(Photo: AFP - Getty Images)
France became the 14th country in the world to allow same-sex couples to wed Tuesday, when its parliament approved a law that has sparked often violent street protests and a rise in homophobic attacks.
Civil unions legalized in Colorado
AP: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill legalizing civil unions for gay couples today. The law takes effect May 1.
“There is no excuse that people shouldn’t have all the same rights,” Hickenlooper told the crowd during a ceremony at the History Colorado Center near the state Capitol. …
Colorado will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
Photo: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper gives a thumbs up as he celebrates with members of the legislature after he signs the Civil Unions Act into law at the Colorado History Museum in Denver, Colo., on March 21, 2013. (Brennan Linsley / AP)
Europe Adopts Sweeping Changes to Fishing Policy
In an outcome hailed by environmentalists, European Union lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to overhaul the region’s troubled fisheries policy to end decades of overfishing.
Responding to widespread public dissatisfaction with the current policy, the European Parliament voted 502-to-137 to impose sustainable quotas by 2015 and end the wasteful practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea. The legislation also returns some management responsibility to E.U. member states.
“The fishermen back home were really determined to wrest control away from Brussels, where the micromanagers have been the absolute ruination of the fisheries policy,” and they will be pleased with the outcome, said Struan Stevenson, a Scottish member of Parliament for the European Conservatives and Reformists and the party’s spokesman on the issue.
Markus Knigge, policy and research director for Pew Environment, said the E.U. legislation was comparable to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the landmark U.S. law that in 1976 established modern American fisheries practices, widely seen as superior to European practices.
Under current policy, 63 percent of the E.U.’s Atlantic stocks and 82 percent of its Mediterranean stocks are overfished, according to the European Commission.
The vote Wednesday in Strasbourg was the first time the Parliament had shared responsibility for setting fisheries policy, formerly the domain of the European Fisheries Council. The council, dominated by national fisheries ministries with close ties to the industry, has been criticized for flouting scientific recommendations on catch limits and providing subsidies to fleets harvesting even the most vulnerable species.
Guy Vernaeve, secretary general of Europêche, which represents European fishing associations, expressed disappointment with the vote. Setting quotas at maximum sustainable yields by 2015 was “unrealistic,” he said, and the discard ban was a “radical obligation” that legislators had adopted without understanding that in many cases it would be impossible to implement.
Mr. Vernaeve said the industry would seek to persuade the European Fisheries Council to fight some measures, but added that a final agreement could be reached by June.
The parliamentary vote, spearheaded by Ulrike Rodust, a German Socialist who leads the Fisheries Committee, was supported by an alliance of Greens, Liberals, Socialists and the Conservatives and Reformists. But parliamentary observers said the final tally showed that some lawmakers from parties opposed to the overhaul had crossed the aisles in significant numbers to support it.
Still, the Parliament does not have the final word on the matter. Because the legislation adopted Wednesday goes much further than proposals from the Fisheries Council, the issue will go through a process known as a trilogue — a reconciliation of the competing proposals, with the European Commission acting as mediator.
In addition, some E.U. states with significant fishing industries have argued that the Parliament does not have the authority to set multiyear fishing plans, raising the possibility of a battle over E.U. governance that could lead all the way to the European Court of Justice.
Nonetheless, the Irish government, which holds the rotating presidency of the Union, has said it hopes to wrap up an agreement by the end of June.
Maria Damanaki, the European fisheries commissioner, said she welcomed the vote, noting in a statement that the Parliament had endorsed “the approach put forward by the commission” — a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that her own proposals had been watered down by national fisheries ministers.
In concrete terms, the measures Wednesday require that by 2015, all European quotas be set at the optimal catch level, known as maximum sustainable yield. The fishing industry had called for introducing that standard on a case-by-case basis starting in 2020.
The legislation also requires the elimination of excess fishing capacity, a perennial problem for European fisheries, by removing boats from the fishing fleets. The measure also would deny subsidy payments to fisheries that did not respect the law, including by failing to provide accurate catch data.
Parliament also voted for a strict ban on discarding, the environmentally and economically costly practice in which fish are thrown back into the sea, often dead or dying, because they could not be legally caught. Fleets will have to modify their methods and equipment so they do not accidentally catch prohibited fish.
Mr. Stevenson said the timetable on some of the issues might turn out to be “unrealistic,” particularly a blanket discard ban by Jan. 1, 2014.
“All sorts of work has to be done,” he said. “Fishermen have to adapt their methods, adapt their gear. But I believe that by 2018 at the latest, we’ll see the discarding of fish as history.”
