Virginia Bill Forces AG To Defend Ban On Gay Marriages

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill on Tuesday designed to require the state’s attorney general or a designee to represent the commonwealth in cases challenging the state’s laws or the state Constitution, a little more than a year after Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced he would not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage.

The measure cleared the GOP-controlled House on a 68-32 vote on crossover day, which is the last day during the legislative session for the House and Senate to act on its own legislation, with exceptions that include the budget bill.

Del. Brenda L. Pogge, James City Republican and original sponsor of the measure, said the bill was not designed to be a political statement, but rather to ensure the state has representation in future cases if similar situations arise.

“It wasn’t the issue of gay marriage so much as the [principle] that we had an attorney general who had sworn to uphold the Constitution of Virginia and was AWOL on our first challenge,” Ms. Pogge said Tuesday.

Soon after Mr. Herring announced his decision last January, a federal judge ended up ruling the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional in February — a decision that was upheld last summer by a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokesman for Mr. Herring said he didn’t think the bill was necessary and that it was clearly motivated by Mr. Herring’s “correct determination that Virginia’s marriage ban was unconstitutional.”

….Last August the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to stay the ruling by the 4th Circuit after Mr. Herring petitioned the high court for a prompt review of the case.

In October the Supreme Court then declined to take up appeals from five states with gay marriage bans, including Virginia, which cleared the way for marriage licenses to be issued in the state. The high court also declined to intervene this week after a federal court’s recently ruling Alabama’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, leading some advocates to speculate the court will rule that gays and lesbians have a constitutionally protected right to marry when it takes the issue up this term.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment in 2005 defining marriage in Virginia as between one man and one woman, and voters ratified the amendment with 57 percent of the vote in 2006….

By David Sherfinski – The Washington Times –

Judicial defiance in Alabama: Judges refuse gay marriages

On the day that same-sex unions became legal in Alabama, local officials in dozens of counties on Monday defied a federal judge’s decision and refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, casting the state into judicial chaos.

Gay couples were able to get licenses in about a dozen places, including Birmingham, Huntsville and a few other counties where probate judges complied with the judge’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled early Monday that it would deny Alabama’s request to put the marriages on hold.

But in the majority of counties, officials said they would refuse to license same-sex marriages or stop providing licenses altogether, confronting couples — gay and heterosexual — with locked doors and shuttered windows.

Many of the state’s 68 probate judges mounted their resistance to the federal decision at the urging of the firebrand chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore. He is best known for refusing more than a decade ago to comply with a court order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the state Supreme Court’s offices.

In Mobile, about 10 gay couples who had expected to be granted licenses first thing in the morning found the marriage-license window closed indefinitely….

A federal judge in Mobile ruled in their case last month that Alabama must allow same-sex marriages, striking down its ban and setting the stage for it to become the 37th state, plus the District of Columbia, to permit such unions and the second in the Deep South. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in April over whether there is a constitutional right for gay couples to marry nationwide.

Gay rights supporters likened the actions of Moore and the probate judges to those of Alabama leaders who in the 1960s defied orders to desegregate schools….

Some social conservatives cheered the actions of the defiant probate judges. Mat Staver, chief executive of Liberty Counsel, said the probate judges are not under the jurisdiction of the federal courts and therefore were not compelled to comply with the federal judge’s order to allow same-sex marriages.

“I think the probate judges acted appropriately,” said Staver, whose group is representing at least eight of the judges.

Their actions show that pockets of deep resistance to gay marriage remain despite the gains made by advocates, who have seen support for their cause spike nationally. Backing for same-sex marriage in Alabama stood at 32 percent in 2012, a smaller proportion than all but two states, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank that studies gay issues….

At least 12 counties denied licenses to same-sex couples, according to AL.com, an Alabama news site. More than 40 stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether Monday, though at least 20 of those were still accepting applications for marriage licenses. Nine counties agreed to marry everyone.

A letter late Sunday from Moore, the chief justice, advised probate judges to follow state law and refuse to give licenses to gay couples. Those who violated his order would face a reprimand by the governor, Moore wrote.

“Effective immediately, no probate judge of the state of Alabama nor any agent or employee of any Alabama Probate Judge shall issue or recognize a marriage license that is inconsistent” with a constitutional amendment and a state law banning same-sex unions, he wrote.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Monday that he will not punish probate judges in the state who do or do not issue marriage licenses.

