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U.S. News Archive
August 16 - August 22, 1999

 

 

 
 

 

This page contains news for the period Sunday, August 16, 1999 through Sunday, August 22, 1999.


 

 

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Friday, August 20, 1999

Alaska Airlines to Expand Travel Benefits for Employees

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 and anticipation.

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 to eternity."

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 categories."

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 possible.

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 marriage.

"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 mrneily@aol.com.

The Boston Phoenix / August 1999

 

Madison 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.

Fed 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.

New 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 general’s 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 city’s 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.

"We’re 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 we’re 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 other’s lives in a committed relationship and are responsible for each other’s 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 general’s office in Austin, said Reed’s request is being reviewed.

Browne said the attorney general’s office will issue only a legal opinion, which doesn’t have the same force as a judge’s ruling, and a negative response would probably not directly affect Travis County’s registry.

"It won’t be a binding legal document," Browne said. "It’s a clarification of law for the requester and shouldn’t impact Travis County."

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 General’s Office offered a favorable opinion.

"The biggest question surrounding this issue is why it’s 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 clerk’s 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 partnerships."

McGowan said local, state and national governments are behind the times when it comes to domestic partnership questions.

"More and more it’s 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 issue.

After Hawaii’s Supreme Court opened the door to recognition of gay marriages, a 1996 federal law allowed states to ignore such unions licensed elsewhere.

Vermont’s Supreme Court considering whether to uphold a 1975 interpretation by that state’s attorney general that Vermont’s 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.

 

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