This page contains news for
the period Sunday, August 16, 1999 through Sunday, August 22, 1999.
August 1999 >>
Friday, August 20, 1999
Alaska Airlines to Expand Travel Benefits
According to a report published in the August 20, 1999,
edition of Planet Out, Alaska Airlines has announced that beginning on October 1, it will
be extending its "Designated Guest Pass" travel benefits to any individual
selected by an employee, regardless of gender or relationship.
Survey Shows that DP Benefits Are Effective
Recruitment Tool for Employers
According to a report published in the August 20, 1999,
edition of Planet Out, a recent survey of 279 human resources professionals in 19
industries found that domestic partner benefits are a highly effective incentive in
recruiting new hires -- the top-ranked incentive for executives and the third-ranked for
managers and line workers. Domestic partner benefits were more effective than
telecommuting options, hiring bonuses, stock options, and 401(k) plans.
Responding employers were members of the Society for Human
Resource Management. The results were published in the June 16, 1999, edition of
"Human Resources Management, Issues and Trends."
Thursday, August 19, 1999
The Massachusetts SJC broadens the
definition of family -- for about a week.
Plus, watching Vermont
by Neil Miller
Every Friday, there is an air of expectation at the offices
of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston and law firm Langrock, Sperry,
and Wool in Middlebury, Vermont.
Lawyers there are waiting for the Vermont Supreme Court to
rule on the lawsuit of three gay couples seeking the right to marry. Each Friday, the high
court hands down decisions on cases under consideration. And, ever since oral arguments
for the marriage case were made last November, Fridays bring an extra thrill of tension
On especially sharp tenterhooks are Langrock, Sperry, and
Wool attorney Beth Robinson and GLAD's Mary Bonauto, who are co-counsel in the case. But,
says Gary Buseck, executive director of GLAD, those involved in the lawsuit may have to
get used to waiting.
The decision, he notes, could come "any Friday from here
Since last November's election, when Hawaii voters ratified a
constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples -- dampening hopes
for a legal breakthrough in that state -- all eyes have turned toward Vermont. But while
advocates wait for a sign from Vermont's justices, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial
Court (SJC) has been making some important rulings of its own -- rulings that have the
potential to affect gay and lesbian families as much as the one in Vermont.
On June 29, in a landmark decision, the SJC ruled that a
lesbian who helped raise her partner's biological child was a de facto parent, entitled to
visitation rights after the couple broke up. The case, E.N.O. v. L.M.M., involves a
Martha's Vineyard couple that had been together for several years when the two women
decided to have a child through artificial insemination. In 1994, L.M.M. became pregnant.
E.N.O. accompanied her to every doctor's visit. When their son was born in early 1995,
E.N.O. acted as birthing coach and spent the night of the birth at the hospital. The
couple sent out birth announcements naming both women as parents; the child's last name is
a combination of theirs. The pair signed a co-parenting agreement stating they would raise
the child together. But the women separated when the child was three, and L.M.M., the
biological mother, refused to let her former partner have any access to the little boy.
E.N.O. sued, and a Duke's County (Martha's Vineyard) probate-court judge ordered temporary
visitation, pending trial, as being in the "best interest of the child."
By a 4 to 2 vote, the SJC agreed. "An increasing number
of same-gender couples are deciding to have children," notes Justice Ruth Abrams,
writing for the majority. "It is to be expected that children of nontraditional
families, like other children, form parent relationships with both parents, whether those
parents are legal or de facto." As a result, the "calculus" of "best
interest of the child" must include an examination of the child's relationship with
both the legal and the de facto parent, the SJC ruled.
Until this decision, the courts had always stated that
parental rights depended on a relationship to the child through blood, marriage, or
adoption, notes GLAD's Bonauto, who is also co-counsel in E.N.O. v. L.M.M. Anyone else was
considered a "legal stranger" to the child. The categories that previously
determined parental relationship "strangled the recognition of gay and lesbian
families," Bonauto says.
