard’.
Snapped: The bus driver who Omar Okai has reported as part of the alleged incident. (Omar Okai)
“He then pressed the button on the top of his bus panel and made this announcement. He said 'this bus is not going any further and people need to get off'. 
“It was in such a nasty way. We got off the bus but realised other passengers stayed on. He then opened the front doors and allowed another lady to enter and then he drove off.”
Mr Okai, who runs his own theatre company, said: “You don’t have to call me a poof and a queer to be homophobic. This on a bus in your own country in 2016, that’s disgusting.”   In a letter to TfL, he added: “I would like an explanation, not just an apology, as I will be taking it further. 
“This kind of behaviour is not acceptable in any shape or form in Great Britain and as a British citizen born here, I am not accepting it. My partnerand I were humiliated and intimidated, being made to leave the bus.
“In a multi-racial, poly-sexual society, this can't be allowed to pass. I use the transport system day in, day out and have never been so insulted.”
Transport for London said they are investigating what happened.
A spokesperson said: “We are concerned to hear of this incident and are investigating it with Tower Transit, the operator of the 25 bus route. 
“We expect the highest standard of public service from bus drivers."
Bus operator Tower Transit have also been contacted for comment.
Mr Okai also reported the alleged incident, which happened at around 10pm on Friday, to the Metropolitan Police. Scotland Yard have been contacted for comment. 
People have taken to social media to show their support for Mr Okai and applaud him for reporting the incident.
Steven Kavuma said on Twitter: "Absolutely disgusting. I hope his bus licence gets taken away."
Stephanie Sirr wrote: "Shocking treatment of two gay men on their way home. Feels like we’re going backwards".

August 25, 2016

He Poured Boiling Hot Water on Sleeping Gay Couple, Gets 40 Years

A jury has convicted an Atlanta truck driver accused of pouring boiling water over two gay men as the couple slept in February.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Wednesday before finding Martin Blackwell guilty of eight counts of aggravated battery and two counts of aggravated assault, according to the Associated Press.
Blackwell was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The 48-year-old wasn’t charged with a hate crime because Georgia is one of five states that doesn’t have a hate crime statute. An FBI spokesman told Reuters that federal investigators are considering whether to charge Blackwell with a federal hate crime.
Anthony Gooden had told his family he was gay shortly before the attack, which happened as Gooden slept on a mattress in his mother’s living room next to Marquez Tolbert, according to the AP. The men had been dating for about six weeks.
Blackwell, a long-haul trucker who stayed at the house when he was in town, came in and saw the two unconscious men lying next to each other.
He went to the kitchen, pulled out a pot, filled it with water and set it to boil. Moments later, he poured the scalding water over the men, The Washington Post reported.
“I woke up to the most unimaginable pain in my entire life,” Tolbert said, sobbing frequently during his testimony, according to the AP. “I’m wondering why I’m in so much pain. I’m wondering why I’m wet. I don’t understand what’s going on.” 
Then Blackwell allegedly yanked him off the mattress and yelled, “Get out of my house with all that gay,” Tolbert recalled to WSBTV.
“They were stuck together like two hot dogs … so I poured a little hot water on them and helped them out,” he said to police, according to the incident report. “… They’ll be alright. It was just a little hot water.”
Blackwell claimed the two men were having sex when he poured water on them. Vickie Gray, a friend of Tolbert’s, told the news station that’s not true; they were asleep after a long day of work — not that the alleged attack would have been justified in any case, she noted.
Tolbert must now wear compression garments 23 hours a day for the next two years, Gray wrote in an email to The Post, and is attending weekly counseling and physical therapy sessions to deal with his emotional and physical scars. It’s difficult for him to go outside because sunlight exacerbates the pain of his burns.
Gooden, who was burned even more severely, was in a medically induced coma for several weeks, Gray said. According to his GoFundMe page, more than 60 percent of his body was burned, and he had to undergo skin graft surgery to repair damage to his face, neck, back, arms, chest and head.

