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U.S. News Archive
November 01 - November 07, 1999

 

 

 
 

 

This page contains news for the period Monday, November 01, 1999 through Sunday, November 07, 1999.

 

 

 

 

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Sunday, November 07, 1999

Changing family structures makes planning for the future difficult for home builders

A story published today in the Los Angeles Times says that typical American household is about to go the way of the woolly mammoth.

The story reports that a demographic trend that has huge implications for the housing industry and its customers, just half of all married couples have children under the age of 18 living under the same roof--and by 2010, the most dominant category of household will no longer be mom, dad and the kid. It will be "other."

With families coming in so many varieties, said economist Leanne Lachman, co-author of a new report on real estate demand during the next 30 years, builders will have to refine their products to reach their intended buyers. One-size-fits-all won't work anymore.

Take empty-nesters, for example. The number of households with children no longer living at home will "explode" in the next 10-15 years, but it's "unclear" whether they will remain in their homes or move to smaller houses--or even apartments.

"Couples without children are a real challenge," said Lachman, who is managing director of Land Lease Real Estate Investments in New York. "They will not be pigeon-holed."

She believes the majority will choose to "mature in place," but she thinks many will opt for not one new residence but two--one in the city, where they can enjoy their weekends, and another far out in the suburbs, where they can live quietly and safely during the week.

But the article points out that even then there's the question of whether they'll buy or rent, and in which location. If they decide to become tenants rather than owners in one location, the economist notes, there may not be enough product in the pipeline to satisfy the demand.

Households are already very diverse. Eight percent of all children under 18 live in the same household as a grandparent. Half the single men are 25 to 44, whereas half the women living alone are senior citizens. Fifteen percent of all families include an adult child still at home. Some 21 million adults--mostly males--still live with their parents.

But a decade from now, the article predicts these groupings will be even more distinct. Not only will the share of marrieds with kids continue to shrink, but the number of single-parent families will keep growing, as will the number of people who live alone. And by 2030, there will be no dominant age cohort--meaning there will be roughly the same number of people in every age bracket, from age 25 through age 70.

Therefore, the challenge that builders face is twofold: not only must they identify their target markets, they must find ways to satisfy the vastly different demands of each group. There are dozens of market niches, Lachman said.

There will be no stereotypical renter, and home buyers can't be labeled either. For builders, deciding on a target for their housing products is one thing. But it's far more difficult to figure out how to reach them.

You don't have to be a fortuneteller, she said. The key determinants of demand are already in place. The future market has been born, and we know a lot about it. The question is how lifestyles will affect choices.

The story says that one way builders have been addressing the housing market's growing diversity is customization. In many subdivisions throughout the land, for example, buyers are offered a wide array of options and upgrades.

Free dance lessons are part of Colorado programs promoting abstinence until marriage

An article published today in the Denver Post reports that in the age-old fight by grownups against teen sex, the adults have added a new twist: government swing dance lessons for the celibate.

As a reward to high school students who say no to sex - and then agree to teach their peers about the joy of abstinence - a federally financed education program in Longmont has been purchasing teens free instruction in the steps of the Big Band era. The same program also subsidizes tae kwon do lessons and a laser-tag session for teens who sign papers pledging to abstain from sex until they marry.

It's all part of a federally funded abstinence education program, which is spending $50 million a year nationally, and $544,383 a year for five years in Colorado, to discourage sex among young Americans.

The Colorado programs, which have used backcountry counseling camps, Zig Ziglar self-help books and games with colored beads to persuade students not to have sex, are controversial.

The article says that the Colorado Council of Black Nurses, one of nine state groups that received federal money for abstinence education, quit the program earlier this year after calling the plan "crazy'' and "unrealistic.'' Planned Parenthood calls it teaching "fear and shame instead of responsibility.''

About half of all American high school students have had sexual intercourse, according to a 1997 Youth Risk Behavior study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teenage pregnancy rates in the United States are twice as high as in Britain and Canada, and nine times as high as in Japan.