"Now the court has ruled they are not the only
In fact, the week before it decided E.N.O. v. L.M.M., the SJC
had ruled in another case that an aunt could also be a de facto parent. It granted a woman
visitation rights to the 11-year-old niece she had raised until the child's father
demanded custody. Although the aunt was the only parent that the little girl had known,
until that decision, "she had no more legal standing than the milkman," says
Buseck. By deciding that she had visitation rights, "the court really broke the
barrier of blood, marriage, adoption," he says. And in taking the leap in that case,
the SJC did the legal "heavy lifting" that made the E.N.O. v. L.M.M. decision
In both decisions, "the court opted for a broader sense
of family," says Buseck.
By July 8, however, just a little more than a week after the
E.N.O. v. L.M.M. ruling, the SJC's view of family had narrowed. It ruled that Mayor Thomas
Menino's August 1998 executive order granting health benefits to the gay and unmarried
heterosexual partners of Boston city employees violates a 1955 state law. (The decision
also applies to similar policies in Cambridge, Brookline, Northampton, and Springfield.)
The law allows cities and towns to grant health insurance
only to municipal employees and their dependents, and clearly defines dependents as
spouses and children. The SJC ruled that cities and towns may not expand that definition;
only the legislature has the right to do so.
And it is in the hands of the Massachusetts legislature that
the case's fate now rests.
But even though the SJC struck down Boston's
domestic-partnership policy, gay activists were heartened that the language of the
decision included a bow in the direction of non-traditional families. "We recognize
that . . . [a] family may no longer be constituted simply of a wage-earning father, his
dependent wife, and the couple's children," wrote Justice Margaret Marshall, for the
majority. Nonetheless, the decision went on, "adjustments in the legislation to
reflect these new social and economic realities must come from the legislature."
And what Beacon Hill will do is anyone's guess. Last year,
the legislature approved a Boston home-rule petition on domestic partners, only to see it
vetoed by Governor Paul Cellucci. (Cellucci objected to the fact that the proposal would
have extended benefits to both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual partners; his
spokesperson says he would have signed it if it covered only gay partners.) In the
aftermath of that veto, Menino issued the executive order that has now been overturned by
the SJC. In the current session, a statewide domestic-partnership bill affecting state and
municipal employees has been introduced and sent to a Senate Public Service Committee
"study." Sending a bill to study is usually a Beacon Hill euphemism for killing
it, but sometimes it means just what it implies -- further examination.
Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and
Lesbian Political Caucus, is hopeful that this is the case. But even if the bill is
revived, she admits that the legislation will still have a "tough row to hoe,"
especially in the more conservative House. At this point, "we just don't have the
votes," she says. And she notes that although the Boston domestic-partner home-rule
petition did pass in a voice vote last year, "if there had been a roll call, we would
have lost." Adds Isaacson, "People think this state is so pro-gay-and-lesbian
that nothing bad can happen to us in the legislature. That is not true." Isaacson
contends that if the recently introduced Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) -- which would
restrict marriage in Massachusetts to heterosexual couples -- came up for a vote, it would
pass. DOMA is currently bottled up in a study committee as well.
Still, Gary Buseck says that if the gay community had to
choose between a victory in E.N.O. v. L.M.M. or one in the domestic-partnership case,
"we won the one that mattered more." The legislature is far less likely to pass
a bill that provides visitation rights to non-biological gay and lesbian parents than it
is to approve one that allows unmarried domestic partners to receive benefits, he points
out. (Only one other state court, Wisconsin, has granted gay parents recognition.)
"Domestic partnership is not an easy sail, but we are
building political sentiment," Buseck says. "It is fixable."
The decision of E.N.O. v. L.M.M. may also bring the reality
of gay marriage one step closer, as retiring Justice Charles Fried points out unhappily in
a 14-page dissent. The majority decision, in Fried's view, essentially puts "a
contract of union between a same-sex couple creating expectations of mutual care of a
child" on a "special footing." He noted that the subject of same-sex unions
is "difficult, controversial, and important," and wrote that the court's ruling
"is a clear step in granting legal force to such unions."