August 13, 2016

US Ambassador and His Husband Have Become Big Stars in Copenhagen

Ambassador Rufus Gifford and  his Husband Stephen DeVincent at Copenhagen having fun with their fans
We already need a gay President! If crazies can have a crack at it why not a beautiful committed couple that have the smarts and the background to be the leader of the free world and the envy of those18th century backward states that criticize two men holding hands only because of the boner they get and most hide, they are embarrassed by it.  
Lets keep our eyes open for this future event and keep those names somewhere in your computer, just like I do.

COPENHAGEN — American ambassadors abroad tend to be low-profile diplomats who host cocktail parties and try not to make waves in their host countries.
Not here.

Ambassador Rufus Gifford is an A-list celebrity — and even a reality TV star — in this nation of 5.7 million people. On the streets of the capital, the average person knows his name.

That’s because the handsome Gifford, 42, has been a visible presence and an outspoken advocate for gay rights in a country that in 1989 became the first in the world to legalize same-sex unions, and it legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

His celebrity status was cemented when he starred in his own hit reality show I am the Ambassador from America in 2014. In Season 2 last fall, everyone tuned in to watch Gifford marry his longtime partner, Stephen DeVincent.

Gifford’s life has been an inspiration for homosexual youth, Copenhagen Pride chair Lars Henriksen said. “He has been very open and frank about his own personal story,” Henriksen said. “This has helped to highlight the importance of an LGBTQ-inclusive society.”

Others just like his down-to-earth nature. “Rufus is not afraid to come down from his high diplomatic throne to talk with normal beer-drinking, festival-going Danes," said copy editor Jacob Andersen, 36. “We love to hear how much he likes Denmark.” 

In an interview, Gifford cites his diplomatic achievements — improving already close U.S.-Danish ties — rather than his lifestyle as his main accomplishment. “I think it is our job to help create an element of trust not just with the government but also with the population more broadly,” he said.To promote U.S. values, Gifford has held a series of town hall meetings with students who are encouraged to ask any question, no matter how tough. 

He is active on social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Before traveling, he polls for suggestions of places to visit. Once he surprised a group of students by attending a birthday barbecue they had invited him to join.
His time in a country such as Denmark, where alternative lifestyles are embraced, marks a long journey from when he was a youth back home and had to keep secret about being gay.

Gifford grew up as the scion of a blue-blood New England banking family. His father, Charles, ran Bank of Boston in the 1980s and was chairman of Bank of America. Gifford said he grew up terrified of admitting his sexuality in public. But his parents were accepting once they discovered his feelings, which occurred when his mother opened a journal of his.

“One of the biggest struggles you have as a young, gay person is figuring out how to be comfortable in your own skin,” he said. “I mean, you would lie in bed at night when you were 15, 16, 17 years old and just figure out if there was some way to escape your body.”
Ambassador Rufus Gifford and Stephen DeVincent at their marriage ceremony

Stephen DeVincent places the ring on Rufus Gifford's finger during their marriage ceremony at Copenhagen City Hall on Oct. 10, 2015. Their tuxes are Ermenegildo Zegna and the rings are made by George Jensen. (Photo: Peter Brinch via the U.S. Embassy in Denmark)
Gifford's TV show covered intimate details of his life and work. It filmed him joining Danish special forces for overnight exercises, visiting Greenland to investigate climate change and traveling home after 12 hours of work.

“To the Danish eye, he resembles a Hollywood film star,” said Erik Struve Hansen, executive producer of DR3, the public TV channel that carried the show. “He has a wide, white smile. He is always upbeat but can also be serious.”
Gifford said he worried that he might lose his job if the show tanked or proved controversial. “It was terrifying, but exciting,” he said.
Some critics say Gifford has taken public diplomacy a little too far. Danish lawmaker Naser Khader of the Conservative Party complained that the country deserves a career diplomat, not a Hollywood star.

Still, I am the Ambassador from America became one of the most popular DR3 programs ever. Last October's spectacle of Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensenofficiating the marriage of DeVincent and the ambassador in a gold-filigreed chamber in City Hall won Gifford the Danish equivalent of an Emmy for most compelling character.
Now, as his time in Denmark likely nears an end along with the Obama administration, Gifford is pondering his next career move. He said he may run for political office or work as a business consultant.
“Ultimately,” he said, "I have to know that what I am doing is making the world a better place.”

