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CALIFORNIA SUPREMES HEAR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CASE
California Supreme Court justices debated with lawyers for 3 hours and 38 minutes March 4 in the televised hearing in the state's consolidated same-sex marriage case. A ruling is due by early June.

Plaintiffs are the city of San Francisco, two Gay rights groups and 23 same-sex couples. They say state laws that restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples are unconstitutional in myriad ways.

Lawyers for the state, the governor and two anti-Gay groups argued that the laws are not unconstitutional and that California's comprehensive domestic-partnership law grants same-sex couples all substantive rights of marriage anyway.

Most observers predict a split decision by the court, perhaps turning on one vote.

"I thought the argument yesterday was incredible," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "It is clear the court was very engaged and had done a very deep dive on the law and policy issues involved. I am hopeful."

The center's legal director, Shannon Minter, represented 15 of the Gay couples at the hearing.

"People want to marry the one person who, to them, is irreplaceable," he told the court. "We demean ourselves as a society if we don't give individuals the freedom to marry and to choose whom to marry."

Kendell said: "Shannon was particularly brilliant, just right-on and, at moments, even poetic. I was very proud. Between Shannon and Terry [San Francisco Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart], I do not think we could have had any better advocates."

IOWANS SUPPORT CIVIL UNIONS BUT NOT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
A majority of Iowans support creation of legal civil unions for same-sex couples, but not granting them access to marriage, a Des Moines Register poll has found.

Sixty-two percent of those questioned said marriage should be only between a man and a woman, 32 percent approved of same-sex marriage and 6 percent lacked an opinion.

More than half, however, supported civil unions, while 40 percent opposed them and 4 percent had no opinion.

The poll found an even split on the notion of amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage: 48 percent in favor, 47 percent opposed and 5 percent with no opinion.

Last year, a Polk County district court found Iowa's man-woman-only marriage law unconstitutional, and one Gay couple managed to get married before Judge Robert Hanson suspended his ruling when it was appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The Register poll questioned 801 adults between February 17 and 20, and has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points.

ELLEN: PAY ATTENTION WHEN YOU VOTE
Ellen DeGeneres said on her TV talk show February 29 that she's not a political person but that people should vote for a presidential candidate who believes "we are all equal under the law."

"On February 12, an openly Gay 15-year-old boy named Larry, who was an eighth-grader in Oxnard, Calif., was murdered by a fellow eighth-grader named Brandon," DeGeneres said at the beginning of her program.

"Larry was killed because he was Gay," she said. "Days before he was murdered, Larry asked his killer to be his valentine. I don't want to be political. This is not political. I'm not a political person but this is personal to me. A boy has been killed, and a number of lives have been ruined. And somewhere along the line the killer, Brandon, got the message that it's so threatening and so awful and so horrific that Larry would want to be his valentine that killing Larry seemed to be the right thing to do. And when the message out there is so horrible that to be Gay you can get killed for it, we need to change the message."

"Larry was not a second-class citizen, I am not a second-class citizen, it is OK if you're Gay," DeGeneres concluded. "This is an election year and there's a lot of talk about change. I think one thing we should change is hate. Check on who you're voting for, and does that person really, truly believe that we are all equal under the law? And if you're not sure, change your vote. We deserve better."

Lawrence King was shot during class at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard on February 12 and died three days later.

King was openly Gay and wore makeup, feminine jewelry and high-heel boots. As a result, he had been bullied and harassed by other students, including Brandon McInerney, 14, who has been charged with premeditated murder with a hate-crime enhancement.

WASHINGTON COUPLES TO GET MORE RIGHTS
A bill to give Washington's domestic-partnership law more teeth passed the Legislature March 4 and Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign it.

The measure adds 170 additional rights and obligations of marriage to the law, which first took effect last year.

According to the Post-Intelligencer newspaper, marriage rights were added in areas such as sharing bank accounts, holding common property, not having to testify against one's partner, and divorce and child custody.

Opponents said the new rights will damage marriage by making it no different from domestic partnership.

"Once we go that far, marriage will become meaningless," said Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester.

But recent polling showed that 55 percent of Washingtonians support the changes.

Six other states have same-sex civil-union or domestic-partnership laws that extend all or nearly all state-level rights and obligations of marriage: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont.

In addition, Maine, Hawaii and the District of Columbia have laws that extend limited spousal rights to same-sex couples.

CLARIFICATION
An item in last week's national-news briefs reported that one of Microsoft's first employees, Ric Weiland, who committed suicide in 2006 at age 53, had left $65 million to 11 gay and AIDS organizations, including GLAAD, NGLTF and Lambda Legal. The news item stated, "Notably missing from the list is the nation's largest gay rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, which has had numerous quarrels with other Gay activists and organizations over the years." According to HRC spokesman Trevor Thomas, Weiland contributed to HRC during his lifetime. Thomas also noted that Weiland's partner told the Washington Blade that, in the Blade's words, "observers shouldn't read anything into [the will's] perceived omissions."

With assistance from Bill Kelley
pictures Kate Kendell, Ellen DeGeneres
 

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