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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Congress Might Cancel the Redskins' Trademark; Pope Frances and Same-Sex Marriage; Burned Iraqi Boy, Five Years Later; 12-Year-Old Reaches Out to Justice Roberts

Aired March 21, 2013 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A different in terms of how many shots you can get off before someone can intervene.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo telling this morning's "New York Times," that he's in favor of changing his state's tough new gun law to allow 10 round magazines instead of seven. Because seven-round magazines are not widely available. The gun owners will still only be allowed to load seven bullets at a time and that law set to take place April 15th.

Two high school football players in Connecticut formally charged with sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls and the victims reportedly being taunted and harassed online. Torrington High School football player Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio both pleading not guilty to felony charges. They have been suspended from school. Education officials in Torrington say they are cooperating fully with police.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH TRAUB, TORRINGTON BOARD OF EDUCATION: We want to assure our school community that we are very concerned about the safety and wellness of all of our students and that all possible steps are being taken to keep our students safe in school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And the charges in this case, come just a few days after two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl.

And there is a good chance we'll narrowly avoid a government shutdown with days to spare. The House is expected to vote on a short-term budget measure today, that would keep the government funded beyond March 27th. House Speaker John Boehner places the blame for the budget battle and automatic across the board cuts on President Obama's shoulders. This is what he told Jake Tapper yesterday on "THE LEAD."

(BEGIN VIDEL CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I told my colleagues in the House that the sequester will stay in effect until there is an agreement that will include cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next ten years. This year the federal government will bring more revenue in than any year in the history and yet we're still going to have a trillion dollar budget deficit. Spending is a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The Senate passed a six-month budget measure yesterday that keeps most of the cuts in place. Congress is now involved in the controversy over the Washington Redskins team name. A bipartisan bill which is introduced yesterday by ten lawmakers would cancel the NFL team's trademark of the word Redskins. The measure comes at the same time the federal court considers a petition by a group of Native Americans to also cancel the trademark. The NFL team (ph) says the Redskins brand is not meant to offend, but apparently it does.

BERMAN: I can't remember a time in my life where people haven't been discussing and debating team names like the Redskins. But this is the first time I think I recall someone taking a business angle, talking about the trademark issue.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORKER": It's offensive to a lot of people. I think at some point they will have to change it.

ROMANS: The difference between this one, it's the Redskins it's different than say, you know, the Fighting Illini, or the actual name of a tribe. This was used as a derogatory word at a certain point in American history. So that's why some people -- it's a little bit different than -- Iowa, Illinois, states named after Indian tribes, football teams, different.

SOCARIDES: Redskins are so iconic though. It's such an iconic name already.

BERMAN: 33 minutes after the hour. Now an intriguing look at the possibility of compromise on same-sex marriage and the Catholic Church.

ROMANS: During Argentina's bitter same-sex marriage fight back in 2010, then Archbishop Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, got into a very public verbal battle with the country's president. He called her gay marriage bill a destructive attack on God's plan. That was publicly. But privately, the stance may have been quite different. Here's Rafael Romo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A cordial Vatican meeting between the President of Argentina and the new pope, with the two Argentines exchanging gifts. But, their get together Monday was in sharp contrast to the war of words between the two leaders less than three years ago. In mid 2010, Argentina was polarized over a same same-sex marriage bill supported by Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, who called the church's actions against the measure, attitudes reminiscent of Medieval times and the Inquisition. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio blasted the bill, dubbing it a destructive attack on God's plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The church has asked Catholics to oppose this, and that's exactly what I'm doing as a Catholic.

ROMO: But some say the future pontiff was much more conciliatory than he appeared. Marcelo Marquez is a gay rights activist and former theology professor near at a Catholic seminary near the Argentine capita. He says Bergoglio told him in private in 2010, that he favored gay rights and went as far as saying he didn't oppose gay civil unions.

MARCELO MARQUEZ, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST (through translator): He told me that he understand that homosexual people should have their rights protected in society. He also said he believed that Argentina was not ready for a gay marriage law, but said he would favor a law granting civil unions.

ROMO: Marquez says the meeting happened after he sent Bergoglio this letter on behalf of gay Catholics supporting the same-sex marriage bill. The "New York Times" reported Wednesday at a private meeting of bishops, also in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio advocated that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.

A senior Vatican official said the Roman Catholic Church could neither confirm nor deny the report at this point. The official added that while Pope Francis might have expressed such view while he was a cardinal, he should be given time to develop policy position as pontiff.