Robin Elizabeth Herr, Special for USA TODAY

December 17, 2015

How Can a Gay Catholic Couple Live with Faith and Church


Because their Catholic faith is against same-sex marriage, Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte made their wedding vows this summer before a Protestant minister in a Detroit Episcopal church.

Those in attendance included many family members, including Victor’s uncle, who is a Catholic priest and Macomb County pastor. The Rev. Ronald Victor did not officiate but was there because, he told his nephew, the Catholic Church “needs more examples of gay holiness.”

When Victor and Molina-Duarte attend mass every Sunday, the couple go to an east side Detroit Catholic church, where Bryan Victor’s mom and dad join them in the pew. In their shared Catholic faith,  Victor and Molina-Duarte find spiritual sustenance. And at their parish, they’ve also found acceptance.

“We remain in the church rather than leaving,” said Bryan Victor, 30, a Wayne State University doctoral student in social work. “The reason is that it’s my faith. It’s one of my guides. It’s how I treat people. It gives me a deep sense of community.” 

The practice of his Catholic faith, said Molina-Duarte, 29,  a leadership coordinator for the Highland Park Ruth Ellis Center, which serves many LGBT youth, "is right and life-affirming for me.

"If it challenges things," said Molina-Duarte, "that’s more of an afterthought.”

But the Catholic Church is being universally challenged from the pews to the pulpit, by the evolving ways society and many everyday Catholics include and welcome LGBT people.

It was a year of triumph for the LGBT community because the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. Yet gay Catholics still wrestle with their church’s condemnation of homosexuality as “disordered” and the church’s prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Pope Francis has signaled a more inclusive tone toward LGBT people, through his words and actions, even as his open-arms position draws fire from some conservative Catholics. But doors continue to open.

In 2012, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn overruled an Austrian priest who wanted to ban a gay Catholic man, in a civil registered domestic partnership with another man, from taking his seat on the parish council after other parishioners elected him.

Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a longtime advocate for liberal Catholic causes, often describes how he came to be an outspoken supporter of gay rights in the years after his brother came out as a gay man.  When Gumbleton’s elderly mother asked him if her gay son, in a committed relationship with another man the family had come to know and love,  was “going to hell,” Gumbleton assured her otherwise.

“That’s how God wanted him to be. That’s who he is,” Gumbleton said he told her, as he spoke Saturday at a meeting of the Fortunate Families support group for Catholic families with gay family members. The group is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.

Gumbleton said Catholic teaching has long allowed Catholics to let their consciences, in part, be their guide in participating in the church's rituals and sacraments, even when they may be at odds with church teachings. Gumbleton predicted Catholic teaching against same-sex unions eventually will change, as he noted did its onetime support of slavery and capital punishment.

“It’s clear the movement is there," said Gumbleton, "but it takes a long time for the teaching to permeate the whole church, and people will fight it."

Society’s changing norms, however, will not change church teaching that sex is for a man and a woman united in marriage, said Catholic moral theologian Janet Smith, a professor at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary and an adviser to the Vatican's Pontifical Council on the Family.

Jesus encountered many who “were misusing their sexuality,” said Smith, noting that refers to  "cohabitors, adulterers, fornicators, you name it."

“He treated them very lovingly, and he wants them under his roof," said Smith, "but his words to them were that they should repent and sin no more.”

To receive the Catholic sacrament of communion at mass, said Smith, Catholics should be in a state of “sanctifying grace.”  That means, said Smith, that “you don’t have on your soul any of what we call sins that involve serious rejections of God’s plan for the world, including the church's teachings on sexuality."

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said through a spokesman that he couldn't comment for this story without knowing more specifics about the men. Officially, the archdiocese offers the ministry program Courage, to urge gay Catholics to abstain from sex; and another program, EnCourage, to counsel Catholic families with gay members. 


