Indiana pizzeria owner: Gays are OK, but I won’t cater their weddings

The owner of an Indiana small-town pizzeria that was thrust into the national spotlight after his daughter said they would refuse to cater a same-sex wedding celebration says his family has no problem with gay couples, but he maintained that he would not cater a same-sex wedding.

He fears he may now lose his business over what he considers a simple expression of his beliefs.

Kevin O’Connor, who owns Memories Pizzeria in Walkerton, Ind., with his two children, spoke with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, shortly after his daughter’s comments to a local television reporter went viral and made his restaurant the latest battleground in the national dispute over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Critics have denounced the legislation, calling it an invitation for business owners in the conservative state to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Although he supports the legislation, O’Connor told The Times he did not make a public decree that he would not serve same-sex couples, nor did anyone ask him that question.

But in the television interview, which led thousands to attack his business on Facebook and on Yelp, his daughter Crystal said she would flat-out refuse service to a gay couple who asked to have their wedding catered.

“We service anyone. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if they’re covered with tattoos, I don’t care if they got rings in their ears. I don’t care if they’re gay. The only thing I said was I cannot condone gay marriage,” O’Connor, 61, told The Times. He said he believes his decision not to cater same-sex weddings is simply an expression of his religious beliefs.

“If they want to come in the store, that’s their privilege, they can do that. But I can’t condone gay marriage, that’s against my belief,” he added.

O’Connor, who said he was born and raised in Indiana and has owned the business for nine years, said he was surprised by the outrage his daughter’s comments drew.

“I’m just a little guy who had a little business that I probably don’t have anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t change my attitude or stance, but it’s hurtful that I can’t publicly speak out about what I believe in saying.”

The problem is catering a wedding becomes a highly personal affair, they become part of it, and they should not, under any circumstances be required to do it. period.

Crystal O’Connor told The Blaze, a website and TV network founded by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, that the backlash had led the family to close the pizzeria at least for now. “We’re in hiding, basically,” she said.

The restaurant is not without its supporters, however. An online fundraising campaign on its behalf has raised more than $36,000 in less than six hours.

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence last week, says that government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” and that individuals who feel their religious beliefs have been or could be “substantially burdened” are protected from civil lawsuits.

Twenty other states have passed similar laws. Arkansas’ Legislature passed such a bill Tuesday, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson hasn’t signed it, and on Wednesday he called for changes before he would.

Pence, who has repeatedly said critics are misinterpreting the law, has also asked the Indiana Legislature to modify it to ensure that it doesn’t allow for blanket discrimination by businesses.

Kevin O’Connor said Wednesday that he thought miscommunication had driven a lot of the rancor about the bill and that he feared he and his family would now be branded as bigots. Asked whether he had any issue with gays or lesbians, he said, “I do not.”

“That was said, but that’s not what was heard,” he said.


S.F. area’s LGBT population tops survey; San Jose near bottom

A first-of-its-kind Gallup survey confirmed Friday what many people have long assumed — that the San Francisco area has the nation’s highest concentration of men and women who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Few other areas come close.
But the survey of the biggest 50 metropolitan areas, which asked a question that has never been addressed by U.S. census takers, also revealed a surprising Bay Area split. The San Jose area appears to have one of the nation’s smallest gay communities — about half the size of San Francisco’s, per capita.
The difference may come down to a simple northward migration across Silicon Valley, with many people choosing to live in or near San Francisco because of its longtime progressive lean.

As the Gallup poll takers noted, many other cities with high concentrations of gay residents, such as New Orleans, Denver and Austin, Texas, “have reputations as socially progressive cities within states and regions that are much more conservative, perhaps making them regional hubs for the LGBT population.”

