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U.S. News Archive
October 25 - October 31, 1999





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





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Sunday, October 31, 1999

International religious conference to promote 'natural' family

A story published today in the Desert News reports that a World Congress of Families II will convene on November 14 in Geneva, Switzerland. Brigham Young University and the LDS Church's Relief Society are major players in the meeting.

The primary goal of the conference is to help formulate world policies that support the traditional family. Organizers hope to marshal broad-based support for such legislation by gathering a slew of influential religious, political and academic leaders from more than 100 nations to talk about moral issues and determine how to frame their arguments.

The interfaith gathering will include Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Jews and Orthodox Christians in nine plenary sessions and 24 breakout sessions discussing a variety of topics, including the "equal but complementary roles of men and women," "the depopulation crisis," "the meaning of marriage as a lifelong covenant," and "bioethical challenges to family well-being."

Organizers say they expect to draw 2,000 pro-family advocates from 500 organizations — including some 260 United Nations diplomats and national leaders.

The meetings, scheduled for Nov. 14-17, are the result of work by a 27-member international inter-faith committee that convened in Rome in 1998, following the United Nations' Habitat II Conference in 1996, where proposals they felt were hostile to the traditional family arose, according to Richard Wilkins, director of the World Family Policy Center at BYU.

Issues of concern to the World Congress include proposed legislation at the United Nations regarding such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia and mandated birth control — all of which the LDS Church, the Catholic Church and various other religiously affiliated groups oppose.

In preparation for the World Congress, the planning committee prepared a written statement, asking the United Nations to recognize the "natural family" and "to reject proposals that would undermine it as the fundamental institution of society," Wilkins said.

Children of divorced parents do not have higher rates of divorce as adults

The October issue of American Demographics contains an article discussing some new research about the consequences of divorce. When they become adults, the children of divorced parents have a higher rate of cohabitation than children of always-married parents. But they do not have a higher rate of divorce when they grow up.

The article says that children of divorced parents are less likely to end their own marriages today than their predecessors were back in the early 1970s. Before 1975, new research finds, people from divorced families were 2.5 times more likely to have dissolved their marriages than their counterparts from intact families. By 1996, the likelihood had slipped to just 1.4, says Nicholas Wolfinger, professor at the University of Utah and author of the 1999 study, "Coupling and Uncoupling: Changing Marriage Patterns and the Intergenerational Transmission of Divorce."

One explanation offered by the article, which Wolfinger confirms in his research, is that the negative effects of divorce on children are weakening. Divorce has become more socially acceptable in the past 20 years and no longer takes such a strong toll on children, he explains. Without such heavy emotional baggage, children of divorced parents are better equipped to succeed in their own marriages.

But the article suggests there's another factor at work: declining marriage rates among children of divorce. Wolfinger used data from the General Social Survey, a random sample of 22,000 individuals that's been conducted annually or biennially by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago since 1972. Respondents from divorced families in 1973 were 36 percent more likely to marry than those from always-married parents. By 1994, they were slightly less likely to marry. Maybe this reflects their declining faith in the institution of marriage.

If one looks closer at the results for various age groups, however, other patterns seem to emerge. According to the article, children of divorce who were younger than 20 years old had very high rates of marriage, both in 1973 and 1994. Children who were older than 20 followed a very different course-in 1973, they had the same marriage rates as their peers who grew up in two-parent households. In 1994, they were 26 percent less likely to get hitched than people from "intact" families.

Wolfinger also notes that demographic variables, such as educational attainment, race, gender, and presence of siblings, do not affect the relationship between parental divorce and getting married.

One reason for the decline in marriage rates is an increase in cohabitation, according to the research. Additional studies have shown that children of divorce are disproportionately likely to live with their partner-and less likely to ever marry them. "Divorce rates for people from divorced families and for people from intact families will never converge," Wolfinger says. "They'll come close, but most of the time, divorce will still be hard on kids."


Friday, October 29, 1999

Gay couples in New York City reporting more domestic violence

An Associated Press story published today in the Bergen Record reports that incidents of domestic violence involving gay couples in the New York City area increased nearly 25 percent in 1998 from the previous year. The story is based on a report released yesterday by the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

Diane Soto, the program's domestic violence program coordinator, said there were 506 reported incidents in 1998, up from 421 in 1997.

The report also showed that there has been some improvement in courtesy from local police handling the incidents. Forty-two percent of victims said police treated them respectfully.

"However, we remain concerned that 30 percent of our domestic violent clients who reported to the police said that the police treated them with indifference," said Richard Haymes, the anti-violence program's executive director.