A card that Tom Molina-Duarte, 28 and husband Bryan Victor 30 received from friend after their marriage. They have the card on display on the mantle above the fireplace in their Detroit, Michigan home on Saturday, October 3 2015. The couple married two months ago but had been dating four years prior. They say that their Catholic faith is very important to them, "we were driven to our marriage by our faith and not by the marriage equality law," said Molina-Duarte.  (Photo: Eric Seals,Detroit Free Press)
At the men's wedding ceremony, family was in force.

“They are two very holy guys,” Catholic priest Ronald (Ron) Victor said of his nephew and nephew-in-law. “I do see their union as being sacred and sacramental, in the sense that it reflects God’s love.”

“I do see their union as being sacred and sacramental, in the sense that it reflects God’s love.”
Ronald Victor, Catholic priest
To officiate at their wedding could have led to discipline by his superiors.  But Ron Victor, the pastor of St. Isidore Catholic parish in Macomb, said he had considered blessing their union privately, although his nephew told him the couple didn’t want anything clandestine or controversial.

The priest and his nephew became close when Ron Victor was assigned to a St. Clair Shores parish, where Bryan attended elementary school.  After the school day, instead of going to latchkey to wait for his working parents to pick him up, Bryan went to the rectory.

“It’s been one of those things when somebody you know and love a lot comes out, it kind of changes your perspective,” said Ron Victor.

Ron Victor said he was moved by the wedding ceremony, and at the same time, “a little angry and a little disappointed that we couldn’t do it in a church where I could have officiated.”

He  said he believes many priests would be open to blessing same-sex unions, although “they can’t be real public with that.”

Ron Victor said he’s comfortable being public with it now. Through his priesthood, he said he has tried to practice what Pope Francis so poignantly and pointedly captured with his famous observation about gay Catholics.

The priest said he doesn’t know the transgressions or every sin of all who present themselves for Communion. “As long as they’re seeking God, who am I to judge,” said the priest, citing the pope's memorable expression.

The church calls gay sex "intrinsically disordered" because it cannot result in procreation. Yet Ron Victor said the caring, monogamous relationship between his nephew and Molina-Duarte "reflects God's love."

"While it’s not necessarily life-giving in a biological way," said the priest, "it’s life-giving in other ways.”

Other members of the couple's families agree.

Lennie Victor, Bryan’s father and Ron’s sibling, said he’s never heard his brother the priest “tell people how they should behave or what they should believe.”

“If the church makes you choose between your family and your faith,” said Lennie Victor, of him and his wife Maureen,  “I guess we voted for family.”

“I’m very proud of them,” said Nancy Kiely, Molina-Duarte’s mother. She’s a nurse whose Catholic volunteer work was recently honored by the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn. “Hopefully, things will change. I don’t know whether it will be in my lifetime. Honestly, it was the best wedding I’ve ever been to.”

Pope Francis, said Molina-Duarte, “completely flips the script” when it comes to ministering to gay Catholics.

Pope Francis, while not changing church teaching against gay unions, has made outreach to LGBT people a hallmark of his papacy. When the pope visited the U.S. in September, he met privately with a former student, who is gay, and the man’s partner.  But that came after another revelation that confused and contradicted previous papal images of the pope's outreach to gays —  when Francis also privately met with the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue gay marriage licenses.
Still, said Bryan Victor, the pope "doesn’t operate out of fear … and has a gospel of encounter with those on the margins.”

Although Catholic teaching says their union and their love are sins, both men say they are at home, and even at peace, in a Catholic church. They have not encountered condemnation or cruelty. Only one relative refused the invitation to their wedding because of opposition to homosexuality.

Both men are Catholic school graduates, and both stopped going to church as young men wrestling with coming out.

“I think for my own mental health, I stepped away,” said Molina-Duarte.

Said Victor: “I came out because I was suffocating and clinically depressed. Living in the closet is a health hazard.”

The two met in late 2010 through a mutual friend in Chicago, where Molina-Duarte was living at the time. Together they found a mutual commitment to social justice issues. They had a long-distance relationship as Victor studied for a master’s degree in social work at the University of Michigan. Victor found himself missing the ritual and inspiration he found at Catholic mass, and Molina-Duarte began to join him at services in Ann Arbor.

