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International News Archive
February 21 - February 29, 2000


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This page contains news for the period Monday, February 21, 2000 through Tuesday, February 29, 2000.





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Saturday, February 26, 2000

In vitro fertilization for unmarried couples on hold in Japan

A story published today by the Daily Yomiuri reports that the ethics council of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology on Friday submitted a report to the society's ethics committee recommending allowing sperm and ova from unmarried couples to be used in in vitro fertilization (IVF).

However, the committee, which oversees the council, decided to request that the council reexamine the issue, concluding that more details were needed before a final decision could be made.

In response, Prof. Hiraki Takebe of Kinki University, who heads the ethics council, expressed his dissatisfaction.

"We intended our recommendation to be the final one, but we were told that it would be an intermediate report," Takebe said.

In approving of IVF outside marriage, the council wrote, "It is unreasonable to allow sperm from a third party to be used in artificial insemination, but not an ovum from a third party in in vitro fertilization."

As preconditions for IVF outside marriage, the council recommended that screening be done beforehand and that ova be obtained on a nonprofit basis.

The council also proposed that further discussions within and outside the society be held to establish guidelines for ovum donors and to protect the rights of the newborn.

However, some members of the society remain strongly opposed to IVF involving unmarried couples.

French PACS not based on "gay rights" model

A story published today in the Advocate discusses the new law for unmarried couples in France and how, even though it includes same-sex couples, it was not based on a political model of "gay rights."

The French version of a domestic-partnership law—the Pacte Civile de Solidarité, known as le PaCS—was approved by lawmakers last October.

The new law has quickly inspired a new verb, se pacser, and its adjectival form, pacsé, to refer to those who register under the PaCS. The verbal distinction between pacsé and marié (married) was central to getting the measure passed.

With gay marriage as unpopular in France as it is in the United States, the law’s champions went out of their way to assure the nation that the PaCS creates a new legal status, not gay marriage.

"It was necessary to use imagination to deal with the marriage question," states National Assembly Socialist Party deputy Patrick Bloche, one of the PaCS’s principal architects. "Gay marriage may be possible in the future, but for now it’s not acceptable. The PaCS is a legal path to addressing the realities of homosexual couples. Marriage is a religious institution."

The story explains that the French law’s nine articles offer unmarried couples new claims to such benefits as inheritance, tax relief, housing rights, and the French equivalent of social security. The law also makes registered partners liable for each other’s debts and contracts. Any two French citizens whose lives and livelihoods are intertwined may register under the PaCS.

"The thing I love most about the PaCS is, it’s for everyone," stresses Emmanuelle Bitton, 28. "The political opposition keeps trying to say it’s a gay law, but the first people I know who’ll register under the PaCS are my parents."

The story says that on the edge of the Marais, Paris’s gay epicenter, Bitton and her life partner, Sandrina Rossi, also 28, discuss the practical advantages of the new law. As co-owners of 7h10, a new boutique named after their shared moment of birth, the women debate whether or not they will "get pacsé."

"I think now, with the shop, it’s best if we register," Bitton explains. "Especially since I drive my motorcycle fast every day, it would be best for [Sandrina]. And like going to gay pride, it’s almost a civic duty. I’m proud to live in a country that passes this law."

Adds Rossi: "We’re antimarriage, but there are practical advantages for us." She laughs. "Instead of a marriage registry in the shop, we’ll have a PaCS registry."


Wednesday, February 23, 2000

New reformists in Iran may ease some restrictions on unmarried couples

An article published today in USA Today reports that reformists, buoyed by a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, began to outline plans for a strikingly different Iran. They say they want free political dissent, an unrestricted press and dramatically more freedom in their private lives.

''We want to have the right of individual choice,'' Mohammadreza Khatami told reporters. ''We should respect people's ideas.''

Khatami, who leads the Islamic Iran Participation Front, tops the winners among 5,700 candidates for the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament.

