Northern Ireland prepares for momentous abortion, same-sex marriage changes

Northern Ireland prepares for momentous abortion, same-sex marriage changes
By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) – Campaigners who fought for decades to end Northern Ireland’s same sex-marriage ban and restrictions on abortion prepared on Monday for a momentous change to the laws on both at the stroke of midnight.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not allow same-sex marriage. Also, unlike England, Scotland and Wales, laws in Northern Ireland forbid abortion except where a mother’s life is at risk, bans that have been upheld by the region’s block of conservative politicians.

But an overwhelming vote by British lawmakers in July to compel the government in London to overhaul the laws if Belfast’s devolved executive had not been restored by Oct. 21 is set to kick in with little or no hope of politicians ending the local parliament’s near three-year hiatus.

Advocacy groups have planned a number of events on Monday to usher in the changes.

“We are not going to stick with the guilt and the shame any longer. Tomorrow the law changes in this place, and for the first time in Northern Ireland, women will be free,” Pro-choice campaigner Dawn Purvis told a public meeting in Belfast

“Free to choose if, when and how many children they will have in the care of health-care professionals. This is a very emotional day for many here.”

Abortion rights were long opposed in Northern Ireland by religious conservatives in both the Protestant community that supports continued British rule and the Catholic community that favours union with the traditionally Catholic Irish Republic.

Pressure has mounted, however, to change the Victorian-era laws in recent years, particularly after the neighbouring Irish Republic voted overwhelmingly last year to repeal a similarly restrictive ban, demonstrating a stark change in attitudes on an island once known for its religious conservatism.

If a new devolved government is not formed by midnight, abortion will be decriminalised, beginning a consultation on what the framework for services should look like, which is due to be finalised and approved by March 2020.

“This is a bad law being implemented through a bad process leading to bad consequences for both women and unborn children,” said Dawn McAvoy from the anti-abortion Both Lives Matter group.

Opinion has also changed on same-sex marriage. But despite opinion polls showing most in the region in favour, previous attempts to follow the Irish Republic in legalising it have been blocked by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), using a special veto intended to prevent discrimination towards one community over another.

It will take the British parliament until mid-January to bring in the new legislation, setting up Feb. 14, 2020 – Valentine’s Day – as the first opportunity for same-sex couples to marry once they give the required 28-days’ notice.

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson; Editing by Padraic Halpin, Peter Cooney and Giles Elgood)

United Methodist Church strengthens ban on same-sex marriage, LGBT clergy

eople wave rainbow flags during the 2018 New York City Pride Parade in Manhattan, New York, U.S., June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – The United Methodist Church voted on Tuesday to uphold and strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy in a move likely to alienate large numbers of followers who had pushed for reform.

By a vote of 438-384, delegates from around the world attending the church’s General Conference in St. Louis reinforced a United Methodist Church policy established in 1972 stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Known as the Traditional Plan, the new policy includes penalties for breaking its rules and asks those who will not obey it to find another church.

The Traditional Plan is designed to serve as a coherent United Methodist Church policy on LGBT clergy and their marriage practices after years of inconsistency among individual United Methodist churches, with some churches denouncing homosexuality as a sin and others embracing gay and lesbian clergy members.

Before opting for the Traditional Plan, delegates rejected an alternative known as the One Church Plan, which would have allowed individual churches to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages and welcome gay and lesbian clergy members. Under that plan, the statement that homosexuality is at odds with Christianity would have been eliminated.

The vote roiled many in America’s second-largest Protestant denomination. Tom Berlin, a delegate, told Reuters that some supporters of the One Church Plan held small protest demonstrations afterward.

LOSE CREDENTIALS

“This is devastating,” Lucy Berrier said on Twitter. “Above all, the United Methodist Church is supposed to be a place of grace and service, not this bigotry and hate. My heart is broken into a thousand pieces.”

Berlin, who is a pastor in the Washington suburb of Herndon, Virginia, said with the new plan in place, some church members would risk losing their credentials to practice their belief in LGBT rights.

“Some churches will begin to do what they desire. They will test this new legislation by performing marriages and some conferences will ordain gay clergy,” he said in an interview after the final vote.

