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International News Archive
December 01 - December 05, 1999


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This page contains news for the period Wednesday, December 01, 1999 through Sunday, December 05, 1999.





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Saturday, December 04, 1999

Divorce rules ‘stack the deck’ against abused women in Lebanon

An article published today in the Daily Star reports that leading women’s-rights advocates say that reforming Lebanon’s divorce law would do at lot to help end what is thought to be widespread and under-reported abuse of women.

The first step in this direction by the Woman’s Court: The Permanent Arab Court to Resist Violence Against Women, is a campaign entitled: "I’m not an imprisoned or liberated woman; I’m a woman in partnership."

The campaign wants to reform Lebanon's current personal-status laws on divorce to better ensure equality between men and women.

"We’re focusing on divorce as a first step in a broader campaign for a civil law," Zoya Rouhana, the president of the Woman’s Court, told a news conference on Friday. "We chose divorce because it depends on jurisprudence and will be easy to change. This is the first time such a movement takes place."

The organization, which was established in Morocco in 1996, brings together over 20 organizations from 12 Arab countries dedicated to combating all forms of violence against women.

With 18 different religious sects in Lebanon, several sets of rules regulate such issues as inheritance, marriage and divorce. Religious figures have opposed their replacement with a unified civil law.

Shifting the discussion to women in the Arab world who are abused, activists say that a woman often keeps the matter private out of fear. "She is scared of threats from her husband, of losing her residence, of losing guardianship of her children, and of bearing the family’s financial burden on her own," said Rafif Rida Sidaoui, a sociologist at the Consultation and Research Institute. "She also, often times, cannot afford the cost of the lawsuit.

"To help the abused woman overcome these obstacles and speak out in cases of abuse, we must help her gain the same rights as men in instigating a divorce and in its consequences," said Rouhana.

The Women's Court also wants equal rights for women in the custody of children. "A woman is granted custody of her son until he reaches seven years of age," said Aida Nehme Musawi, head of the Social Committee of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women. "And the trial is often postponed until he is older than seven, so that she never gains custody. We’re lobbying to have the age raised."

Many family law experts experts says that even when the woman is granted custody and alimony payments, the husband often shirks his responsibility. "We’re seeking the creation of a governmental fund to guarantee alimony installments after divorce," said Rouhana.


Friday, December 03, 1999

Czech Parliament rejects law on gay couples

A story released today by Agence France Presse reports that yesterday the Czech Parliament rejected a legislative bill on same-sex couples which was hotly disputed between supporters of equal rights and critics who said it would erode family values.

The legislation would have allowed gay couples to become legal partners, giving them a range of rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples, except the right to adopt children.

The story said that the bill, originally introduced in 1997, was rejected by 91 votes out of 175 deputies present, with 69 voting for the legislative plan in the lower house of parliament.

British bishops taking another look at divorcees remarrying in church weddings

An Associated Press story published today reports that although Church of England bishops preach the ideal of marriage for life, changing times are forcing them to take another look at the reality of divorce and second marriages.

The official rule now is that divorced people cannot get married in church so long as the former spouse is alive. In reality, however, many parish priests permit the weddings anyway.

Local priests are expecting fresh guidance soon from a group of bishops assigned to examine the issues of remarriage.

``The trouble with the Church of England is that everyone does what they like, and there are no rules,'' says the Rev. David S.M. Smith.

The story says that about a third of the weddings at his church, St. John's in Clevedon, a suburb of Bristol, involve divorced people.

Only last September, Church of England bishops issued a teaching document which affirmed the principle of matrimony for life.

``'For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance': these well-known words, used for many centuries, are decisive for what it means to undertake marriage,'' the bishops' report said.

England and Wales have one of the highest divorce rates in Europe -- 13.8 per 1,000 couples per year -- while the number of marriages per year has declined to the lowest level since 1917.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 3,821 of the 75,147 church weddings in England and Wales in 1996 involved divorcees.

