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by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

California Supremes to hear Prop 8 challenge March 5
The California Supreme Court will hear the challenge to Proposition 8 on March 5.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, cities and counties, and Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred sued to overturn the constitutional amendment that re-banned same-sex marriage, arguing that the state constitution itself prohibits a simple majority of voters from changing its underlying principles.

The attorneys represent Equality California, married same-sex couples, and couples who want to get married.

"By taking away a right only from one group, Proposition 8 violates the most basic principle of our government: that all people are entitled to equal treatment under the law," the legal groups said in a statement.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown also is asking the court to invalidate Prop 8 on the ground that certain fundamental rights, including the right to marry, are inalienable and cannot be put to a popular vote.

Forty-three friend-of-the-court briefs urging the court to undo Prop 8 have been filed by civil rights organizations, legal scholars, state legislators, local governments, bar associations, business interests, labor unions and religious groups.

Same-sex marriage became legal in California on June 16, 2008, after the state Supreme Court ruled that laws treating people differently based on sexual orientation violate the equal-protection clause of the California Constitution and that same-sex couples have the same fundamental right to marry as other Californians.

Fifty-two percent of voters re-banned same-sex marriage on November 4, 2008, by passing Prop 8 and amending the constitution.

No other ballot initiative has ever changed the California Constitution to take away a right only from a targeted minority group.

The state Supreme Court will be required to issue its decision in the case within 90 days after the March 5 hearing.

In related news, a federal judge on January 29 denied a request from the organizations that sponsored Prop 8 to remove their donor rolls from the public record.

Protect Marriage and the National Organization for Marriage California claimed their donors have been targeted with harassment, boycotts, death threats, white powder, and nasty phone calls, e-mails, postcards and fliers.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said, "If there ever needs to be sunshine on a political issue, it is with a ballot measure."

Lead couple in Mass. marriage case to divorce
The lead couple in the lawsuit that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004 filed for divorce January 29.

Hillary and Julie Goodridge did not respond to media requests for comment on their decision.

Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage, later followed by California and Connecticut.

California voters thereafter amended the state constitution to re-ban same-sex marriage. A lawsuit seeking to strike down the new ban will be heard by the California Supreme Court on March 5.

World's oldest Gay bookstore to close
The oldest Gay bookstore in the world, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop on Christopher Street in New York City, will close its doors March 29.

"Unfortunately we do not have the resources to weather the current economic crisis and find it's time to call it a day," owner Kim Brinster wrote on the store's website.

In an interview with The New York Times, she added: "Even if we were rent-free, it wouldn't be enough for us to cover the bills we have. This is one instance in New York where it's not a case of the landlord gouging the tenant."

Brinster said the tiny store pays below-market-value rent of $3,000 a month.

The bookshop was opened in 1967 by Craig Rodwell, 19 months before the Stonewall Riots on Christopher Street launched the modern Gay-liberation movement.

The store functioned as a meeting place for the Gay community throughout the earlier years of Gay lib.

Clinton wants to end Foreign Service discrimination 'fast'
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to end the State Department's discrimination against partnered Gay Foreign Service officers "fast," she said February 4.

At a town-hall meeting in the department's Dean Acheson Auditorium, Foreign Service Officer Ralan Hill asked Clinton: "I am here in Washington on TDY [temporary duty yonder], going to Paraguay. I have a same-sex partner, who's been recognized as a member of household by the Department of State. Because of that, the department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families here in the department. As one example, if I were assigned overseas to a post that came under a mandatory evacuation order, I would be required to leave, although the department is under no legal obligation to do anything to help my partner. He could be left literally to fend for himself in a war zone. While I hope you find the current situation unacceptable, my question is what can you do to eliminate this discrimination, and what timeline do you see for making such changes?"

Clinton responded: "Well, thank you for raising that. You know, this is an issue of real concern to me. And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide. So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes. This is on a - it's on a fast timeline, but we've begun that process. We are reviewing what would need to be changed, what we can legally change. A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let's see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously."

This column recently reported that same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, Nepal, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain and the U.S. states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Nepal was included in the list based on an incorrect reading of a Jan. 18 press release from Human Rights Watch that referred to "seven countries that have understood the principle of equality to require equal access to marriage for same-sex couples ... the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Nepal, and Norway." A follow-up inquiry to Scott Long, head of HRW's LGBT Rights Division, revealed that Nepal does not yet belong on the list. He explained: "The Supreme Court found in effect that it [same-sex marriage] should be [allowed], but mandated that a panel study the issue and recommend legislation guided by the equality principles the court laid down. So: probably coming but not quite yet."

With assistance from Bill Kelley
pictures Oscar Wilde Bookshop

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