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New Jersey court recognizes right to same-sex unions
POSTED: 7:43 p.m. EDT, October 25, 2006
From Rose Arce
TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- In a decision likely to stoke the contentious election-year debate over same-sex marriage, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.
The high court on Wednesday gave legislators six months to either change state marriage laws to include same-sex couples, or come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits.
The court's vote was 4-to-3. But the ruling was more strongly in favor of same-sex marriage than that split would indicate. The three dissenting justices argued the court should have extended full marriage rights to homosexuals, without kicking the issue back to legislators.
Advocates of same-sex marriage hailed the decision, a respite from many defeats this year in courts nationwide.
"That is wonderful news," said Cindy Meneghin, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit by seven same-sex couples that prompted Wednesday's decision. "We can only hope that that means marriage, because that is the only way they can give us full equality." (Watch a couple say why they want to call their 32-year relationship marriage -- 2:01 )
Garden State Equality, a gay rights group, announced that three state legislators plan to introduce a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. In an e-mail to supporters, the chairman of the group, Steven Goldstein, vowed that only "over our dead bodies will we settle for less than 100 percent marriage equality."
Gay marriage opponents promise to fight
Those angered by the ruling predicted it will reinvigorate the fight in Congress for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide.
"They took the future of marriage out of the hands of the people of New Jersey," said Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, which supports the amendment. "They are holding a gun to the head of the legislature of New Jersey and saying pick between two bullets -- one that allows civil unions and one that allows marriage."
Sen. Sam Brownback a leading social conservative in Congress, said the New Jersey decision "warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment."
"Huge social changes should be decided by the people and their elected representatives and should not be forced by the courts," the Kansas Republican said in a written statement.
The federal amendment, which President Bush supports, has stalled in Congress. It has so far failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote to be submitted to the states for ratification.
Opponents of same-sex marriage contend the New Jersey decision could have a national impact because the state imposes no residency requirements for people seeking marriage. In essence, it could open the door for gay and lesbian couples from other states to marry in New Jersey and challenge laws against same-sex marriage in their own states.
The gay marriage debate intensified in 2004 when Massachusetts became the first and only state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The state does not allow nonresidents to marry there, however.
Precedent in Vermont
The decision mirrors the one made in 1999 by Vermont's highest court, which prompted its legislature to create civil unions for same-sex couples, with the same rights and benefits enjoyed by heterosexuals. (Opinion -- pdf)
The New Jersey high court held that state laws prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from receiving the "financial and social benefits and privileges" of marriage violate the equal protection clause of the New Jersey Constitution and served no "legitimate governmental purpose."
Noting that New Jersey already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, the high court said there was "no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships."
The justices wrote: "The issue is not about the transformation of the traditional definition of marriage, but about the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people."
However, they stopped short of finding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.
The ruling said the court would not "speculate" on whether legislation creating civil unions identical to marriage would pass constitutional muster "and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude."
The justices also held that the state's domestic partnership law for same-sex couples, passed in 2004, is not an adequate substitute for marriage rights because it provides gay and lesbians with fewer benefits and rights and has more stringent requirements for establishing partnerships than for marrying.
A hot button election topic
The issue of gay marriage has roiled American politics for more than a decade and on November 7 voters in eight states will decide whether to amend their constitutions to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
Same-sex marriage advocates have suffered five high-profile court losses since July, including decisions in the high courts of New York and Washington state upholding state laws prohibiting marriage for gay or lesbian couples.
State supreme courts in Nebraska and Georgia also upheld constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage that had been struck down by lower courts.
And earlier this month, an appellate court in California upheld the constitutionality of state laws against same-sex marriage, a decision now being appealed to the California Supreme Court.
The court said the state's existing Domestic Partnership Act, similar to one adopted in several other states, including California, doesn't go far enough in protecting the rights of gay couples.
Episcopal pastors Mark Harris and Denis Winslow, plaintiffs in the New Jersey suit, now have one dream to fulfill: to join the countless heterosexual couples they've married.
"We see it as a civil right that we're denied," Winslow said. "Even though we pay first-class taxes, we are treated as second-class citizens.
"We don't have that freedom to exercise our relationship in a practical way, dare I say, spiritual way."
New Jersey Star Ledger
APATHY, BUDGET CUTS TO BLAME
AIDS awareness falling by the wayside
By JUN HONGO
The Japan Times: Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006
Chizuko Ikegami believes that spreading the word on HIV/AIDS prevention is similar to teaching children the importance of brushing their teeth; it must be restated again and again to make one understand how imperative it is.