"Additionally, the fact that 8 percent reported abuse of some kind from the police is unacceptable."

Lawsuit Challenges Policy That Restricts Adoptions by Unmarried Couples

A story published today in the Salt Lake Tribune reports that a child advocacy group is suing Utah over a controversial policy that bars gay and unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting foster children.

The provision was passed in January by the Utah State Board of Child and Family Services after contentious public debate.

"It denies the opportunity for some children to be considered for placement in a loving, nurturing home," said Roz McGee, president of Utah Children, which filed a lawsuit in 3rd District Court yesterday challenging the rule.

McGee also is threatening to challenge a proposed policy that would ban gay and unmarried couples from becoming foster parents.

Named in the lawsuit are the state Division of Child and Family Services and several officials within the Department of Human Services, including Scott Clark, chairman of the Child and Family Services Board.

As written, the law not only bars gay couples from adopting, but also heterosexual adults who happen to have roommates.

The rule states "adults present in the home [must be] legally related to the parents by blood or adoption or legal marriage."

The lawsuit contends that wording violates the Utah Constitution, which requires that laws and administrative rules be applied equally to all people.

"One of our concerns is that in these economic times there may be a single parent who is perfectly qualified to adopt but who has a roommate who does not meet those requirements," said McGee.

The lawsuit also states that the policy forces the state to violate its own law, which authorizes the adoption of any minor child by an adult person, subject only to a determination of whether the child's placement in a particular home is in the "the best interest of the child."

Judge transfers case on gay foster parents

A story published today in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that a judge in Arkansas has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state Department of Human Services' policy that bans gays and lesbians from being foster parents.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit April 6. Six Arkansans are named as plaintiffs: two gay couples, one lesbian woman and the father of an 18-year-old gay son.

New Jersey center gives hope, skills to newly widowed or divorced women

An article published today in the Bergen Record summarized the difficulty experienced by Donna Wirths after her husband died. Donna had spent most of her adult life raising four children.

With little experience, the 45-year-old Ringwood resident had few places to turn for employment -- an intimidating realization now that she had become the sole breadwinner for her family. So, she enrolled in free computer classes at the Wayne Counseling and Family Services Center.

The classes are part of a Women in Transition program designed for homemakers entering the work force for the first time after losing the financial support of a spouse due to divorce, death, or disability.

"Everyone here has similar backgrounds," Wirths said. "We have all been through a lot."

The article notes that a $90,000 grant from the state budget will help support the program this year. The money was recently presented to center officials by Governor Whitman.

During her visit, Whitman toured the Hamburg Turnpike facilities and spoke with the half-dozen women taking a computer class.

"Not only are they adding to the work force, which I love, but [the program] is giving them the tools to be successful themselves," Whitman said.

In addition to free computer training and workshops on interviewing skills and resume writing, the center offers counseling. And that sometimes is needed more than anything else.

"After a death or some traumatic event, there are always the questions: 'Where can I go? What can I do?'" said Thomas McArdle, the center's executive director. "You don't know the pain people go through until they come here. There are not too many programs that have something like this."

The article says that of the 123 women in the program last year, 24 got full-time jobs. More than 60 are completing their courses at the center. "We wish it were higher, but it's not that bad a statistic," McArdle said. "The jobs they compete for are not minimum-wage jobs. They are quality jobs."

As for Wirths, the article says that her time at the center is winding down. In a few weeks, she will complete the center's final computer course in spreadsheets.

She still has four months to go before earning a computer technician's certificate from Passaic County Community College and venturing into the job market.

"I'm looking forward to it," Wirths said. "Before this, I barely knew how to turn on a computer."


Thursday, October 28, 1999

Workaholism is a leading cause of divorce

A story filed today with Business Wire says that recent publicity over the split-up of radio personality Howard Stern's marriage has drawn attention to the detrimental effects of workaholism on marriage.

Dallas divorce lawyer Mike McCurley says it is one of the leading -- and most preventable -- causes of divorce in America. Stern announced this week that he and his wife of 21 years, Alison, are splitting up. In discussing the reasons behind their split during his Monday radio program, Stern attributed the marriage's demise to his being a workaholic.

McCurley, the immediate past-president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a veteran of hundreds of high-dollar divorces, says devotion to work doesn't need to cause a marital divide, but couples are usually unequipped to break the patterns of negative behavior they learn over several years in a marriage.

"Once one member of the couple becomes frustrated, and it's usually the woman, she is so tired of her husband's workaholism that she doesn't have the energy or the inclination to save the marriage," says McCurley, a name partner in Dallas' McCurley Kinser McCurley & Nelson. "It's unfortunate, because I've seen a lot of marriages fall apart that should have lasted 50 years."

