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International News Archive
October 25 - October 31, 1999

 

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This page contains news for the period Monday, October 25, 1999 through Sunday, October 31, 1999.

 

 

 

 

<<   October 1999  >>

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Sunday, October 31, 1999

Canadian census to count same-sex couples

A story published today in the Ottawa Citizen reports that in the next Canadian census, to be held in 2001, respondents will be given the opportunity to identify themselves as part of a same-sex couple.

Pierre Turcotte, Statistics Canada's chief of housing, family and social statistics, said, "there's been nothing on sexual orientation" so far in census collection. The demand for the information is there, Mr. Turcotte said. "We had a lot of people telling us they wanted information on this."

The federal justice and finance departments, the provinces, academic researchers and insurance companies are among those who are interested in tracking this aspect of Canadian demographics.

Mariana Valverde, a University of Toronto professor of criminology with expertise on gay rights, says there is still concern that some people will be hesitant to report such information. Currently, she says, when companies offer benefits to same-sex partners, many employees are still reluctant to make claims.

But Ms. Valverde says she believes people will probably have a higher level of trust in the confidentiality of Statistics Canada because "it's a trusted agency."

Statistics Canada is in the process of adding, removing and modifying questions for the census, which it takes every five years.

The exact wording of the new questions has not been announced, but several potential questions have been tested.

"We still have to go through the whole approval process," said Dale Sewell, a spokesman for Statistics Canada. "But it did test well."

In the last census, in 1996, respondents were given the option to provide such information. But this had to be done by using a box labeled "other," within the question asking "Relationship to Person 1." The form did not list "same-sex partner," or any similar term among the examples of "other" that were offered.

Many in the gay community were offended by the lack of explicit mention of same-sex couples.

The bigger problem, however, was the lack of publicity. Few people knew they had the option to use the "other" box in this way. During the period of data collection, if people phoned in to the help line, they were told that they had the option, but no written instruction was offered.

Despite an awareness campaign by a frustrated gay community, too few people responded to produce statistically valid data on same-sex couples.

For the 2001 census, three options have been tested for collecting same-sex data. The first would use the same "other" box as in 1996, but with "same-sex partner" as one of the examples. The second would be to make "same-sex partner" one of the listed choices in this question. In this case, a person could simply put a check mark beside "same-sex partner" rather than having to write it in as "other."

The third choice is to instruct respondents to report themselves as common-law couples. In this case, the definition of common-law is given as "two people who live together as a couple but who are not legally married to each other. Same-sex partners should report as common-law partners." If this third, common-law option is not used, then the census will retain the old definition of common-law, "two people who live together as husband and wife, but who are not legally married to each other."

This past week, in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling, the Ontario government reluctantly passed legislation that gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as other common-law couples in the province.

Yet, rather than redefining common-law to include homosexual couples, Ontario created a separate, but legally equivalent, category for same-sex.

 

Friday, October 29, 1999

Solo living predicted to increase in Australia

An article published today in the Sydney Morning Herald reports that many more unmarried Australians will live alone in the coming years.

One-person households are predicted to show the greatest percentage increase of all household types over the next 25 years. With the population aging, and divorce increasing, the odds are more people will experience a period of solitude. For women it is likely to happen in old age, for men in their 30s and 40s.

Women outlive their husbands on average by about 10 years, but men are likely to experience loneliness post-divorce when children commonly live with their mothers. Women and men who have specialised in togetherness may need some training in solitude. It doesn't come naturally to most people.

For women, reaching this predicament in their 70s and 80s, there will be plenty of role models among their girlfriends, the never-married, the long-divorced, and the single parents trained in self-sufficiency.

Not very long ago, solitude was suspect. Spinsters were pitied and lived with mother. Widows moved in with their daughters. Widowers were shipped off to nursing homes through an inability to cook.

Now young people choose to live alone if they can afford to do so. The divorced sign up in droves, some to escape the loneliness of marriage. Old people stay home alone and "age in place", thanks to the Home and Community Care program.

In other cultures, solitude is an oddity. Though it is breaking down, the extended family under one roof still rules in many parts of Asia, and custom and poverty ensure togetherness.

Even in Western societies, solitude doesn't necessarily mean isolation. Men alone in their 40s can have close contact with their children; and women can access a network of carers. Still the lessons of successful solitude can be hard to learn. And this, with the changing demographics, may explain why depression is on the increase.