The poll of 374,325 people across the country, taken from mid-2012 to December of last year, found that 6.2 percent of respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area. The greater Portland, Ore., area was second, at 5.4 percent, followed by Austin, New Orleans and Seattle.
San Jose surprise
But the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area ranked 47th in the nation, at 3.2 percent, placing it among such unlikely company as Memphis (3.1 percent), Pittsburgh (3 percent) and Birmingham, Ala. (2.6 percent).
“That’s pretty shocking,” said Tom Nolan, a gay rights leader and former San Mateo County supervisor. “Perhaps everybody comes into San Francisco now for nightlife. San Mateo County can’t sustain a single gay bar anymore.”
Nolan said the high cost of housing is almost certainly affecting who lives where, though it was not immediately clear why the north would outpoll the south so significantly, when housing prices in both towns are prohibitive.
State Sen. Mark Leno, who represents San Francisco, said the poll’s use of “diffuse metropolitan areas” instead of actual cities made the numbers trickier to interpret. The LGBT population of San Francisco, he said, is traditionally thought to be about 20 percent, with San Jose at 10 percent or more.
“I’m not even sure we’re comparing apples to apples,” he said.
But Wiggsy Sivertsen, a longtime South Bay LGBT activist, offered some possible explanations for the poll results.
“A lot of friends over the years have moved out of this valley and moved to San Francisco because in a sense that’s where the action is,” said Sivertsen, a professor emeritus at San Jose State University. San Jose “isn’t the kind of community that people are out and about — they go to work and come home. … There ends up being people like myself who are older, more settled and perfectly content to live here.”
Sivertsen, who lives in Los Gatos, said she suspects there are “many more gays and lesbians who live down here who are still fairly closeted, which tends to skew that statistic a bit.”
San Francisco is seen as a safer area to be out because of its entrenched LGBT culture, she said. “The culture makes it clear that this is your community.”

Ken Yeager, who as a Santa Clara County supervisor is the first openly gay elected official in the county, said he was among those polled. He suggested there may have been some awkwardness with the questions themselves — an unease that could vary by geography.
Poll takers asked people, “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?” The margin of error was plus or minus one percentage point, Gallup said.
“I’m as out as out can be, and my first thought was, ‘Do I really want to tell Gallup that I’m gay?’” Yeager said. “There might be some hesitancy for some people to self-identify with someone they don’t know at all.”
Gallup analysts, too, said the relatively low numbers in the San Jose area were unexpected.
They acknowledged that the poll results were influenced by the boundaries of the metropolitan areas. The San Francisco metropolitan area includes San Mateo, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, while the San Jose area includes Santa Clara and San Benito counties.
“San Jose may be the most surprising metro area to be among the 10 lowest, because it is home to Silicon Valley and many technology companies that have been among the most vocal supporters of LGBT rights,” the pollsters said. “The low ranking could mean that many LGBT individuals who work in Silicon Valley choose to live closer to San Francisco and its vibrant LGBT social scene.”

Obama and religious leaders conflict over gay marriage decision

Obama decision conflicts with Black religious leaders

PHOTO: President Obama and Robin Roberts
President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News’ “Good Morning America,” in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
After making his historic remarks on same-sex unions last week, President Barack Obama led a conference call with black church pastors to explain his support for gay marriage, the New York Times reports. The call, which was held with “eight or so African-American ministers,” occurred about two hours after the president’s interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.

Obama explained to them that he struggled with the decision, pastors on the call told the paper, but several voiced their disapproval.

“They were wrestling with their ability to get over his theological position,” the Rev. Delman Coates, a Maryland pastor who was on the call, told the Times.

The conference call was part of a quiet effort by the president to control potential political damage caused by his support of same-sex marriage.

According to the Times, Obama phoned “at least one [the Rev. Joel C. Hunter] of the five spiritual leaders he calls regularly for religious guidance, and his aides contacted other religious figures who have been supportive in the past.”

Hunter, the pastor of a conservative megachurch, said he wasn’t surprised Obama didn’t ask him advice before the ABC interview because “I would have tried to talk him out of it.”

At services on Sunday, black churches were conflicted about President Obama’s support of gay marriage, according to the USA Today:

Some churches were silent on the issue. At others, pastors spoke against the president’s decision Wednesday–but kindly of the man himself. A few blasted the president and his decision. A minority spoke in favor of the decision and expressed understanding of the president’s change of heart.

Bishop Timothy Clark, head of the First Church of God, a large African-American church with a television ministry in Columbus, Ohio, was perhaps most typical. He felt compelled to address the president’s comments at a Wednesday evening service and again Sunday morning. He was responding to an outpouring of calls, e-mails and text messages from members of his congregation after the president’s remarks.

What did he hear from churchgoers? “No church or group is monolithic. Some were powerfully agitated and disappointed. Others were curious. ‘Why now? To what end?’ Others were hurt. And others, to be honest, told me it’s not an issue and they don’t have a problem with it.”