And it is same-sex marriage that remains the biggest legal
prize. The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, along with the Virginia-based American
Center for Law and Justice (founded by Pat Robertson), filed the suit challenging Menino's
domestic-partnership order. C.J. Doyle, the League's executive director, doesn't believe
that taxpayers should be forced to subsidize domestic-partner benefits when it goes
against their beliefs. "Society should give preference to the institution of
marriage," he maintains.
But, even in Hawaii, the issue isn't quite dead yet. The
Hawaii Supreme Court still hasn't made a final ruling on its gay-marriage case. Evan
Wolfson, director of the Marriage Project at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
in New York City and co-counsel in the Hawaii case, insists that even though the passage
of the constitutional amendment restricting marriage to heterosexual couples "throws
up an extra roadblock," it doesn't rule out victory in court. He notes that after the
state's voters approved the amendment in November, the Hawaii Supreme Court asked the
plaintiffs (the gay couples) for a briefing on how the vote affected the case. In
response, their attorneys argued that the passage of the constitutional amendment
authorized -- but didn't require -- limiting marriage rights, unless the legislature
acted. The legislature adjourned on May 4 without doing so.
Still, at this point, Vermont seems a better bet. And GLAD's
Bonauto says that the way the Vermont Supreme Court justices approached the case during
oral arguments in November is grounds for some optimism. "They asked very penetrating
questions," she says. "They definitely had a sophisticated understanding of
contemporary reality." Bonauto ticks off a number of things that are
"encouraging" about Vermont: the state has no sodomy law; second-parent adoption
was recently codified by the legislature after a court decision; the state offers
domestic-partnership benefits for state employees. She also notes that after Hawaii's
Traditional Values Coalition sent letters in April to every household in Vermont urging
residents to "defend traditional marriage," the state's lieutenant governor, its
Speaker of the House, and one of its leading daily papers came out in favor of gay
"Compared to five or 10 years ago, on the issue of
marriage, look at the change!" says Lambda's Wolfson. "It is discussed at every
level of government. Every newspaper is writing something about it. The baseline has
shifted. It has moved from a dismissible oxymoron to a possible reality." As for
Vermont, he adds, "The court was engaged [at oral arguments]. The constitution is
strong. The climate is right."
Meanwhile, on Fridays, in Boston and Middlebury, Mary Bonauto
and Beth Robinson are waiting to find out just how right the climate really is.
Neil Miller wrote about the revamped Pride Committee for the
May issue. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Boston Phoenix / August 1999
panel backs insurance for domestic partners
According to an Associated Press story published in the
Journal Sentinal, a committee of the Madison city council endorsed a proposal to extend
benefits to domestic partners of city employees. The measure, which would apply to both
same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples, must be approved by the full city council in
the fall before it takes effect.
If the bill passes, Madison would be the first
municipality in the state to pay health insurance for domestic partners of city workers.
The council could debate the proposal in October.
According to the committee's preliminary estimate, the plan would cost $532,800 based on
the 148 domestic partners registered with the city. Of those couples, 100 were opposite
sex and 48 were same sex.
Ex Yields to S.F. On Benefits Law: Domestic partners to get some services
According to a report published in the San Francisco
Chronicle, Federal Express will now offer a few benefits to domestic partners of its
employees who work within the city limits of San Francisco. Bereavement leave and travel
discounts are about all that Fed Ex will offer its employees. The carrier has been
fighting the city in court over a provision in city law requiring companies that contract
with the city to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. Although the
litigation continues on appeal, Fed Ex will comply with the law, at least until a
definitive ruling is handed down by the appellate court.
study says that divorce reduces informal caregiving, economic ties between elderly parents
and their adult children
Divorce can negatively affect the parent-child
relationship even in the later part of life, weakening economic ties and reducing informal
caregiving, according to a new study which examined the effect of family structure on the
relationship between elderly parents and their adult children. The study found, for
example, that divorced elderly parents, particularly fathers, are less likely than are
widowed elderly parents to have adult children willing to provide them with informal care.
