Showing posts with label Pennsylvania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pennsylvania. Show all posts

September 23, 2014

Investigation Concludes on beating of gay couple in Philly

Surveillance Video Released of Attack on Gay Couple

[PHI] Surveillance Video Released of Attack on Gay Couple
Police released surveillance video they hope will help lead them to the suspects who attacked a gay couple in Center City. NBC10's Monique Braxton reports that police phones have since been flooded with tips. (video)

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Monday that the department has concluded its investigation into a Center City assault that left a gay couple seriously injured - and the District Attorney's Office is now reviewing the case.
"We feel that there is sufficient evidence to have charges placed against some of the individuals there," Ramsey said in an interview.
As prosecutors review differing accounts of the Sept. 11 incident, the case has spurred calls for changes to the state's hate-crimes statute, which currently does not cover crimes motivated by sexual orientation.
On Monday, Ramsey also said he supports modifying the state law, which he said “ eeds to change, and change very quickly.”  

"There's no statute, unfortunately, that adds sexual orientation to the hate crime statute - which is a shame. There should be. No question about that," he said.
With that the commissioner joined a growing number of legislators who have spurred a renewed push to expand the current law.
State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Phila.) - who has twice introduced House bills to expand the hate-crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender and gender identity - has said he hopes outrage over the Center City assault will finally lead to change.
On Tuesday, Boyle and State Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) will hold a rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg for of Senate Bill 42, which would expand Pennsylvania's hate-crime law to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.
Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and U.S. Rep. Robert Brady have also called for changes to the state law.

Brady on Friday introduced legislation in Congress that would expand the federal hate-crime laws concerning the LGBT community.
Mark Segal, the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, said the case has highlighted what many in the gay community have been calling for years.
"I believe the citizens of Pennsylvania are there," he said Monday. "It's only our legislators who are dragging behind."
He said members of the gay community seem resolute in a desire to “ ot allow this case, particularly, to just stay on the vine."

"There is restraint in the community, but that restraint only goes so far," he said.
As calls for action on the law increase, prosecutors are parsing through more than a dozen interviews - some of which include differing accounts of the incident - and video footage.
Police have said that on the evening of Sept. 11, two gay men were assaulted by a group of people near Rittenhouse Square. Both gay men went to the hospital, and one had his jaw wired shut.
Police said the group had made disparaging remarks about the men's sexual orientation.
The gay couple have said that they were attacked after one of them bumped into a member of the group, and another asked whether they were dating.

According to law enforcement sources and others close to the investigation, several members of the group interviewed said the incident began after both sides exchanged words, and that one of the victims first escalated the incident, shoving or becoming physical with a woman in the group.
Ramsey said that investigators had to work through multiple interviews and witness accounts to reconstruct what he called "a brutal assault."
"You've just got a lot of people," Ramsey said. "Trying to sort through it all, as to who may have done what, who may have gotten physically involved - you have to sort through all these things. It takes a little time to do that."
Segal said that the department's efforts to apprise the gay community of the progress of the investigation have, to some extent, "eased the pain" the community feels.
“But there is anger out there," he said, "and I think that anger will only be answered by charges." 

January 22, 2014

PA Could Mark the 50% Tipping Point on Gay Marriage / Civil Unions

In the six months since the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, a flood of lawsuits and legislation has pushed the United States to a tipping point - and Pennsylvania this year could be the state that shifts the balance.

In 2013, the number of states (along with the District of Columbia) allowing same-sex marriage doubled, to 18. In the last month, judges struck down same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

If those two rulings are upheld, nearly 46 percent of the U.S. population would live in places that allow same-sex marriage or civil unions. If Pennsylvania joins the list, it will be slightly over 50 percent.

"Clearly, the tide has turned," said Ellen Toplin of Dresher, Montgomery County, who married her partner of 22 years in July and who is suing the state to recognize that marriage.

Hers is one of at least seven lawsuits challenging Pennsylvania's 1996 marriage law, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and doesn't recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.