A woman examines a product at a Condomania condom shop in Harajuku in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Tuesday. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
"Kids must be told repeatedly about how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS," said the executive director of PLACE Tokyo, a community-based organization supporting people living with HIV/AIDS. "But currently there isn't sufficient education or backup from the government."
According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 1,199 new cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in 2005, while the number of people who tested positive for HIV in the quarter between March 27 to July 2 this year reached 248.
Both figures were a record high for Japan, which remains the only industrialized country where the number of people infected with the virus is growing at a steady pace.
In Tokyo, where 417 of last year's new cases were reported, 390 came about through sexual contact.
Seventy-two percent of the people who tested positive for HIV in the city were in their 20s or 30s, while 6 percent were under 20, according to Tokyo's Bureau of Social Welfare and Public Health.
Ikegami said that 10 to 20 new clients contact her office every month to obtain information on living with HIV/AIDS, and in accordance with the national statistics, most are in their 20s to 50s, and 90 percent are males.
"Working here, the growing number of patients with HIV/AIDS is very obvious," she said.
She blamed cuts in government spending on AIDS prevention as a major reason for the crisis.
Experts believe that the conclusion of the Green Cross Corp. scandal, which caused an outbreak of HIV/AIDS through contaminated blood products in the 1980s, resulted in a substantial reduction in AIDS prevention awareness.
Since the suit between patients and the pharmaceutical giant settled out-of-court in 1996, spending by local governments on promoting AIDS awareness has shrunk in Tokyo and many prefectures, including Osaka and Aichi.
Although those infected with HIV require at least 2 million yen a year just for medication, governments have opted not to invest in prevention.
For example, Tokyo, which had a budget of 632 million yen for AIDS awareness and prevention in 1995, only allocated 237 million yen in 2006 -- a massive 62 percent drop in the span of 11 years.
Another reason believed to be the cause for steady HIV/AIDS growth in Japan is the lack of proper sex education in schools, and some fear the situation could get worse under newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The conservative Abe is the head of a Liberal Democratic Party project team promoting a re-evaluation of "gender-free" education. The team claims on its Web site that radical sex education such as the use of dolls in school classes is inappropriate for children.
"I totally disagree that the use of dolls is inappropriate because it's a form of sexual education that is recognized to be efficient. To call that radical is simply unreasonable and lacks grounds," Ikegami argued.
Use of actual condoms in sex education at junior high schools is also now frowned upon, but she warns that no one will be motivated to have protected sex if the trend continues.
"When there was an outbreak of SARS, everyone was instructed to wear masks as prevention. Does it make sense not to use condoms while teaching about HIV/AIDS?" Ikegami said.
Condom makers fear that Japanese have already begun to prefer unprotected sex. Toshiaki Ishii, director of the condom manufacturers' association Nihon Condom Kogyokai, said the number of condoms produced in the country peaked in 1997 at 1.23 billion packs, but output had dropped by almost 50 percent in 2004 to 677 million.
The association analyzed whether birth control pills and the aging population contributed to the sudden drop and found that the plunge has been too sharp to attribute to declines in the sexually active population, and sales of birth control pills here have been small since their approval in 1998.
When surveys conducted by the association in an effort to halt the sales drop revealed that men didn't use condoms because they are "troublesome," "smell bad" and simply aren't "attractive," manufacturers responded by creating condoms with better smell, packaging and taste.
"We even have condoms with special tapes, which probably require 0.1 seconds to put on -- but it didn't boost sales. People are simply not using condoms," Ishii said.
He believes sex education is fundamental in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, although the association provided schools with condoms for sex education until several years ago, they have halted such programs after receiving complaints from parents claiming the condom makers were "promoting sex among children."
"We gladly help schools and teachers that ask us to provide samples and pamphlets, but other than that, there isn't much we can do in educating the children to use condoms," Ishii said.
Yorimasa Nagai of the Japanese Foundation for AIDS Prevention, a health ministry-approved organization that supports people with HIV/AIDS and works to raise awareness, also suggests that education is essential to preventing the spread of the virus.
But he says there have been schools that said using condoms in class would only promote student sex.
Nagai said that although there are approximately 12,000 people living in Japan who have tested positive for HIV or have AIDS, the disease remains a minor concern for many people because most haven't had contact with actual patients. There is also the perception that AIDS is a problem limited to other countries.
"There is no way that HIV/AIDS prevention can be taught without proper sex education and promoting prevention," Nagai said. "Enlightenment through campaigning is important, but adequate education in schools, communities and workplaces is vital as well."
The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ
Washington D.C. Political and Economic Report
2006 年10 月20 日
ワシントン情報（2006 / No066）