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The United States Supreme Court Will Decide on Gay Marriage
16 December, 2012
From VOA Learning English, welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in Special English. I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.
And I'm Christopher Cruise.
This week on our program, we talk about the issue of gay marriage. We also talk about the word "homophobia," which means an unreasonable fear or dislike of, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.
And, we introduce you to a new star at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History that might shine brighter than the Hope Diamond.
Edie Windsor and her wife, Thea Spyer, were a couple for 42 years. They were married in 2007 in Canada, which recognizes same-sex marriage. Ms. Windsor and Ms. Spyer shared an apartment and a house in New York. When Ms. Spyer died a few years ago, Ms. Windsor received the property. But she had to pay about $360,000 in taxes.
Heterosexual couples do not have to pay federal inheritance taxes on property if a husband or a wife dies. But under federal law the government considers Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer to have been just friends.
Ms. Windsor says that law is not fair.
"I look forward to the day when the federal government will recognize the marriages of all Americans. And I am hoping that will happen during my lifetime."
On December 7, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Lower courts have agreed with Ms. Windsor. They said the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. That law is called the Defense of Marriage Act — or DOMA. Congress passed it and former president Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1996.
Voters in some states have also chosen to put DOMA in their state laws or state constitutions. Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein from California criticizes the law.
"Same-sex couples live their lives like all married couples. They share financial expenses; they raise children together; they care for each other in good times and in bad."
In 2011, President Obama told government lawyers to stop defending DOMA in court. Earlier this year he became the first president to support gay marriage, telling ABC News:
"I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."
But supporters of DOMA in the House of Representatives have appointed lawyers to defend the law before the Supreme Court. Steve King is a Republican congressman from Iowa.
"All of human experience points to one committed relationship between a man and a woman as the core building block to society."
The Supreme Court has also agreed to consider a gay-marriage case from California. Voters there at first agreed that same-sex couples could be married in that state. Then voters later decided they could not. California voters added a measure to the state constitution saying marriage is only between a man and a woman. Lower courts have already said the measure is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court could hear arguments in both cases as early as March. The justices could make a decision by June.
Jeffrey Prang is mayor of the city of West Hollywood, California. He supports gay marriage. He says there is no way to know what the court will decide. It could keep DOMA and say same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. Or, it could stop DOMA and legalize same-sex marriage across the nation.
"There are lots of good things that could come out of this decision, and lots of very bad things could come out of this decision."
Opponents of same-sex marriage say they expect the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional ban approved by California voters. That is because of the way the United States Constitution divides powers between the federal government and the states. Randy Thomasson is part of a group called SaveCalifornia.com.
"The Constitution of the United States does not have marriage in it. And the tenth amendment says what is not in the federal powers belongs to the states."
Opinion surveys show that a little more than half of Americans support same-sex marriage rights. Elizabeth Wydra at the Constitutional Accountability Center, a private group, says the Supreme Court is aware of how Americans feel about gay marriage.
"The justices are human beings, so they are not completely immune to public opinion. I think the real question for them is going to be, do they want to be on the wrong side of history?"
A psychologist is questioning a major news organization's decision not to use the word "homophobia" anymore. George Weinberg popularized the term "homophobia" after he used it in his 1972 book "Society and the Healthy Homosexual."
Someone with a "phobia" is considered to have an excessive or unreasonable fear of something. George Weinberg says the word homophobia is meant to show that people who do not like gays have a problem.
"Its power was that it showed this is an emotional aversion to people who live differently, who are totally harmless. And it comes from the gut and it resulted in violence, in robbing people of privileges, and it obviously wasn't simply being anti-gay. That's something different all together."
George Weinberg is not gay. But he spent years in the 1960s and 1970s trying to persuade o officials to take violence against homosexuals more seriously. He says giving a name to people who discriminate gives the victims a greater feeling of peace and safety.
"If I know that you have a problem, then when you discriminate against me, it gives me a little more chance to have dignity and a life. I can enjoy being who I am, whether it's being gay or being black or being a woman, if I know that the other guy has the problem and not me."
George Weinberg was so persuasive that he helped remove "homosexuality" from the main medical book used to identify psychological problems. In fact, he wants "homophobia" added to that book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And he thinks using the term should remain acceptable in the AP Stylebook. The stylebook is published by the Associated Press and widely used as a writing guide by other media organizations.
But the e AP decided to take "homophobia" out of its stylebook this year. The concern is that calling people homophobic suggests they have a fear that does not make sense, but reporters may not know why someone is anti-gay. News reporters are supposed to be neutral and use exact words that do not suggest support for any side on an issue.
Paul Colford, the AP's chief of media relations, said many words in the stylebook change. For instance, AP's latest version also advises against using the world "Islamophobia."
Linguist Ben Zimmer writes about language for the Boston Globe newspaper. He says words can always be rethought. But he says he is not so sure that AP's reasoning about "homophobia" makes sense.
"Words ending in ‘phobia' are commonly used outside of clinical contexts. You can think about a word like ‘xenophobia,' which has been around more than a century to refer to a hatred of foreigners. That's not a clinical condition in the same way that homophobia isn't necessarily a clinical diagnosis."
Many news organizations follow the advice of the AP Stylebook. Even so, Ben Zimmer says every organization can make its own decisions. That means that even if AP takes "homophobia" out of its reports, the word will not disappear so easily.
The Smithsonian Institution has a new star in its mineral collection at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Visitors and reporters watched museum director Kirk Johnson present the large, blue-green jewel.
"It's an aquamarine from Brazil. It's 10,363 carats, which is what they call bling."
The jewel is called the Dom Pedro. It has four sides, is more than 35 centimeters high, and weighs two kilograms. Jeffrey Post is the chief of the mineral collection. He says the Dom Pedro is the largest cut and polished aquamarine in the world.
"It is very rare, very unusual for any mineral to produce a crystal the size and the quality that can result in cutting a stone like the Dom Pedro."
Most large stones like the Dom Pedro would be made into jewelry people could wear. For example, the famous Hope Diamond is a large blue jewel. Designers put smaller white diamonds around it. And they made it into a necklace for royalty or very wealthy people. But German artist Bernd Munsteiner made the Dom Pedro into a narrow tower. Jeffrey Post tells why.
"I said, ‘Why did you cut something big? Why not just cut it into gemstones?' And his answer was, ‘What nature makes large, man should not make small.'"
Bernd Munsteiner used a stone-cutting method called the fantasy cut. Usually jewelry designers make flat edges on the outside of a stone. But the German artist cut inside the stone. The result is a jewel that seems to have a light inside it.
"And that gem then traveled around. In fact, it represented the German government for some period of time. It was shown around at some gem fairs in Europe. And then, one of the owners was considering actually having it cut up to get his money out of it right away."
American Jane Mitchell is a jewel collector. She heard one of Dom Pedro's owners wanted to cut it up. So she and her husband decided to buy the entire stone themselves.
"We had no desire to hold on to it privately. We felt it should strike awe in as many people as could be because that's how we felt when we looked at it."
That is why they gave the Dom Pedro to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Over seven million people visited the museum last year. Many came to see the Hope Diamond. Now they have another beautiful reason to come.
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