TV & Radio
Hawaii lawmakers mull civil unions bill
By MARK NIESSE, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jan 31, 5:30 AM ET
Trying to avoid a heated battle over gay marriage, Hawaii lawmakers are considering a renewed push to grant same-sex couples similar benefits through civil unions.
Democratic legislators, who hold overwhelming majorities in both the state House and Senate, are supporting a proposed civil union bill as one of the party's top priorities for this year's legislative session. If it passes, Hawaii would become only the fifth state to recognize either civil unions or gay marriage.
"Committed couples, regardless of their sexual preference or orientation, should have the same rights. That's the bottom line — we should treat people equally," said Gary Hooser, the state senate majority leader. "There's broad support among Democratic party members."
He said if approved, the civil unions law would grant same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples. Hawaii already gives some rights — in areas of insurance, property, pension and hospital visitation — to same-sex partners through its reciprocal benefits law.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle won't take a position on the bill until it is approved by the Legislature, said Linda Smith, her senior policy adviser.
"We'll give every bill a fair look if and when it comes to her desk," Smith said.
Hawaii nearly legalized gay marriages more than a decade ago, before stiff public opposition came from family advocacy groups and religious groups.
A decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court would have allowed same-sex marriages, but a 1998 constitutional amendment and a law defined marriage as between two people of opposite sexes.
This year, the civil union bill hasn't yet generated a similar public outcry.
The Catholic church in Hawaii opposes the idea, said spokeswoman Kelly Rosati. A spokeswoman for the Mormon church in Utah said she was not aware of any institutional involvement in Hawaii's civil union debate.
Vermont and Connecticut already have civil union laws and New Jersey's will take effect next month. Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages.
On the Net:
Hawaii Legislature: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
'Respect Women Before Setting up Military Bases'
TOKYO, Jan 31 (IPS) - Japan's plans to boost its defence capability with the support of the United States is being opposed by women's rights activists who say that American military bases in this country are a danger to women who live in their vicinities.
More than a hundred women activists and their supporters, including Korean anti-American base groups, held a meeting on Monday night to mark the first anniversary of the murder of a 56-year-old woman who was robbed and killed by an American sailor on January 2006, close to Camp Zama in Yokusuka, Kanagawa prefecture, a suburb of Tokyo.
Reiko Ashizawa, one of the organisers, blamed ‘'sheer lack of respect for Asian women in the U.S. military and the Japanese government as the root cause of the problem.''
‘'We are up against a culture where women's rights are considered secondary. Our demonstration drew attention to this situation,'' she told IPS.
Activists say they are ready to fight jointly with their counterparts in Asia -- particularly in the Philippines and South Korea -- as Tokyo prepares to strengthen collaboration with the U.S. military in Japan.
Already Ashizawa has joined other activists to collect signatures and raise funds for a Filipina rape victim. The perpetrator was convicted in December, but was afterwards controversially removed to custody within the premises of the U.S. embassy in Manila under the visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the two countries.
According to the Gabriella Women's Party in the Philippines there were 82 cases of sexual abuse committed against women and 15 cases against children by U.S. servicemen before the U.S. Bases Agreement, signed in 1947, was finally terminated in September 1991.
Criminal acts and cases of sexual abuse, including the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three Marines in 1995, resulted in the relocation of the U.S. base within Okinawa prefecture. The U.S. currently maintains 50,000 troops on Japanese soil.
Plans have been passed in the Diet (parliament) that provides for the deployment of carrier-based fighter jets in Okinawa and the setting up of a new U.S. radar system for ballistic missile defence on the island.
Suzuyo Takasato, a leading activist in Okinawa, heads one of several movements that record in detail instances of violence committed by U.S. military personnel on women in Japan.
Takasato points to a survey by activists who scoured newspapers and other publications and also conducted their own research, to find at least six cases of serious crimes perpetrated against women that have led to arrests of U.S. servicemen stationed on Okinawa.
‘'The numbers could be much higher because women do not report every harassment that occurs,'' explained Takasato
One argument being advanced against U.S. bases in Japan by activists here is that they are contributing to the fear of abuse of women in other parts of Asia.
‘'The provision of bases on Okinawa for American military personnel make Japanese women feel guilty and they want to increase solidarity with activists from other parts of Asia that are protesting against violations by U.S. servicemen in their countries,'' Takasato told IPS.
Official records also indicate that crimes and other incidents involving U.S. military personnel and civilian employees stationed in Japan are rising, though documentation is weak.
Japan's defence agency, which was upgraded to the level of a ministry this month, has records that show 1,866 cases in 2004 and 2,079 cases in 2003 -- nearly 50 percent higher than a decade ago.