The reformist coalition has won 141 seats, including 109 by the Participation Front, and appeared poised to have a majority. Reformists seemed certain to take all but one of the seats in Tehran.

''We are going to suggest that all people have the right to organize meetings and demonstrations,'' said Rajabali Mazrouei, a newly elected representative from Isfahan.

But candidates say they dare not question Islamic beliefs. ''People in Iran have voted for an Islamic government,'' Ahmad Bourghani, a new reformist representative, said in an interview. ''Any government has to consider those beliefs, or it will collapse.''

As a result, rules enforcing head coverings for women and those forbidding public flirting between unmarried men and women are likely to remain.

However, Khatami and his colleagues say they intend to end the practice of raiding private parties and arresting unmarried couples or those who dance to Western music.

Unmarried couples may get public flats in Hong Kong

A story published today in the South China Morning Post reports that officials are considering a proposal to allow unmarried couples to apply for public housing.

Under preliminary plans, people who have been living with their "de facto spouse" for a certain period of time could apply for public rental flats, Home Ownership Scheme flats and housing loans.

Couples may be required to declare their status and submit documents, such as joint bank account statements, to prove their relationship.

The story says that the Equal Opportunities Commission late last year told the Housing Authority that its allocation policy, which is based on applicants' marital and family status, might be discriminatory.

The Housing Department recently agreed in principle with the anti-bias body that the policy might violate the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and Family Status Discrimination Ordinance.

However, gay and lesbian couples will not benefit - "spouse" means a couple of different sex.

Some officials are worried public housing benefits will be subject to abuse if unmarried couples are allowed to apply. They are also concerned that the change could mean that the Housing Authority would need more flats.

The authority will discuss the issue at a "brain-storming" session on Saturday.

He said that several other policies on non-nuclear families and households with elderly members might also be changed.

Athena Liu Nga-chee, a family law professor at Hong Kong University, said the proposed change could have far-reaching implications.

At present, unmarried couples in the SAR are not entitled to various legal rights and protection.

"Does that mean civil servants can claim medical and housing benefits for their de facto spouse?

"Also, can unmarried couples apply to adopt a child?" she asked.


Tuesday, February 22, 2000

By marrying later, Canadians have fewer divorces

A story published today by the Daily Herald Tribune reports that at the turn of a new century, the family is becoming older and thinner, according to a University of Alberta sociology professor.

"It was only a generation or two ago that people often didn't have grandparents still alive," noted Norah Keating of the U of A's department of human ecology. In fact, it's not unusual for families to consist of four or five generations these days, she said. And society, business in particular, is already making the transition from what was once a more youth-oriented culture.

"Our attention these days is a great deal on older people and their family lives," she said. The trend towards older has also meant fewer children and older newlyweds, notes her colleague Wayne McVey, a professor who's done research in the area of family demography. And that's actually helped lower the divorce rates, he noted.

"The stability in marriage has improved, believe it or not," he said.

Statistics Canada figures bear that out. From a five-year peak, 78,880 in 1994, the number of divorces nationally has dropped an average six per cent a year to 67,408 in 1997. Marriages are also down, from 160,251 in 1995 to 151,224 in 1998, says Stats Can.

McVey says people are either opting for cohabitation as a precursor to or replacement for marriage, or are just staying unattached longer.

Christians and Muslims clash in Nigeria over strict Islamic code

A story published today in the London Guardian reports that clashes between Christians and Muslims about plans to introduce "sharia law" left at least eight people dead and dozens of shops burning in the Nigerian city of Kaduna yesterday.

The violence erupted after thousands of Christians took to the streets chanting "no to sharia" amid a wave of populist sentiment in favour of imposing Islamic law across northern Nigeria, following its introduction in the state of Zamfara.

The sharia code bans alcohol, adultery and women's football teams, and segregates schools and public transport.

In recent days, Zamfara carried out its first sentences imposed under sharia, with one man receiving 100 lashes for sex with an unmarried woman and another flogged for drinking alcohol in public.


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