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Both sides gear up for gay marriage fight in North Carolina


WILMINGTON, N.C. -- As the only Southern state without a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, North Carolina is the next battleground, with religious groups on both sides bracing for a high-stakes fight on May 8.

Against a recent string of gay-marriage victories in California, Washington state and Maryland, North Carolinians will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment May 8, the same day as the state Republican primary.

Same-sex marriage has been illegal in the Tar Heel State since 1996; Minnesota also has a marriage amendment planned for a vote in November.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," the proposed amendment reads.

"This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts."

Nonprofit groups oppose Obama's change in charitable deductions

WASHINGTON -- For the fourth year in a row, President Barack Obama is proposing lower tax deductions for the wealthy on donations to churches and other nonprofit organizations. And for the fourth year in a row, nonprofit groups say the change would lead to a dramatic drop in charitable giving.

The reduction, included in Obama's 2013 budget proposal, rankled the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

"We were hoping this would not come up again this year. We asked that they not renew it, but unfortunately the request was not taken," said Nathan Diament, the group's Washington director. "It's a real concern."

Under the Obama proposal, the tax break for charitable donations would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, those earning more than $250,000.

In real terms, that would mean a wealthy taxpayer who donates $10,000 to a charity would be able to only claim a $2,800 deduction on his taxes, rather than the current $3,500.

N.J. lawmakers approve gay marriage, but veto looms


TRENTON, N.J. -- Even as Gov. Chris Christie's threat of a "swift" veto looms, gay rights activists are celebrating after the state Assembly voted Thursday on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

With supporters imploring lawmakers to make history, the lower house passed the bill after hours of debate on a day that began with protests and prayer vigils under gloomy skies outside the Statehouse.

"Without question, this is a historic day in the state of New Jersey," said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who, along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, made the measure a top priority.

The Senate, which failed to pass a gay marriage bill two years ago, easily approved it Monday. The governor's office would not say when Christie would respond.

Thursday's 42-33 tally did not include a single Republican vote, and two Democrats voted no.

Gay rights activists were joyous after the vote, vowing they'd fight to overturn Christie's expected veto -- and saying it bolsters a gay marriage court challenge in its early stages.

Union leader says lawmakers' education cuts, Medicaid changes 'immoral'


WASHINGTON -- The secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO said lawmakers in his home state last year conducted "the most immoral legislative session I have ever witnessed," especially their actions on education funding and Medicaid.

John Patrick, a Catholic, also criticized lawmakers for trying to pass a measure that he said would have made it illegal for labor officials to use union dues to "advocate for working families."

But he reserved his greatest scorn for budget cuts.

"In 2011, the Texas Legislature took $4 billion out of public schools. Instead of investing in our future, Texas lawmakers divested from the future," he said. "Instead of helping the poorest among us, Texas lawmakers wrote billions of dollars in IOUs for Medicaid."

The cuts were part of a two-year budget the Republican-controlled Legislature passed last May. School districts had to lay off about 32,000 school employees, including 12,000 teachers. Democratic lawmakers and the Texas State Teachers Association have asked the Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session to resolve the crisis.

Staffer: Bishops 'will not relent' on contraception compromise


A key staffer for the U.S. bishops’ conference said Thursday that the bishops “will not relent” and “have no choice” but to voice their objections to the controversial mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans.

“Foundational principles, religious liberty are at stake,” said Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., the bishops’ conference’s general counsel and associate general secretary, on a conference call with reporters from Catholic papers across the country Thursday afternoon.

“And...we’re not going to stop until we get it done,” he continued. “We’re just not. The bishops have no choice. They just have no choice. They’re not going to relent on this. They can’t relent. They have no choice.”

Picarello’s comments come as several bishops are becoming more vocal about their opposition to the mandate.

Strange bedfellows: religious liberty and neoliberalism



Is the fight really about religious liberty, or is it about neoliberalism completely eradicating the hard-won social protections of workers and the poor?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been sounding the alarm about the alleged attempt of the administration of President Barack Obama to destroy religious liberty.

Bishop: Conscience protection must be legislated

WASHINGTON -- Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the ongoing debate over a federal mandate requiring employers, including most religious entities, to provide no-cost contraception and sterilization coverage demonstrates the need that a religious right to conscience protection be enacted into federal law.

"Our religious freedom is too precious to be protected only by regulations," Bishop Lori said in a Feb. 13 phone interview with Catholic News Service. "It needs legislative protection."

"More legislators, I think, are looking at it. There's more bipartisan support for it. There should be a lot of pressure exerted on Congress to pass it and for the president to sign it," he said.

Among the bills under consideration is the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

Bishops take hard line toward contraception compromise


Three days after President Barack Obama announced a revision to a controversial mandate regarding coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans, key leaders in the U.S. bishops’ conference have indicated dissatisfaction with the compromise, taking a hard line and saying they will be satisfied only by a full rescission of the mandate.

USCCB official: Mandate still violates religious liberty

WASHINGTON -- A revision in a federal health care mandate that would shift the payment of contraception and sterilization coverage from religious employers to health insurance companies still infringes upon religious liberty and must be addressed, said an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The mandate's narrow exemption for religious organizations and how the revision pertains to self-insured parties, like many dioceses and Catholic organizations, could still force entities morally opposed to contraception to pay for such services, said John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

"The fact is we have to go back to the beginning," Carr told several hundred people during the opening session of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Feb. 12. "The best way to get out of this is to not get into it. We should not have the government deciding what's a ministry or not. We need the administration to revise it, we need the Congress to repeal it or we need the courts to stop it."



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