Rafael Romo, CNN Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, let's bring in CNN contributor and host of -- there he is -- Father Beck, Father Edward Beck. You heard what he said in that piece. It looks as though in Buenos Aries maybe there was a softer position from Pope Frances at the time. How is this going to indicate how he might lead in Rome?

FATHER EDWARD BACK, CNN ONTRIBUTOR: Well, as you heard, 2010 they're at a bishop's meeting, he's the head of the conference, right. And same-sex marriage looks like it's going to pass in Argentina. As a man of compromise, he said I think we should come out and support same-sex unions. It would get us out of having to support same-sex marriage. They all voted him down. So, really he was head of the conference. It was the first time in six years that the bishops went against something he was proposing. But what it says to me is this is a man of moderation, of compromise and someone who is lobbying for human rights, basic human rights.

ROMANS: And a savvy politician.

BERMAN: Richard, what does it say to you? You've just written a piece in the Newyorker.com about the pope and the issue of gay rights.

SOCARIDES: Well, I think you know, if it's true that he did this, and I think people are -- no one is denying it - it shows that he may be a very clever politician. But the truth is, when this issue was before the government, he very aggressively opposed equality, very aggressively opposed equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians in Argentina, so if -- it may say that he is a better politician and he may be someone who is open to compromise. May be a good sign. The truth is, on the issue publicly, he was not where Catholics are.

BECK: Why politician? Why not someone championing human rights? Not able to change the church's stance on gay marriage, because marriage between a man and woman is the church's position. Needs to be open to procreation. That's constitutive of the church's teaching with regard to marriage - procreation has to be part of it. Why politician not saying but if we can't do that, I want equal human rights for everyone? He's been shown to do that with the poor and everyone else, why not gay people?

SOCARIDES: I think if he, in fact, becomes a champion of human rights that would be fantastic and terrific.

BECK: He already is.

SOCARIDES: Well, in this issue. I think the problem with the church's teaching on this issue is that they see -- the Catholic Church has historically seen marriage as a religious ceremony, as a religious institution. But the truth is, is that in countries like the United States and in Argentina, marriage is a civil issue. It's a civil law issue. It has nothing to do with religion and so that's where we have the fundamental disagreement.

BECK: Which may be part of the problem. I think everybody should be able to be married civilly perhaps, but only some then have a religious ceremony. If you want to be married in the Catholic Church, you're Catholic.

SOCARIDES: We'll take that. That's all gay rights activists want. I mean all we want is civil marriage. We don't want to be married in anyone's church.

BECK: It's not marriage though. Marriage for us has a connotation of sacramental religios. That's the distinction.

SOCARIDES: Well, listen if the Catholic Church was willing to come forward and say that they support full civil rights, full equal rights for same-sex partners, with the one exception that they don't want it called marriage in the church, we'd take it. That would be fantastic.

(CROSSTALK)

BECK: Does it seem like that is exactly what he was doing?

SOCARIDES: He hasn't said that publicly. This is -- perhaps he said it privately. But then he went out and said --

BECK: It was public in the bishops conference meeting, though. Others were there.

ROMANS: Do you think he'll ultimately be a reformer on this issue from Rome?

BECK: I do not know. Popes don't always maintain the same positions that they maintained when they were cardinals or archbishops.

ROMANS: It's a different prism that they are doing everything through. The prism of archbishop of Buenos Aires is very different than prism of pope.

BECK: And a smaller group of people than different concerns at 1.2 billion throughout the world. So the legislation is going to be a little different perhaps.

CAMERON RUSSELL, FORMER MODEL: Well, ultimately I think we just believe in separation of church and state and equal rights. I don't want a religious leader telling me who to deny rights to in my country.

SOCARIDES: Well listen, I would say that if this is true, it could be a very positive development. I don't want to suggest that somehow I'm negative on it. If the new pope is willing to be a compromiser on this and try to find some common ground, I think it's a very positive development.

BERMAN: We'll leave it right there. Thanks, guys. We're going to listen to what the pope says about this for sure in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Coming up next right now, new rumors this morning that Lay Leno is out again at the "Tonight Show" and perhaps soon. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, a couple of top stories. A jury in Ohio is recommending the death penalty for Craigslist killer Richard Beasley. The 53-year-old Beasley was found guilty last week of murdering three men who answered a bogus Craigslist ad for work on a cattle farm. This was in 2011. A judge will consider the jury's recommendation before handing down a sentence next week.

