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Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal said Thursday the government cannot deny spousal employment benefits to same-sex couples, in a ruling hailed as a major step forward for same-sex equality in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The court overturned an earlier judgment, saying unanimously that denying same-sex couples access to spousal benefits is unlawful.

“It follows therefore that the ‘prevailing views of the community on marriage’ ... even if this can confidently be gauged in the first place, are simply not relevant to a consideration of the justification exercise,” the ruling said.

Although same-sex marriage is not recognized in Hong Kong, the judgment appears to move the territory further in that direction. Last year, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that the same-sex partner of a British expatriate married abroad was entitled to the same visa treatment as a heterosexual partner under immigration law.

Angus Leung, a senior immigration officer who brought the case on behalf of himself and his partner, Scott Adams, said the ruling was the culmination of a stressful four-year process.

“We understand that it is just a small step for the equality in Hong Kong,” Leung told reporters as he and Adams held hands outside the courthouse. “We think that as a small citizen, we shouldn’t be going through such a process to fight for such a basic family right.”

Leung urged the government to rectify discriminatory policies and legislation so that other couples wouldn’t have to undergo the same legal process.

Man-kei Tam, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, called Thursday’s judgment a “huge step forward for equality” that brings Hong Kong “more in line with its international obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of people with different sexual orientations.”

Tam also called on the government to review its laws, policies and practices to end all discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, saying, “No one should experience discrimination because of who they are or who they love.”

It isn’t clear what effect the ruling might have on private businesses and organizations, although some already offer benefits to same-sex partners as they compete for top talent in finance, marketing and other fields for which Hong Kong is famous. In another sign of acceptance, the city of 7.4 million people is also preparing to host the 2022 Gay Games.


Kenya's High Court has chosen to uphold colonial-era laws that criminalize gay sex, dashing the hopes of activists who believed the judges would overturn sections of the penal code as unconstitutional and inspire a sea change across the continent.

Three judges said Friday that the laws in question did not target the LGBTQ community. They were not convinced that people's basic rights had been violated, they said.

"We are not persuaded by the petitioners that the offenses against them are overboard," one of the judges said, according local media.

The case stems from to a petition filed in 2016 by activist Eric Gitari, with the support of organizations serving LGBTQ Kenyans. They argued that two sections of Kenya's penal code violated people's rights: Article 162 penalizes "carnal knowledge ... against the order of nature" with up to 14 years in prison, and Article 165 castigates "indecent practices between males" with the possibility of five years' imprisonment.


The Supreme Court is taking on a major test of LGBT rights in cases that look at whether federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The justices said Monday they will hear cases involving people who claim they were fired because of their sexual orientation and another that involves a funeral home employee who was fired after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The cases will be argued in the fall, with decisions likely by June 2020 in the middle of the presidential election campaign. The issue is whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, but federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.

The big question is whether the Supreme Court, with a strengthened conservative majority, will do the same. The cases are the court's first on LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the court's major gay rights opinions. President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices had been weighing whether to take on the cases since December, an unusually long time, before deciding to hear them. It's unclear what caused the delay.


In a major reversal, South Korea's Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the easing of the country's decades-old ban on most abortions, one of the strictest in the developed world.

Abortions have been largely illegal in South Korea since 1953, though convictions for violating the restrictions are rare. Still, the illegality of abortions forces women to seek out unauthorized and often expensive procedures to end their pregnancies, creating a social stigma that makes them feel like criminals.

The court's nine-justice panel said that the parliament must revise legislation to ease the current regulations by the end of 2020. It said the current abortion law was incompatible with the constitution and would be repealed if parliament fails to come up with new legislation by then.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed, court officials said, but current regulations will remain in effect until they are replaced or repealed.

An easing of the law could open up the door to more abortions for social and economic reasons. Current exceptions to the law only allow abortions when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, when a pregnancy seriously jeopardizes her health, or when she or her male partner has certain diseases.

A woman in South Korea can be punished with up to one year in prison for having an illegal abortion, and a doctor can get up to two years in prison for performing an unauthorized abortion.

Thursday's verdict was a response to an appeal filed in February 2017 by an obstetrician charged with carrying out about 70 unauthorized abortions from 2013-2017 at the request or approval of pregnant women.

Most other countries in the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the so-called most developed countries, allow abortions for broad social and economic reasons. South Korea is one of only five OECD member states that don't allow such abortions, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

The South Korean public has been sharply split over the abortion law. There have been heated panel discussions on TV and internet programs; activists, both for and against, have for months stood with placards near the court. Dozens gathered on Thursday.


Greece violated a prohibition on discrimination by applying Islamic religious law to an inheritance dispute among members of the country's Muslim minority, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Wednesday.

The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ruled Greece violated the European Convention on Human Rights by applying Sharia law in the case, under which a Muslim Greek man's will bequeathing all he owned to his wife was deemed invalid after it was challenged by his sisters.

The man's widow, Chatitze Molla Sali, appealed to the European court in 2014, having lost three quarters of her inheritance. She argued she had been discriminated against on religious grounds as, had her husband not been Muslim, she would have inherited his entire estate under Greek law.

The European court agreed. It has not yet issued a decision on what, if any, penalty it will apply to Greece.

"Greece was the only country in Europe which, up until the material time, had applied Sharia law to a section of its citizens against their wishes," the court said in its ruling.


India's Supreme Court on Friday lifted a temple's ban on women of menstruating age, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.

The historic Sabarimala temple had barred women age 10 to 50 from entering the temple that is one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage centers in the world.

Some religious figures consider menstruating women to be impure. But the court ruled 4-1 the practice of excluding women cannot be regarded as an essential religious practice.

The temple argued the celibate nature of Sabarimala temple's presiding deity Lord Ayyappa was protected by India's Constitution.

The top court's verdict is part a string of recent rulings that recognize more rights of women, challenging deeply conservative Indian society. On Thursday, it scrapped a law which did not allow wives to bring criminal charges against adulterous husbands.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra in part of Friday's judgment said devotion could not be discriminatory and patriarchal notion could not trump equality in devotion.

"Religion cannot be the cover to deny women right to worship. To treat women as children of lesser God is to blink at constitutional morality," he said.

Rahul Eswaran, an attorney for the temple, said the temple management would seek a review of the court's decision. It noted girls and women of other ages were allowed in the temple without restrictions.




India’s Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would “pave the way for a better future.”

The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India’s gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision.

“Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality,” Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading the verdict. “Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual.”

As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags.

“We feel as equal citizens now,” said activist Shashi Bhushan. “What happens in our bedroom is left to us.”

In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a “biological phenomenon” and that discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights.

“We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution.

Jessica Stern, the executive director of the New York-based rights group OutRight Action International, said the original law had reverberated far beyond India, including in countries where gay people still struggle for acceptance.

“The sodomy law that became the model everywhere, from Uganda to Singapore to the U.K. itself, premiered in India, becoming the confusing and dehumanizing standard replicated around the world,” she said in a statement, saying “today’s historic outcome will reverberate across India and the world.”

The court’s ruling struck down

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