What did the bishop tell his congregation? He opposes gay marriage. It is not just a social issue, he said, but a religious one for those who follow the Bible. “The spiritual issue is ground in the word of God.” That said, “I believe the statement the president made and his decision was made in good faith. I am sure because the president is a good man. I know his decision was made after much thought and consideration and, I’m sure, even prayer

Worldwide marriage equality campaign in the works

Campaigners push for marriage equality worldwide

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
Cushla and Tania were married on a farm outside Sydney on March 9, 2012. The entire family attended the ceremony, including Tania's grandparents who are Muslim.
Cushla and Tania were married on a farm outside Sydney on March 9, 2012. The entire family attended the ceremony, including Tania’s grandparents who are Muslim.

Hong Kong (CNN) – Cushla wore a white dress for her big day, Tania, braces, a hat and bow-tie. The couple, now wife and wife, tied the knot during a small ceremony led by an unregistered celebrant on a farm west of Sydney, Australia. It had all the hallmarks of a “real” wedding. Except this one wasn’t valid, at least under Australian law.

Australia is one of many countries around the world where same-sex couples are not permitted to legally marry. And the law doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has long opposed gay marriage, made it clear Thursday that her mind hadn’t been nudged by a politically risky move by U.S. President Barack Obama to back same-sex marriages Wednesday night.

“My view hasn’t changed and when a bill comes to the parliament later this year, moved by private members, Stephen Jones, one of our Labor members… When that bill comes to the parliament this year I won’t vote for it,” Gillard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Jones is one of two members of parliament who have submitted a private member’s bill that calls for the legalization of gay marriage, however neither Gillard nor main opposition leader Tony Abbott support it.

 ”Obviously at this stage we’ve still got more work to do,” said John Kloprogge, spokesman for campaign group Australian Marriage Equality. “But we are confident that this issue has the support of the majority of Australians and it will eventually be supported by the leaders of our major parties.”

Obama’s decision to openly endorse same-sex marriage won plaudits from campaigners worldwide who have been pushing for more liberal laws since the first same-sex couples walked down the aisle in the Netherlands in 2001.

Same-sex marriages are now allowed in a number of U.S. states and in countries including BelgiumCanada,SpainSouth AfricaNorwaySwedenPortugal,Iceland and Argentina, according to Australian Marriage Equality.

Wedding bells are close to ringing on same-sex marriages elsewhere: Leading human rights activist Peter Tatchell hailed Obama’s move as evidence that support for same-sex marriage was “an unstoppable global trend”.

“Gay marriage is all about love,” he said. “The love of same-sex couples is just as real, strong and committed as that of married heterosexual men and women. Prohibiting same-sex marriage devalues and denigrates the love of lesbian and gay couples. It signifies our continuing second class legal status.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports their legalization in the UK, where authorities are currently consulting on the issue, having permitted civil partnerships since 2005.

However the issue’s omission this week from the Queen’s Speech, which outlines laws to be introduced in the coming months, dismayed campaigners. Ben Summerskill, of gay rights charity Stonewall said he was “disappointed,” and pledged “to push both coalition parties to deliver on their promise… by 2015.”

After becoming the first country to legalize same-sex unions in 1989,Denmark is close to doing the same for same-sex marriages. AndNepal, a country that only legalized same sex unions in 2008, has appointed a committee to develop laws on same-sex marriages.

However, in many countries LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) campaigners are nowhere near close to reaching for the confetti on gay marriage. Simply being able to live without fear or prejudice is the aim of activists in countries where homosexuality remains taboo or illegal.

According to a report released in May 2011 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, same-sex relations are still criminalized in 76 countries, and in five of those countries the death penalty can be applied.

Same-sex marriage rights worldwide

Legalized in:

The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, the U.S. states of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington D.C.,New Hampshire, New York, and in Mexico City.

Recognized, but not performed in:

Israel, Mexico, the U.S. states of Rhode Island and Maryland, and the Australian state of Tasmania.

Civil unions or partnerships legalized in:

Denmark, UK, Brazil, France, Finland, Greenland, Austria, Ecuador, Colombia, Uruguay, Nepal, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand and the Australian states of Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory.

The countries with the harshest penalties are in Africa and the Middle East.

