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International News Archive
November 15 - November 21, 1999


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This page contains news for the period Monday, November 15, 1999 through Sunday, November 21, 1999.





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Friday, November 19, 1999

Unmarried fathers in Great Britain to get new rights

An article published today in the London Times reports that unmarried fathers will have automatic joint parental rights with mothers under reforms planned by the Government. It plans to amend the Children Act 1989 so that unmarried fathers who register a child's birth jointly with the mother will immediately acquire parental responsibility.

The reform, which is to be brought in as soon as there is a legislative slot, was announced yesterday by Jane Kennedy, the Junior Minister at the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The story says that Kennedy, a mother of two boys, told a conference in London that it was one area that was "very relevant to many fathers, which we recognize needs attention." At present, unmarried fathers do not automatically acquire such rights and have to seek a joint parental responsibility order from the court.

There is growing concern among some men that the law discriminates against them as parents, either on the dissolution of a marriage or if they are unmarried fathers.

More than one third of the total births registered in England and Wales were outside marriage in 1996, but only a small number of parental responsibilities exist because many people assume, wrongly, that unmarried fathers automatically have responsibility if they jointly register the birth.

The story says that the reform is part of a package of measures planned to help fathers to maintain a strong parental role with their children and give them wider support. From next month, parents will be entitled to 13 weeks' parental leave to be taken during the first five years of a child's life. For the first time, fathers, too, will be entitled to leave, including non-resident fathers.


Thursday, November 17, 1999

New PaCS law begins today in France

A law giving legal protections to unmarried couples was signed on November 15 by President Chirac, Prime Minister Jospin and seven cabinet ministers.  The law is referred to as PaCS, an acronym for Civil Solidarity Pact.

According to instructions issued by Justice Minister Elizabeth Guigo, the law is effective immediately.  That means that couples may begin registering with local municipalities today.

A "user manual" was released last week by the minister of Justice in order to explain the content of the law, the registration process, and to specify what documents will be needed.

Belgium has legal protections for unmarried partners

The November issue of Euro-Letter reports that under a new law in Belgium, any two unmarried adults may bind themselves by a statutory Cohabitation Contract.  The procedure is available to any two unmarried adults, regardless of gender, including blood relatives.

To be valid, the contract must be signed in the presence of a notary public and entered in the Register of Population in the municipality where they are living together.

While the contract is in effect, both partners are jointly responsible for the expenses incurred in their life together and all reasonable debts incurred for this purpose, in proportion to their means.  Each benefits individually from his or her earned income.

All inheritable property and other assets acquired while the contract is in effect are deemed to be owned jointly, in the absence of proof to the contrary.

Each partner: (1) remains liable to submit an individual income tax return; (2) retains parental authority over his or her children; (3) remains regarded as an individual so far as social security and pension rights are concerned; and (4) remains regarded as an individual for the purpose of adoption and medically assisted procreation.

A Cohabitation Contract does not affect existing laws on inheritance or immigration.  The contract may be terminated at any time by agreement of the parties, or at the initiative of either of them.  Any disputes would be decided in the local Magistrate Court.


Wednesday, November 16, 1999

Colombian court orders social security benefits for same-sex partners

A story published today by Woxner International News reports that on November 3, 1999, Colombia's 26th Branch Civilian Court ordered the Social Security Institute (SSI) to extend medical benefits to the male partner of a gay man who is covered by the national health-care system.

According to the story, both men have AIDS and take an antiretroviral drug "cocktail." One man is covered by SSI because he is disabled. The other recently lost his job and health benefits, and then sought coverage on his partner's policy.

At first, the men were granted spousal coverage by the institute, but when they went to exchange their temporary ID cards for permanent ones, they were told the agency had changed its mind.

The story says that local activists claim that the court's ruling marks the first time a Colombian judge has recognized a same-sex couple as de-facto spouses.

Italian village considers taxing unmarried men and women

An article published today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the town of Vastogirardi, Italy is considering taxing unmarried adults as a way to prod them to marry and to raise revenue to support families from those who remain single.