For men and women alone at the end of their lives, it is friendships that will count. When one's mate is buried, and one's children are busy, and another decade of life is ahead, friends will be needed more than ever. Not only can they be there to share meals, and a weekend outing, but friends may be the only ones who can turn off the life support and read the eulogy.

English court rules that same-sex couples have 'family' rights

An article published today in the London Telegraph reports that a judicial panel of the House of Lords has ruled that same-sex couples in a long-standing relationship have the same tenancy succession rights as heterosexuals. The 3-2 ruling was issued in the case of Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association.

The test case was a victory for Martin Fitzpatrick, 49, a former Royal Navy serviceman, who claimed he had the right to stay in the west London flat he had shared with John Thompson for 18 years. The judges were told that the men had a faithful homosexual relationship.

For the last eight years of his life, Mr. Thompson, who was the protected statutory tenant of the flat in Hammersmith, was cared for by Mr. Fitzpatrick after he suffered irreversible brain damage and was left a tetraplegic after falling down stairs. After Thompson's death in 1994, Fitzpatrick applied to take over the tenancy but the landlords refused and served him with notice to quit.

Fitzpatrick claimed that under the 1977 Rent Act, he had succeeded to the tenancy as a "spouse" because he had been living with Mr. Thompson as "his or her wife or husband" or alternatively that he was a member of Thompson's family. Allowing the appeal, Lord Slynn of Hadley said he considered it "in accordance with contemporary notions of social justice".

Click here for the complete text of the decision in the Fitzpatrick case.

 

Thursday, October 28, 1999

Canadian province rushes same-sex legislation through

An article published today in the Ottawa Sun reports that the parliament in Ontario, Canada rushed through a set of reforms yesterday which results in same-sex couples having the same rights and responsibilities of cohabiting unmarried heterosexual couples.

The reform package complies with a Supreme Court of Canada decision that said laws that treat opposite-sex relationships differently from gay and lesbian relationships are unconstitutional.

The Tories, who introduced the bill changing 67 provincial statutes only two days ago, rushed the legislation through second and third readings in a single evening. They appeared to pass the legislation grudgingly.

The statutes impose new responsibilities on gay or lesbian partners if the relationship ends, introduces adoption procedures for gay couples and affords rights to same-sex partners wishing to access sick or dying partners in hospital.

 

Monday, October 25, 1999

Govt. in Ontario, Canada introduces domestic partner reforms

A story published today by Planet Out reports that Ontario's Conservative government has just introduced a measure to amend 67 provincial laws to give same-gender couples recognition equal to that of unmarried heterosexual couples, in order to comply with the Canadian Supreme Court's landmark decision in May in "M v. H" (a case involving a lesbian couple's separation).

While the simplest method of reform would have been to delete "of the opposite-sex" from statutes extending benefits and obligations to unmarried heterosexual couples, known as "common law spouses," that method was not used. The conservative government did not want to tamper with the definition of "spouse" and so they created a separate category in the law which will be called "same-sex partners."

Neither "same-sex partners" nor common-law "spouses" have standing equal to legally married partners, although they receive many of the benefits of opposite-sex couples who have participated in a marriage ceremony.

Provincial Attorney General Jim Flaherty said, "This legislation is clearly not part of our agenda. The only reason we are introducing this Bill is because of the Supreme Court of Canada decision. We would not introduce the legislation otherwise. Our proposed legislation complies with the decision while preserving the traditional values of the family by protecting the definition of 'spouse' in Ontario law."

But compliance with the Supreme Court ruling means that there can be no differential treatment between the two categories, making the new terminology a distinction without a difference.

In "M v. H," one member of a long-term lesbian relationship was left destitute on its dissolution and discovered that she had no standing with the courts to seek support payments from her ex-partner. The couple had actually reached a settlement before the Supreme Court heard arguments, but by then it had become a significant test of Ontario's laws. The high court found it illegal discrimination for the province's Family Law Act to grant rights to unmarried heterosexual couples which it denied to same-gender couples, and ordered the province within six months to change all of its laws which featured that inequality.

However, the Supreme Court was careful not to lay the same burden on marriage laws.

Since the ruling came from the nation's highest court, the precedent may also be applied to the other provinces and to the federal government. About 60 national laws will also be amended to achieve equal treatment for cohabiting couples regardless of gender.

The Law Commission of Canada, which advises the federal government, co-sponsored a conference last week to discuss the possibility of extending similar rights and responsibilities to other kinds of economically interdependent couples, including those of blood relatives who live together. After examining a number of approaches, such as domestic partnership registries, the Commission will issue a report next year.