The Church of England -- founded in the turmoil of King Henry VIII's multiple marriages -- has not taught that a second marriage is necessarily invalid. Since the 17th century, however, it has barred second weddings in church for divorcees.

The story says that the opposition of the church influenced the decision in 1955 of Queen Elizabeth II's sister, Princess Margaret, not to marry Group Capt. Peter Townsend, the divorcee she loved. Now, the church faces the likelihood that its next supreme governor will be a divorcee -- Prince Charles.

While many priests are more permissive these days, remarriage for divorcees it remains a divisive and troubling issue within the church.

``I think like many clergy I am very torn, because there are two very good principles of Christian faith that come into tragic conflict -- on the one hand, the idea of faithfulness in marriage ... but on the other hand, the sense that Christian belief hinges on forgiveness and the possibility of a fresh start,'' says the Rev. Alan Winton, rector of St. Mary the Virgin in Welwyn, 20 miles north of London. With a single exception in his seven years of ministry, he has refused to marry divorcees.

The story says that the bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev. Michael Scott-Joyntt, who heads the working party on remarriage, believes that the bishops are likely to urge caution.

``If we allow the remarriage of divorcees to take place too easily, we undermine the witness to marriage,'' he says. ``The question of how we hold together the convictions of marriage with the reality of marriages failing remains a very delicate one.''

The bishops' September document on marriage suggested the conditions which might apply to remarriage:

``Time is needed to recover emotional stability and good judgment; a new setting is needed, where the former partner is not forced to endure the reopening of old wounds; and a new relationship is needed, avoiding suspicion that the new marriage consecrates an old infidelity.''

Those are not simple issues for parish priests.

The Rev. Andrew Spurr, vicar of St. John, Stansted Mountfichet, north of London, says he turns away couples if he believes they have not taken the time to work through the issues from the previous marriage.

"You can be 20 years on and still not have understood what made a marriage fail,'' says Spurr, a divorcee himself. ``It is not about time, it is about being prepared to look into the dark places of one's own soul and this is always costly.''

Smith finds it embarrassing to delve into the reasons for a divorce, and wishes that task could be taken up by counseling agencies.

But he does inquire into the care of any children from previous relationships. He also asks that couples sign the same disclosure forms required of anyone who works with children, asking whether they have been convicted of any offenses involving children or have had children taken away from them by the courts.

"For me, the whole thing is the pastoral relationship with the church,'' Smith says. ``The church should make it quite clear that if the church marries you, it means business.''


Thursday, December 02, 1999

Polygamy to be legal in South Africa by next year

A story published today by the Africa News Service reports that a 1998 law recognizing customary marriages will come into effect early next year, opening the way for full legal recognition of polygamy in South Africa for the first time since before the colonial era.

At the time of its approval in November 1998, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act was described by then-Justice Minister Dullah Omar as certain to have a major impact on society.

The story says that among implications of the bill is that people in customary marriages who want to divorce will have to apply to ordinary courts. For the marriage to be registered as legal, the man and woman will both have to be 18 or older and have gone through a marriage ritual in terms of custom.

The law will make polygamy legally acceptable, meaning that a man married by customary rites will be free to have further wives by customary rites. At the time of the bill's passing, the African National Congress said it would represent a step away from the belief that wives had to be inferior to their husbands, because the constitution guaranteed equality for spouses, including in a customary marriage.

Justice Minister Penuell Maduna told Parliament in a written statement yesterday that he bill could be implemented only after regulations had been drafted in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The department of home affairs would also have to establish the "necessary infrastructure" to deal with the day-to-day application of the bill, Mr. Maduna said.

Unmarried cohabitation now a lifestyle choice for many Australians

A story published today in the Sydney Morning Herald reports that scores of couples in Australia are finding that unmarried cohabitation, sometimes known as "de facto marriage," suits them just fine. But, asks Bettina Arndt, does it work for their children?