MPs in Uganda have repeatedly tried to introduce an anti-homosexuality bill which would make homosexual acts a capital offense; prominent gay rights activist David Kato was beaten to death in the country in 2011.

And even in South Africa, where single sex marriage was legalized in 2006, and where the post-apartheid constitution bans prejudice on the grounds of homosexuality, attacks on gays and lesbians — including instances of so-called “corrective rape” — still occur.

In other regions too, attitudes have been slow to change. InIndonesia, efforts to frame a Gender Equality Bill were resisted by campaigners who said that gender equality could open up room for legalizing same sex unions, according to Human Rights Watch.

Last month, a court in Malaysia backed police over its ban on a gay rights festival which officials argued could disrupt public order. And in Hong Kong, the sexuality of pop star Anthony Wong made headlines when he confirmed, after years of speculation, that he was gay. It was said to be the first time in nine years that a pop star had come out as homosexual in China’s Special Administrative Region.

“Hong Kong doesn’t have the gay bashing that a lot of countries have… But at the same time you still have people who are very ignorant,” said Reggie Ho, Chairman of the Pink Alliance which is organizing a concert Wong is due to perform at on Saturday, May 12. The concert is part of an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), which is observed in 60 countries. The official date is May 17, the day in 1990 that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

“They gossip about you, or they make suggestions that hurt you very much. So it’s that kind of discrimination and the fact that the Hong Kong government has not moved forward at all in terms of legislating against discrimination against sexual minorities,” Ho said.

Separately in Australia on Saturday, campaigners will be holding a National Day of Action for Marriage Equality when thousands are expected to march through major cities calling for same-sex marriage.

“A lot of people are getting exasperated that we don’t have it yet,” said Jessica Payne who is organizing the Brisbane march. “I think it is a matter of time but it’s not going to happen without a push.”

Cushla said she and Tania weren’t willing to sit around and wait “and hope” for same-sex marriage to become legal.

“I didn’t want to miss out. I just wanted it to be the way that we wanted it to be, despite the fact that my partner is a woman,” she said. “Eventually, when it becomes legal, we’ll legally bind it.”

Obama backs same-sex marriages finally

Obama announces he supports same-sex marriage

By Phil Gast, CNN

Click to play
Obama: Gay marriage ‘should be legal’
(CNN) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he supports same-sex marriage, raising the political stakes on an issue over which Americans are evenly split.

The announcement was the first by a sitting president and put Obama squarely at odds with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who on Wednesday said during an appearance in Oklahoma, “I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.”

Obama said in an interview with ABC News, “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

Obama once opposed such marriages. He later indicated his views were “evolving.”

“I had hesitated on gay marriage, in part, because I thought civil unions would be sufficient,” the president said. “I was sensitive to the fact that — for a lot of people — that the word marriage is something that provokes very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.”

But, Obama said, his thinking shifted as he witnessed committed same-sex marriages and thought about U.S. service personnel who were “not able to commit themselves in a marriage.”

It was not immediately clear how the development — which same-sex marriage advocates had long sought — might play out at the voting booth.

A Gallup Poll released Tuesday indicated 50% of Americans believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with 48% saying such marriages should not be legal.

But a CNN/ORC poll, taken in late March, indicated policies towards gays and lesbians were tied for last in the most-important issues facing the country.

Obama was “disappointed” by Tuesday’s vote on the issue in North Carolina, which he described as discriminatory against gays and lesbians, a spokesman said earlier Wednesday.

North Carolina voted to implement a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was already prohibited by state law. Supporters of the measure pushed for the constitutional amendment, arguing that it was needed to ward off future legal challenges.

The president said he supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own, ABC News reported.

Obama said his daughters, Malia and Sasha, have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. “It wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

What’s next for North Carolina?

Obama spoke Wednesday with ABC’s Robin Roberts. The interview will appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday. Excerpts aired Wednesday evening on “World News With Diane Sawyer.”

The president’s stance will be among many key differences with Romney, but it is not expected to be a key talking point in his campaign.

In comments Wednesday to CNN Denver affiliate KDVR, Romney reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“And I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name,” Romney said during a visit to Fort Lupton. “My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights, and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not.”

The Family Research Council criticized Obama, and its president said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” that the decision will aid Romney.