Though sex among unmarried U.S. teenagers has dropped slightly in recent years, it still is more common than in the 1970s, when only 29 percent of all teenage girls had lost their virginity, the federal government says.

Today, most Americans begin having sex about eight years before they marry, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive issues.

The article says that to receive federal money, abstinence education programs are required by Congress to meet eight standards.

One standard requires that a program "teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all schoolage children,'' and "teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have psychological and physical effects.''

The article says that supporters say it's cheaper for government to spend money on abstinence than teenage pregnancies. But critics are skeptical that an anti-sex message will work with modern teens.

"How many teenagers are going to believe instruction by Congress that sex outside of marriage will make you crazy and physically harm you?'' asked Katie Reinisch, spokeswoman for Colorado Planned Parenthood. "Our fear is that many of these programs are based on religion, not public health. People will be learning fear and shame instead of responsibility. They'll be taught that a wedding ring will protect more than a condom.''

The article does not mention where gays and lesbians fit into the picture. No state allows them to marry a same-sex partner. Are these programs telling them to abstain from sex for the rest of their lives? It also does not mention the fact that about 10 percent of the adult population will remain single throughout their lives. Apparently this reality is not factored into the federal program guidelines.

What is an abstinance program?

The article gives this legal definition of the federal government's $50 million-a-year abstinence education program: Abstinence education is an educational or motivational program which:

A. has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;

B. teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;

C. teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems;

D. teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;

E. teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;

F. teaches that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents and society;

G. teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances;

H. teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.

Are low-income, unwed dads 'deadbeat' or dead broke?

An Associated Press article published today by CNN News observes that for decades, they have been the scapegoats of America's welfare morass: young inner-city men who impregnate their girlfriends, then drift away while taxpayers foot the bills for single-mother families.

The article reports that in the current upheaval of welfare reform, however, these low-income, unwed fathers are getting a fresh look, in some cases accompanied by a trace of empathy.

"The stereotype is that these dads don't care," said Jose Adorno, program director at a New York City anti-poverty agency called STRIVE. "They do care. They're just scared."

According to the story, the reason for the new focus on "welfare dads" is simple -- and financially motivated. State and federal authorities are targeting them as a crucial source of financial support for the hundreds of thousands of single mothers being forced off welfare.

Poor unwed fathers who fail to pay child support have been traditionally branded as "deadbeat dads," incurring as much public scorn and judicial wrath as wealthier divorced men who shirk court-ordered support.

But the article notes that attitudes are beginning to shift, as some policymakers realize that tougher tactics to maximize child support drive many well-intentioned fathers underground. Social workers and researchers suggest many welfare dads want to support their kids but are unable to do so because they lack the necessary income.

The story says there is bipartisan backing in Congress for the proposed Fathers Count Act, which would provide $230 million for programs aimed at improving welfare dads' earning power and parenting skills.

"There's an increasing amount of sympathy for low-income fathers who are trying to do the right thing but are caught under a huge burden of debt," said Nick Gwyn, a Democratic staff member with the Human Resources subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"We're trying to acknowledge the fact that some parents aren't so much deadbeat as dead broke."

Although welfare rolls have been cut in half nationwide since 1994, about 3 million families remain on welfare. There are an estimated 1 million fathers of welfare children -- most of them black or Hispanic -- with low income and education levels limiting their ability to pay support.

Few programs have been directed at these men, but "fatherhood programs" are now sprouting nationwide at agencies like STRIVE. Adorno doesn't minimize the challenges his clients face.

Some conservative groups oppose any government support for unwed fathers, arguing that such programs demean marriage.

But the National Conference of State Legislatures, which generally seeks bipartisan approaches to divisive problems, issued a report this year asserting that many unwed fathers deserve help in supporting their children.