“I felt too unattached from regular church life,” said Victor. “I wanted to embed myself in the life of the church.”

And because of Victor’s faith, Molina-Duarte said he could imagine a spiritual home for himself.

“I hadn’t met someone my age who was gay and had a deep and respectful reverence for the church,” said Molina-Duarte.  “Bryan was able to have both.”

“I hadn’t met someone my age who was gay and had a deep and respectful reverence for the church. Bryan was able to have both.”
Thomas Molina-Duarte
Victor and Molina-Duarte moved to Detroit in 2012.  They attended masses at a few parishes, but felt most engaged and most welcomed at St. Charles Borromeo near Van Dyke and Kercheval in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood.   Bryan’s paternal grandparents grew up in the parish and were married there.

The congregation is integrated and active, with outreach to group homes for  disabled and elderly people on East Grand Blvd.  At St. Charles, at the point in the mass where Catholics exchange the Sign of Peace handshake, there’s a five-minute interlude where folks leave the pews to hug familiar faces and strangers alike.

In this light-filled sanctuary, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Victor said he finds a welcoming place for  “the real-lived experience of people” — and people from society's margins and the poor.

That they present themselves to regularly receive Communion is not a sin, both men say.

"We examine our consciences and we know that our love for each other does not take us out of a relationship with God," said Victor. "It takes us into a closer relationship with God.  And for that reason,we feel comfortable presenting ourselves for Communion."

Their sexuality is God-given, said Molina-Duarte. “You’re called to be in community and seek justice and how can you do that in a closet?”

“I carry that Gospel message out to the secular world, and my work is reflective of the church,” said Victor.  “I am sustained and nourished by the church. I’m sharing my gifts and talents within the church.”

On a recent Sunday, Molina-Duarte celebrated his 29th birthday with morning mass.  The week before, his dad had visited from Connecticut and joined him and Victor at St. Charles.  To mark Molina-Duarte's birthday, Bryan Victor, and Bryan’s parents Lennie and Maureen, were in attendance before a birthday breakfast.

It’s practice at the end of Sunday mass at St. Charles for the pastor, Capuchin priest Rev. Ray Stadmeyer, to ask if any mass-goers are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. Molina-Duarte jumped up from the pew and bounded down the aisle.  Bryan Victor whispered: “I don’t know anybody who loves birthdays more.”

At the front of the church, Brother Ray as he’s called, extended his hand out.   Stadmeyer did not want to comment for this article, but this is what he told his congregation, before they sang "Happy Birthday" to Molina-Duarte.

“Bless our brother Thomas. Bless him in his relationship,” said Stadmeyer. “. .. We thank him and Bryan for all the goodness they bring to us. May they know God’s tender graces.” 

To find out more about the Archdiocese of Detroit's Courage and EnCourage programs to urge gay Catholics to abstain from sex, visit To find out about the Fortunate Families group, which urges the Catholic church to change its teachings, visit

, Detroit Free Press

August 21, 2015

Gay Couples NOW Eligible for Social Security Benefits


Same-sex married couples who were living in states that did not recognize their unions and who previously filed claims for Social Security benefits will be able to collect those payments, the government said on Thursday.

The Justice Department told lawyers for two plaintiffs seeking benefits that the Social Security Administration would apply the Supreme Court’s June ruling declaring that marriage is a constitutional right, Obergefell v. Hodges, retroactively. It would apply to individuals with pending claims who were married before the decision and living in states that did not recognize same-sex marriages.
Kathy Murphy in Acadia National Park in Maine on Wednesday, near the spot where she spread the ashes of her late wife, Sara Barker, following her death in 2012. Ms. Murphy has been unable to collect survivor and death benefits from Social Security.Social Security Benefits in Limbo for Some Same-Sex CouplesAUG. 19, 2015
The Rowan County Rights Coalition outside the courthouse in Morehead, Ky., where the county clerk refused for religious reasons to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.Kentucky Clerk Defies Court on Marriage Licenses for Gay CouplesAUG. 13, 2015
Ann Hopkins, right, plaintiff in the 1989 sex discrimination case against Price Waterhouse.U.S. Agency Rules for Gays in Workplace DiscriminationJULY 17, 2015
Details were not yet available, and it is not clear when the Social Security Administration will enact the new policy. But the rules are expected to be applied to previously filed claims that are pending in the administrative process or litigation, according to Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group that represented the plaintiffs. The Social Security Administration was not available for comment.