Traffic violations, robberies, rape and murder were reported. Under the U.S.-Japan Armed Forces Agreement, American soldiers arrested for crimes against local civilians can either be handed over to Japanese police or placed under U.S. custody but primacy is given to U.S. authority.
Protests against such protection go unheeded because of the official argument that U.S. bases are crucial for Japan's security. But women's rights activists and their supporters are not ready to buy that and say respect for women must come first.
A landmark ruling in this direction was recorded on Monday when NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, was ordered to pay compensation to an anti-war women's group for altering a television programme on Japan's war time sex slavery.
NHK was rapped for "betraying trust and expectations of the plaintiff, cutting parts of a documentary it aired in 2001 on a mock trial on the ‘comfort women' system that was organised by the Violence Against Women in War-Network (VAWW-NET, Japan).''
In the judgement, an international team of human rights experts found the Emperor, head of the now defunct Japanese Imperial army, responsible for the comfort women system that enslaved tens of thousands of young Asian women -- a section that was not aired by NHK.
Rumiko Nishino, the group's co-leader, told IPS, the verdict was heartening for ‘'it has spotlighted the relationship between war and violence against women and linked it to American military personnel stationed in Japan and across Asia.''
Despite the victory, the sticking point in the case was the decision by the court to absolve Shinzo Abe, now prime minister of Japan and other senior politicians, of charges made by the plaintiff of pressurising or influencing NHK in the final airing.
Hisako Motoyama, spokeswoman for the Asian Women's Information Network, says the difficulty to get male politicians to take responsibility for human rights violations against women represents the core of their battle for justice.
‘'Justice for women stems from the lack of awareness in Japan on the reproductive rights of women,'' she pointed out.
Motoyama is now campaigning with other activists and opposition female politicians to force Hakuo Yanagisawa, minister for health welfare and labour, to resign for calling women ‘'birthing machines''. The comment, made on Sunday during a public speech, was in reference to the nation's declining population with Yanagisawa urging women to have more babies for the good of the country. He later withdrew the comments.
‘'As a senior politician he has the responsibility to display a sympathy and responsibility for the difficult decisions women face today in a tough working climate when they have to choose between family or career as a result of long working hours and unstable contracts,'' Motoyama explained to IPS. (END/2007)
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More help urged for homeless gay youth
By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
Tue Jan 30, 3:12 PM ET
Two national advocacy groups Tuesday accused the federal government of neglecting what they described as an epidemic of homelessness affecting tens of thousands of gay and lesbian youth, many of whom leave home because of conflicts with their parents.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition for the Homeless said gay, lesbian and transgender youth make up at least 20 percent — possibly as much as 40 percent — of the total number of homeless and runaway youth, a fluid population which experts have estimated at 575,000 to 1.6 million each year.
"The national response to this epidemic has been nothing short of disgraceful," Matt Foreman, executive director of the task force, told reporters during a teleconference.
He urged Congress to increase appropriations for the federal Runaway, Homeless and Missing Children Protection Act, which must be reauthorized next year, and said some federal funds should — for the first time — be targeted specifically at boosting programs to aid gay and lesbian youth.
Citing incidents of anti-gay harassment at homeless shelters, the task force and homeless coalition recommended that some shelter space be set aside solely for gay youth. They also said any organization seeking public funding to serve homeless youth should be required to prove its staff would treat gay and lesbian young people competently and fairly.
In a report completed in December, "An Epidemic of Homelessness," the two groups cited estimates that roughly one-fourth of gay and lesbian teens are kicked out of their homes after their parents learn of their sexual orientation. The report said many gay youths experienced physical violence during the process of coming out.
Once homeless, the report says, these young people are more vulnerable than their peers to problems of mental health, substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. The report's lead author, task force policy analyst Nicholas Ray, said about one-third of homeless gay youth engage in "survival sex" — exchanging sex for money, food, clothes or drugs.
Assessing existing programs for homeless youth, the report said public funding was inadequate, and asserted that more than 6,000 youths in 2004 were turned away from programs that lacked resources to help them.
The report also expressed concern that President Bush's push for federal funding of faith-based organizations might lead to situations where a church-run shelter program would discriminate against a gay youth seeking services.
Dilo Cintron, 25, a gay man who spent five years homeless in New York City, said staff at one shelter he used were so unsympathetic that they once walked by without intervening while he was being assaulted in a laundry room.
According to Ray, gay youths at a homeless shelter in Michigan were required to wear orange jump suits to distinguish them from other youths.