Mexico’s President signs education reform
President Enrique Pena Nieto signed Mexico’s most sweeping education reform in seven decades into law Monday, seeking to change a system in which teaching positions could be sold or inherited, and no official census of schools, teachers and students was ever carried out.
The legislation, which is widely expected to weaken Mexico’s powerful teachers’ union, was approved earlier by congress and the majority of state legislatures. The reform was a plank of a pact signed between Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party and the two main opposition parties
It seeks to create a system of uniform standards for teacher hiring and promotion based on merit, and will allow for the first census of Mexico’s education system.
Because the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers union controls the education system, no one knows exactly how many schools, teachers or students exist. The payroll is believed to have thousands of phantom teachers and once included the leader of a major drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan, who had last been in the classroom a decade earlier. The state later canceled his teacher checks.Another goal of the reform is to raise the level of Mexican students who complete middle school to 80 percent and the number who complete high school to 40 percent. The reform also extends learning hours in some 40,000 public schools.
“Professional merit must be the only way to be hired, remain and advance as a teacher, director or supervisor … and success will not be subject to discretional criteria,” said Pena Nieto after signing the law, accompanied by members of his Cabinet and opposition leaders.
The plan moves much of the control of the public education system to the federal government from the teachers’ union, which has been led for 23 years by Elba Esther Gordillo. Under the old law, she hired and fired teachers.
Gordillo was elected to another six-year term as union leader in October. She was the only candidate and there was not a single dissenting vote.
For years, she has beaten back attacks from union dissidents, political foes and journalists who have seen her as a symbol of Mexico’s corrupt, old-style politics. Rivals have accused her of corruption, misuse of union funds and even a murder, but prosecutors who investigated never brought a charge against her.
She was expelled from Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2006 for supporting other parties’ candidates and the formation of her own New Alliance party.
The overhaul was Pena Nieto’s first major proposal since taking office Dec. 1 and is considered a political blow to Gordillo, who has played the role of kingmaker for many Mexican politicians.
She was conspicuously absent from Monday’s announcement and offered no immediate reaction.
Gordillo has previously said she will fight to make sure the rights of teachers aren’t hurt by the reform.
Flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, the original author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, President Barack Obama signed a reauthorization of the legislation Thursday.
The reauthorization, which includes expansion of protections to gay couples and Native American women, passed the House last month after over a year of partisan disagreement over its renewal.
Editor’s Note: I’m oh-so-pleased to report this on International Women’s Day.
BREAKING NEWS: House Passes LGBT-Inclusive Violence Against Women Act
Today the U.S. House passed the Senate-approved version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that includes important protections for LGBT individuals.
The bill was passed 78 to 22 in a bipartisan Senate vote and today’s 286 to 138 vote included 87 Republicans.
Today’s victory marks a rare occasion when Republicans and Democrats came together to ensure explicit protections in the federal code for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” It is also the first time that any federal non-discrimination provisions include the LGBT community.
President Obama has pledged to sign the bill which prohibits any program or activity funded by the bill from discriminating against a victim based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It also explicitly includes LGBT victims in two key VAWA grant programs.
HRC lobbied to include the language in the Senate bill and urged House members to pass the inclusive language as well.
Philippines: UN lauds landmark bill protecting rights of internally displaced people
The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed a bill passed by the Congress of the Philippines to protect the rights of more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), making it the first Asia-Pacific country to have legislation safeguarding citizens against arbitrary displacement.
“This measure is a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and many natural disasters have caused massive displacement, especially in the Mindanao region,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.
The bill seeks to prevent displacement and spells out rights during and after people have been forced to leave their homes. It also imposes heavy penalties against arbitrary internal displacement of any person, including non-combatants caught in the crossfire of internal armed conflicts.
According to UNHCR estimates, between January and October of 2012 alone, some 300,000 people were displaced throughout Mindanao due to natural disasters, as well as the conflict between Government and secessionist groups.
Natural disasters in particular are one of the main causes for displacement in the Philippines due to their frequency. In December, Typhoon Bopha left more than 1,000 people dead, displaced over 1 million people and affected 6.2 million in what was one of the deadliest storms in recent times. Thousands are still homeless and are in need of humanitarian and other assistance in southern Mindanao, Mr. Edwards said.
The bill, which still needs the endorsement of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, also provides monetary compensation for lost or damaged property or for the death of family members, with the Commission on Human Rights, an independent agency of the State, having been designated as the focal point for the protection of displaced people.
Mr. Edwards noted that the bill guarantees the rights of IDPs in accordance with international standards, particularly the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, and added that the new legislation is considered as a model for other countries.