“This issue has created confusion with conflicting direction for Probate Judges in Alabama,” Bentley said in a statement. “Probate judges have a unique responsibility in our state, and I support them. I will not take any action against Probate Judges, which would only serve to further complicate this issue.”

….The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Alabama’s request to stay the same-sex marriages until the justices rule later this year on whether there is a constitutional right to gay unions. Two justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented, saying they would have granted the stay.

“I would have shown the people of Alabama the respect they deserve and preserved the status quo while the Court resolves this important constitutional question,” Thomas wrote.

By Mark Berman,Brian Murphy,& Robert Barnes – Washington Post –

Justice Thomas critical of peers on Alabama gay marriage decision

Justice Clarence Thomas criticized his Supreme Court colleagues Monday for refusing to block same-sex marriage in Alabama until the court resolves the issue nationwide in a few months.

Thomas said in a dissenting opinion that the court’s Alabama order could be seen as a signal that the justices already have decided they will declare that gay and lesbian couples have a right to marry under the Constitution.

Thomas wrote that the court “looks the other way as yet another federal district judge casts aside state laws” and that “this acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution of that question.”

“This is not the proper way to discharge our Article III responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this court to pretend that it is,” Thomas added. The Article III reference is to the provision of the Constitution concerning the federal courts.

Alabama became the 37th state in which same-sex couples can marry, following U.S. District Judge Callie Granade’s ruling in January that struck down as unconstitutional the state’s statutory and constitutional bans on gay marriage [Which Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has upheld]….

By Associated Press – One News Now –

Canadian Mennonites Officiate First Same-Sex ‘Wedding’

Two Mennonite ministers in Canada have officiated the denomination’s first same-sex “wedding,” holding the service publicly in a “church” building in Saskatchewan.

Anita Retzlaff and Patrick Preheim of Nutana Park Mennonite Church officiated the ceremony for Craig Friesen and Matt Weins on Dec. 31, which was held at Osler Mennonite, the childhood congregation of Friesen.

“For us, a wedding is supposed to be a celebration of our commitment to each other in front of our faith communities, our other communities and God,” Friesen told CBC News. “It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t get married in the Mennonite church.”

“Having these examples that someone doesn’t have to choose between their religion and who they’re attracted to, I think that’s important,” Wiens added.

The Mennonite Church in Canada officially opposes same-sex nuptials, but last year, leadership announced that it would allow each congregation to believe as they wish on the subject in order to keep congregations from leaving the denomination.

According to reports, Nutana Park Mennonite began discussing the issue of homosexuality 15 years ago, when some who were involved in the lifestyle urged the congregation to be more accepting. A group was soon formed on how ministers would respond to the issue.

We didn’t want to be asked by a couple and not be able to respond honestly where the congregation is at,” Preheim explained to the Star Phoenix.

The question was turned back to the congregation, and in October 2012, the Nutana bulletin began featuring an “inclusive statement,” which reads, “Nutana Park Mennonite Church welcomes into fellowship and membership all persons who confess faith in Jesus Christ without regard to their race, ethnic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, income, education, ability and other factors that give rise to discrimination and marginalization.”

Then, Retzlaff and Preheim agreed to “wed” Friesen and Weins, a move that was considered to be controversial as the majority of Mennonite ministers in Canada believe that homosexual behavior is a violation of the law of God.

As previously reported, while the Mennonite Church USA is also officially opposed to homosexuality, some have expressed frustration over what they perceive to be a passive attitude toward congregations that affirm the homosexual lifestyle. Last fall, a Mennonite congregation in Ohio voted to leave the Mennonite Church USA in part due to concerns over what it believes is a lack of discipline against those who engage in homosexual behavior.

“We felt that Mennonite Church USA and [our church] were going in different directions concerning scriptural authority and holiness,” Ross Miller, pastor of Hartville Mennonite Church in Lake, told the Mennonite World Review.

He advised that concerns about various aspects grew over a number of years, but when the Mountain States Conference, a division of the Mennonite Church USA, approved the ministerial license of a Colorado woman who identifies as a lesbian, it expedited matters and resulted in a recent vote to part ways.

“We felt there needed to be church discipline, and there hasn’t been,” Miller said, referencing disappointment that the Ohio Conference failed to pass a resolution urging the denomination headquarters to address the Mountain States’ actions, as well as a statement from an executive board member that he felt was less than satisfactory.

By: Heather Clark – Christian News Network –