"Some conservative legislators really had their eyes opened," says Dana Reichart, the report's author. "Once they read it, the light bulb goes on: 'We can't apply this rubber-stamp, one-size-fits-all approach."'

"The child-support system was designed for middle-class families," Reichart says. "It was never designed to meet the needs of welfare families, especially with welfare reform and parents being asked to go to work."

The article says that programs surfacing across the country go beyond traditional job-training. STRIVE and other agencies offer "team parenting" courses, teaching unmarried mothers and fathers how to cooperate for the sake of their children.

"We're not trying to walk anyone down the aisle," Adorno says. "If that happens, great. But what we're after is to get people to work toward a common goal, and that's the sustenance of the child."

Ronald Mincy, a Ford Foundation official, oversees a multimillion-dollar initiative called Partners for Fragile Families that seeks to turn unwed fathers into responsible parents. He is excited by some recent studies indicating welfare dads are more involved with their children than generally believed.

"The notion that mothers are raising these kids alone is just not being supported by the data," Mincy says. He cites one study suggesting fathers in 62 percent of welfare families lived with the mother or visited weekly.

Elaine Sorensen of the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., says the current system can be punitive, often forcing poor fathers to pay a larger share of their income in child support than higher-income fathers.

Unpaid support can mushroom into unmanageable debt, says Sorensen. She suggests that courts consider an amnesty on arrears as long as poor fathers take jobs that enable them to meet current obligations.

Mincy and Reichart told the Associated Press that the time is ripe for major initiatives aimed at these welfare dads. An estimated $7 billion remains in unspent funding for welfare reform.

Texas Archbishop promotes agencies that ease problems of single-parent families

An article published today in the San Antonio News-Express reports that Archbishop Patrick Flores hopes to bring struggling single parents in touch with a variety of local agencies that can help them through family crises.

The archbishop has been circulating flyers inviting them to participate in a day of prayer, sharing, discussion, reconciliation and material support.

"Very often, when people come here looking for assistance to pay their medical bills or other kinds of help, I ask them if they've been to some of these agencies," Flores said.

"Many times they haven't because they didn't know these agencies have help available," he said. "During the past two months, I've been meeting with leaders of 26 agencies that do various things for single parents.

"They do very good work, but often only a few single parents know about them."

About two dozen agencies will sponsor booths at the event.

Flores said many single parents ask him for money to pay for medical prescriptions or buy food. If they need food, he gives them vouchers provided by H-E-B. If they need medicine, he often refers them to free clinics where they can get prescriptions filled and pay only what they can afford.

Many single parents feel abandoned even by churches, Flores said. "If anyone needs us, it's single parents."

 

Saturday, November 06, 1999

Financial advice for a soon-to-be single mother who is going through a divorce

An article published today in the Fort Worth Star Telegram summarizes the advice given by a financial planner to Lori Stout as she ends her marriage and takes care of her 11-year-old son. To Lori, the details, such as bills and budgets, seem overwhelming.

Her question now, after her separation, is how to do it on one income while saving for retirement and her son's education.

Expect a struggle, cautions E. Kim Dignum, a Fort Worth financial planner.

"You have to do something pretty major to change things," Dignum told her. "You actually have a negative cash flow. That's why the credit card balances are going up. We're pedaling but we're not getting as far as we should."

Stout needs to raise the issue of college expenses in her pending divorce proceedings, Dignum said. For now at least, debt reduction and saving should take priority over college or retirement savings, she added.

Dignum also offered tips on budgeting scarce resources. The planner was herself a single parent raising two children alone for eight years before remarrying.

"We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but some of our best memories are of that time," Dignum said.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram introduced Stout and Dignum to each other for the newspaper's occasional series on common problems in family finance.

The article says that 28 percent of American children lived with a single parent in 1998, up from 12 percent in 1970. Single moms head most of those households; they represent the single largest group responding to this series to date.

Starting over will not be easy, as Stout can attest. Her mortgage payment is too big to handle comfortably on one paycheck. But if she sold her Bedford home, she isn't sure where she would move. Her family lives in Michigan.