Myanmar’s nearly 2-year-old reformist government has abolished a ban on public gatherings of more than five people that was ordered in 1988 on the day a military junta took power after crushing nationwide pro-democracy protests.
The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported Tuesday that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the constitution that says existing laws should remain valid as long as are not contrary to the constitution, which guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.
The order had been applied selectively to crush dissent against the military regimes that held power until the elected government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011. His administration has instituted political liberalization, including lifting strict censorship.
The order had declared “Gathering or marching in processions and delivering speeches on the streets by a group of 5 or more people are banned.” The junta used many catch-all or vaguely defined orders and laws as a means of suppressing dissent, and courts generally handed out stiff sentences, jailing thousands of political prisoners. Most have been freed under amnesties promulgated by President Thein Sein.
In December 2011, a “Peaceful Assembly Law” was implemented specifically allowing public protests. However, permission must be obtained in advance, without which organizers are subject to penalties including prison terms. Several people have been arrested under the statute.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg Signs Law to Assist Minority and Women Owned Businesses
Monday Mayor Bloomberg signed into law Introduction 911-A, groundbreaking legislation to improve opportunities for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBE) in New York City.
The new law eliminates the $1 million cap on program eligible contracts set forth by Local Law 129 of 2005 and calls for increased city procurement contracts in areas of goods, professional services, construction, standard services, and architectural and engineering services.
According to the US Census Bureau there are some 13,700 Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises in New York state.
This is estimated to triple the total value of contracts from $433 million to a projected $2.2 billion. The legislation also calls for the establishment of a tracking system for contracts, tighter procedures to weed out noncompliant M/WBE firms, and more on-site visits for pre-certification while allowing cross-certification from other governmental agencies. An accountability program will be created with mandatory meetings for agency leaders to discuss their progress towards achieving M/BE goals and their efforts to increase participation, and capacity building throughout the M/WBE community will be encouraged through joint ventures.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and members of the New York City Council voted to pass Introduction 911-A on December 18 with 48 affirmative, 2 abstention, and 2 negative. Speaker Quinn was a champion of the legislation, which rose out of an unprecedented conference held by The New Agenda coalition and City & State newspaper last June. Never before had all of the mayoral candidates gathered together prior to the election to discuss issues relating to Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises and how they would be addressed by their administrations were they to be elected.
The Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff, First Vice President of 100 Black Men and Co-Chair of The New Agenda, said,
“Local Law 911-A marks a bold step for the rights of Minority and Women-Owned Businesses. This far-reaching legislation will set the standard for increased opportunities for M/WBEs, not just in New York City but in the nation.”
“Today will be remembered throughout history in the M/WBE community,” said Sandra Wilkin, Co-Founder and President Emeritus of the Women Builders Council and Co-Chair of The New Agenda. “As a woman who owns a construction firm in New York, I am both proud and elated to say we have broken the concrete ceiling with this legislation.”
The New Agenda is a broad-based coalition of longstanding leadership organizations in the Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises community.
Philippine government passes first major human rights legislation regarding enforced disappearances
Philippine President Benigno Aquino (pictured above) has signed a law imposing up to life imprisonment for state agents convicted of being involved in enforced disappearances, the first major human rights legislation under his nearly 3-year-old government.
Mr Aquino signed the law late on Friday, two months after it was passed by Congress, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
The human rights group Karapatan says more than 1,000 political activists and suspected supporters have disappeared since the 1972-1986 Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, including more than 200 under Mr Aquino’s predecessor, Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It has documented 12 cases of enforced disappearance since 2010 under Mr Aquino.
US-based Human Rights Watch said the new law is the first to criminalise enforced disappearances in Asia and challenged Mr Aquino to “move quickly to enforce” it.
Supreme Court to take up same-sex marriage
Any decisions will make history on an issue that has divided the nation for decades. Nine states and the District of Columbia now permit same-sex marriages, and a decision against California’s ban would add the 10th and largest state. A ruling against the 1996 federal law could lead to a spike in gay marriages in all those states. Several more states are likely to consider allowing same-sex marriages in 2013.
By adding gay marriage to its docket, the Supreme Court assured that its 2012-13 term will be at least as historic as its last one, when it ruled on immigration and upheld President Obama’s landmark health care law. It also is considering affirmative action at colleges and universities and reviewing the Voting Rights Act, one of the nation’s landmark civil rights laws.
(click-through for full story)
The end of a much-maligned visa for Mexican travellers to Canada would be a good thing for both North American countries, Prime Minister Stephen Harper affirmed Wednesday.