At least 12 million people, including 7 million in the United States, belong to the United Methodist Church. A 2014 Pew survey found that 60 percent of U.S. Methodists said homosexuality should be accepted by society. About half of U.S. Methodists said they supported same-sex marriage.

The rift in opinion over gay marriage and clergy members’ sexual orientation is along geographic as well as ideological lines.

Supporters of the Traditional Plan include many African and Philippine members as well as evangelical members from Europe and the United States. The One Church Plan derived most of its support from members in the United States who have witnessed a wave of social change regarding LGBT rights and awareness.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015. But the law does not apply to religious institutions.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, remains strongly opposed to same-sex marriage. But a growing number of U.S. Protestant denominations allow gay marriage and clergy, including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Retiring Justice Kennedy left his mark on American society

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for the funeral of fellow justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anthony Kennedy left an indelible mark on American society in his three decades as a mild-mannered and professorial justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in areas as varied as gay rights, abortion, the death penalty and political spending.

Kennedy, who announced his retirement on Wednesday at age 81, became the swing vote on the ideologically divided court after fellow traditional conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006. He was the most centrist of the five conservatives currently on the court and was willing to join the liberal justices in major cases, although he delivered strongly conservative opinions in others.

“His jurisprudence prominently features an abiding commitment to liberty and the personal dignity of every person. Justice Kennedy taught collegiality and civil discourse by example,” conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

“His work has made an impressive contribution to the development of the law in many fields, and he will surely be remembered as one of the most important justices in the history of the court,” added conservative Justice Samuel Alito.

Nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy joined the court in 1988 and followed a deliberative, middle-of-the-road approach. During arguments, Kennedy leaned forward in his black leather chair, looking earnest and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, often asking probing questions of the lawyers.

He authored the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, in one of several cases in which he voted to expand gay rights. Kennedy wrote that the hope of gay people intending to marry “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Although championing gay rights, Kennedy authored a ruling this month that handed a victory on narrow legal grounds to a Colorado baker who, citing his Christian beliefs, refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Kennedy joined the liberals in upholding abortion rights, including a 2016 ruling that struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities. The decision was the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in the United States in more than two decades.

In latter years, Kennedy appeared to evolve on race issues, inching toward his liberal colleagues over policies intended to tackle historic racial discrimination. In 2016, he wrote a ruling that upheld the consideration of race in college admissions in policies designed to boost the enrollment of minority students.

Kennedy also backed limitations on the application of the death penalty, agreeing with liberal colleagues that juveniles and the mentally ill should not be eligible for execution.

‘MODERATING FORCE’

“Justice Kennedy was a critical moderating force on the Supreme Court for decades,” American Civil Liberties Union legal director David Cole said.

“He cast deciding votes to protect freedom of speech, to prevent the overturning of abortion rights, to limit state anti-immigration laws, to stop the execution of children, and to preserve affirmative action. His greatest legacy may rest with his decisions recognizing the dignity and rights of lesbians, gay, and bisexual people. His attention to human dignity and individual rights will be missed,” Cole added.

Kennedy also has heartened conservatives. He authored a 2010 ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate and union-funded independent expenditures during political campaigns. The ruling, based on free-speech rights, prompted considerable criticism, including from then-President Barack Obama.

He joined his fellow conservatives in the 2000 ruling that effectively gave the U.S. presidency to Republican George W. Bush, rather than Democrat Al Gore, by preventing any more vote recounts in Florida.

This week, Kennedy joined the other conservative justices in rulings that upheld the legality of Republican President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations, shut down a key source of revenue for labor unions and blocked a California law regulating Christian-based clinics that counsel women against abortion.

Michael Farris, general counsel of the Christian conservative legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, took issue with “decisions where Justice Kennedy created ‘rights’ not found in or intended by the United States Constitution. He deeply disappointed many Americans with his constitutional jurisprudence favoring abortion and same-sex marriage.”

But Farris praised Kennedy’s protection of freedom of speech including in Tuesday’s decision striking down California’s law that required the anti-abortion centers to notify clients of the availability of state-subsidized abortions.

Kennedy, previously a federal appeals court judge in California, was actually Reagan’s third choice for the job.