Go slowly, Dignum counseled her. "You're in an emotional situation. You really shouldn't make the big decisions right away. They can wait."

But Stout shouldn't wait to reduce her spending. Dignum told her to cut back now with the understanding that she can ease up a bit if she sells her house.

The first step in trimming expenses and making a budget is to track household spending, Dignum said. Once you see where your money is going, you just start to put in some automatic restraints," she said.

As Stout frees up money each month, she should divide it into two piles, Dignum said.

First, she should repay debts, Dignum said. Stout borrowed from her 401(k) plan and is repaying the loans through payroll deduction -- another drag on her monthly cash flow. Stout also uses credit cards, but sparingly, to make ends meet. "I'm scared I'm going to wind up owing a lot," she said.

The other pile should go to building an emergency cash reserve, Dignum said, telling Stout she should have at least three months' expenses set aside.

"God forbid anything happens and you need money because the 401(k) is the only place you have to go," Dignum said.

Because Stout may need the money in her retirement account at any time, the planner recommended that she keep 40 percent of it invested in a money-market mutual fund. That way she wouldn't have to sell stock at a loss if she needed money during a bad stretch in the stock market.

Don't worry about retirement, Dignum told her. At age 35, Stout has plenty of time to fund retirement accounts. Her savings pace isn't too far off the mark.

College saving is out, too, with little time in the next seven years to make up the difference.

"You might put in the consent decree that each of you is responsible for half of your son's education," Dignum said.

"You're in a transition period," Dignum said. "The important thing is to do your homework. You don't want to jump into this and jump into that."

The article says that Stout likes the notion of choices. "It really helps to know that, in the long run, a lot of these things I have control over."

Gay men are victims of domestic violence

An article published today in the Seattle Gay News reports that domestic violence in Gay male couples is an enormous but silent problem in the United States.

Experts on same-sex domestic violence have estimated that there are currently more than 500,000 battered gay men in this country. Estimates of the prevalence of same-sex domestic violence in general appear to range anywhere from 10 to 33 percent, which is roughly the same as the prevalence among heterosexual couples.

The article says that social service agencies in larger cities have responded by making repeated and enthusiastic attempts to educate the general public, and provide safety and treatment for victims, as well as treatment for perpetrators. But although prevalence of gay domestic violence remains high, attendance at the male victim support groups remains chronically low.

The article lists a variety of problems which contribute to this result, including attitudes in the community, forces working upon the victim, and efforts by the male perpetrator.

First, the very existence of gay male domestic violence is denied or negated by two cultural myths: (a) That domestic violence is always about the sociopolitics of sexism, and (b) that same-sex relationships are innately egalitarian, and therefore, naturally peaceful. The former, prevalent in straight culture as a by-product of feminist theory, encourages us to conclude that, since it's not about gender (obviously), then it can't be domestic violence. The latter myth encourages us to deny the existence of same-sex violence because it contradicts our secret hope that same-sex relationships are ultimately superior to heterosexual ones. Related misconceptions, both in the gay and straight cultures, include: Only straight men are violent, men can't be victims, boys will be boys, and it's just S&M, or rough play between equals.

According to the article, these myths make it easy for individuals to overlook the problem. At the community level, in turn, there is little motivation to create and maintain a man in his partnership to speak

out. As well, policies aren't adapted specifically to the problem; heterosexual domestic violence laws, for example, are awkwardly applied to same-sex situations. A devastating consequence of this can be that gay male victims will need to receive greater injuries than heterosexual victims before an arrest of the perpetrator is made.

The article says that a nonsexist, non-gender-based definition of domestic violence is a pattern of assaultive or coercive behavior, including physical, sexual and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use to control their intimate partners. Such behaviors by the perpetrator comprise the forces bearing down upon the victim which serve to keep him from speaking out.