The study is entitled: "Parental Marital Disruption
and Intergenerational Transfers: An Analysis of Lone Elderly Parents and Their
Children," published in the August issue of Demography, Vol. 36(3), p. 287-297.
Tuesday, August 17, 1999
Texas County Asks State Atty
General for Opinion on Domestic Partner Registry
Couple registry studied
Request focuses on gay partners
By John Gutierrez-Mier
Express-News Staff Writer
Bexar County officials have asked the state attorney
generals office for an opinion on whether the county should do what only one other
county in Texas is doing: registering domestic partners.
Such an arrangement would allow unmarried couples, including
same-sex partnerships, to document their status for employers that offer workplace
benefits, including health insurance, to domestic partners, regardless of marital status.
Same-sex marriage is illegal in Texas, but a registry of
domestic partnerships has been in place in Travis County since 1993, officials said.
The legal implications of such a registry were sufficiently
murky to prompt Bexar County officials to seek clarification from the state when asked by
a local gay activist to put his "declaration of domestic partnership" on file.
Bexar County District Attorney Susan D. Reed wrote to Texas
Attorney General John Cornyn last month, asking whether County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff should
accept and file such declarations.
Michael McGowan, a member of the citys Log Cabin
Republicans and chairman of the board of directors of the Gay and Lesbian Center of San
Antonio, had asked Rickhoff to create the registry in June.
"Were hoping to bring dignity and affirmation to
homosexual couples across Bexar County," McGowan said Tuesday.
"The central issue here is that marriagelike
relationships already exist. All were asking for is legal justification."
The proposed filing would require a sworn statement from two
individuals who are unmarried but live together.
The document, McGowan said, would serve as a declaration that
the individuals share in each others lives in a committed relationship and are
responsible for each others financial responsibilities.
"In June, I was approached by Michael as to the
possibility of establishing a domestic partners registry," Rickhoff said. "I
knew about a similar program operating in Travis County, but I decided to seek additional
clarification on the issue."
Heather Browne, a spokeswoman with the attorney
generals office in Austin, said Reeds request is being reviewed.
Browne said the attorney generals office will issue
only a legal opinion, which doesnt have the same force as a judges ruling, and
a negative response would probably not directly affect Travis Countys registry.
"It wont be a binding legal document," Browne
said. "Its a clarification of law for the requester and shouldnt impact
Diane Hardy-Garcia, executive director of the Austin-based
Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said she would be surprised if the Texas Attorney
Generals Office offered a favorable opinion.
"The biggest question surrounding this issue is why
its necessary. It's essential because in addition to the emotional issues
surrounding one's relationship, this can be used to extend partnership benefits as
well," she said.
Currently, Travis County is the only county in Texas where
same-sex partners can file a declaration of domestic partnership.
The program was established in 1993 and filings are available
for a $9 fee, said Rosa Cardenas of the Travis County clerks office.
"When it was first established, we were very busy,
especially with people filing from other parts of the state," she said. "Right
now, we average about two to three couples per week who want to establish
McGowan said local, state and national governments are behind
the times when it comes to domestic partnership questions.
"More and more its private employers who are
taking the lead in dealing with these issues," said McGowan, who pointed to corporate
policies that treat employees partners like married spouses.
"Until marriage or domestic partnership is allowed for
same-sex couples, an element of dignity is denied too."
Some states have debated proposals to legalize same-sex
marriages, but none have become law. State court systems similarly have wrestled with the
After Hawaiis Supreme Court opened the door to
recognition of gay marriages, a 1996 federal law allowed states to ignore such unions
Vermonts Supreme Court considering whether to uphold a
1975 interpretation by that states attorney general that Vermonts constitution
forbids such marriages.
Percent of Unwed Births Increases in Hawaii
The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported that the percent of
births to unmarried mothers increased from 28.8 percent of all births to 30.1 percent.
However, the percent of births to unmarried teens declined.