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International News Archive
October 11 - October 17, 1999


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This page contains news for the period Monday, October 11, 1999 through Sunday, October 17, 1999.





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Friday, October 15, 1999

British House of Lords drops pension plan for unmarried couples

According to a story published today by Planet Out, British activists were profoundly disappointed on October 11 when a motion in the House of Lords to extend pension rights to survivors of unmarried couples -- both heterosexual and same-gender -- was dropped by the Government on grounds of costs.

A survey by the National Association of Pension Funds found that 39% of private sector pension plans already pay death benefits to surviving partners of gay and lesbian couples, but that only 16% of public sector plans did so. The Rainbow Research Project examined 49 private pension plans that gave equal benefits and found they reported doing so was neither very costly nor difficult to administer.

After the proposed amendment to the Pension Welfare Reform Bill introduced by Lady Turner of Camden was dropped, proponents of the measure promised to put pressure on the government to provide detailed information on the calculation of the costs of extending scheme benefits to unmarried partners.

British study says lack of social support network contributes to higher suicide rates

A report published today by the BBC news cites a new study which concluded that reasons for suicide are often complex, but lack of a support network can push people over the edge.

The study found that geographical areas with high levels of social upheaval and people living alone have more suicides than economically deprived regions. This contradicted previous research which had suggested that poverty - defined by unemployment, poor housing and car ownership -- was a big risk factor for suicide.

The new report, released by the University of Bristol, says areas where people live alone or are unmarried, move their place of residence frequently, and live in private rented accommodation have higher rates of suicide.

There may be a number of factors operating when it comes to higher suicide rates, according to Dr. David Gunnell, who led the research. "Suicide is very complex, unlike an illness like lung cancer where smoking is clearly a high risk factor. It can be linked to loss of a job, physical or mental illness or lack of social support, for example. It is not straightforward," he stated.

Some key factors include a tendency to have no friends, to live in a rented accommodation, to move frequently, and failure to vote.


Thursday, October 14, 1999

Scandinavians have half their children out of wedlock

Reuters news service published a summary of some of the key findings released by the European Union's statistical office, Eurostat, in a new report entitled "Statistical Eyes" on Europe.

One of its findings includes an observation that around half of Scandinavian babies are now born out of wedlock, in comparison to Greece and Italy where just three percent and eight percent respectively of all children are born to unmarried couples.

France Gives Legal Protections to Unmarried Partners

A story published today in the Washington Post reports that France became the largest country in Europe, and the first nominally Roman Catholic one, to grant comprehensive legal protections to unmarried couples, whether gay or heterosexual.

On a vote of 315 to 249, the National Assembly yesterday pushed through legislation creating "civil solidarity pacts.''

As a result of the action, unmarried French couples, including same-sex partners, will be able to register their unions at courthouses for the first time next year and come away with most of the rights of traditional married couples.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou said the law will "offer a solution to 5 million people who live as couples without being married." An estimated 4.4 million of them are heterosexual couples.

Under the legislation, after three years of cohabitation, unmarried registered couples can file tax forms jointly and claim rights of married couples such as simultaneous vacation time from employers and lighter inheritance taxes. They will also be jointly liable for each other's debts.

The bill also makes separation easier. A partner who wants to split from the other would be able simply to send a letter of separation to their partner and to the court.

For a detailed explanation of the requirements and benefits under this new law, as well as description of its historical evolution, click here.

Ontario, Canada may miss same-sex deadline

A story published today in the London Ontario Free Press reports that the Ontario provincial government may not meet its court-ordered deadline to recognize same-sex couples as family. The news was based on statements made by Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty.

On May 20, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that the federal constitution is violated when the government recognizes unmarried opposite-sex couples as a family unit but does not similarly recognize same-sex couples for familial protections.

"I think . . . if the legislature has not passed a bill by Nov. 20, the alternative would be to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for more time to give the province an opportunity to comply with the ruling," Flaherty told reporters yesterday.

Flaherty said the difficulty in meeting the deadline stems from the legal complexity of altering perhaps up to 70 statutes that deal with unmarried "common law relationships." All of this must be done in a tight legislative schedule that must produce first, second and third readings and then obtain royal assent.

"We respect the Constitution, as the premier has said, and we intend to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada," Flaherty said.

The minister said he should have something ready for the legislative session that begins next week, but it's up to Parliament to ensure the deadline is met.


Wednesday, October 13, 1999

New French law to protect cohabiting couples

An article published today in the London Times predicted that the French parliament will pass a law this week giving legal status to unmarried couples.

As protesters staged a noisy demonstration outside the Assemblée Nationale yesterday, conservative MPs mounted a futile final assault on the so-called Civil Solidarity Pact (Pacs) law, which the paper said was certain to be adopted by the Socialist-led majority.

Elisabeth Guigou, the Justice Minister, defended the new statute by saying that it strengthened the family and "offered a solution to five million people who live as couples without being married".

The proposal was denounced by the opposition as an assault on marriage and by religious groups as "the death of the family" and "licensed debauchery."

The Pacs law, which would take effect next year, enables cohabiting couples to register their union "whatever their sex in order to organize their common life". They will enjoy rights equal to married couples in income tax, inheritance, housing and social welfare. However, the Pacs contract, which can be revoked through a simple declaration, extends no rights to homosexual adoption or artificial insemination, nor adds parental rights beyond those enjoyed by unmarried couples.

Supporters of the new law are upset by a condition that requires couples to wait for three years from registering their partnership before enjoying the financial benefits of a joint tax return.


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