According to the story, the cycle of domestic violence is the same in gay male and heterosexual couples, and includes three distinct phases:

(1) First, there is a transition from the initial blissful honeymoon period to a buildup of tension. During this phase, minor battering incidents may occur, which the perpetrator blames on external factors, such as the victim's behaviors, feelings, thoughts, etc. The victim, in turn, attempts to calm the perpetrator with various tehniques, including nurturing and submissive behavior, which appear to work initially. This usually causes the victim to conclude: Gee ... maybe it was really me, or maybe I am to blame, which the perpetrator overtly and covertly reinforces.

(2) Eventually, however, the tension breaks into a severe, acute battering incident that can last hours or days, and result in damage to property, or serious injury, or even death, to the victim. During this phase, the batterer is highly charged with emotion, and may appear to be completely out of control. However, this reign of terror is generally calculated, and is used to further extend power and control over the victim, who is now just hoping to survive.

(3) Inevitably, the perpetrator's physical and emotional energy is spent, and the crisis ends, leaving both parties relieved.

The article says that subsequently, especially earlier on in the relationship, the batterer will be remorseful about the abuse, and ask for forgiveness. Many batterers promise never to abuse again, and may actually mean it at the time. But the tension starts all over again.

The article concludes by warning that breaking free from a Gay male domestic violence relationship can be a terrifying experience and that staying free from one can be no less of a challenge.

Friday, November 05, 1999

Court must decide fate of frozen embryos in post-divorce dispute

A story published today in the Christian Science Monitor reports that the Massachusetts Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a case in which a woman wants to be implanted with frozen embryos despite the fact that she is now divorced from the man who had fertilized the egg while they were married.

At one point when they were married, they both wanted to be parents. After a number of unsuccessful treatments for infertility, the couple moved to Massachusetts, attracted by clinics that offered advanced procedures. Finally, through in vitro fertilization, they welcomed twin daughters into the world.

Some years later, their marriage ended and they went separate ways. Left at the fork in the road was a vial with four frozen embryos.

Massachusetts' highest court now must decide whether the woman can have the embryos implanted despite objections by her ex-husband. The court has some pretty serious questions to resolve. Is a contract enforceable when circumstances change radically and the contract's subject is creating children? How should the interests of the mother or father be weighed? Are embryos property, people, or something in between?

"The whole field is a little bit like the Wild West, with kind of a free-wheeling market, very little ethical oversight, very little regulatory oversight," says Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, based in Philadelphia.

Up to now, legislatures in the United States and the fertility industry itself have allowed couples and clinics to enter into contracts, then let courts work out disputes that arise.

The Massachusetts couple signed a number of forms, including provisions written in by the wife that she could use frozen embryos in the event of their separation. But a lower court judge who blocked the woman from doing so said that circumstances had changed since the forms were signed - most notably because of the birth of their twins and their divorce proceedings.

The judge said it would be unfair to impose on the man the emotional and financial responsibility of another child. He added that the woman, identified in court papers only as B.Z., had other options for raising additional children, such as adoption.

But her lawyer argues that after undergoing years of intrusive procedures to have her eggs harvested, and after the couple agreed on paper what would happen if circumstances changed, Mrs. Z has a right to now attempt another pregnancy.

Only a few states have relevant statutes for cases such as these. Florida, for example, requires written agreements for disposition of embryos in the event of death or divorce. But New York is the only one in which a task force has studied assisted-reproduction issues and made a wide-ranging set of recommendations.

The report was issued in 1998, the same year the state's high court ruled on a dispute between Maureen and Steven Kass. In that case, the court upheld the couple's contract, which said their frozen embryos would be donated for research if the couple divorced. She had later changed her mind and wanted to have them implanted.

But in a 1992 Tennessee case, Davis v. Davis, the high court found that there was no valid contract. The woman wanted to donate frozen embryos to a childless couple, but the court ruled in favor of the man, saying he shouldn't be forced to become a biological father.