There's a new breed of family in Australia. Open any newspaper and you'll see them. The football hero proudly nursing his newborn child. Beside him is his unmarried partner, the child's mother. At the opening of a new kindergarten, there's a young de facto couple playing with their cute toddler. Cohabiting parents are so commonplace that their unmarried status no longer attracts much comment.

Twenty years ago it was different. Then, many were shocked at the trend for couples to live together, even though the de facto relationship was often seen as a youthful experiment in trial marriage - mere practice for the real thing. Today nearly 60 per cent of couples in Australia live together before marriage, even more do so post-divorce, and for some, cohabitation has become a long-term lifestyle choice.

Many take this one step further, seeing the de facto relationship as a suitable setting for raising children.

Every fourth baby born in Australia has unmarried parents. In 1997, there were 168,600 children whose biological parents were living in a de facto relationship.

The stigma on the children has virtually disappeared. De facto couples are surprised to be asked whether they have been criticized for bearing ex-nuptial children. ''Of course not. I'm not around people who'd criticize me for my lifestyle choice. There are no repressed Catholics in my life.'' This is John Nielsen, 38, de facto partner to Monica Schmidt, 29, mother of his two youngest children, Karla, 19 months, and Freyja, three months. Nielsen has a 15-year-old-son from an earlier marriage and an 11-year-old boy from another de facto relationship.

When Karla was born, Schmidt's mother suggested the couple should marry to avoid the child being embarrassed at school. Monica was scathing: ''Mum, These are the '90s!'' she told her, explaining that since the child would most likely be surrounded by children born to single mothers, having unmarried parents was no big deal.

The story says that the couple see no reason to marry. ''It's just a piece of paper to me. I consider myself married without that,'' says Schmidt. Well, almost married. She sees the de facto state as preferable. ''There's more freedom, I'm allowed to do whatever I like,'' she says, reacting against the compulsory togetherness she associates with matrimony.

Sotirios Sarantakos, a professor of sociology at Charles Sturt University, believes the unstable relationship history of cohabiting couples is partly because of the particular group attracted to the lifestyle - people who are less likely to value commitment to a permanent relationship. His research shows many de facto couples choose cohabitation because they see the relationship as different to marriage.

''They see cohabitation as involving less commitment, less responsibility, more freedom, an easy exit, a more liberal, independent type of relationship.'' He has also found many cohabiting couples choose to live with people they would reject as marriage partners. ''They accept different qualities in a de facto partner than they would choose in a spouse.''

But there are long-term de facto relationships too. There are many middle-class educated parents who chose not to marry but maintain stable families for many years.

The story gives as an example Peter Howard, 45, a Sydney retail manager who has been with his partner Lyn Harrison, 42, for 15 years. They have an eight-year-old daughter. ''We've thought about getting married, but just never got around to it,'' he says, explaining that he sees their daughter as proof of their commitment. ''''The decision to have a child [is] definitely a tie. I wouldn't think of walking away from it now, anymore than if we were married.''

Among the aging baby boomers are many who saw marriage as an antiquated, bourgeois institution - yet they may also speak very eloquently about commitment. Like a Sydney doctor I spoke to who's lived with his partner for 20 years. Few married couples could match their devotion to each other and their two children. ''I don't see any difference between marriage and non-marriage in terms of the casualisation of relationships. I think people breaking up relationships involving young children is a very serious issue and I'd like to see a lot more responsibility from parents - but marriage has nothing to do with it,'' he says.

Research shows that de facto couples tend to be divorcees, rather than young never-marrieds. There is a strong trend for divorced parents, at least initially, to live with their new partners rather than marry them. McDonald's research shows more than 80 per cent of remarried couples have lived with each other.

This means many Australian children spend time living with a divorced parent and a de facto partner.

A recent study found that of cohabiting couples with children, about six out of 10 were living in a stepfamily.

