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U.S. News Archive
December 06 - December 12, 1999





This page contains news for the period Monday, December 06, 1999 through Sunday, December 12, 1999.





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Friday, December 10, 1999

Broader rules in Tennessee will consider more single parents for adoption

A story published today by ABC Newswire reports that the State of Tennessee has decided to relax its adoption rules so more children can find permanent homes.

A new initiative will allow the state to pay the Special Needs Adoption Program or SNAP nine-thousand dollars for every child under 12 placed into adoption. The state will also pay eleven-thousand dollars for children 12 and older. Single parents will be considered more as will parents who have a fixed or low income.

Supreme Court rules that gay couples can't get legally married in Hawaii

An article published today in the Honolulu Advertiser and a release by the Associated Press both report that the historic eight-year court bid to make Hawaii the first state to legalize same-sex marriages ended yesterday when the Hawaii Supreme Court unanimously upheld state marriage laws.

The Advertiser story notes, however, that same-sex marriage advocates believe that the question of whether unmarried same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married couples remains unresolved.

In an order filed yesterday, the justices said the lawsuit seeking to legalize same-sex marriages was "moot" because the voters passed a constitutional amendment last year authorizing state lawmakers to reserve marriages to opposite-sex couples. The court concluded that the amendment had validated Hawaii’s marriage statutes.

The stories says that the court reversed Circuit Judge Kevin Chang’s 1996 decision — the first in the country — in favor of three same-sex couples who argued that the marriage laws violated the state constitution’s equal protection provisions.

According to the Advertiser, Deputy Attorney General Dorothy Sellers said the high court’s decision means "there’s not going to be same-sex marriages in Hawaii because this is the final decision by the Supreme Court, and the case is over."

Dan Foley, a Honolulu attorney who represented the three same-sex couples who were plaintiffs in the case said that yesterday’s decision leaves many questions unanswered.

"But it is clear that the case for same-sex marriage in Hawaii is over," Foley said. "My reading of the ruling is that except for a marriage license, it is still unconstitutional in Hawaii to deny a right or a benefit to a same-sex couple if mixed sex couples receive those rights or benefits.

"Every time a same-sex couple is denied a right or benefit granted to a married couple there will be a lawsuit," Foley said.

Foley said he may file to ask the high court to clarify portions of its ruling, but has no plans to file an appeal in federal court.

Chief Justice Ronald Moon and associate justices Steven Levinson and Paula Nakayama and substitute justice James Burns signed the four-page decision. Associate Justice Mario Ramil agreed in a concurring opinion.

Levinson authored the landmark 1993 high court ruling that triggered bitter debates from Hawaii’s Capitol all the way to Congress and across the country.

Levinson wrote that a same-sex marriage ban violates the Hawaii constitution’s equal rights protections by denying marriage based on gender and must be declared void unless the state can justify it with a "compelling state interest." The court sent the case back for trial on that issue.

That led to the nonjury trial before Judge Chang during which the state argued that the ban is justified for the sake of children who would be better off raised by their biological parents.

But Chang ruled that the state didn’t prove its case and that gay men and lesbians can be fit parents.

He ruled that the state could not withhold a marriage license to the three same-sex couples, but held off enforcement of his decision pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Advertiser observed that same-sex marriage supporters likened Chang’s decision with the landmark case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that outlawed segregation.

But the Hawaii case also resulted in other states passing laws refusing to recognize gay marriages and in Congress passing a federal law that allows states to ignore same-sex marriages from other states.

Hawaii’s case also attracted a range of same-sex marriage proponents and opponents who submitted legal briefs to the high court.

But the most significant development turned out to be the adoption of the constitutional amendment in the 1998 general election, following an expensive and intense campaign by both sides over same-sex marriages.

The amendment passed by more than a 2-to-1 margin — 285,000 votes in favor and 127,000 against.

"The passage of the marriage amendment placed (Hawaii laws banning same-sex marriages) on new footing," the high court’s majority said yesterday. "The new marriage amendment validated (the laws) by taking the statute out of the ambit of the equal protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution.... Accordingly, whether or not in the past it was violative of the equal protection clause … (the law) no longer is."