"The right to have a child and the right to choose not to have a child, both of those are aspects of the right to privacy and the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment," says Sarah Wunsch of the Massachusetts American Civil Liberties Union. "Because we're talking about embryos that haven't been implanted, [the woman and the man] are equal."

A judicial consensus on use of frozen embryos by divorced couples is slowly emerging

An article published today in the San Jose Mercury News focuses on a case pending in the highest court in Massachusetts where the court must demonstrate the wisdom of King Solomon:

Who, by rights, controlled the frozen vial containing four specks of embryonic cells? The 44-year-old mother, known in court papers only as B.Z., who wanted to try to become pregnant with them? Or the father, A.Z., her ex-husband, who does not want to have more children with her?

The case of A.Z. vs. B.Z., is a first for the Massachusetts Supreme Court. But, as the article points out, such cases are becoming more common nationwide, leading to the initial makings of a legal consensus on such charged questions as whether, say, a woman's constitutional right to have children is greater than her now-unwilling ex-husband's constitutional right not to be forced to beget them.

The article reports that in the past year similar courtroom disputes have occurred in Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Alabama and New Jersey. Each had its own wrinkle, but all hinged on control of embryos that were created to help infertile couples with in-vitro fertilization procedures, frozen for later use and then overtaken by divorce.

"It's understandable, since we have 150,000 or more embryos frozen, that couples' circumstances change and a divorce results, and there's a battle over the embryos,'' said Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law and author of ``The Clone Age.''

Legal experts say a consensus of sorts seems to be emerging, though it is non-binding and has arisen among state courts that watch each other's decisions as they make their own.

At least two precedents have emerged, legal specialists say: that embryos are considered neither children nor property, but rather a "special entity'' with the potential for life. And that whenever possible, the agreement a couple signs with an infertility clinic about what to do with their embryos if the couple divorce or die should be considered a contract.

"There are too few cases to call it a consensus, but there does seem to be a consistency among the few high state courts that have considered it that those two principles should govern,'' said Susan L. Crockin, a Massachusetts lawyer specializing in reproductive technology.

The article says that Crockin would add a third area of agreement: that the special rights that abortion law gives a woman over the embryo growing in her body do not apply when the embryo is in a freezer, so the father and mother should have equal rights over what is done with it.

State courts have ruled that those equal rights can shift, if the embryos seem be a potential parent's only chance to have biological children.

Professor John A. Robertson of the University of Texas, a leading authority on such cases, recently wrote, "The party wishing to discard wins, unless there is no other way for the party seeking implantation to reproduce.''

 

Thursday, November 04, 1999

Wisconsin to use federal funds to strengthen religiously-performed marriages

An article published today in the Milwaukee Journal reports that the State of Wisconsin has earmarked $210,000 in federal funds to hire what may be the nation's first government-paid "Mr. or Ms. Marriage Saver."

Since divorces in Wisconsin hovering above 17,000 a year, legislators are hoping that the new position can use can use the combined weight of church and state to pull the numbers down.

The job description calls for the new employee to share information and help members of the clergy develop voluntary marriage policies in communities that want them. Couples would have to meet certain requirements - such as premarital counseling sessions over several months - before participating clergy would allow them to marry in religious ceremonies. Follow-up counseling also could be required.

The position is identified in the budget as a community marriage policy coordinator. The effort is expected to be modeled after the private Marriage Savers movement that was started nationally by author and columnist Michael McManus, said Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield), who sponsored the new position as a line item in the budget bill.

McManus held a workshop for legislators and spoke to the Assembly early this year at Jensen's invitation.

"The State of Wisconsin spends hundreds of millions of dollars dealing with the fallout from broken families, and it seems to make sense to me that we ought to invest a little up front in trying to strengthen marriages," Jensen said.