After the Senate defeated Reagan’s first choice, conservative firebrand Robert Bork, and his second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew his nomination after the disclosure he had previously smoked marijuana, Kennedy was nominated. He was confirmed by a 97-0 Senate vote.

Kennedy relished the role of teacher and intellectual. He has an avid interest in English literature, particularly Shakespeare, and in court history.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Taiwan court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, first in Asia

Supporters take part in a rally ahead of Taiwan's top court ruling on same-sex marriage case which will decide whether it will become the first place in Asia to recognise same-sex marriage, in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By J.R. Wu

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s constitutional court declared on Wednesday that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, sparking celebration by activists who have been campaigning for the right for years.

The court, known as the Judicial Yuan, said current marriage laws were “in violation of both the people’s freedom of marriage … and the people’s right to equality”, and it gave two years for legal amendments to allow same-sex marriage.

“If relevant laws are not amended or enacted within the said two years, two persons of the same sex who intend to create the said permanent union shall be allowed to have their marriage registration effectuated,” the court said.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists had harbored high hopes their years of campaigning for same-sex marriage would win the court’s backing.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party that swept national elections in the self-ruled island last year supported the change.

Hundreds of supporters of same-sex marriage gathered in the street next to the island’s parliament to celebrate the decision, holding colorful umbrellas to ward off a drizzle.

“This ruling has made me very happy,” said Chi Chia-wei, a veteran gay rights activist who had petitioned the court to take up the issue.

The ruling clearing the way for same-sex marriage is the first in Asia, where socially conservative attitudes largely hold sway.

Graphic on countries and regions that allow same-sex marriage: http://tmsnrt.rs/2rg66SW

A lawyer said the ruling made clear that same-sex couples had the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples.

“This is a clear victory for equal rights in marriage and it is also a victory for all the people,” said Victoria Hsu, the lead lawyer supporting Chi’s case.

Taiwan has a reputation as a beacon of liberalism in the region.

“Sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic that is resistant to change,” the court said in its ruling.

“Furthermore, the freedom of marriage for two persons of the same sex, once legally recognized, will constitute the collective basis, together with opposite-sex marriage, for a stable society,” it said.

Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, has a celebrated annual gay pride parade that showcases the vibrancy of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

(Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Same-sex couple can seek damages from Kentucky clerk: U.S. appeals court

Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is shown in this booking photo provided by the Carter County Detention Center in Grayson, Kentucky September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Carter County Detention Center/Handout via Reuters

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a damages lawsuit against Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who in 2015 refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it conflicted with her Christian beliefs.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said a lower court judge erred in finding that damages claims by David Ermold and David Moore became moot, after a new state law last July excused clerks like Davis, from Rowan County, from having to sign marriage license forms.

While the couple eventually did get a license, a three-judge appeals court panel said they could sue over Davis’ initial refusal to grant one, after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2015 said the Constitution guaranteed a right to same-sex marriage.

“The district court’s characterization of this case as simply contesting the ‘no marriage licenses’ policy is inaccurate because Ermold and Moore did not seek an injunction-they sought only damages,” Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote. “The record does not support an argument that (their) damages claims are insubstantial or otherwise foreclosed.”

Ermold’s and Moore’s case was sent back to U.S. District Judge David Bunning in Covington, Kentucky.

“The ruling keeps the case alive for a little while but it is not a victory for the plaintiffs,” Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a Christian advocacy group representing Davis, said in a statement. “We are confident we will prevail.”

Michael Gartland, a lawyer for Ermold and Moore, called the decision a “no-brainer,” saying damages claims based on past harm often survive mootness challenges. His clients are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

“Do I think it’s a million dollar case? Probably not,” Gartland said in an interview. “The next step will be to go to discovery and go to trial, where I am confident we will obtain a judgment against Davis.”

The refusal of Davis to issue licenses made her a national symbol for opposition to Obergefell v Hodges, the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The case is Ermold et al v. Davis, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-6412.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Australia turns down national vote on same-sex marriage

Gay rights activists hold a rainbow flag during a rally to support same-sex marriage in central Sydney August

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s bid to hold a national vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage was defeated on Monday in the upper house of parliament, or Senate, potentially delaying legal unions for years.

The proposal to hold the vote, or plebiscite, in February next year was voted down in the Senate by 33 votes to 29.