The report also cited several programs that were providing effective services to gay youth, including Green Chimneys in New York City, Waltham House in Waltham, Mass., the Ruth Ellis Center in Detroit, Ozone House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Urban Peak in Denver.
On the Net:
Gay and Lesbian Task Force: http://www.thetaskforce.org/
Legal status for gay couples 'superfluous': Italian bishops
Tue Jan 30, 2:17 PM ET
Granting legal status to unmarried couples, gay or heterosexual, would be "superfluous" as well as a threat to traditional marriage, Italian bishops said as the government prepared a draft bill on the issue.
"The rights of heterosexual persons living under the same roof can be protected through civil jurisprudence," the Italian Bishops Conference said in a statement, urging greater political support for "the legitimate family founded on marriage."
"A law on de facto couples is superfluous," the secretary of the Bishops Conference, Giuseppe Betori, told a news conference at the offices of Vatican Radio.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left Union coalition promised in its election manifesto last year to grant legal recognition to common law partnerships, a plan approved reluctantly by centrist Catholics within the alliance.
The government is apparently having difficulty reaching consensus on the draft bill, whose unveiling was promised by the end of January.
Justice Minister Clemente Mastella has already said he will vote against the bill, which is expected to grant inheritance rights, joint medical insurance and visiting rights in prisons and hospitals, among other entitlements, to unmarried couples.
In order to satisfy all components of Prodi's wide-ranging coalition, which also includes hardline radicals, communists and greens, the new legislation will result in far less robust civil unions than those that exist elsewhere in Europe.
In their statement, the bishops rejected accusations of "interference" levelled against the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican reasserted their right "to intervene to defend the great values that are first of all human, as well as Christian."
According to a poll published last week, two in three Italians say they are in favor of legal status for gay couples.
The Eurispes poll also found that 58 percent opposed homosexual marriage, while 34 percent said they supported it.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Monday he thought it was still "possible to find a synthesis through dialogue with the Church and taking into account the concerns of the pontiff."
But Betori told Tuesday's news conference: "A synthesis is not a compromise. ... The Catholic Church cannot renounce its principles."
Recognising civil unions between gay couples would blur "the important distinction between the masculinity or femininity of the human person," the bishops' statement said.
Italy coalition faces challenge over gay rights
Japan health min urged to quit for offending women
Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:50 PM IST
By Chisa Fujioka
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's health minister, under fire for calling women "birth-giving machines", was urged to quit by opposition parties on Tuesday, the latest furore to hit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet.
The gaffe has been an embarrassment for Abe, whose support ratings are sliding ahead of an upper house election in July and who has already seen one cabinet minister step down over a political fund scandal.
In a rare show of agreement among the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan and two smaller parties seized on the chance to attack Abe's leadership, threatening to boycott budget hearings in parliament if Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa did not resign.
"The comments violate women's human rights and show disrespect for women," Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa told reporters. "They are inexcusable."
Yanagisawa, 71, who made the remarks in a speech to lawmakers at the weekend about Japan's low birth rate, has repeatedly apologised for the "inappropriate" comments.
A senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party well versed in financial issues, he was tapped by Abe to reform the country's creaking pensions system.
Abe said in parliament he wanted Yanagisawa to remain, but the health minister appeared to have upset even his fellow conservative members in his own cabinet.
"I myself am pretty much unable to have children, so that must make me a broken product," Sanae Takaichi, minister for gender equality and one of two women in Abe's cabinet, was quoted as saying on Monday.
Takaichi, like many close to Abe, shares his views about the importance of reviving traditional family values.
Hidenao Nakagawa, the LDP's secretary-general, said he was worried about the impact on the upper house election, while Abe instructed all of his cabinet ministers to be careful in their statements, Kyodo news agency reported.
Yanagisawa is not the only one causing headaches for Abe as the prime minister tries to push ahead with key bills in a session of parliament that started this week.
Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma risked damaging ties with close ally the United States last week when he said U.S. President George W. Bush had been wrong to start the war in Iraq.
The comments, along with controversial remarks about relocating a U.S. military base in Japan, came ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Feb. 20-22.
Despite Abe's troubles, the main opposition Democrats are also struggling to boost their popularity.
The party is split over key policies, and one of its own lawmakers stepped down as upper house vice speaker last week after reports of a lapse in reporting political fund use.
In a newspaper poll last week, only 13 percent said the Democrats could win the upper house election under its leader Ozawa, while 44 percent said the LDP could win under Abe.