“With this good news, we are hopeful that widows, widowers and retirees, wherever they lived, who need Social Security spousal benefits earned through years of hard work, will soon be able to receive them,” said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal.

The Obergefell case came after the landmark Windsor decision in 2013, in which the court declared that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits. But even with that ruling, many couples were still shut out: The Social Security Administration typically looks to the states to determine marital status, so couples living in states that did not recognize same-sex marriage were not deemed eligible to receive spousal-related benefits.

Lambda Legal filed two separate cases last year on behalf of Kathy Murphy, a widow, and Dave Williams, a widower. They were living in states that did not recognize their marriages when their spouses died, before the Obergefell decision. There were 11 states that did not recognize same-sex marriage before the ruling, according to a chart on the Social Security Administration’s website.

Ms. Murphy, 63, stopped working earlier than she anticipated to care for her spouse, Sara Barker, who died of cancer in 2012. Last year, given her early retirement and the inability to receive survivor payments, Ms. Murphy had to begin collecting her own Social Security at age 62. Had she been able to delay taking her check until age 66, she would have been entitled to receive $580 more each month.

Mr. Williams, a 57-year-old retired lawyer, married his partner, Carl Allen, in 2008 — about 10 years after they became a couple. Mr. Allen, who had been living with H.I.V. since the 1980s, died in 2010.

But when Mr. Williams applied to Social Security in 2010 for a small death benefit and roughly $3,900 in disability payments that were due Mr. Allen, the agency denied Mr. Williams’s claim. The Defense of Marriage Act was still in place at that time, which meant the federal government did not recognize same-sex couples.

He appealed, but last September, the Social Security Administration denied his claim again; he and Mr. Allen lived in Arkansas, which did not recognize their union.

The Justice Department, which was representing the Social Security Administration in both cases, announced its decision in a status conference for Mr. Williams’s suit in federal court in Chicago.

“I am thrilled beyond words,” Mr. Williams said. “I keep thinking that Carl would be so pleased. It took over five years, and the efforts have been vindicated.”


May 13, 2014

Partner of exRAF Pilot Pleads ‘not guilty’ to Stabbing his partner to death

                    Former RAF pilot Steven Barrett found dead in Lochend Butterfly Way Edinburgh  on Saturday 6 April

A man accused of murdering his former RAF pilot partner in a knife attack has told a court that he "would have no reason to do such a thing".
Darren McLauchlan, 24, said he found Steven Barrett seriously injured in a bedroom in their Edinburgh flat
                     Darren Mclaughlan
He told the High Court in Edinburgh that he called an ambulance and then applied pressure on Mr Barrett's wounds until paramedics arrived.
Mr McLauchlan denies murdering Mr Barrett by stabbing him on the body. 
He also denies a further charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The incident is alleged to have happened on 6 April last year, after the couple returned to their flat in Lochend Butterfly Way following a night out with their friend Shannon Nisbet.
Mr McLauchlan told the court that he found 27-year-old Mr Barrett beside the bed, apparently trying to get up from a "sort of kneeling position".
He said Mr Barrett told him to get out of the room.
Mr McLauchlan said he had started shouting "What have you done?" at Mr Barrett after spotting a knife in the room.
He then said he called an ambulance and used a towel to wrap around and apply pressure to Mr Barrett's wounds.
He said he knew there were a number of issues in Mr Barrett's life, including telling his parents that he was gay and redundancy fears at the airline Flybe, where he worked after leaving the RAF.
The trial before judge Michael O’Grady QC continues.

