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  Civil Rights - Legal News

A suburban Denver baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple will argue in court Tuesday that his religious beliefs should protect him from sanctions against his business.

The case underscores how the already simmering tension between religious-freedom advocates and gay-rights supporters is likely to become more heated in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

"What the relationship is between that reality and sort of what that will mean for things like service provisions is where I think the battles will really be fought now," said Melissa Hart, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

The 2012 case before the Colorado Court of Appeals has ignited a passionate debate over whether individuals can cite their beliefs as a basis for declining to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony or if such refusals on religious grounds can lead to discrimination allegations.

Gay couples have won battles in other states.

Last week, the owners of a Portland, Oregon-area bakery that declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple two years ago were ordered to pay $135,000 in damages. Two years ago, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a photographer who wouldn't take pictures of a gay couple's 2006 commitment ceremony violated the state's discrimination law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz are among 57 Republicans in Congress who are calling on the Supreme Court to uphold state bans on same-sex marriage.

The congressional Republicans said in a brief filed at the high court Friday that the justices should not impose "a federally mandated redefinition of the ancient institution of marriage" nationwide. The Republicans said the court should let voters and their elected legislatures decide what to do about marriage.

The court will hear arguments on April 28 in cases from McConnell's home state of Kentucky, as well as Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Same-sex couples can marry in 37 states.

Last month, 7 Republicans joined 211 Democrats and independents in Congress in support of same-sex marriage nationwide.

Mississippi's governor and attorney general will have to decide whether to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that is keeping the state's only abortion clinic in business.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 Tuesday to block a 2012 Mississippi law that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

When Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, he said he hoped it would end abortion in the state. In defending the law, state attorneys said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states. But the appellate judges ruled that every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.

Bryant, in a statement late Tuesday, said he was disappointed by the court's ruling.

"This measure is designed to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this potentially dangerous procedure, and physicians who provide abortions should be held to the same standards as physicians who perform other outpatient procedures," Bryant said.

Calif. meets first inmate target set by court

  Civil Rights  -   POSTED: 2012/01/04 03:24

California has met the first target set by federal courts to reduce its inmate population as a way to improve health care in the nation's largest state prison system, prison officials said Tuesday.

Federal judges ordered the state to reduce the population by about 10,000 inmates by the end of 2011, to about 133,000 inmates, as a means to improve the care of mentally and physically ill inmates. The population in the 33 prisons for adults fell to 132,887 as of last week's court-imposed deadline.

"Based on that number, we have met the benchmark," said Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "It's gratifying to see that we have in fact made it."

The state is reducing its population mainly through a new law transferring responsibility for lower level criminals from state prisons to county jails.

The population is now two-tenths of a percentage point under the goal required by the courts. It means the state is on track to reduce the state's inmate population by 33,000, or 23 percent, over two years.

"Headline Civil Rights News" Series

  Civil Rights  -   POSTED: 2009/02/21 08:36

Justice for Women Stalked in the Workplace and Retaliation by Their Employers - The Law Offices of Dawn V. Martin

WaMartin v. Howard University and Alice Gresham Bullock, U.S. Supreme Court No. 08-204.

In 1997, Howard University Law Professor Dawn Martin was stalked on campus by a delusional serial stalker, Leonard Harrison. Despite instructions to Howard University from the Washington D.C. Police Department to implement and improve its campus security, Howard failed to take action, and instead, punished Professor Martin by refusing to renew her teaching contract. The story you are about to watch is the true story of Dawn Martin's 11-year Journey for Justice for her and all women who are stalked in the workplace. The National Organization for Women and The National Association of Women Lawyers join her cause.

When Prof. Martin was stalked by Leonard Harrison, he was searching for the physical embodiment of his "fantasy" wife -- a fictional female character in a book, written by the renowned civil rights Professor, Derrick Bell. Instead of following its own security procedures to ban Harrison from campus, Howard responded to Prof. Martin's requests for protection by refusing to renew her teaching contract. She sued Howard, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination and harassment, on the basis of sex/gender. Prof. Martin alleged that Howard permitted the stalker to harass her on the basis of her gender in her workplace. 78% of stalking victims are women. 54% of female murder victims reported their stalkers to the police before being killed by them. Prof. Martin further alleged that Howard retaliated against her by refusing to renew her teaching contract because she asked for protection from Harrison on campus.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), joined by additional women's and victims' advocacy groups, filed an Amicus Brief in this case, stressing the need to protect stalking victims from employer retaliation. In this powerful TV documentary, Prof. Martin is joined by such esteemed leaders as Kim Gandy (President of NOW); Prof. Derrick Bell, a renowned civil rights leader and university professor; Roberta Wright, who wrote amicus briefs for NOW and NAWL; and Amos Sirleaf, a former Howard University Security Officer.

The Law Offices of Dawn V. Martin represents plaintiffs in civil rights, employment discrimination and personal injury/tort cases. The firm litigates to enforce the rights of employees who have been discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability. Ms. Martin has also been featured on Sky Radio as part of its series on ¡°Salute to Women in Leadership,¡± as noted in TIME Magazine.

A single father is suing the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority for $200 million, claiming lead-contaminated tap water poisoned his twin sons as infants, causing them ongoing health problems.

The water utility between 2001 and 2004 hid elevated levels of lead from customers and federal authorities, plaintiff John Parkhurst of Capitol Hill claims in the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status. WASA failed to take steps to remedy the situation, omitted language from public education campaigns that would have warned people about the problem and continued to encourage residents to drink the water, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court.

The complaint comes on the heels of a study that determined hundreds of D.C. children might be at risk of irreversible IQ loss, developmental delays and behavioral problems linked to the lead levels. The Children's National Medical Center and Virginia Tech research contradicts claims by D.C. and federal health officials who said in 2004 that although lead in city water was at record-breaking levels, they didn't find any measurable ill effects on public health.

New Jersey civil union law fails to protect

  Civil Rights  -   POSTED: 2008/02/20 08:26

A new state civil unions law has failed to ensure that same-sex couples in New Jersey enjoy the same rights as married heterosexuals, an official report said on Tuesday.

On the first anniversary of the law's implementation, the Civil Union Review Commission said some employers in New Jersey have refused to provide benefits to the partner of employees in a civil union.

New Jersey last year became the third state to pass a civil unions law after its Supreme Court affirmed that same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples, but left the state legislature to decide whether to enshrine those rights in an institution called marriage.

Lawmakers opted for civil unions, to the dismay of gay-rights activists who argued that true equality can only be achieved by allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

In Massachusetts, the only state to have legalized same-sex marriage, the law prompted many employers to provide equal benefits to same-sex partners, the report said.

The panel of official and legislative appointees established as part of the law blamed the failure of some New Jersey employers to recognize civil unions on a federal law that allows self-insured companies -- an estimated 50 percent of all employers in the state -- to choose not to offer benefits to same-sex partners.

In addition, the federal Defense of Marriage Act says any federal statute or regulation that provides benefits to spouses applies only to partnerships between one man and one woman.

Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality, a leading gay-rights group in the state, said about 2,500 New Jersey couples have formed civil unions since the law was passed, and about a fifth have complained to his group that their unions have not been recognized by employers.

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