Asked whether the budget item raised questions of church-state separation, Jensen told reporters: "It went through with surprisingly little controversy. It's based on secular authority to declare someone husband and wife before the law rather than spiritual authority to declare someone husband and wife before God. They've attempted to include everyone with marrying authority - be it Christian churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim temples.

What Jensen did not mention, nor did the news article, is that nonprofit organizations which are not religious in nature may not solemnize marriages. The only private groups which can perform marriage ceremonies in Wisconsin are religious organizations. As a result, the new coordinator will spend all of his or her time working solely with religious leaders who perform religious marriage ceremonies.

The article says that the program caught the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation off guard.

"This is not the business of the state, and I think that it is a travesty to sneak things into the state budget that affect policy and public money without any public hearing or debate . . . especially when it's a constitutional issue," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, a spokeswoman for the foundation, which describes itself as a national association of freethinkers working for separation of church and state.

Gaylor, who heard McManus speak to legislators, described the Marriage Savers movement as explicitly religious.

Steve Baas, Jensen's press secretary, said the money to hire a coordinator and operate the program was taken from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money, which can be used to supplement state programs that give economic help to families or try to strengthen families in other ways.

Christopher Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said that neither the clergy nor couples need the state to offer this assistance. If the state wants to promote civil marriage, it can do so through the tax code or other means, he added.

"Depending on how it's carried out, there are many legal questions it raises," Ahmuty said.

"This proposal really has the potential for putting the state in the business of pressing failed marriages to continue, perhaps even when abuse or domestic violence occur," added Ahmuty, who questioned claims about the Marriage Savers program.

Poll says support for same-sex marriage growing in Vermont

An Associated Press story published today reports that a although a majority of Vermonters still opposes same-sex marriage, a new poll suggests that opposition is falling.

The poll found that 47 percent of people surveyed said they disapproved allowing couples of the same gender to marry in Vermont and 40 percent said they approved such marriages.

The poll of 621 registered voters, conducted by telephone Oct. 29-31, was sponsored by the Rutland Herald, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and WCAX-TV. The poll had a margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The latest poll shows a change from just a year ago. In a poll done for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus in August 1998, voters were asked if they thought same-sex marriages should be recognized in Vermont.

At that time, the response was nearly 2-1 against same-sex marriage. Fifty-eight percent said such marriages should not be recognized and 30 percent said they should.

A lawsuit is pending in the Vermont Supreme Court in which several same-sex couples are seeking the right to marry. The court could issue its ruling at any time.

84% in international poll support traditional marriage

An article published today in the Desert News reports that despite the efforts of same-sex marriage advocates to legalize same-sex marriages, results of a new worldwide poll show that 84 percent of adults believe that the definition of marriage should be limited to "one man and one woman."

The survey, released today by Wirthlin Worldwide to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., also shows that 78 percent of respondents agree that "a family created through lawful marriage is the fundamental unit of society."

The study of 2,893 respondents, conducted in September and October for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society in Rockford, Ill., surveyed attitudes in the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

The story does not report what percentage of the respondents were from each nation or region or how many respondents were from the United States. The results from the American portion of the survey were not reported separately. As a result, it is difficult to determine the significance of the poll for public policy in the United States.

 

Wednesday, November 03, 1999

Newspaper runs editorial on unmarried couple adoption ban in Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune published an editorial today calling on the state Division of Child and Family Services to repeal its new policy forbidding unmarried couples to adopt children in Utah. Here are some excerpts from the editorial:

The last time the state's child welfare agency got sued by an independent advocacy organization, its operation was found to be terribly deficient and the state wound up pouring millions of dollars into repairing it. This time, the state agency is in the wrong again, and it should correct the problem that has invited the latest litigation against it.

"This time" refers to a lawsuit filed Thursday in 3rd District Court by Utah Children, a Salt Lake City-based child-advocacy organization, against the state's Division of Child and Family Services, or, more specifically, the board that sets its policy. The aim of the lawsuit is absolutely justifiable: to overturn a policy set by the board this year that bars the adoption of Utah foster children by homosexual or unmarried heterosexual couples.