Observations in testimony from Darren McLaughlan
Darren in Center
Darren McLauchlan, 24, said he found Steven Barrett at a bedroom in a flat they had moved to in Edinburgh's Lochend Butterfly Way after a night out in the city with a friend Shannon Nisbet.
He said he was down by the bed "in a sort of kneeling position" and added: "He looked like he was trying to get himself up."
"The first thing he said to me was to get out the room," he said, adding that at that point he did not see a knife.
"He repeatedly told me to get out and not to go near him," he told the High Court in Edinburgh.
But he said that when he came to the bottom of the bed where he was he saw a knife.
McLauchlan said his head "was all over the place" and he was crying and screaming at Mr Barrett "what have you done".
He said he was screaming "why, why'" and Mr Barrett told him to say it happened outside. He called an ambulance and was told to get a towel and wrap it on him and apply pressure.
Mr McLauchlan said one of the last things he said to the ambulance personnel was that he thought he was going to die.
He said he knew there were a number of issues in Mr Barrett’s life that he was facing, including telling his parents that he was gay and redundancy fears at the airline Flybe.

 Steven BarrettMr Barrett has been a Flybe first officer working out of Edinburgh

April 26, 2014

Alaska High Court Rules State Tax Law is Anti-Gay

Gayle Schuh, Julie Schmidt, gay news, Washington Blade
Gayle Schuh and Julie Schmidt won their case before the Alaska Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy ACLU)
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Friday the state acted unconstitutionally by refusing to grant same-sex couples a special property tax exemption afforded to senior citizens and disabled veterans who live with their spouse in their home.

In the 45-page decision, the court determined that the State of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage’s decision to withhold the $150,000 tax exemption from same-sex couples violates equal protection rights under the Alaska State Constitution.

“Same-sex couples, who may not marry or have their marriages recognized in Alaska, cannot benefit or become eligible to benefit from the exemption program to the same extent as heterosexual couples, who are married or may marry,” the ruling states. “The exemption program therefore potentially treats same-sex couples less favorably than it treats opposite-sex couples even though the two classes are similarly situated.”
Because same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Alaska, the state prior to the ruling only allowed them an exemption for half the value of their homes.

The case, Schmidt and Schuh v. Alaska, was filed by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska on behalf of six same-sex couples. According to the ACLU, the decision applies to all same-sex couples in the state.
One couple — Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard — jointly purchased their Eagle River home in 2004. Vollick, who retired after 20 years in the United States Air Force and has service-related disabilities, was seeking the exemption based on his veteran status.
The other couples — Julie Schmidt and Gayle Schuh, who have been together 33 years, and Fred Traber and Larry Snider, who have been together 28 years — were seeking to qualify for the benefit as senior citizens.

Schmidt, who moved with Schuh to Alaska from Illinois after they both retired from careers in education, said in a statement the court ruling validates their relationship. “Gayle and I built a home and a life here because we loved what Alaska had to offer,” Schmidt said. “It hurt that the state that we loved so much treated us like strangers. It is gratifying to have our relationship recognized.” In ruling in favor of the couples, the court affirms a decision by a lower court in Alaska granting summary judgment to all three same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court excludes from the decision one same-sex couple, Traber and Snider. 

Traber was the sole owner of the home, but 62 so not yet a senior citizen, and Snider was found not to have an ownership interest in the home. Although attorneys for the couples argued they should be able to receive the exemption because laws based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, the court didn’t get that far in its ruling because justices were able to determine the state’s practices were unfair based on minimum scrutiny. “Because the tax exemption program affects the couples’ economic interests, it is subject to at least minimum scrutiny,” the ruling states. “Because minimum scrutiny resolves this case, we do not need to consider the couples’ contention that we should apply heightened scrutiny.” Although there was no dissent in the ruling, Justice Daniel Winfree wrote a concurring decision in favor of the same-sex couples, saying he would have decided the case on non-constitutional grounds. Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said the ruling affirms no one is second-class under the law — whether they be gay or straight. “Families in Alaska deserve better than a second-class system of laws for same-sex couples who are just as committed to each other as heterosexual couples,” Decker said. “Our senior citizens and veterans should not have to pay more taxes just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.” Gay couples in Alaska don’t have access to marriage in the state because Alaska voters made a ban on same-sex marriage part of its state constitution in 1998. The state is one of four in the country that doesn’t have marriage equality or pending litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

