Californians reject gay marriage

California voters have said an emphatic “no” to the question of same-sex marriage. Results of the state’s direct democracy plebiscite indicate that voters have turned thumbs down to a proposal that would give official sanction to homosexual unions. The plebiscite, which contained 31 propositions, asked for a yes or no vote to the proposal: “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The vote was preceded by a massive campaign pitting pro-family groups against gay and civil rights activists. The decision is surprising in light of the liberal-minded values often ascribed to California residents.

Vermont to sanction gay unions

While states throughout the U.S. grapple with the issue of same-sex marriage, the legislature of Vermont approved a bill March 16 allowing gays to enter into “civil unions.” Observers believe the move puts Vermont on the leading edge of all states advancing the cause of gay marriage. The legislation allows gay couples the same benefits and burdens of traditional marriage. It covers such issues as property transfer, inheritance, insurance and taxes. The bill stops short of declaring the unions actual marriages. A federal court ruling in the U.S. leaves it to state legislatures to permit gay marriage or recognize a domestic partnering.

New reproductive technology fears

Developments on both sides of the Atlantic have given pause to those concerned with the rapid advance of new reproductive technology. In California, a woman recently gave birth to a baby girl after being fertilized by sperm from her late husband. The woman’s husband died in 1995, but the sperm was extracted and frozen for later use. Meanwhile, an Italian fertility specialist claims to have produced four babies using sperm grown in the testes of rodents. Severino Antinori of the Rome-based International Associated Research Institute for Human Reproduction, is advancing a method of maturing the sperm of infertile men by placing it inside rodent testes. Both cases raise issues of consent, safety and the misuse of reproductive power.

Human genes for science or profit?

LONDON – British and American scientists have joined forces in calling for full public access to research into human genetic sequence, and the mapping of human genes. The call comes in response to the Human Genome Project, a blueprint of the human genetic map that will allow doctors new information on the working of human genes. It is anticipated that the more than 100,000 genes in human DNA will be fully mapped out by 2003. The project is at odds with some universities and private companies that are seeking patents on between 50,000 and 100,000 human genes. Scientists are calling for a balance between private and public interests involving research and decoding of DNA.

Germany opens baby sanctuary

BERLIN – The German government has opened its first “baby bank” to allow despondent mothers a chance to deposit their child in a safe setting, rather than abandoning the baby altogether. The scheme is expected to save the lives of up to 100 newborns annually. The baby bank is situated at a Berlin health clinic. Mothers simply push the child through a small opening, and the baby lands on a small, heated bed. Clinic staff then move in to care for the child. While some have raised concerns about the disposable child plan, it has some merit as a life-affirming option for new mothers in distress.

Judge risks excommunication

LA PAZ, Bolivia – Church leaders in Bolivia have called for a judge’s excommunication after a 12-year-old rape victim was ordered to undergo abortion. Judge Juan Luis Ledezma believed he was acting in the girl’s best interests after she was impregnated by her stepfather. Although abortion is officially illegal in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation, it is routinely practised. Local women’s groups raised funds for the 12-year-old girl’s abortion, which was carried out in La Paz March 10. “Abortion is a crime that deserves excommunication,” Bishop Jesus Juarez said in response to the judge’s order.