Stigma of unwed pregnancy may lie at root of high death rate for Bangladeshi girls

A story published today by Reuters Health reports that social taboos regarding pregnancy outside marriage may imperil the lives of young, pregnant unmarried Bangladeshi women, according to a new study.

"In teenage girls aged between 15 and 19, death rates from accidental and other violent causes were nearly three times higher among pregnant than nonpregnant girls," said study co-author Dr. Carine Ronsmans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the UK.

Ronsmans and colleague Dr. Myriam Khlat compared the death rates between 1976 and 1993 of pregnant or recently pregnant (within 3 months of delivery) Bangladeshi women with those of nonpregnant women.

They found that pregnant women faced a 45% greater risk of fatal injury compared with nonpregnant women, with death risks nearly tripling among pregnant versus nonpregnant teenage girls.

Fatal injuries included violent accidents -- such as snake bites, burns, or drowning -- as well as deaths by suicide or homicide.

The study, published in the October 23rd issue of The Lancet, did not address the reasons for this increase in risk. But "other researchers have suggested that violence in pregnancy may be particularly important in unmarried girls," Ronsmans explained, since "illegitimate pregnancy is socially unacceptable in a society such as Bangladesh."

Divorce and delayed marriage are more common for women in Japan

An article published today in Business Week reports that more housewives are choosing to divorce their workaholic husbands, especially as they are about to retire. And many young career women are choosing to delay marriage until they are in their thirties.

An example was given of Kikuko Ohtake, 52, who described her recently ended marriage as ''typical.'' For one thing, whenever she sought her former husband's opinion on their children's education, he would say he could not be bothered, because he was busy reading the newspaper or watching television.

''We were a typical couple where communication was absent,'' says Ohtake. Not too long ago, Ohtake would probably have suffered in silence. But now divorce is an option that's become more acceptable in Japan, and Ohtake took it: She and her husband split up after 25 years of marriage.

The article explains that Japanese salarymen are struggling in their workplace, dogged by restructuring and salary cuts. But they face a domestic crisis as well, as women rethink their relationships with their hidebound husbands.

Leading this trend are couples married for 20 years or longer. In 1998, about 40,000 cases of divorce for this long-married group were reported, double the number in 1990.

Common these days are teinen rikon, or retirement-age divorces, where the woman divorces her husband when he quits his company, usually at 60 and often with a handsome bonus. Fumiko Kanazumi, a Tokyo attorney, says that increasingly women are winning nearly 50% of the family assets when getting a divorce. And judges are favoring divorce filings from women who claim their husbands never did anything to make the marriage work.

At the other end of the age spectrum, a quiet revolution is taking place among younger women. Until quite recently, unmarried women in their late 20s were dismissed as ''unsold Christmas cake,'' whose market value plummets after the holidays. But now many more hold off getting married until well into their 30s. Their reason? Salarymen are no longer the prize they once were, now that lifetime employment is a thing of the past. Besides, many more women are capable of earning a living.

 

Sunday, October 24, 1999

Modern teens rebel against strict society in Iran

An article published today in the San Jose Mercury News reports that many young people in Iran are rebelling against strict rules forbidding unmarried males and females from kissing, slow dancing, or even holding hands.

Increasingly, even young Iranians who care little about politics are rebelling against a society whose architect, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, once proclaimed, "There is no fun in Islam.''

Instead, many Iranian youth are determined to have fun anyway. Their increasing defiance represents a potent challenge to one of the world's strictest Islamic societies.

More young people in Iran are risking jail, fines and official beatings for things American youth take for granted, such as wearing makeup, slow dancing at a party and holding hands on a date.

Riots last summer, which began with college students, showed that many of Iran's intellectual elite are fed up with hard-liners who stifle dissent and resist democratic reform. And increasing numbers of ordinary Iranian youth are risking the wrath of the basiji, the notorious morals police.

Romance between unmarried men and women is illegal in Iran. A couple can not get a hotel room without producing a marriage license. But young people find ways to date, even though it is punishable by whipping or worse.

It's also common for Iranian girls and boys to dance together at parties in private homes, even though the feared basiji have been known to burst in and arrest everyone on the scene, beating them even before their sentencing.

 

Friday, October 22, 1999

Islamic Law to become law in Nigerian state of Zamfara

A Zenit News story published in EWTN News today reports that the Islamic Law or "Sharia," will become part of the penal code of the Nigerian state of Zamfara. The decision was taken a month ago by the Assembly of this northern region of the Federation, where the majority are Muslims, as opposed to the south of Nigeria, where the majority are Christians.