January 26, 2014

TSA Changes Regulation for Gay Couples


The Washington Blade has learned the Transportation Security Administration will allow same-sex couples to undergo pre-flight security screenings together in response to two recent incidents with American Airlines personnel at a Colombian airport.
Hunter Carter, a prominent same-sex marriage advocate in Latin America who said American Airlines personnel at the airport in the Colombian city of Medellín separated him and his husband, César Zapata, as they tried to check into their Miami-bound flight on Jan. 18, received an e-mail from Alec Bramlett, senior litigation attorney for the airline, on Wednesday afternoon.
“TSA has communicated to our Corporate Security folks that they are working on a technical change to its directive, and that pending that change, we can immediately begin screening same-sex spouses together,” wrote Bramlett in the e-mail the Blade obtained from Carter. “We are working on communicating this change in procedures to our stations ASAP.”
A TSA spokesperson confirmed to the Blade on Thursday the agency is “working to make clear any confusion in language included in the Aircraft Operator Standard Security Program (ASOP) document” that dictates security screenings.
“TSA policy is for every attempt to be made to accommodate all families traveling together,” said the spokesperson.
Carter welcomed the announcement.
“It used to be that discrimination against same-sex couples who are LGBT people wasn’t newsworthy, but that has changed,” he told the Blade on Wednesday. “Today a major corporation and a government agency swiftly changed a legacy policy that was discriminatory and humiliating. Now when César and I fly we know we will not be flying as second-class passengers but on equal terms with all other married couples as is our legal right.”
Carter and Zapata are the second same-sex couple in less than two months to allege American Airlines personnel at the Medellín airport separated them as they tried to check into their U.S.-bound flight.
Ana Elisa Leiderman said an American Airlines ticket agent separated her from her wife, Verónica Botero, and their two small children as they tried to check into their Miami-bound flight on Dec. 13. A third gay couple — Tomás Georgi and Mark Cline — told the Blade late on Wednesday they experienced a similar experience on Dec. 1 as they tried to check into their American Airlines flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to New York.
“I was told to get back to the end of the line when I protested,” said Georgi. “As a native of Argentina, I was fully able to discern the distain and anti-gay sentiment with which I was treated.”
Georgi told the Blade another gate agent whom he asked to allow him to board his flight with his partner “dismissed” him “callously.”
“Not until I insisted again and drew the attention of the 100 or so fellow passengers was I permitted to join my partner who was waiting for me on the jet way after being physically separated from me and searched,” said Georgi. “The staff, which had originally prohibited me from joining my partner, hurled snide remarks at me as I walked past them to join him.”
An American Airlines spokesperson told the Blade on Jan. 10 the company regrets “the circumstances” that Leiderman “faced with her spouse and family” while traveling from Colombia to the U.S. The spokesperson added airport personnel in Medellín “followed existing security screening rules mandated by the” TSA.
Georgi provided the Blade an e-mail he received from Stefania Meyer of American Airlines on Dec. 16 that noted, among other things, the company has received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for nine consecutive years. The letter also said the men would each receive a $96 refund for seat upgrades they purchased for their flight from Argentina.
“Our customers should always experience polite and efficient service from our employees, regardless of the circumstances,” wrote Meyer. “Your comments regarding the lack of professionalism on the part of our gate staff is of significant concern to us. Please accept our apologies for the poor agent demeanor and other problems you and Mr. Cline encountered that day.”
The letter made no mention of TSA security screening policy. Georgi said American Airlines Director of Customer Relations Tim Rhodes “dismissed my complaints as the fault of TSA and took no responsibility” for the alleged incident during a telephone call he said he received from him on Jan. 6.
“What I cannot get over is the reaction of the head of customer service,” Georgi told the Blade. “He explained to me that it is difficult to read peoples’ intentions. However, I speak Spanish fluently, I was born in [Buenos Aires,] I could read the intentions of the American Airlines staff very clearly, especially when I was told to go to the back of the line.”

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