Harper offered his government’s most conciliatory view to the visa that it imposed in 2009 to stop an influx of bogus refugee claimants. It came after his Parliament Hill meeting with Mexico’s president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto.
Mexico was stung by the visa requirement, viewing it as heavy-handed and unexpected.
“We would ultimately like to see visa-free travel with Mexico,” Harper said at a joint news conference, standing next to the new, young telegenic Mexican leader, who will be sworn in Saturday as president.
But first, the government is working to change its immigration system first so there is not a recurrence of past problems, Harper added.
“We have changed laws. We’re in the process of changing our systems,” said Harper.
It would be in the interest of both countries to get rid of the visa, he added.
Pena Nieto acknowledged the Canadian rationale for imposing the visa, breaking with the harder line against it taken by his predecessor Felipe Calderon, who is completing the single six-year term that Mexico’s constitution allows.
“As Mr. Harper said, this is the result of excessive refugee claims that were perhaps unfounded — citizens of our country who claimed refugee status, which got them access to social security benefits in this country.”
Pena Nieto said he asked about the Canadian legislative changes during his meeting with Harper. “I do hope that once the legislation is approved in the near future we will be able to avoid this requirement.”The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Centre for International Governance Innovation argued in favour of the visa’s removal in a joint paper prior to Pena Nieto’s arrival.
Pena Nieto was making the one-day whirlwind visit to Ottawa after travelling to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama, just three days before being sworn in as Mexico’s new president.
Obama praised Pena Nieto’s ambitious reform agenda and expressed confidence the two countries would strengthen economic and trade ties and increase security along their border.
Pena Nieto was in Canada to reach out to Mexico’s other North American trade partner.
Prior to his arrival, the incoming Mexican leader said he wants to encourage Canadian investment in his country’s state-run oil company.
But he made clear Thursday that his country has no intention of privatizing the company, Petroleos Mexicanos.
In its joint paper, the chamber and CIGI noted Canada’s energy sector has new opportunities in Mexico as Pena Nieto takes power.
“With President-elect Pena Nieto’s promise to allow foreign investment in the Mexican petroleum sector, there is, for example, a window of opportunity for Canadian energy firms to look for opportunities in Mexico.”
US Senate passes resolution on Diwali
Recognising the religious and historical significance of Diwali, the US Senate has passed a resolution greeting the Indian community in the country and across the globe on the festival of lights.
Noting that Diwali is a festival of great significance to Indian Americans and South Asian Americans, the Senate in its resolution lauded the universal message of compassion it offers to the world.
The Senate recognises the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali that is celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains throughout India, in the United States, and the world, it said.
The Senate expressed its deepest respect for Indian Americans and South Asian Americans, and the diaspora throughout the world on this significant occasion.
The resolution introduced in the Senate by Senators Robert Menendez, John Cornyn and Mark Warner, said Diwali is a festival of lights, during which celebrants light oil lamps, and pray for health, knowledge, peace, wealth, and prosperity.
The lights symbolise the light of knowledge within the individual that overwhelms the darkness of ignorance, empowering each celebrant to do good deeds and show compassion to others, it said.
Senator John McCain too offered his greetings in a statement and said that the occasion provides an inspiration to recognise the common humanity and reach for values that transcend borders, nationalities, and cultures ?- “the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness”.
Washington state passes same-sex marriage
(Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP)
The side opposed to same-sex marriage in Washington state has conceded that Referendum 74 will likely pass.
“While we are disappointed, we are not defeated,” said Joseph Backholm, chairman of Preserve Marriage Washington, in a statement. “We are fighting for a cause that is true, and beautiful, and right – the sacred institution of marriage. It’s a cause worth fighting for, and we will continue to educate citizens and policymakers on the timeless truth that real marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
LGBTQ* News You May Have Missed
Gay marriage in Spain affirmed by top court, justices reject appeal to knock down 2005 law
MADRID — Spain’s Constitutional Court upheld the legality of the country’s gay marriage law on Tuesday, rejecting an appeal contending that marriage in the Spanish constitution means only the union of a man and woman.
The county’s top court voted 8-3 to dismiss the appeal of the conservative Popular Party filed shortly after Spain became the world’s third country to approve gay marriage.
Spain’s Parliament passed the gay marriage law in 2005 when it was Socialist-controlled, with Popular Party deputies opposed. The Popular Party took power late last year after the Socialists were ousted over their handling of the economy.
The gay marriage law angered the predominant Roman Catholic Church but opinion surveys showed most Spaniards backed it. Belgium and the Netherlands approved gay marriage laws before Spain.
More than 22,000 gay marriages have taken place in Spain.