The suits span federal, state, and county courts. Some challenge the law as unconstitutional on its face; others take on narrower aspects, such as the voiding of marriages from other states or the inheritance and estate taxes same-sex couples wouldn't have to pay if they were of different genders.

Similar suits are pending in almost every state that still bans same-sex marriage, but experts believe Pennsylvania may be the next to change.

John Culhane, a law professor at Widener University, said Pennsylvania is more vulnerable than most of the other states because its ban is not enshrined in the state Constitution. That means opponents can challenge the law on state and federal grounds.

The commonwealth also is unique in that it is home to 118 same-sex couples who married here but who aren't sure whether their marriages are valid.

Couples such as Toplin and her partner came from across the state to Montgomery County last summer after Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes announced he would issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The licenses, and a subsequent lawsuit by the Corbett administration, sparked protests and counterprotests and drew national attention.

A Commonwealth Court judge in September ordered Hanes to stop but didn't say whether the existing marriages were valid.

"As far as we're concerned, we're married in Pennsylvania. The state, obviously, takes a different approach," said Diana Spagnuolo, who married her partner in July in their Wynnewood backyard.

That uncertainty complicates things at tax time. Spagnuolo, a partner in a law firm that operates in multiple states, has to file returns in at least eight different states - some of which allow same-sex marriage, some of which recognize out-of-state marriages, and some of which do neither.

"That's a very sticky issue. It's going to require some thought, both legal counsel and accounting counsel," she said.

After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS and other agencies issued a ruling that same-sex couples, regardless of where they now live, can file as spouses if they married in a state where it was legal.

 The U.S. Justice Department went a step further for Utah, where about 1,300 same-sex weddings were completed before the Supreme Court put a hold on the lower court's ruling.

On Jan. 10, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement saying that as far as the federal government was concerned, those couples are married.

"These families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their status as the litigation unfolds," Holder said in a video announcement.

No such clarification has come for the Pennsylvania couples. Until it does, Spagnuolo and others said, they will continue to spend hours on the phone with government agencies and lawyers, trying to figure out whether they qualify for joint taxes, spousal health care, shared pensions, Social Security, and familial rights.

The uncertainty adds an extra level of urgency to the lawsuits here. Commonwealth Court set a schedule for Spagnuolo's case last week, ordering the state to file preliminary objections by Feb. 18.

A federal case also moved forward on Monday, when attorneys for two women who married in Massachusetts filed arguments on why Pennsylvania must recognize their union.

And on Friday, the state responded to an appeal Hanes filed in state Supreme Court. State attorneys wrote that whether or not the same-sex marriage ban is constitutional, Hanes didn't have the authority to violate state law.

The state is also fighting another case in Commonwealth Court, a high-profile ACLU case in federal court - scheduled for trial in June - and at least two cases in county courts, challenging decisions on estate or inheritance tax bills.

Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which supports the current marriage law and says a majority of voters and elected officials agree, objects to the portrayal of same-sex marriage as "a growing tide," when so many states' laws are being decided in courtrooms.

"If they're confident that public opinion is changing and it's inevitable, if you will - well, then let this process work. It's a policy decision," he said. "In essence, it's been taken out of the hands of the people of Pennsylvania."

But supporters point to the numbers and say they're optimistic.

"In a year's time, I just hope this is a nonissue in Pennsylvania. . . . I can spend my time on other things," Spagnuolo said.

