Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Around The Nation

HUD Enforces LGBT Equal Access Rule

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a settlement agreement Wednesday in a claim it brought against Bank of America for discriminating against a lesbian couple applying for a federally insured mortgage loan. This settlement marks HUD’s first enforcement action taken under its recently enacted LGBT Equal Access Rule.
The rule, which represents one of the most significant federal nondiscrimination efforts ever taken on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, went into effect on March 5, 2012. It prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status in public housing and HUD’s core housing programs, including eligibility determinations for mortgage loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). 
HUD claimed BOA denied a loan to a Florida couple seeking to obtain an FHA-insured mortgage because of their sexual orientation and marital status. Because one partner was not employed, the applicant enlisted her partner’s mother as a co-applicant on the loan. The couple worked with BOA for several weeks to provide all of the necessary loan application documents and the couple was assured by BOA that they were likely to receive a mortgage. One business day prior to closing, BOA denied the mortgage because it did not consider the loan applicant and the co-applicant directly related because the applicant and her partner were not married. As a result of BOA’s actions, the couple was not able to close on the loan.
Under the terms of the agreement, BOA agrees to pay HUD $7,500 and to notify its residential mortgage loan originators, processors and underwriters of its Settlement Agreement with HUD. In addition, BOA will remind its employees that they are prohibited from discriminating against FHA-loan applicants on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. BOA will also update its fair lending training program to include information on HUD’s rule.
Director of Policy for The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Maya Rupert, reacted via press release writing:
"Today’s announcement is a turning point for the LGBT community in its fight for equal access to fair and affordable housing. This settlement agreement shows how serious HUD is about working to ensure all people and their families can access public housing and crucial housing programs.  
We congratulate Assistant Secretary John TrasviƱa and his staff on this important victory, and we look forward to continuing to work with HUD on its efforts on behalf of the LGBT community. 
We hope to work with entities like Bank of America as they bring their policies into compliance with the LGBT Equal Access Rule and train their staff to serve the LGBT community."
Illinois GOP Leadership Backs Marriage Equality
Pat Brady via Illinois Republican Party
CHICAGO, IL -- With support building for legislation that would give gay and lesbian couples in Illinois the freedom to marry, two prominent Republican Party leaders on Wednesday declared their support for the bill. 
Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, on Wednesday stated his “full support” of marriage equality legislation pending in Springfield. Brady is personally contacting Republican legislators to urge them to vote for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, he said.
"More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Brady said. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value –that the law should treat all citizens equally.” 
 “Importantly, the pending legislation would protect the freedom of religion,” Brady added. “No church or religious organization would ever be required to perform a union with which it disagrees.” 
Brady said he was making the calls as a citizen, outside of his official role with the Illinois Republican Party. "I think it's time for people to support this," Brady said.
Also Wednesday, a key national Republican leader, former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, joined Brady in urging the Illinois General Assembly to pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said. 
“Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster strong family values.”
Mehlman served as RNC Chairman from 2005 to 2007. Previously, he was campaign manager for the 2004 re-election of President George W. Bush.

Westboro Baptist Church Protest Shut-Out In Maryland
WBC Protesters    *   File Photo
ANNAPOLIS, MD -- A crowd of around 250 person's organised by the local St Anne’s Episcopal Church in the Maryland capital counter-protested Wednesday's appearance by four members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Also joining the counter-protest were a half-dozen students from Annapolis High School.
"Their whole organization is offensive," one student said. "They were here to preach hate, we were there to preach love."
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a daughter of WBC's founder Fred Phelps, sang homophobic songs and shouted that God had sent Newtown, CT shooter Adam Lanza as punishment for acceptance of same-sex marriage being legalised in the state as Annapolis police officers kept passersby moving along the sidewalk in front of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court building.
Maryland's voters upheld a ballot initiative that legalised same-sex marriage in November, however the law did not take effect until Tuesday, January 1. Since government offices around the state were closed for New Year's Day, Wednesday was the first time couples could marry inside the courthouse.
Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen lashed out at the Westboro Baptist Church protestors telling local media outlets;
“When people came to our city to preach hate, we stood up to them,” the mayor said. “It was a beautiful scene.”
WBC protesters had also planned a second protest in front of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse in Towson, Maryland, later in the day.
An online petition to the White House to have the Obama administration classify Westboro as a hate group has attracted more than 300,000 signatures as of December 31, 2012.