“The president, I think, has handed to Mitt Romney the one missing piece in his campaign,” said Tony Perkins. “That is the intensity and motivation that Mitt Romney needs among social conservatives to win this election.”

An expert on religion and politics said the move will make “an already close election even closer.”

“It cuts both ways — it activates both Democratic and Republican base voters,” said John Green of the University of Akron.

Obama told ABC that some opinions on the issue are “generational.”

“When I go to college campuses, sometimes I talk to college Republicans who think that I have terrible policies on the economy, on foreign policy, but are very clear that when it comes to same-sex equality or, you know, sexual orientation, that they believe in equality,” he said.

First lady Michelle Obama was involved in the president’s decision.

“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do,” Obama said.

Reaction to Obama’s same-sex marriage announcement

The new president of the Human Rights Campaign lauded the development.

“President Obama’s words today will be celebrated by generations to come,” Chad Griffin said. “For the millions of young gay and lesbian Americans across this nation, their president’s words provide genuine hope that they will be first generation to grow up with the freedom to fully pursue the American dream.”

Barney Frank, a gay Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that “no president could have done this 10 years ago.”

Obama’s interview followed recent comments by other key administration figures.

Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday on NBC he was “absolutely comfortable” with couples of the same gender marrying, leading observers to wonder when Obama would again address the issue.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday also made headlines when he openly backed same-sex marriage rights. Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” if he supports allowing individuals of the same gender to legally wed, Duncan replied: “Yes, I do.”

Before Tuesday, 30 states had voted in favor of constitutional amendments that seek to defend traditional definitions of marriage as a heterosexual union.

Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In February, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage beginning in June, but opponents there have pledged to block the bill and called for voters to decide the issue.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that permits the state’s same-sex couples to wed as of January 1, and state residents may vote to affirm such a law. Minnesota will vote on a state constitutional amendment similar to the one in North Carolina. Maine will have a referendum on allowing same-sex marriage.

In 2011, the Pentagon stopped enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals serving in the military. That change played a part in Obama’s announced stance on same-sex marriage.

“When I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he told ABC News.

Legal challenges over same-sex marriage could reach the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months, but it seems unlikely justices would hear arguments before Election Day 2012.

The issue is on two legal tracks.

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will decide the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, a voter-approved measure that would recognize marriage only between one man and one woman. A federal judge earlier struck down the law as a violation of equal protection, prompting the current appeal.

The Obama administration announced last year it believed the Defense of Marriage Act, often referred to as DOMA, to be unconstitutional. The law defines marriage for federal purposes as unions only between a man and woman.

A federal appeals court in Boston last month heard a DOMA lawsuit by a same-sex couple in Massachusetts. At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can marry.

That federal law is being officially defended in court by House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who stepped in after the Justice Department refused to participate.

White House, Obama Campaign on Defense After Biden Backs Gay Marriage

Obama and Biden stand united moving forward with Gay equality

ap obama image 120506 wblog White House, Obama Campaign on Defense After Biden Backs Gay MarriageHaraz N. Ghanbari/AP Photo

The White House and the Obama campaign are playing defense on gay marriage, after comments by Vice President Joe Biden reignited debate over the president’s position on the issue and whether he would seek to legalize same-sex marriages in a second term.

On Sunday, Biden candidly expressed support for gay marriage but stopped short of saying whether the president, who has long said his position on the issue is “evolving,” would back same-sex marriage.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The White House today was quick to deny that the Vice President’s remarks signaled a shift in the administration’s policy.

“What he said about the protection of rights of citizens is completely consistent with the president’s position on this issue, and his description of the way the country has moved on this issue, I think, is wholly accurate,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. “I think there is a little bit of an overreaction here.”

While the president has supported civil unions, he continues to say his position on gay marriage is evolving. “Attitudes evolve, including mine, and I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships,” the president first told a group of progressive bloggers in October 2010.

“My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this,” the president said again in December of 2011. “At this point, what I’ve said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think — and I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.”

Do Biden’s comments indicate the president’s evolution is complete? “I have no update on the president’s personal views,” Carney said.

Despite his hesitation on same-sex marriage, the president is adamant that he has met his commitments to the LGBT community. “I have delivered on what I promised and that doesn’t mean our work is done. There are gonna be times when you’re still frustrated with me. I know there are gonna be times where you’re still frustrated with the pace of change. I understand that,” the president said at an event marking LGBT Pride Month last June.