Aghast by the number of adults who show no desire to marry or have children -- 50 men and 20 women in a village of 823 people -- Mayor Vincenzo Venditti sees the tax as necessary.

"This is a real problem, a serious problem," he said earnestly as a group of single men grinned sheepishly behind him. "We risk losing everything, our culture, our traditions, our schools. It is useless to ask for economic investment if we cannot keep our village alive to use it."

The story describes Vastogirardi, a small village southern Italy as being typical of rural areas throughout Europe, where migration from small towns and falling birthrates are producing a devastating demographic shift.

It says the population of Vastogirardi, known for its delicate hand-made cheeses, has shrunk by two-thirds in 30 years as younger people have left for better jobs and bigger towns. The only bank closed down years ago; two of four churches have closed, and the local priest commutes from a town 12 miles away.

"So far this year I have performed only two weddings, and six funerals," said the priest, Father Erasmo. "Nobody seems to idealize the family anymore." Last year, only one baby was born in Vastogirardi.

Birthrates are low all over Western Europe, but Italy and Spain, have the lowest birthrate of all: an average of 1.2 children per woman, slightly lower than in Greece and considerably lower than the rate of 2.1. in the United States.

The story says there are objective reasons that Italy's birthrate is so low: government aid to families with children is lower than in France or Germany. There are also cultural differences; studies show that, in Italy, women who work outside the home still bear the brunt of domestic chores.

Marzio Barbagli, a sociologist at the University of Bologna, says that Italian men have not yet adjusted to accommodate working wives.

"If women work at the office and also do everything in the home, something has to give," he said, "and that tends to be a second child."

The story says that many scholars blame younger adults who don't want to leave home because they are too dependent on their aging parents.

"Maybe it is my fault," Ada Marracino, 70, said as she readied lunch for her husband and two children, a son and daughter who are both in their mid-40s, unmarried and living at home. "These children just don't count the years."

Her husband, Alfredo, smiled sadly. "It used to be the kids who would look after the old people," he said. "Around here, it is the reverse."

Venditti figures that unless something dramatic is done to increase birthrates, the village nursery school will have to close.

Already there are not enough children to fill the elementary school: first and third grades are taught together, as are fourth and fifth grades. There is no middle or high school.

The story says that Venditti, who actually lives in Isernia, a town 21 miles away, so his teenage children will not have to take a bus to school, concedes that his tax on singles will probably be ruled unconstitutional, but he said he had to serve notice to the town and the world at large.


Monday, November 15, 1999

World gathering promotes biological families

A story published today in the Desert News reports that organizers of the World Congress of Families II opened their first full day of meetings Monday at the U.N. complex in Geneva. The group is determined to make clear that they are serious about defending the "natural" family.

Speakers used the U.N. pulpit — from which they noted some "anti-family" proposals have been delivered — to tout society's reliance on the natural family as society's "most basic social unit."

The story says that several hundred pro-family delegates attending the session were asked to draft legislation during the conference to combat proposals now pending before the United Nations that would "not only disregard, but undermine" family life, according to Richard Wilkins, director of the World Family Policy Center at Brigham Young University.

BYU and the LDS Church's Relief Society are among the conference's sponsoring organizations.

Margaret Ogola, director of the Family Life Counseling Association of Kenya, criticized the "massive collapse of (the) almost universal ideal" of traditional family life. She said contraceptives, demystification of sex, free sex education focusing on pregnancy avoidance rather than sexual abstinence and the media's proliferation of "the culture of pleasure" have all overstepped the traditional view of family life.

Wilkins urged delegates to form coalitions and to act with a unified voice in fighting for the natural family. "This is not just a pep rally we're involved in." He noted that several international policy documents already contain family-friendly language and that those policies need to be understood and applied in a wider context.

The conference, which includes delegates from most of the world's major religions, was designed in part to allow delegates to draft their own proposal — to be known as the "Geneva Declaration" — that will call on U.N. policymakers to consider the consequences of specific legislation, particularly with regard to population control issues, the rights of children and same-sex marriage.