The story says that Alhaji Ahmad Sani, the governor of Zamfara, has requested people to familiarize themselves with the Islamic Code, which will not apply to Christians -- the governor said, and which establishes the segregation of unmarried men and unmarried women -- unless blood related, and severe corporal punishment for adultery, prostitution and theft. Those convicted of theft risk having their hands amputated.

The announcement was met with a wave of protests among Christians, and the voice of Archbishop John Olufemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, who called on Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to declare adoption of the "Sharia" unconstitutional.

 

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

Vatican says that recognition of unmarried couples undermines families

A story published today by ETWN Catholic World News reports that "A tidal wave against the institution of the family" was how the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano characterized the recognition of unmarried couples the previous day by a referendum taken by the Italian region of Latium, which includes Rome. The referendum included unmarried couples in an economic bill to assist families in difficulty.

Father Gino Concetti, a moral theologian and editorial writer of the Vatican daily newspaper, said such an initiative aims to encourage the Italian Parliament " to imitate the French example which, with PACS, has accorded a legal recognition to extramarital unions," in a time when bills on the subject are pending in the parliament. PACS is an acronym for a French plan to give some of the same legal recognitions and benefits to heterosexual extramarital unions and same-sex couples. Opponents say it undermines the family and is a first step to legalizing same-sex marriage.

It is a question of "a pincer move," said L'Osservatore Romano, which recalled the votes taken in this same direction in the countries of northern Europe and in Catalonia.

The newspaper said that although the political community has the duty to provide assistance to those who may be in poverty, it can not give the same social security benefits to "two profoundly different realities," that is, the family, which has a fundamental legal basis and which includes social responsibilities, and "a form of temporary union" without this legal basis. It would be discrimination and an injustice to the institution of the family and an incentive to prefer extramarital unions over marriage, the newspaper said.

It is necessary indeed to find appropriate solutions for those who live in extramarital unions in precarious economic situations, said Father Concetti, but they must "absolutely avoid, without any ambiguity, using social and economic assistance as an excuse for the legal recognition of extramarital unions." He suggested, for example, giving aid to each person of the unmarried couple, without agreeing to their status as a couple as such.

Amended laws to recognize same-sex couples in Ontario, Canada

An article published today in London (Ontario) Free Press reports that Ontario's Conservative government will introduce and pass legislation in the coming session of the house to give legal protections to same-sex couples.

The legislation will amend dozens of existing laws that fail to recognize same-sex couples, Attorney General James Flaherty confirmed yesterday. "Our intention is to go ahead and introduce a bill so we can comply by Nov. 20," Flaherty said.

The bill will bring Ontario into line with a Supreme Court of Canada decision that extends spousal recognition to gay and lesbian couples. Ontario already grants legal protections to unmarried heterosexual couples. Earlier this year, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional to protect opposite-sex unmarried partners but not same-sex couples. It ordered the provincial government to introduce remedial legislation by November 20.

"There are at least 60 provincial statutes potentially affected," Flaherty said. "The important thing is that we try to be comprehensive in our approach. We will have to introduce the bill and have an opportunity for the members of the legislature to vote by Nov. 20."

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty said his caucus will support the new bill. The entire Tory caucus voted against a similar bill introduced by the NDP in 1994.

 

Monday, October 18, 1999

Canadians consider super-inclusive domestic partner laws

A story published today in the Ottawa Citizen reports that the federal government is considering proposals to extend legal protections to all "relationships of dependency" and not just sexual relationships.

Many federal and provincial laws already give most of the same benefits of marriage to unmarried heterosexual couples who are living together in a conjugal relationship. Earlier this year, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the gender restriction in these laws must be removed so that all unmarried couples, including same-sex partners, in a conjugal relationship are protected. In response to the ruling, the federal government and the province of Ontario are preparing new statutes without the gender restriction.

These changes would give protections to any two adults who live together in a relationship of sexual intimacy but would not protect adults with dependent or familial relationships that are nonsexual in nature.

The issue of extending protections to all relationships of dependency, sexual or not, is being studied by the Law Commission of Canada. The commission is co-sponsoring a conference at Queen's University In Kingston where about 100 participants will examine this proposal.

A recent national survey by Angus Reid, a public opinion firm, found that 71 percent of Canadians either strongly or somewhat agree that benefits should not be limited to sexual relationships but should apply to any relationship of dependency in which people live together.

Click here for the full story.

 

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