Though men have historically been the offenders, McCurley says he is starting to see more women workaholics coming through his office.

"It's great that women have been able to rise to the level of men, in terms of success and earning power," says McCurley. "But it's unfortunate that they also seem to be falling prey to the negative byproducts of that success."

Early intervention is key, McCurley says, to preventing marital break-up due to workaholism.

"Even the first year of marriage isn't too soon to start recognizing and combatting workaholic behavior," he says. "Everybody has to work late once in a while, but when those late nights become every night, and every weekend is spent in the office, it starts to erode a marriage."

If couples can address those problems early in their marriage, they are less likely to end up in a marriage counselor's or, worse, a divorce lawyer's office, he says.

"Work will always be there, but a good marriage won't be if it isn't tended to," says McCurley. "And jobs don't keep anybody warm at night."


Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Most never-married voters oppose California anti-marriage ballot measure

An article published today in the San Jose Mercury News reports that opposition to the so-called "Definition of Marriage" initiative appears to be growing. The measure, which will appear on the March 2000 ballot, would clarify that the only marriages recognized as valid in California are those between one man and one woman.  The initiative was sponsored by Assemblyman Pete Knight.

A new Field Poll shows support for the initiative has dropped from 57 percent in August to 50 percent. At the same time, opposition has inched up, from 39 percent to 41 percent.

The poll surveyed 514 registered voters Oct. 8-17. The article notes that considerable media attention to the measure occurred shortly before the poll was taken. The media flurry was sparked by an editorial in the Los Angeles Times by Knight's gay son, David. In his October 14 article, David Knight criticized his father's position as "a blind, uncaring, uninformed, knee-jerk reaction to a subject about which he knows nothing, but which serves his political career.''

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, told the Mercury News that David Knight's article raised voter awareness of the measure, but DiCamillo also said he believes most voters have already taken sides.

"The question is how firm the sides are . . . and who will turn out,'' DiCamillo said. "Will the Democrats turn out because there is a competitive Democratic primary between (Vice President Al) Gore and (former New Jersey Sen. Bill) Bradley, or will the Republicans turn out because they've gotten behind the front-runner (Texas Gov. George W. Bush)?''

The survey shows the "Definition of Marriage'' supporters and opponents are divided sharply, depending on their marital status, political party and religious preferences, and whether they identify with gays and lesbians.

Likely GOP voters overwhelmingly favor the measure, 68 percent to 25 percent. Democrats oppose it, 51 percent to 39 percent, and those who decline to state a party or belong to a minority party oppose it, 53 percent to 38 percent.

More than half of the likely voters who are married or have been married support the initiative, while a much smaller group of likely voters who have never been married oppose it by a ratio of more than 2 to 1.

New Jersey's high court hears arguments in custody dispute between lesbian co-parents

An article published today in the Philadelphia Inquirer focuses on oral arguments which occurred yesterday before the New Jersey Supreme Court. The case involves a biological mother of twins who does not want her former lesbian partner to have visitation rights with the children. The biological mother became pregnant through artificial insemination and the two women lived together and served as coparents for two years before the separated.

A lower court judge sided with the biological mother, but an appeals court reversed that ruling and ordered visitation rights for the coparent. The Supreme Court must decide which ruling was correct.

When the biological mother got pregnant by artificial insemination, she and her lesbian partner went to Lamaze classes together. Upon the birth of twins, a boy and girl, the women bought a house together in Essex County for themselves and the children. The biological mother is called "Mommy" by the children. The other woman was listed as "the other mother" on pediatricians' forms and is called "Meema" by the twins.

For the first 23 months of the children's lives, attorneys for both women agree, the women and children lived together as a family. But the two women became separated and are now engaged in a bitter custody dispute.

Yesterday, the seven justices heard arguments as to whether the nonbiological, or "psychological," parent still has the right to see the children, now 5. The dispute has stirred deep-seated emotions within the gay and lesbian community.

Some have been critical of the biological parent, a Union County woman referred to only as M.J.B. in court documents, seeing her arguments as undermining the validity of a family in which the parents are lesbians.

"People are not happy with the idea that people would go into court and argue the insignificance of the relationship," said Wendy Berger, president of the New Brunswick-based New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition.

Attorneys for both sides were quick to argue that the sexual preference of their clients was not the issue. The same legal standards would apply in the case of a heterosexual relationship in which one adult was the biological parent and the other a psychological parent, they said.


Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Changing marital status on New Year's Eve may have tax consequences

An advice column by Sandra Block published today in USA Today discusses potential tax consequences of getting married or divorced at the end of the year. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts.

