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National - A Lawmaker's Solution for Marriage Debate: Remove the State

(AP) A Missouri Republican saw last year's debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would have protected businesses that deny services to same-sex couples bring lawmakers to tears and grind legislative work to a halt. His potential solution: Take state government out of marriage completely.

"You can stop spending so much emotional energy on the issue, and we can move on to other things," state Rep. T.J. Berry said, adding, "I'm treating everybody the exact same way and leaving space for people to believe what they believe outside of government."

His bill, filed ahead of the 2017 legislative session, would make Missouri the first state to recognize only domestic unions for both heterosexual and gay couples, treating legal partnerships equally and leaving marriages to be done by pastors and other religious leaders.

But such peace could be elusive for several reasons. Some argue that leaving marriage to religious leaders is a way to constitutionally refuse to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. Plus, there are potential logistical issues with stripping references to marriage in hundreds of state statutes, and the federal government recognizes only marriages for benefits. Berry's idea has been met by skepticism from pretty much all sides of the gay marriage issue.

Other states including Alabama, Indiana and Michigan failed to pass similar bills to limit the government's role in marriage, and Oklahoma representatives passed a bill that didn't make it out of the Senate.

The Missouri bill's chances are unclear, although Republican House Majority Floor Leader Mike Cierpiot, who lives 30 minutes south of Kansas City in Lee's Summit, said the issue needs to be discussed due to impassioned arguments among LGBT rights groups and religious organizations that have continued in the wake of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.


National - Indiana University Same-Sex Partner Benefits End Dec. 31

(AP) More than 20 Indiana University employees will lose health care coverage if they don't marry their same-sex partners by the end of the month.

University employees in same-sex relationships have relied on a domestic-partner health care policy offered since 2002, the South Bend Tribune ( ) reported.

Employees who applied for the benefit were required to sign an affidavit saying he or she would marry if the opportunity was available.

A university spokeswoman said the number of domestic partners enrolled in medical plans dropped from 250 at its highest point to 22 after marriage certificates were submitted following the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision the IU board of trustees discontinued domestic partner benefits. Those benefits will expire Dec. 31.

"The university has a nondiscrimination policy that includes marital status. It's hard for me to understand how this isn't blatant discrimination," said Betsy Lucal, an IU employee. "The right to marry should not be a requirement to marry."

The university has never offered domestic partner health benefits to unmarried heterosexual employee couples.

The university's human resources department said it'll continue to explore employee requests to expand health care coverage to all same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners.

Meanwhile, the university told unmarried same-sex couples that their partner who is not covered may be eligible for COBRA, temporary coverage under the employer's plan if their coverage otherwise would cease due to termination, layoff or other change in employment status.

Dating - Gay Dating App Scruff Bans 'Party' From Profiles

(EDGE) Some users of the gay dating app Scruff may be surprised when they try to use the word "party" in their profile: The app's creators banned the word to crack down on its members from using "party" as code for drugs, according to New Now Next.

"Party" is sometimes used to refer to "chemsex," a term used by gay or bisexual men who use drugs to facilitate sex. 

New Now Next points out there are ways some users figured out to get around the "party" ban: Switching a word for a number does the trick, like "p4rty" or "ch3m." 

The ban on "party" has been around for a while but recently made headlines in the U.K. after BuzzFeed News reported that a man discovered the blocking when he couldn't write "party" in his profile to say he's a member of the Labour Party in his profile. 

"To censor a word does not stop people using drugs in potentially harmful ways. If there is an appetite, then it will usually out, despite how it is policed," activist Patrick Cash told BuzzFeed about the "party" ban. "I would like to see Scruff and other gay hookup apps take a greater interest in the holistic wellbeing of its users, their mental health and self-worth. 

"Apps are a pivotal part of our modern gay community and their makers should note that they could create far more good than they currently achieve," Cash added.


Health - Texas Judge Halts Federal Transgender Health Protections

(AP) A federal judge in Texas on Saturday ordered a halt to another Obama administration effort to strengthen transgender rights, this time over health rules that social conservatives say could force doctors to violate their religious beliefs.

The latest injunction signed by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor comes four months after he blocked a higher-profile new set of transgender protections - a federal directive that required public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Several of the Republican-controlled states that brought that lawsuit, including Texas, also sued over the health regulations that were finalized in May.

Civil rights groups had hailed the new health rules as groundbreaking anti-discrimination protections. The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund said the new U.S. Health and Human Services regulations advised that certain forms of transgender discrimination by doctors, hospitals and insurers violated the Affordable Care Act.

But a coalition of religious medical organizations said the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition contrary to their religious beliefs or medical judgment. O'Connor agreed in his 46-page ruling, saying the rules place "substantial pressure on Plaintiffs to perform and cover transition and abortion procedures."

The rules were set to take effect Sunday.

"Plaintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies which seem to be in direct conflict with the Rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement," O'Connor wrote.

Transgender rights advocates have called that a far-fetched hypothetical, saying a person would not approach a doctor who lacked suitable experience and expertise.

The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund criticized the injunction as contrary to existing law and said it expects the ruling to be overturned on appeal.