The administration points to the president’s efforts to end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and quit any legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, as evidence of his support for gay and lesbian rights.

The president’s campaign has also walked back on Biden’s comments, trying to draw attention instead to Mitt Romney’s position on same-sex unions. “By the way, there couldn’t be a starker contrast on this issue than with Governor Romney who has funded efforts to roll back marriage laws in California and other places who believes that we need a constitutional amendment banning the right of gay couples to marry and would take us backward not forward. So there’s a very clear distinction,” senior strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a conference call today.

But Biden isn’t the only administration official to support allowing gays and lesbians to wed. With the issue now back in the spotlight, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also offered his endorsement.

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, Duncan was asked if he thought same-sex couples should have the legal right to marry. “Yes. I do,” Duncan responded bluntly.

The issue has also become a hot topic in the key battleground state of North Carolina, which later this week will vote on a measure to ban same-sex marriages.

Former President Bill Clinton, one of the president’s most powerful supporters, is voicing his opposition to the measure that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. “Hello, this is President Bill Clinton. I’m calling to urge you to vote against Amendment One on Tuesday May 8,” Clinton says in a robo-call to voters.

Justice for Robert Champion after authorities charge 13

Florida charges 13 in death of FAMU drum major

From Rich Phillips, CNN

Click to play

(CNN) — Florida authorities have brought charges against 13 people in the suspected hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, a prosecutor announced Wednesday.

“Robert Champion died as a result of being beaten,” State Attorney Lawson Lamar said in Orlando. “His death is not linked to one sole strike but is attributed to multiple blows.”

The attorney for the victim’s family called the death a murder and said relatives were “disappointed” that more severe charges were not filed.

Eleven individuals face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death, according to officials. They each also are accused of two counts of first-degree misdemeanor hazing.

Two people each face a single count of misdemeanor first-degree hazing.

Authorities declined to name those charged because most were still being sought.

Two unidentified suspects were being held Wednesday afternoon at the Leon County Jail, according to Lt. James McQuaig, spokesman for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. FAMU is in Tallahassee, the Leon County seat.

Joyce Dawley, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Orlando division, said one person was being sought out of state.

Champion collapsed in Orlando on a bus, which was carrying members of FAMU’s Marching 100 after a November 2011 football game that included a halftime performance by the group.

Medical examiners ruled his death a homicide, saying he died “within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body.”

“This is a homicide by hazing,” Lamar said, who termed the case “complicated.”

The case built by investigators “does not support a charge of murder,” he said.

But it fits a state law that makes a hazing that results in death a felony with possible prison time up to five years. Under that law, the prosecution “only has to prove two things: participation in hazing and a death.”

Attorney Chris Chestnut said the drum major’s parents, Pam and Robert Champion, don’t want to see the futures of students destroyed, but “they want accountability for the murder of their child.”

He called the charges a “bittersweet” moment for the Champions.

Some university band members have said Champion, 26, died after taking part in an annual rite of passage called “Crossing Bus C,” an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle from the front door of the bus to the back while being punched, kicked and assaulted by senior members.

Band camp, other clubs suspended

An autopsy found “extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back,” as well as “evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat,” which is the fatty tissue directly under the skin.

Family sues bus company, driver

The school’s band director, meanwhile, asked for full reinstatement Wednesday.

An attorney for Julian White, placed on paid administrative leave shortly after Champion’s death, said White worked to root out hazing over 22 years as director.

“Dr. White remains disappointed that barely 48 hours after meeting with band members that Robert Champion was killed in an extreme, horrific and illegal act of bullying,” White’s attorney, Chuck Hobbs, said in a statement.

The death prompted the university board of trustees to approve an anti-hazing plan that includes an independent panel of experts to investigate.

FAMU said Wednesday that it has taken significant steps against hazing.

“We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again,” President James H. Ammons and Solomon Badger, chairman of the trustees, said in a statement. “Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we all continue to deal with this tragedy.”

Priest controversy in North Ireland

Priest in gay porn probe leaves parish

By Peter Taggart, for CNN

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) – An Irish priest at the center of a gay porn controversy has asked to leave his parish and take sabbatical leave from the priesthood, he said Sunday.