Bishop John Njue of the Catholic diocese of Embu in Kenya, told delegates at opening ceremonies Sunday night that "the power of evil" is advocating alternative forms of the family by devaluing motherhood, urging abortion for poor women and scoffing at sexual abstinence. Population control policies are particularly devastating in developing nations where "family members are the only Social Security most people will ever have."

Conference organizers had to scramble to relocate the conference when officials with the historic St. Pierre's Cathedral informed them little more than 24 hours before the opening ceremony was to begin on Sunday that they would not be welcome, after originally granting the interfaith group permission to use the building.

Managers of the Cathedral were concerned that the conference was being organized by the Mormon Church and that a radically conservative Catholic bishop would be speaking, facts of which they were previously unaware. A letter issued Saturday said members of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, a more liberal body, were not comfortable with the arrangement and that the building would not be available.

"I know we lost the cathedral because they saw that Archbishop (John) Njue and Cardinal Lopez Trujillo have been outspoken on maintaining the traditional position that marriage is reserved for men and women and that homosexuality is a sin," Wilkins said. "While we weren't told, we assume that was the reason we were not allowed into the cathedral."

Scotland planning an equal rights bill for same-sex couples

A story published today by the BBC News reports that the Scottish Parliament is to consider changing the law so that gay couples have the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples.

A committee headed by former Secretary of State for Scotland Bruce Millan is looking at extending the definition of "nearest relative" to include same sex partners.

The story says that if the proposed is adopted, Scotland will be the first part of the United Kingdom to offer the rights of married or cohabiting couples to homosexuals.

It appears that the change will be incorporated into the Adults With Incapacity (Scotland) Bill. That means same-sex couples will be given legal guardianship of their partners if they become mentally of physically incapacitated.

Equality bill in Canada will save taxpayers money

A story published today by Southam News in the National Post reports that a majority of gay and lesbian couples will be financial losers when the federal government rewrites dozens of laws to include same-sex partners, says a Finance Department study.

The federal government, which plans to change dozens of statutes next year, will save an estimated $20-million a year in tax revenue, mainly at the expense of the poorest gays and lesbians. "You would have losers and most would be low-income earners," said Albert Wakkary, a tax policy officer and author of the paper, obtained by Southam News.

The story says the biggest financial setback is that about two-thirds of same-sex couples will have to forgo the approximately $28-million they collectively claim in the goods and services credit for low- and middle-income earners because partners will be required to combine their incomes together. As a result, about 93,000 of an estimated 140,000 same-sex couples in Canada will have to pay almost $300 more per year in income tax.

On the other side of the ledger, the government will lose about $8-million in other benefits, mainly the married and equivalent-to-married credit for supporting a dependent.

The article says that although the overall savings to the $77-billion tax system will be very negligent, they dispel suspicions among critics that extending benefits to same-sex couples would be a drain on taxpayers.

The government also gained tax revenue when it changed legislation in 1993 to extend equal tax treatment to common-law couples. But many tax breaks that affect common-law couples, such as child benefits, will be virtually non-existent for same-sex couples.

The government is basing its figures on an assumption that 1.5% of couples are gay. The estimate comes from a 1990 Statistics Canada study on consumer finances, which included homes in which two unrelated adults of the same sex live together, excluding students. The survey, which did not ask about sexual orientation, concluded that over 90% of same-sex households consist of two-income earners.

Some government leaders are concerned that bringing gays and lesbians under the spousal umbrella could make the tax system harder to police because there is no way to confirm same-sex relationships in the absence of a marriage license.

The prospect that couples will only claim their status when it is financially beneficial is a problem that also exists on a much larger scale for common-law couples of the opposite sex, says the Finance Department report. The potential for abuse could be reduced if the government adopts registered domestic partnerships, in which all couples in relationships of economic dependency, ranging from widowed siblings to even old army buddies, simply have to sign up to be included in the benefits and obligations currently reserved for married and common-law couples.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan said recently that the government is considering the prospect of a registration system.

"Recognizing registered domestic partnerships could reduce abuse by providing veritable proof of a relationship," said Mr. Wakkary's paper, which was prepared last month and is based on 1994 data.


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