Foley saw at least one reason for optimism for his clients’ position in that four justices defended the court’s 1993 decision.

"The law of the land, as I read it, is that same-sex couples are not entitled to a marriage license, but if they are denied a right or a benefit granted to married couples, the state has to demonstrate a very compelling reason to do so," Foley said.

Social security report predicts that older never-married women will be at high risk for poverty

A story published today in Business Week notes that as Americans are living longer, Social Security's financial imbalances are likely to worsen along with the gains in life expectancy, especially for women and even more so for women who have never married.

That's the striking conclusion of a recent report from the Social Security Advisory Board, a blue-chip panel of economists, demographers, and actuaries that counsels the Social Security Administration.

The reason lies in the interaction of demographics, culture, and social change with the Social Security system. Social Security is the main lifetime income benefit for many people. And women tend to live longer than men. The Census Bureau's current intermediate forecast predicts that women who reach the age of 65 in 2000, 2010, and 2020 will live to be 84.5, 85, and 86.2 years of age, respectively. For men, the comparable figures are 80.9, 81.8, and 83.5 years of age.

The story observes that Social Security benefits depend on the 35 highest years of earnings. But women are the nation's primary caregivers, taking time out from market-based work to care for children, aging parents, relatives, and disabled husbands. So there will be years when many women have zero earnings, and they will continue to have fewer years of earnings and lower overall earnings than men.

What's more, the story says, is that women are increasingly likely to be unmarried. For instance, the percentage of women currently divorced has risen from 2.54 in 1970 to 8.16 in 1997.

Social Security's complex payout rules are based on the model of the traditional one-earner family, where dad works and mom stays at home. But an Ozzie-and-Harriet family is far less common today than when the Social Security system was put in place several decades ago. The nation's primary safety net for the elderly hasn't adjusted to a world of two-income couples, let alone a large population of elderly divorced and never-married women.

Although many women are better off today than in previous eras, despite the dramatic labor-market improvements, the specter of poverty remains all too real. The story says that in 1991, 12% of elderly women lived below the poverty line. After taking into account projected changes in women's earnings, pensions, and marital status, the poverty rate of older women receiving Social Security benefits in 2020 could still be 12%, says Timothy Smeeding, professor of public policy at Syracuse University.

What will shift is the mix of women who are at greater risk of falling into poverty. The rate will drop slightly for married women. It will decline for divorced and widowed women, too, although it will stay at a high level. But the poverty rate among never-married women will soar. "These results suggest that many of tomorrow's female Social Security recipients will be no better off than today's, and that poverty and insecurity will be as much a problem of older women in 2020 as in 1991 or 1999," Smeeding notes in Social Security Reform: Improving Benefit Adequacy and Economic Security for Women.

The story says that Smeeding offers some partial solutions. One is directed solely at divorced men and women. Under current Social Security rules, a woman who divorces her employed husband before 10 years of marriage (actually, it's 9 years, 11 months, and 27 days of marriage for actuarial purposes) doesn't share in her spouse's Social Security benefits. The same is true for men. Smeeding recommends instituting earnings or benefits sharing for the early marriage years as well. Eugene Stuerle, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, agrees: "Such a system would approximately prorate benefits of either spouse according to the share of a normal working life that they spent together."

Policymakers should at least try to take into account changing family circumstances. "We may soon undertake a significant reform of Social Security, one that could shift around trillions of dollars in future benefits, yet these family issues have been given little consideration in the debate to date," the Urban Institute's Stuerle testified before Congress earlier this year. Women are more dependent than men on their Social Security dollars in their golden years, and they are disproportionately at risk of living the twilight years in poverty.

The story concludes by saying that the disturbing disparity in economic security between elderly men and aging women is one of the most pressing public policy issues facing the Social Security system. It should be addressed now, while we still have time.


Thursday, December 09, 1999

Ford Credit to pay $650,000 to settle marital status discrimination complaint

A story published today by Reuters reports that Ford Credit, the financing subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., has agreed to pay $650,000 to settle allegations it treated unmarried joint applicants for auto loans differently from married couples, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

The FTC said Ford Credit had violated a U.S. fair lending law during the period between May 1994 and August 1995 by failing to combine the incomes of unmarried joint auto loan applicants, as it did with married applicants.