So, almost two thirds of the children living with de facto parents have experienced parental divorce and live with a de facto step-parent.

In 1996, 279,000 children in Australia lived with parents in a de facto relationship, twice as many as a decade earlier.

Elderly man marries in order to beat the tax code in England

A story published today in the London Telegraph reports that a 90 year-old man married a divorcee of 41 yesterday to prevent any of his 500,000 estate being taken in inheritance tax.

In England, as in the United States, a person may leave assets to a spouse on his or her death without having to pay estate tax on the value of the transfer. In contrast, a large portion of assets are taken through taxation when an unmarried person dies.

The story says that Ian Patey, a widower and former company director, of Hayling Island, Hampshire, married Monica Osborne, the daughter of his former car mechanic. Mrs. Patey, who has been working in a nursing home, will inherit her husband's estate in return for nursing care and acting as his driver and general helper.

The bride, who has daughters aged 22 and 15, said before the register office ceremony: "I am very fond of Ian and I hope I can make him happy. Ours won't be a physical relationship, but that doesn't bother me." Mr. Patey said: "When you are 90 and the other person is 41, you don't marry for sex - you may think about it, but that is all. We are very fond of each other, but you can call it a marriage of convenience. The Government inspired me to get married. They would have got 150,000 if I died but, married, they don't get anything."

The story explains that under British inheritance tax laws, the first 223,000 of a legacy is untaxed and the Government takes 40 per cent of the rest. Patey's first wife died in 1993 after 57 years of marriage. They had no children and his estate would have gone to her distant relatives.

Foreign gay partners of South Africans win residence

A story released today by Reuters reports that South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled today that foreign partners of gays and lesbians should be entitled to the same residence rights as the legal spouses of heterosexuals.

The court ruled that the country's Aliens Control Act discriminated unfairly against gays and lesbians by failing to give them the same benefits extended to heterosexual married couples.

"It (the law) did so in a way which was not reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom,'' the court explained in a note accompanying its ruling.

To remedy the problem, the court ordered that the words "or partner in a permanent same-sex life partnership'' be added to the legislation.

The court noted that it was not ruling on the issue of whether unmarried partners in permanent heterosexual relationships should be granted residency.


Wednesday, December 01, 1999

Pope repeats "no'' gay families

A story released today by Reuters reports that yesterday Pope John Paul repeated his "no'' to gay marriages, saying they were one of several practices threatening the family.

Speaking at his Wednesday general audience, the Pope said the concept of the family "as a community founded on marriage between a man and a woman'' was under attack by an ethical relativism gaining support in public opinion and legislation.

"The crisis of the family becomes the cause of the crisis of society,'' the Pope said. Many of society's ills, the Pope said, could be traced to the fact that many families had lost their identity.

In the past, the Vatican has contested legislation aimed at recognizing gay relationships and giving same-sex couples equal rights in society.

Neither the Pope, nor the article, mention the fact that the term "family" is based on the Latin word "familia" which refers to all persons in the same household who are interdependent and is not dependent on marriage.

British plan for no-fault divorce law is postponed

A story published today by the BBC reports that the British government is scrapping controversial plans for changing the divorce laws in England and Wales - at least until after the next election.

Under the proposals neither party to a divorce would have to be blamed for "fault," but estranged couples would have been forced to attend information meetings to discuss their problems.

There would also have been new divorce time limits, 18 months for couples with children and 12 months for those without children. But trials of the new information meetings failed, according to the government, and in June they were stopped.

Relationship counselors believe the government is dropping the changes because they fear a backlash from couples having to wait longer for a divorce, and because of pressure from lawyers.

Chairman of Relate, Ed Straw told the BBC: "The government is delaying the Family Law Act, as I understand it, until after the next election. It is a great pity, the legislation at the moment has fault within it. As soon as you have fault, it induces conflict and anyone who has been through that process will tell you that."


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