Australia’s center-right coalition government, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in August voted to take the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage to a national poll.

The bill required the support of some opposition lawmakers because Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition has only a one-vote majority in the lower house of parliament and does not have a majority in the upper house.

The rejection is a blow to Turnbull, who has seen his popularity wane amid frustration that he has failed to live up to his progressive reputation.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis had warned that a defeat would result in delaying same sex marriage in Australia for years to come.

In opposing the vote, the opposition Labor Party said it would have resulted in harmful debate against the gay and lesbian community and instead sought a direct vote in Parliament.

“Now that the plebiscite legislation is dead, we again call marriage equality supporters across all political parties to work together to find a pathway,” said Alex Greenwich, co-chair of rights group Australian Marriage Equality.

“It’s time our parliamentarians found a fair and dignified pathway that ensures every Australian is treated equally.”        There have only been three plebiscites in Australian history, two relating to conscription during World War I, and one to choose a national song in 1977.

Same-sex marriage is supported by 61 percent of Australians, a Gallup poll in August found.

Several independent MPs had already ruled out supporting the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage. A rejection by the center-left Labor party, which wants same-sex marriages legalized by parliament, ended any hope the plebiscite bill could pass.    A plebiscite represented an “unnecessary detour … through difficult terrain,” Janet Rice, the Greens Party spokeswoman for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex affairs, told reporters.

“It is at least insensitive to the LGBT community … and at best, it will result in divisive hurtful campaigning with no guarantee of progressing marriage equality,” she added.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Anglicans penalize U.S. church over gay marriage to avoid schism

CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) – The Anglican Church has slapped sanctions on its liberal U.S. branch for supporting same-sex marriage, a move that averted a formal schism in the world’s third largest Christian denomination but left deep divisions unresolved.

The Anglican communion, which counts some 85 million members in 165 countries, has been in crisis since 2003 because of arguments over sexuality and gender between liberal churches in the West and their conservative counterparts, mostly in Africa.

Following four days of closed-door talks, the heads of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces said the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church would be barred for three years from taking part in decision-making on doctrine or governance.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry told his peers at the talks that the decision would “bring real pain” but told them he was “committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family”, according to an Episcopal news website.

Anglicans are the world’s third-largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.

Ahead of the talks, convened by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of Anglicans, some African primates had threatened to walk out unless “godly order” was restored, and there were widespread fears of a formal schism.

That was averted by the formal slap on the wrist for the liberal Americans, but early reaction suggested deep divisions would persist.

The head of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach, said the sanctions were “not strong enough”. The church he leads includes many conservatives who broke away from the Episcopal Church over its approach to marriage.

“This is a good step back in the right direction, but it will take many more if the Communion is to be restored,” Beach said in a statement after the meeting.

“ARCHBIGOTS”

But at Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of Anglicans where the talks took place, Welby was confronted by a group of about 40 African gay and lesbian Anglicans angry about the penalties against the Episcopal Church.

“You have been very much in my mind this week. I am aware of the difficulties you face,” Welby told the protesters, many of whom were bearing placards with slogans such as “Anglican Archbigots, shame on you”.

A Nigerian gay Anglican who gave his only his first name, Chijioke, said religious leaders on the continent should be focusing on issues such as bad government and poverty rather than obsessing about issues of sexual orientation.

“We have been made to feel that we are nobody. That is not what the Church should do. God created all of us,” he told Reuters just outside the cathedral.

Chris Bryant, a gay former Anglican priest who is a member of the British parliament for the opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter: “I’ve finally given up on Anglican church today after its love-empty decision on sexuality. One day it will seem as wrong as supporting slavery.”

The sanctions against the U.S. church prevent it from speaking on behalf of Anglicans on interfaith or ecumenical bodies and bar it from certain internal committees for a period of three years.

The statement from the primates said the Episcopal Church had caused deep pain and worsened mistrust within the communion by changing its canon on marriage to include same-sex couples.

In a broader communique released later on Friday, the primates also said that they “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence” and reaffirmed their “rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people”.

But such language was unlikely to placate liberals in the communion, which has also been dogged by disagreements over the ordination of women and openly gay men as bishops and priests.

(Additional reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)