National News Briefs 2/23/2012

Obama Administration, Justice Department Support Equal Benefits for Gay Armed Forces Couples 

The Obama administration announced last week that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of laws that prevent samesex spouses in the U.S. armed services from receiving marriage benefits, including such rights as survivor benefits, burial in military cemeteries, and military hospital visitations. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., in a letter to the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), announced that the Justice Department believes, like the plaintiffs in a Massachusetts suit contesting these laws, that they are unconstitutional. The statutes also include those that govern veterans’ benefits and portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex spouses of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” the attorney general wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that could warrant treating these provisions differently from” DOMA. Last year, Holder announced that the Obama administration will no longer defend portions of DOMA that ban federal recognition of marriage equality that are recognized at the state level. Boehner and Republican leaders criticized the action, saying that the Justice Department has a responsibility to defend federal laws.

Outed AZ “Border Hawk” Sheriff Resigns from Romney Camp

FLORENCE, AZ – Pinal County (Arizona) Sheriff Paul Babeu resigned this week from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s state campaign committee amid allegations of misconduct made against the sheriff by a man with whom he formerly had a relationship. At a press conference on Saturday, Babeu promised to continue his own campaign for the GOP nomination in Arizona’s 4th Congressional District. He denied allegations that he had threatened the man—known only as “Jose”–a former campaign volunteer and immigrant, with deportation if the details of their past relationship were revealed. “I’m here to say that all the allegations…were untrue–except for the instance that refers to me as gay,” Babeu stated. “That’s the truth– I am gay.”

The state’s 4th Congressional District is comprised primarily of conservative Republican voters. The unmarried Babeu, a first-term sheriff, gained national attention because of his strong opposition to illegal immigration. He is locked in a three-way primary race for the congressional seat, and said the accusations are an attempt to hurt his political career. Babeu told the threedozen uniformed officers who were present on Saturday that his relationship with Jose ended sometime before September, and that the man, who ran his campaign website and Twitter account, posted derogatory information online beginning after their breakup.

Whitney Houston Scheduled to Promote Anti-Bullying Campaign on Night of Her Death

On the night of her death last week, Whitney Houston was scheduled to take part in an antibullying campaign that hopes to end homophobic abuse with the assistance of celebrities.

US Weekly reported this week that the late performer was due to be photographed on the night of Feb. 10 for the “Stop Bullying Now: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” campaign. Houston gave the campaign permission for her image to be used. The campaign’s mission is to end bullying based on color, sexual orientation, and weight, with the help of celebrity endorsement.

“Stop Bullying Now” is run by Houston’s friend, entertainment consultant Raffles van Exel. In a press release to announce the campaign, van Exel recently wrote “We, as celebrities, have a unique opportunity to show children and teenagers that WE DO CARE, and that THEY have the POWER to stand up for themselves.”

Gay Combat Vet. Dan Choi Joins ‘Occupy’

Former Iraq War veteran Dan Choi, whose coming-out pronouncement helped end the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, attended an “Occupy Delaware” event this week, praising the movement’s members and offering a poem of his own composition to encourage protesters to continue their fight for inclusiveness.

Addressing participants at the “Tent-Raising and Rally” on Saturday, Choi, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who was discharged after he announced he is gay, said: “On this very special day, I wrote a poem- -about tents. So, this is an ode to our tent.” He then read to the approximately 100 people assembled: “Tents usually keep heat inside. But our fire has spread all around this country. A tent is usually a place where we can hide. But what we are doing in these tents is exposing the reality of our country and our economy.”

Jury Selection Begins in NJ Webcam Suicide Case

Jury selection began this week in the trial of a former Rutgers University student who is charged with employing a webcam to spy on his gay roommate’s intimate encounter with another man. The trial could reveal some heretofore unknown facts, including the name of the unidentified man in the video. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in 2010, just days after the alleged spying occurred.

Dharun Ravi, the suspect, is not charged with the death of Clementi, 20. Instead, Ravi is charged with bias intimidation, a hate crime that is punishable by 10 years in prison. Ravi, 19, is also charged with invasion of privacy, as well as tampering with evidence and witness tampering. That doesn’t mean the suicide won’t be on the minds of jurors: trial Judge Glenn Berman told prospective jurors last week that Clementi had killed himself.

The other man depicted in the video—who has been publicly identified only as “M.B.”—may be brought to testify, which could become key to conviction or exoneration. Attorneys for both sides argued over publicly identifying “M.B,” with Judge Berman eventually ruling that lawyers for Ravi could, indeed, reveal his identity. Should the man testify, it is expected that his full name will be used.

The crime with which Ravi is charged occurred in September 2010, a few weeks after Clementi and Ravi, newlyassigned roommates, moved into their dorm room at Rutgers.

Clementi is alleged to have asked Ravi to leave their dorm room so that Clementi could have privacy when a friend of his stopped over to their room. Investigators say that Ravi used his computer’s webcam to spy on Clementi. Ravi posted a Twitter message: “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay [sic].”

Two nights later, authorities allege that Ravi attempted to do the same thing when Clementi asked him to stay away from the room. The next day, Clementi killed himself. He jumped from the George Washington Bridge, after writing a short Facebook status update: “Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”