News Briefs for the Week of Aug. 16, 2017

Rep. Carlos Smith.

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Lawmaker: Florida Governor's Office Broke Promise to LGBTQs

(AP) When 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Florida in 2016, Gov. Rick Scott publicly offered his sympathy to the victims' families and the LGBT community.

"These are individuals. Let's love every one of them," he said then.

Behind the scenes, gay rights advocates say his staffers went a step further, promising to pursue an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state workers and contractors. More than a year later, no such order has been issued.

The advocates believe the order has become even more important in the past couple of weeks as the U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, filed court papers in a New York case saying that sexual orientation is not covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law bans workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, enforces the law against private employers and says sexual orientation is covered.

The Republican governor wouldn't talk about the alleged commitment his staff made when asked by an Associated Press reporter on Tuesday. But he said federal guidelines protect the gay community and the state follows them.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a gay Democrat, accused Scott of using the nightclub shooting to his political advantage.

"Many political leaders used the tragedy at Pulse to leverage their own political careers and to make promises to our community that they could have delivered on but they did not," Smith said at a recent forum for Orlando's gay and Latino communities.


Challenge Filed in Court to Australian Gay Marriage Ballot

(AP) Gay-rights advocates filed a court challenge Thursday to the government's unusual plan to canvass Australians' opinion on gay marriage next month, while a retired judge said he would boycott the survey as unacceptable.

The mail ballot is not binding, but the conservative government won't legislate the issue without it. If most Australians say "no," the government won't allow Parliament to consider lifting the nation's ban on same-sex marriage.

Lawyers for independent lawmaker Andrew Wilkie and marriage equality advocates Shelley Argent and Felicity Marlowe, applied to the High Court for an injunction that would prevent the so-called postal plebiscite from going ahead.

"We will be arguing that by going ahead without the authorization of Parliament, the government is acting beyond its power," lawyer Jonathon Hunyor said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government had legal advice that the postal ballot would withstand a court challenge.

"I encourage every Australian to exercise their right to vote on this matter. It's an important question," Turnbull said.

Gay-rights advocates and many lawmakers want Parliament to legislate marriage equality now without an opinion poll, which they see as an unjustifiable hurdle to reform.

Retired High Court judge Michael Kirby, a gay man who supports marriage equality, dismissed the ballot as "irregular and unscientific polling."

"It's just something we've never done in our constitutional arrangements of Australia, and it really is unacceptable," Kirby told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Kirby would not comment on the legality of the government proceeding with the 122 million Australian dollar ($96 million) ballot without Parliament's approval, but said: "I'm not going to take any part in it whatsoever."


Major Catholic News Outlet Calls for Dialogue on LGBTQ Acceptance, Hardliner Balks

(EDGE) The rift between hardline Catholics and progressives played out online Wednesday when, in an effort to bridge-build to LGBT Catholics, the editorial board of a major Catholic news outlet published a piece calling for the church's hierarchy to


the how sex and sexuality is taught.

In Wednesday's editorial, NCR's board called out the church's 1500-year-old "procreative norm" from the Augustine era dictating that any sex acts between married couples must be "ordered per se to the procreation of human life."

"The institutional church's vocal objections to same-sex marriage often mask the fact that church teaching is fundamentally opposed to sexual acts that a majority of human beings participate in," NCR's board wrote. "The church condemns any sex acts -- including those engaged in by married couples -- that do not respect the procreative norm. Therefore, in reality, few Catholics ever live up to the church's moral norms governing sexual activity."

Hard right wing Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who made headlines this year for instructing parish priests to deny funeral rites to Catholics in legal same-sex marriages, was singled out by NCR's board as an example of the kind of thinking that holding the church back.

"If bishops like Paprocki were more vocal about their opposition to masturbation, in vitro fertilization or vasectomies as they are in their campaign against same-sex marriage, perhaps more Catholics would realize how urgent the need is to rethink the entirety of the church's sexual ethics," the board wrote.


Houston Sued Over Possible Denial of Benefits to Gay Spouses

(AP) Three city employees and their spouses who are concerned that Houston could be forced to stop paying benefits to same-sex spouses due to an ongoing civil case on Thursday sued the city, asking for a court order to stop any such action.

The employees' lawsuit, filed in federal court, comes after the all-Republican state Supreme Court in June overturned a lower court's decision favoring same-sex marriage benefits and ordered the case back to a civil court in Harris County, where Houston is located.

After the Supreme Court's decision, the conservative activists who had initially sued Houston filed a motion seeking an injunction that would block the city from paying same-sex spousal benefits to its municipal employees while the case goes to trial. The activists also asked that any such benefits that have already been given be paid back by employees.

Kenneth Upton, an attorney for the three city employees and their spouses, said his clients and others who have received benefits for their same-sex spouses would be greatly harmed if they lost access to health insurance, disability and other benefits and also if they were forced to pay back such benefits.

One of the employees suing is a Houston police officer who is worried that if she is hurt or killed in the line of duty, her wife would not be entitled to the same benefits that the spouses of other police officers would have access to, said Upton, a Dallas-based attorney for Lambda Legal.

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