Block cautions people about the potential costs of start a life together by making wedding vows on the eve of the new millennium. But postponing your "I do's" until after midnight could shave thousands of dollars from your tax bill.

She explains that the Internal Revenue Service typically bases your taxes on your marital status at the end of the calendar year. If you're single on Dec. 31, you can file as a single person for 1999. But if you get married on New Year's Eve, the IRS will consider you married the entire year - and tax you accordingly. That can get expensive for couples subject to the marriage penalty, a wrinkle in the federal tax code that takes more taxes from working couples who make roughly the same salary. As Block explains, the penalty is triggered when the combination of your income and your spouse's vaults you into a higher tax bracket. The Treasury Department says 48% of joint filers will pay a marriage penalty averaging $1,141 per couple this year.

Then comes the issue of selling stock. If marriage will move you into a higher tax bracket, look for other ways to take advantage of your last year of singledom, says Joe Schwartz, an enrolled agent in Santa Rosa, Calif. Enrolled agents are licensed by the government to assist taxpayers with tax preparation and planning. Suppose you're thinking about selling some stock or mutual funds. If you're in the 15% tax bracket for the 1999 tax year, you'll pay only 10% in capital gains taxes on profits from your sale. If you get married and move into the 28% tax bracket, your capital gains taxes will jump to 20%.

How about the timing of a divorce? Divorcing couples also can take steps to reduce their taxes. The IRS views divorce the same way it views marriage: Your status Dec. 31 determines how you'll be taxed for the entire year. Even if you're separated, the IRS usually considers you married until the divorce decree is signed.

If you pay a marriage penalty, divorcing before the end of the year may reduce your 1999 tax bill. But if you and your spouse enjoy a marriage tax bonus - which typically occurs when one spouse makes a lot more money than the other - you may want to stay hitched until after the ball drops on Times Square. Treasury says 41% of couples will get an average "bonus" of $1,274.

Married couples have two options at tax time: filing a joint tax return or married filing separately. Typically, the latter results in higher taxes, so few couples choose it. But if you and your spouse are estranged, and not yet divorced, you may want to consider filing separate returns, Schwartz says.

When you file jointly, you're liable for your spouse's taxes, not a happy prospect if you're breaking up.

Denver judge rules that two lesbians are legal parents of unborn child

An article published today in the Denver Post reports that a Boulder judge has awarded full parental rights to two lesbian partners even though one of the women has no biological ties to the other's unborn child.

Boulder District Judge Roxanne Bailin ruled that both women may place their names on the child's birth certificate. The biological mother, identified as Anne G., will soon give birth and will then share parenting duties with her longtime partner, Jane K.

Bailin said in an interview that she based her ruling purely on Colorado law, which she said allows people who have no biological connection to a child to assume parental rights in certain circumstances. "This was not a political act,'' she said. "It was a purely legal interpretation.''

Anne G. and Jane K. are pseudonyms for the Boulder couple in the case, which is sealed and not available to the public. Anne G. got pregnant with sperm from an anonymous donor.

Denver attorney Emily Anderson, who represents Jane K., said the couple's daughter will now be eligible for inheritance rights, medical coverage and other privileges from both women.

"This ruling gives kids the access they deserve to the parents who raise them,'' Anderson said. "We've got to make sure we have these inroads in the law to keep up with (reproductive) technology.''

Boulder attorney Barbara Lavender, who represents Anne G., said the ruling assures that if one of the child's parents dies, the other will not risk losing custody.

"We are giving protection for the family unit, for their nuclear family,'' Lavender said. "Whether people like their style of family or not is irrelevant. This is the family they have. To me, that is family values.''


Monday, October 25, 1999

State vocational school adds housing for single parents with children

A story published today in the Kalamazoo Gazette reports that the Michigan Career and Technical Institute on Pine Lake has added 20 housing units intended for single parents.

The school's primary mission is to help students with disabilities overcome obstacles to career training. The school offers training in 13 trade programs, and most students are clients from Michigan Rehabilitation Services.

Patty Miller-Kramer, executive director of the Pine Lake Fund, a nonprofit agency designed to support the state vocational school, said the school's dorms have room for 350 students, but no children.

"The school is for people with disabilities," she said. "But, for years now, (there have been) people ... out there with kids who can't take advantage of this training unless they relocated in the community."

The new two and three-bedroom units, fully furnished, will change all that, starting with the next term, which begins in November.

Kramer said the Fund used $910,000 from a Community Development Block Grant as well as $750,000 from a Michigan State Housing Development Authority grants to build the new housing. The school paid for the furnishings.