Father Martin McVeigh has admitted he destroyed a memory stick containing “inappropriate imagery” ahead of a church investigation into reports he accidentally showed pictures of naked men to parents of children preparing for their First Holy Communion.

The incident happened at the start of a PowerPoint presentation at a grade school in Pomeroy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in March, said the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady.

Parents said in a statement they were “horrified” by what they saw and called for action to be taken against the priest.

The church reported the incident to police, who said no crime had been committed.

In a statement Sunday, McVeigh apologized “for the hurt caused” and “his failure to check his presentation in advance.”

However, he insisted he “was not responsible for the presence of the offending images and in this respect I ask you to accept my innocence.”

The priest also confirmed he had destroyed the memory stick that contained the images.

He said: “After the images were inadvertently shown, I immediately removed the memory stick from the laptop. In my shock and upset and in my concern to ensure that the images would never be shown again, I destroyed it later that evening.”

McVeigh described the past month as “the most difficult” of his life and said he would be taking a break.

“In the hope of bringing resolution and healing to the division and pain within the parish, I have taken the decision to ask Cardinal Brady to allow me to leave the parish of Pomeroy and to take sabbatical leave,” said McVeigh, adding: “The memory of this awful episode will remain with me for the rest of my life.”

Brady said he accepted McVeigh had no advance knowledge of the pornography.

In a statement Sunday, Brady said it had been “a traumatic time for the whole parish community and for Father McVeigh personally.” The cardinal also apologized for the incident.

He issued an update on the church investigation, saying other computers used by McVeigh had been “forensically examined by an independent technical expert and no inappropriate imagery has been found.”

Brady added an additional laptop stolen from the local church sacristy since the March 26 meeting “did not form part of the technical examination.”

The cardinal said he had accepted McVeigh’s request for leave on the understanding he would return to the diocese on its completion.

The latest controversy comes after a series of child sex abuse scandals involving Catholic Church clergy in Ireland. The government-backed investigations say thousands of children have been abused by priests and other church figures over the last 80 years.

In March, the Vatican released a major report into the problem, begging forgiveness from victims. However, victims hit out at the report’s finding that new safeguards are working.

Another LGBT bashing in Memphis

Transgender Man Beaten In Memphis

A Memphis transgender man was taken to a nearby hospital with bruises and a concussion after being beaten Saturday night.

By Josh Hinkle

MEMPHIS intersection of Yates and Poplar X390 (GOOGLE) | ADVOCATE.COM
Kelley attacked the victim at this intersection, the corner of
Yates and Poplar.

A suspect in Memphis, Tenn., faces aggravated assault charges after sending a transgender man to Methodist Germantown hospital with bruises and a concussion.

Eighteen-year-old Chase Mason Kelley attacked the man Saturday night, punching him repeatedly until the victim was unconscious reported WREG. The police report says the brother of the perpetrator also tried to hit the victim with his Jeep, but failed.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery WREG reports. Kelley, however, could face more charges. “If a hate bias based on gender identity can be proven, the attacker may be subject to stronger penalties under the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd hate crimes law that passed in 2009,” Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project told WREG.

Missouri Proposes Its Own Version of “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Tennessee has successfully exported its proposed law, which would ban any mention of homosexuality by teachers or school administrators. But Missouri says its version if more fair.

By Lucas Grindley

Dwight Scharnhorst

Missouri Republicans, borrowing an idea from Tennessee, have proposed a “don’t say gay” bill of their own.

The Huffington Postreports that dozens of sponsors are signed onto the bill, including House Speaker Steve Tilley and Republican Majority Leader Tim Jones. House Small Business Committee Chairman Dwight Scharnhorst perhaps offered the strangest reasoning for why Missouri needs a “don’t say gay” bill.

“There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry a goat,” Scharnhorst told theHuffington Post.

In Tennessee, the law threatens teachers and school administrators with fines and jail time if they discuss homosexuality before high school. It has advanced out of committee and could soon be considered by the full House. In Missouri, HB 2051 would ensure “no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.”

But to clear up any confusion about the Missouri version, sponsor Rep. Steve Cookson issued a statement explaining that it applies to all discussion of sexual orientation, both homosexual and heterosexual.

“My bill does not target a particular sexual orientation but instead says instruction or materials related to any sexual orientation should not take place in our public schools,” Cookson said.