Much lighter note here, NBC says it's building a new studio in New York for Jimmy Fallon. But that's all they are saying, at least for now. Meantime, the "New York Times" reports Fallon will replace Leno as "Tonight Show" host and the show will return to New York. The "Times" report says that the only thing not set in stone is NBC's timetable for all of these changes. John and Christie.

ROMANS: All right, thank you Zoraida.

Now a true story of triumph over tragedy. Nearly six years ago, masked men poured gasoline on a 5-year-old Iraqi boy named Youssif and they lit his face on fire. But this story has turned now into a story of strength. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has that story on today's "Human Factor."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YOUSSIF, SET ON FIRE: So this is the classroom. I sit in that seat over there. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORESPONDENT (voice over): It's amazing to me what a typical American 10-year-old kid Youssif has become.

YOUSELF: These molecules move faster.

GUPTA: This was Youssif just five years old at the time. He was attacked by masked men right in front of his home in Baghdad. They poured gasoline on his face and then set him on fire.

(on camera): What's the first thing you remember about all of that?

YOUSSIF: I just like to remember the doctor getting a sponge. And I was like, oh.

GUPTA: In Iraq?

YOUSSIF: Yes.

GUPTA: And they had a sponge.

YOUSSIF: I think they like scratching on me or something.

GUPTA: They were trying to take off some of the burned skin?

YOUSSIF: Yes.

GUPTA (voice over): Youssif's parents were desperate to see their boy smile again, so just months after the attack, they came to the United States with a single suitcase. Their living expenses and their medical expenses, all of it, was paid for by the kindness of strangers. And we have followed their journey since 2007. Youssif has had 19 operations, a total of 61 procedures to help correct the burn damage.

Youssif's father still doesn't want to show his face for fear of retaliation.

(on camera): Do you tell people what happened to him?

WISAM, YOUSSIF'S FATHER: I have to tell them when they ask. I mean sometimes it bothers me when they don't ask and they keep just looking. It's really bothered me.

GUPTA (voice over): But it doesn't bother Youssif. He's a happy kid, he's smart, confident. His parents say he never complains, he never asks about the scars on his face.

YOUSSIF: I can see that there is like one, two, three spaces.

GUPTA: Youssif's parents say all of this still feels like a dream.

(on camera): Have you had a hard time making friends at all?

YOUSSIF: No, it's like -- it is like whenever a new kid comes, the next day, we're just friends. GUPTA: Is that right?

YOUSSIF: Yes.

GUPTA: Is -- is anybody ever mean to you?

YOUSSIF: No.

GUPTA: Once victims, now a family full of strength.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Canoga Park, California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Most of the items you saw on Youssif's apartment were donated. If you want to donate directly you can reach his family on Twitter @Youssifiraqi -- all in one word.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Next we're going to have a passionate plea from a 12-year-old speaking out for the first time about same-sex marriage. We're going to Daniel Leffew who was adopted by two gay fathers about the letter wrote to Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This week the Supreme Court takes up Proposition 8 which bans same-sex marriage in California. And both sides are coming out in full force right now, including one very passionate 12-year-old boy.

ROMANS: That's right Daniel Leffew and his eight-year-old sister Celina were adopted by two gay dads. When he heard that Chief Justice Roberts is the father of two adopted children, he wrote him a letter, urging him to support same-sex marriages. Listen to Daniel read part of that letter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL LEFFEW, WROTE LETTER TO SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: You and I both know that family goes deeper than blood. I was lucky to be adopted by two guys that I can both call dad. They give me and my sister so much love. My dad Jay works at San Francisco as a deputy sheriff and my dad Ryan works -- stays at home and takes care of me and my sisters. My dads really encourage me to excel in life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And Daniel Leffew and his father Bryan join us right now. So thanks for coming in guys. We really appreciate it.

Daniel in your letter to Justice Roberts about your family, you explained to him your medical condition which is Goldenhar syndrome which is a genetic disorder that affects the whole left side of your body. You say you were unadoptable. You thought you were unadoptable because of that condition until your two fathers came along. Tell me about that. D. LEFFEW: Well I was living in a foster home before and they always told me I was considered unadoptable and they weren't the greatest foster homes. So, like that period in my life, I was always told that I was considered unadoptable because of my Goldenhar.

ROMANS: Daniel because you and your sister are adopted, you say that is one reason why you feel like maybe the Chief Justice, maybe he'll read your letter. Maybe he'll listen to you. You are trying to make a point that your families are remarkably similar. Tell me about that.