One of the three buildings will house a day care center for use by students who have children. It can accommodate as many as 35 children, age two-and-a-half or older, Kramer said.

The two-bedroom units will rent for $300 a month, the three-bedroom units for $350 a month, and day care will cost $2.25 an hour, she said. Both housing and day care are only available to students at the center, she said.

Libertarians reaffirm policy favoring right of landlords to discriminate

The Libertarian Party issued a press release today reaffirming its longstanding position against anti-discrimination laws. The party supports the right of businesses to discriminate against anyone they choose, without government interference.

The press release uses housing discrimination against unmarried couples as an example. The following are excerpts from the party's press release.

* * *

A federal court should uphold the right of Americans to refuse to rent apartments to unmarried couples if such behavior violates a landlord's religious beliefs, the Libertarian Party said today.

"For many Americans, there is a higher power than government anti-discrimination laws - and it's the word of God," said Steve Dasbach, the party's national director. "Americans should never be put in the position of having to choose between the Bible and some government regulation."

Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a previous ruling that said laws against housing discrimination violated the religious freedom of two landlords in Anchorage, Alaska. The landlords had declined to rent to unmarried couples because they did not want to "facilitate the sin" of unwed people living together.

A new 11-judge panel will now hear the case, and decide whether sincere religious beliefs can exempt landlords from housing discrimination laws. No date has yet been set for the hearing.

Attorneys general from Alaska, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington support the new hearing, arguing that the government's interest in preventing "discrimination" trumps any personal religious beliefs.

The Libertarian Party disagrees, said Dasbach.

"Politicians should not have the right to force religious people to commit a sin in the name of government-mandated equality," he said. "In effect, the politicians are telling religious people: Your belief in the Bible doesn't matter. Your belief in the Ten Commandments doesn't matter. And that's the real discrimination here: Politicians are trying to place themselves above people's belief in God."

Besides, noted Dasbach, the government is also guilty of the crime of racial bias - since it proudly mandates discrimination via affirmative action programs, racially gerrymandered voting districts, quotas, minority business set-asides, and a host of other actions.

"Politicians seem to think that a belief in government-enforced equality is a proper reason to discriminate, while a belief in God is not," said Dasbach. "Apparently, politicians pray to a higher power - the power to force people to behave in government-approved ways."

"Ultimately, this isn't a matter of religious freedom, but economic freedom," he said. "It's a matter of recognizing that apartments are not government-owned commodities that politicians have a right to control and distribute. It's a matter of recognizing that in a free society, people have the right to make economic decisions based on whatever factors they choose - whether religious, financial, or personal - even if those decisions are politically unpopular."

Judge wants a unique divorce mediation program to expand throughout New Jersey

A story published today in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a local judge will ask the New Jersey Supreme Court to expand as statewide a local mediation program for divorcing parents, known as Kids Count.

In the program, children of divorcing parents get to tell their stories through diagrams and drawings.

Many are filled with frowning stick figures and crudely scrawled broken hearts. They tell a story about what divorce looks like through the eyes of a child.

The article gives an example one one such drawing. "Here's my mommy yelling at my daddy, and here's Daddy screaming at Mommy," said 6-year-old Brian, using a broken crayon as a pointer. "I'm right there in the middle, and I feel like saying, 'Be quiet.' "

Judge Joseph Testa of Cumberland County Superior Court has seen these types of drawings time and again from the hundreds of children who have passed through his Kids Count program, which gives children of divorce the chance to draw pictures and write letters to their parents describing how divorce makes them feel.

Tersta wants the New Jersey Supreme Court to make the program mandatory for divorce courts across the state.

"This is not designed for therapy," Testa said. "It's to focus the parents on the plight of their children."

Kids Count was developed two years ago by Testa and Family Court mediator Pamela Homan. The program is meant to help children navigate the rocky emotional terrain created by divorce and to remind parents what their children are going through.

"Along the way, you hope that you ease the pain of the child a little bit," Testa said. "They want to tell you so much, but they don't know how and can't."

As a reminder about the impact of divorce, Testa hangs the children's drawings on bulletin boards in his courtroom and throughout the Cumberland County Courthouse.

The story recounts how Parent Mark Vandzura saw the drawings for the first time this month when he and his ex-wife returned to Testa's courtroom to settle a change in the custody agreement for their 9-year-old son.

"I wish they would've had it when I was getting divorced," he said. "Just looking at the pictures on the wall is enough to make me think, 'What am I doing?' "

Last year, the program was expanded to include the children of unmarried couples locked in custody disputes.


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