December 9, 2013

10 Years Teaching Gets Fired Same Day Applied for Marriage License

Fired: Language teacher Michael Griffin lost his job at a Catholic school on the day he applied for a same-sex marriage license
Fired: Language teacher Michael Griffin lost his job at a Catholic school on the day he applied for a same-sex marriage license

A gay teacher claimed he was fired from the Catholic school he has worked at in Pennsylvania for 12 years after applying for a marriage license. 
Michael Griffin, who returned to the Holy Ghost Preparatory School he attended as a child to teach French and Spanish, said his sexuality was no secret at the Bensalem school.
But on the day he arrived late after applying for his marriage license, the principal allegedly told he he had no choice but to fire the teacher.
'I really didn't think that it would happen. At our school we talk about it's a community. Our motto is "One heart, one mind",' he told 6ABC.
Mr Griffin said he had arranged to come in late on Friday, but when he returned to the private boys school he was called in to see school president Father James McCloskey and principal Jeffrey Danilak.
They said it wasn't a secret that the teacher was gay, before saying to Mr Griffin, "I presume this is a same-sex marriage'.
When he confirmed that it was, Mr Griffin was told that if he went through with the marriage the school would have 'no choice but to terminate my position'.
‘I can’t believe it's over like that,' he said. 
His partner, Vincent Giannetto, said: 'We applied this morning and on the same day he's fired from his job. So it kind of flipped things upside down for us.'
A spokesman for the school told 6ABC that it had no comment. 
Mr Griffin believes he was fired because of the teachers' code of conduct at the school.

It reads: 'Although, the School welcomes teachers from other denominations and recognizes their rights to religious freedom, as employees of a Catholic institution, all teachers are expected to uphold lifestyles compatible with the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.'
Although he needs to find a job, Mr Griffin said his treatment at the school has made him reluctant about working there again. 
'The school to me has shown their true colors so I don't know if I... I certainly don’t want to work there again after I've seen how they treated me,' he said.


October 7, 2013

Supreme Court Ruling on DOMA is Given Birth To Lots of Lawsuits in PENN.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act said that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages from states that allow them. Since the decision, couples in states which do not recognize same-sex marriages have filed a flurry of lawsuits.
Conditions are ripe for litigation in those states, like Pennsylvania. In July, a rogue county clerk outside Philadelphia started granting marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, defying the state's ban.
Pennsylvania filed suit against D. Bruce Hanes, but he had already issued more than 100 licenses before the court told him to stop.
Under a Jewish wedding canopy, two brides signed the very first marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple in the state of Pennsylvania. Dee Spagnuolo and Sasha Ballen were married, surrounded by their three young children, friends and family.
Hanes argued that after the Supreme Court's decision, denying couples like Spagnuolo and Ballen marriage licenses would violate the Constitution. Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, said that wasn't Hanes' call to make.
"We are a government of laws, and the process is there to change laws or challenge laws. And that issue, these issues, are not solved by individual public officials deciding based on their own personal opinions what to do or what not to do," Frederiksen says.
Wanting The Same Benefits Other People Get
Spagnuolo and Ballen are now among two dozen couples who have asked the state to recognize their marriage licenses from Montgomery County.
They want the full spectrum of federal benefits now provided to same-sex couples in other states following the Supreme Court's decision. There's been a lot of legal activity regarding gay marriage in Pennsylvania's state and federal courts since the ruling.
"You have a lot of people living here, seeing that their neighbors are getting something that they aren't," says the couple's lawyer, David Cohen.
Pennsylvania remains the only state in the Northeast which does not yet allow same-sex partnerships. A judge in New Jersey ruled last week that New Jersey, which has civil unions, must begin recognizing marriages. Gov. Chris Christie has appealed.
 "It's less about identifying a particular state where it's the right argument, but a state where there's perhaps the greatest likelihood of success before the courts," he says.
Since the Supreme Court's decision, couples have filed dozens of constitutional challenges to state laws around the country, says Brian Moulton,
The American Civil Liberties Union has thrown its weight behind suits in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina in efforts to set precedents that would legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country. It expects federal judges in these regions will be receptive.
Opponents of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania say they would rather work this out legislatively.
"We should debate it as a society. And ultimately the best place in a democracy to deal with difficult issues is in our Legislature," says Randall Wenger, counsel for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
On Thursday, Rep. Brian Sims, the state's first openly gay man elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the state House of Representatives

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