Blair: No exception for faith groups on gay adoption
Mon Jan 29, 3:43 PM ET
British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted there could be no exemption from forthcoming sexual orientation laws for faith-based adoption agencies who refuse to place children with gay couples.
The Catholic Church of England and Wales dug in last week for a battle with the British government over the proposed laws, which would force their adoption agencies to consider placing children with homosexuals.
Blair said he supported the right of gay couples to adopt, so there could therefore be no exemptions.
But the prime minister said in a statement that the new rules would not take effect until the end of 2008 and until then there would be a "statutory duty" for religious agencies to refer gay couples to other agencies.
Blair's wife Cherie is a Catholic and he had been thought to be sympathetic to the Church's position, amid press reports that he and members of his government had been divided on the matter.
The Catholic Church, which has gained a reputation for finding families for children with behavioral and physical problems, warned that their adoption agencies could be forced to close if local authority funding was removed.
The Church of England, a Protestant Church, has thrown its support behind the Catholics.
Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said he was "deeply disappointed" that the Church had not been granted an exemption, adding that "there is an urgent task to reach a new consensus on how best the public role of religious organisations can be safeguarded and their rights upheld."
He said in a statement: "It is clear from the Prime Minister's statement that he has listened to some of the concerns of the Catholic Church in regard to its adoption agencies."
"We are, of course, deeply disappointed that no exemption will be granted to our agencies on the grounds of widely held religious conviction and conscience."
The Christian Institute, a charity which seeks to promote Christianity in Britain, condemned Blair's statement.
"It is a very sad day for children in care. The government has decided to put gay rights first ahead of what is best for them," Christian Institute's director Colin Hart said.
"Telling religious adoption agencies they have until 2008 to change their practice or pack their bags is no comfort at all," he said.
"If Roman Catholic adoption agencies can be closed down because of their sincerely-held religious beliefs on sexual ethics then who is next? Christian nursing homes? Christian homes for the elderly?" he asked.
"The government is putting up a sign over the UK saying 'Christians are not welcome here," he said.
However, the announcement was welcomed by human rights campaigners today.
"We applaud the government for standing firm on equal treatment, even when the going appeared tough," said Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty.
"Parents are not gay, straight, black or white -- just hopefully loving and caring," she said.
Stonewall, which campaigns for equality for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, also welcomed the news.
Alan Wardle, director of Public Affairs for the group, said: "We warmly welcome this announcement as a victory for 21st century tolerance.
"The transitional period will give adoption agencies time to adapt and we see no reason why any of them should have to close."
Italy coalition faces challenge over gay rights
By Philip Pullella
Mon Jan 29, 11:42 AM ET
Italy's fragile governing coalition looked set on Monday for a showdown over its plan to recognize the rights of homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples.
Justice Minister Clemente Mastella said he would rather see the government fall than back a law he calls immoral, reflecting opposition to the move among the coalition's own ranks as well as the powerful Catholic Church.
"I don't care if the government falls but I am not going to vote for that law," Mastella said at the weekend. "Homosexuals can acquire more rights but I'll never accept the idea that they can be considered a family."
It is the most divisive issue so far for the Catholics-to- communists coalition, particularly because it raises moral questions in a country where the Roman Catholic Church still wields great influence.
The draft law prepared by two government ministers would allow unwed couples, regardless of their sexual orientation, to get certificates from town halls confirming they are a couple.
This would allow such couples to share health insurance and some pension rights, transfer rental contracts to each other and join waiting lists for public housing and state jobs.
The law, known as PACS (Civil Solidarity Pacts), is similar to legislation passed in France. It will have to go first to the cabinet and then to parliament for a full debate.
But the fireworks began over the weekend when Mastella got into a highly publicized verbal duel with Piero Fassino, head of the largest party in the coalition, Democrats of the Left (DS).
Mastella's small UDEUR party is one of the nine in Prime Minister Romano Prodi's coalition, which has wobbled on a range of issues, including pensions and Italian forces in Afghanistan.
Mastella, using a phrase associated more with the opposition centre-right, said all members of the governing coalition could not be "hostages" of the extreme left.
Fassino retorted: "You don't have to be a leftist to recognize a law that makes good sense."
Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, secretary general of the Italian bishops' conference, warned the government against trying to pass any law that would "unhinge" the traditional family.
Most members of the centre-right opposition, headed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, are opposed to legal recognition for unwed couples and say the law will only be a Trojan Horse for eventual moves to legalize gay marriage.
Last month the northern city of Padua became the first in Italy to allow unmarried heterosexuals and homosexuals to register formally as "families based on ties of affection."
The move provoked the wrath of the Vatican and the political right, both of which have challenged its constitutionality.