D. LEFFEW: Well, like I said in my letter, a lot of people have a lot of different meanings to marriage I mean, having a family. Like some people believe you have to have the same blood to be a family. But me and him both know that no matter if you are blood-related, family is people who love and take care of you.

SOCARIDES: Well can I -- it's Richard Socarides guys -- you know I want to just to say to you thank you for your courage for speaking out. Because I think it's really these -- you know these stories about how these issues affect people in real life are what makes this issue real for people. What would you -- I mean maybe Chief Justice Roberts is watching now -- what would you say to him?

D. LEFFEW: I would say to him, I hope he makes the right decision and sees that our family is like any other.

ROMANS: Dad, let me ask you quickly, you know, you are not a stranger to YouTube. You guys, you sit down together, and you say "Hi, YouTube" and then -- and then you talk about what it's like to be in a family with two dads, with two kids, what your family is -- is like.

How -- I mean, obviously Daniel is not very camera shy. We think that's great. He's got some great public speaking skills. It will help him in his future career -- I think he wants to be a chef.

Tell me a little bit about putting your family out there for the world to see. There can be downsides to that too. People can say look, you're showing what it's like to be your family. There are others who say maybe kids shouldn't be in the spotlight.

BRYAN LEFFEW, DANIEL LEFFEW'S FATHER: We have heard both of those arguments. What people don't understand, though, is how much is at risk for us as a family. Because we began this because of Prop 8, and we were very lucky during that time to have our marriage grandfathered in and not to have that annulled when they upheld Prop 8 at the California Supreme Court. But as things progress and now that we're at the federal Supreme Court, that's really at risk again for us.

So what we had hoped to do through our YouTube channel at Gay Family Values was to show that laws like this affect families like ours in very real ways. They are not an abstract concept, you know. And for many people, it might be simply a moral issue that doesn't touch them personally.

But we tried to, you know, we show our family as a way of saying this is who it effects and we are real people.

BERMAN: All right. Daniel Leffey and father Bryan Leffew -- thank you so much for joining us from California right now.

Curious to see if you get a response from the Chief Justice.

ROMANS: Yes, come back if you do. We want to hear all about it.

B. LEFFEW: We hope so.

ROMANS: All right. The "End Point" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: It is time for our "End Point" now. Cameron Russell.

CAMERON RUSSELL, MODEL: Yesterday, Obama was overheard on the mike saying that he was glad to escape Congress. And I think it is a -- a sign of how polarized and insane our congress is, if he prefers the balancing act of Israel and Palestine.

BERMAN: You know, Speaker Boehner told Jake Tapper in an interview yesterday, he goes, you know "So much for the charm offensive." What the President was overheard saying. He also said he didn't take it personally.

SOCARIDES: Well, it's interesting we're talking about how much polarization there is because one issue in which there seems to be less polarization is the issue of same-sex marriage, which we've been talking about a little bit this morning.

I mean the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week on this issue around which now there is a little bit of a media frenzy. Everybody is lined up. People want to say -- you know, people in public life, politicians -- people -- religious figures want to kind of get on record now before these arguments, where they stand. So you saw Hillary Clinton this week. You saw Rob Portman last week. So it's a real moment where a lot has come together around this issue.

BERMAN: It does seem like an historic, seminal moment here where people feel the need to get on the record now. If you make a statement after next week, is that too late -- Richard?

SOCARIDES: I don't think so. I think, you know, for instance we were just talking about the Catholic Church. I mean if the Catholic Church is going to show any movement, you know, now would be the time. I think it's probably unlikely and I think, you know, certainly the majority of Republicans in elected, political office are not yet supportive. But there is definitely much less polarization around this.

ROMANS: And it's also a seminal moment in history today. The very boyish John Berman has just turned another year older. And for that we must say happy birthday. There it is. And Z's got the cakes. Happy Birthday Berman. ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST: Happy birthday to you. I'm coming here in the middle because I took my mike off and I need to use yours. Let me tell you something. We got you this cake and then I went to the back and you had two additional cakes. You are a very popular man. Everybody loves John Berman.

BERMAN: How many cakes?

SAMBOLIN: Happy birthday. There are no candles. But you can pretend and make a wish.

BERMAN: My wish.

ROMANS: They're different cakes, because the staff can't agree on which ones they like. So we got all of them so everyone can get a piece.

SAMBOLIN: There's red velvet, there's Oreo, and I think that's chocolate fudge for you.

BERMAN: I can't thank you guys enough. We have to pause so I can eat this. So let's go now to the "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello, pretty please.

SOCARIDES: Happy birthday.

RUSSELL: Happy birthday.