As a result, many unmarried joint applicants were offered credit on less favorable terms than their married counterparts, the FTC said. The settlement will be used to compensate these couples.

"Millions of consumers use credit and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act guarantees that they are given an equal chance to get it," Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said in a statement.

"While lenders can use a variety of factors to compute a consumer's credit-worthiness, marital status isn't one of them. This settlement tells lenders and would-be borrowers that credit discrimination won't be tolerated."

The settlements is one of the largest ever obtained by the FTC under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which bars discrimination against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or marital status.

In May this year, Franklin Acceptance Corporation, a Philadelphia-based finance company, paid a $800,000 civil penalty for similar alleged violations against unmarried couples.


Wednesday, December 08, 1999

Utah Attorney General defends law prohibiting adoption by unmarried adults who live together

A story published today in the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the the Utah Attorney General's office has asked a state judge to uphold a policy that bans gay and unwed heterosexual couples from adopting foster children.

The Attorney General's brief claims that the policy-making board for the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) was well within the law when it passed the ban last January. The board passed the rule despite strong opposition from child-advocacy and civil-rights groups, as well as significant dissension within the Department of Human Services, the parent agency of DCFS.

The rule prohibits adoptions by adults who are living together but are not related by either marriage or blood. That would include gay and lesbian unions or couples living together in common-law relationships.

Among the arguments in the 30-page brief is that children raised by gay parents stand a greater risk of becoming homosexual and "mimicking the risky behavior of their adoptive parents.''

Adoptions by unmarried adults still are permitted under DCFS rules, but the motion outlines those risks as well: "Even after taking into account such factors as low income, the research shows that 'children growing up in single parent households are at a greater risk for experiencing a variety of behavioral and educations (sic) problems, including ... smoking, drinking, early and frequent sexual experience and in extreme cases, drugs, suicide, vandalism, violence, criminal behavior.'''

The story also notes that the state board is currently considering similar action that would ban gays and unmarried adults from becoming foster parents. A decision on that proposal will be made next month.

New study says that marriage makes men happier

An article published today in the Christian Science Monitor reports that a new study has been released which concludes that married men are happier than bachelors.

The study was conducted by Steven L. Nock, a University of Virginia sociology professor. His new book, published by Oxford University Press, is entitled "Marriage in Men's Lives." The book is based on yearly interviews with 6,000 men over the past 20 years.

From the interviews, Nock concluded that married men are more successful, generous, and concerned about others than their bachelor counterparts. According to the study, they are also more mature and productive.

Casual sex is losing its appeal for many youth

A story published today in the Bergen Record reports that a generation after the sexual revolution dazzled young people with the promise of freedom and excitement, the culture of liberation has lost some of its luster. Not only has the level of sexual activity among unmarried young people decreased in the past decade, but attitudes have shifted as well.

The story notes several findings from large-scale studies conducted by the University of Chicago, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the Urban Institute:

* The proportion of adolescent males who approved of premarital sex when a couple does not plan to marry increased from 55 percent in 1979 to 80 percent in 1988. By 1995, it had dropped to 71 percent.

  • A record low 40 percent of college freshman agree that "if two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for a very short time." That's down from 52 percent in 1987.
  • The proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds who frown on sex before marriage, calling it "always" or "almost always" wrong, has jumped from 12.5% in 1972, to 25% in recent years.
  • The proportion of 17- to 19-year-old males who reported they were still virgins increased from 24 percent in 1988 to 32 percent in 1995.

The story says that market researchers are calling the trend "neo-traditionalism." They predict that patterns of dating, marriage, and child-rearing among today's young adults may turn out to be more like those of their grandparents than of their parents -- even as they reject traditional gender roles and are more open to gay and interracial relationships than their predecessors.

Said one observer, "Picture Eisenhower but with a pierced eyebrow."

But to some, the predictions of a broad culture shift seem far-fetched. True, the level of sexual activity among 15- to 19-year-olds has eased, but it's still well above what it was before the "free love" culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Forty percent of 10 girls still get pregnant at least once before they turn 20. And although premarital sex may be less acceptable than it was a decade ago, the number of cohabiting couples under age 25 doubled from 1980 to 1996.


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