Obviously, this case is not of the magnitude of the landmark lawsuit filed against DCFS in 1993 by the San Francisco-based National Center for Youth Law, which brought about major changes in Utah's child-welfare system. But Utah Children, as a respected local organization, perhaps had more risks to consider in filing its lawsuit; ultimately, though, it is not making a political statement on gay rights as much as it is taking a principled stand for children's rights.

Utah Children is contending that, in an environment of heightened state awareness of child abuse and thus more children entering the child-welfare system, it is counterproductive to limit the pool of potential adoptive parents. It has been difficult enough for the state, even with an active push from Gov. Leavitt, to recruit foster and adoptive families; it makes little sense to limit that pool of families in such an arbitrary manner.

The only explanation for this rule is the institutionalization of anti-gay bias; it serves no other purpose. The policy needs to be reversed, and if DCFS had any sense of its own sorry history in court, it would do the reversing itself.

Peru Bishops criticize bill to make divorce easier for abandoned spouses

A story published today by EWTN Catholic World news reports that Archbishop-Emeritus Ricardo Durand Florez of Callao joined his voice to those of several bishops in Peru criticizing a new legislative bill that would make a divorce easier to obtain for some couples.

Archbishop Durand said the bill, which grants unilateral separation as a cause for a legal divorce, is "barbaric." Together with abortion, he remarked, they both attack human life and family unity.

"It is illogical. The separation of families cannot be promoted. Therefore this law must not be approved," declared Archbishop Durand. He stated as well that the bill also violates Peru's Constitution, which protects the family as the basic cell of society.

The Peruvian Bishop's Conference (CEP) also sent an official statement to Congress, criticizing "de facto" separation as a cause for divorce. The document urged careful consideration to determine if this measure truly helps Peruvian society. The bishop's conference statement said that the bill in discussion would encourage immature couples, for it opens the possibility of divorce from the beginning.

"Many countries have put into their legislatures separation as cause for divorce. Has this been of any help? Divorce rates grow and the number of children that have no or very weak family ties also increase," stated the document.

 

Tuesday, November 02, 1999

No marital status discrimination in proposed tax rebate in Wisconsin

An article published today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the Wisconsin Assembly has voted to send tax refund checks to all income taxpayers in the state. The average refund will be $286 which lawmakers hope taxpayers will receive in time for Christmas shopping.

The Assembly vote sent the rebate, which Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson gave the Legislature until Nov. 11 to pass, to the state Senate. Senate leaders were considering when the Legislature's budget committee could hold a public hearing on the popular plan.

Checks for married couples who file joint tax returns would be between $368 and $546. For single taxpayers, the range would $188 to $273. The Assembly voted unanimously to adjust amounts of average rebate checks so no two unmarried taxpayers living together will cash checks that total more than two taxpayers who are married and living together.

The one-time rebate would replace the property tax/rent credit claimed by 1.8 million taxpayers when they file income taxes every April. The Assembly voted, 94-3, to restore the credit in April 2002, which would force the next Legislature to find $500 million to pay for it.

Although Democratic leaders who run the Senate were still cool to the check-in-the-mail plan Tuesday, the overwhelming Assembly vote for it made it much harder - and maybe impossible - for the Senate to kill.

 

Monday, November 01, 1999

Auto insurance rates reduced more for married than unmarried drivers in Ohio

A story filed today with PR Newswire reports that most Ohio drivers insured by Erie Insurance will see a reduction in their private passenger auto insurance premiums. But the amount of reduction for a driver will depend on his or her marital status.

Vehicles that have a "rated" or assigned driver who is married and between ages 45 to 49 and 65 to 69 will receive a 7.5 percent decrease on select coverages. Married, rated drivers ages 50 to 64 will receive a 15 percent reduction on select coverages. Unmarried rated drivers ages 45 to 64 will see a five percent rate reduction.

 

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