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U.S. News Archive
February 14 - February 20, 2000

 

 

 
 

 

This page contains news for the period Monday, February 14, 2000 through Sunday, February 20, 2000.

 

 

 

 

<<   February 2000  >>

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Wednesday, February 16, 2000


Virginia may lighten sodomy penalties

A story published today in the Advocate reports that a Virginia house of delegates committee on Sunday endorsed a proposal that would make oral sex between consenting adults a misdemeanor rather than a felony. The bill now goes to the full house.

Democratic delegate L. Karen Darner says she has tried several times to repeal the current law, which makes oral sex punishable by up to five years in prison and a loss of voting rights. If the proposal is passed, those convicted of violating the oral sex ban will face a fine of up to $250.

"My feeling is, I would still like to have [oral sex] decriminalized, but this is at least a recognition that the current law is outrageous," Darner said. A Virginia appeals court agreed in December to review the constitutionality of the state’s sodomy law.


Utah may strengthen grandparent visitation rights

The Utah Senate appears likely to pass a bill making it easier for grandparents to obtain court-ordered visitation rights of grandchildren over the objection of parents.

Current law contains a presumption that if parents deny child visitation to grandparents, the decision is "reasonable." Grandparents can have a court override that decision, but only if they prove it is in the best interests of the children and they are fit to have such contact.

Under SB 166, the parental presumption would remain in state law, but only for "intact families," where both natural or adoptive parents reside with the children. SB 166, which eliminates the presumption for other parents, passed on a voice vote.

A constitutional note attached to the bill by the Legislature's own attorneys warn that the issue of grandparents' visitation rights is in flux. The U.S. Supreme Court last month heard arguments on a law from Washington state and has yet to render an opinion.


Virginia Legislature says "no" to convenant marriages

A story published today in the Virginia Pilot reports that the Virginia House of Delegates late Monday night killed a bill to authorize so-called "covenant marriages'' in Virginia.

Delegate Robert F. McDonnell, a Virginia Beach Republican, has sponsored the measure for the last three years, calling it "a very modest reform'' to combat an escalating divorce rate.

Under HB1534, couples could voluntarily agree to a covenant marriage, requiring eight hours of marriage counseling prior to their wedding, agreement to an oath stating that marriage is a "lifelong commitment,'' and eight hours of counseling before filing for divorce.

Some lawmakers argued the bill would increase the number of fault-based divorces, which are typically harder on children. Under the bill, covenant marriage partners with children would have to wait two years before a no-fault divorce could become final, instead of one year for other marriages.

The Virginia Bar Association and circuit court clerks also opposed the bill, which died on a 61-35 vote in the Republican-controlled House. Last year, the bill received 42 "yes'' votes. The year before it died in a House committee.

 

Tuesday, February 15, 2000


Michigan lawmaker wants to make divorces harder to obtain

A story published today in the Detroit News reports that Michigan state Rep. Lauren Hager wants couples to know that a marriage doesn't stop when the "tingling feeling" does.

Hager introduced a bill today to create so-called covenant marriages in Michigan. Couples who opt for such unions would agree to premarital counseling. They'd also have to receive counseling before a divorce, which would only be granted for causes such as adultery, abuse, drug abuse or abandonment.

"A couple would agree, before marriage, that they would stay together until the traditional death do us part," said Hager, R-Port Huron. Under his bill, a couple could request either a traditional or covenant marriage.

Legislation to make it more difficult to get divorced in Michigan also was introduced in 1997 and 1998. Both efforts were defeated.

In a related move, Rep. Joanne Voorhees, R-Wyoming, soon will introduce a package of bills to limit divorce to cases where both spouses agree, a person can prove improper conduct by a spouse or if it's deemed in the best interests of the child.

Under her bill, no-fault divorce would still exist, but a judge would be required to give a greater share of marital assets to the spouse not seeking the divorce.

Ever since California pioneered no-fault divorce in 1969 -- now common in all states -- the number of divorces has tripled.

About 38,000 Michigan couples divorced in 1998, the last year where statistics are available. There were about 65,000 marriages in 1998.

About 3 percent of couples have chosen covenant marriages in Arizona and Louisiana since that option became available in those two states two years ago.

Rep. Lynne Martinez, D-Lansing, said couples who want such marriages can arrange it through their church. "I think it would be silly to add that to state law," she said.


University of Michigan study finds unmarried families are more common

A story published today in the New York Times reports that a new study reveals that the number of couples who live together out of wedlock, often with children, is increasing rapidly.

The study was conducted by a sociologist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. It reports that about two in five children will spend at least some time living with their mother and her unmarried partner. Less frequently, children will live with their father and his partner.

"I think that the public will be surprised that almost half of all children will be likely to experience this type of household," said Pamela J. Smock, the sociologist who prepared the study.

The report also suggested that the number of children believed to be living in single-parent homes may be significantly exaggerated. About 40 percent of children born outside of marriage are actually living in homes with two adults, the report said.

"A large share of children born to supposedly 'single' mothers today are born into two-parent households," Dr. Smock wrote. "Moreover, the widely cited increase in recent years in nonmarital childbearing is largely due to cohabitation, and not to births to women living without a partner."

The new study relied on dozens of reports on the subject that have been done over the last decade. The overall analysis found that cohabitation -- both before and in lieu of marriage -- has become so commonplace that it is practically the norm, and that it crosses most boundaries of age, income and race.

The study will be published this summer in the 2000 volume of the Annual Review of Sociology. Among its findings:

  • Fifty-six percent of all marriages between 1990 and 1994 were preceded by cohabitation. From 1965 to 1974, that figure was about 10 percent.
  • From 1987 to 1995, the number of women in their late 30's who reported having cohabited rose to 48 percent from 30 percent.
  • Fifty-five percent of people who live together end up marrying, but 40 percent later divorce.
  • Cohabitation does not mean childlessness. About half of the divorced people who live together have children in the household, as do 35 percent of those who have never married.

The story says that experts generally agree about the main reasons for the rise in cohabitation. Some are obvious, like the cultural revolution that began in the 1960's, removing the stigma from sex out of wedlock.

But others causes go farther back, including a divorce rate that, while now level, climbed over the last century. Children of divorce are less likely to marry and divorced adults are more likely to live together than marry.

The marriage rate in America was 8.3 per 1,000 people in 1998, the lowest since 1958.

The story says there is disagreement among sociologists over whether cohabitation is replacing marriage or simply serving as a new stage of engagement. A third view, less widely held, suggests that it may be a phenomenon affecting primarily single people who may never marry.

A primary result, many sociologists agree, may well be on the growing number of children being raised in such households. Although only about 11 percent of children are born to cohabiting parents, the number seems likely to increase.

 

Monday, February 14, 2000


University of Chicago study focuses on effects of unmarried cohabitation

A story published by the Chicago Maroon and released today by U-Wire discusses a new cohabitation study by University of Chicago Sociology Professor Linda Waite.

Waite says that unmarried cohabiting couples lack a commitment in their relationships and are thus adverse to long-term marriage. She says that such couples, who are increasing in number, are also likely to make less money and are more likely to physically abuse one another than married couples.

Although many academics expect the United Sates to follow the relationship trend of Scandinavian countries, in which long-term cohabiting relationships have become an institutionalized alternative to marriage, Waite has observed cohabitation in the United States to be continually short-term. In fact, she sees cohabitation in the future as remaining temporary and as leading to a lack of committed marriages in the United States.

Another study, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a University of Chicago research facility, confirms that as we enter the 21st century, the concept of the stereotypical 1950s American family continues to disappear.

"Cohabitation, both before the first marriage and between marriages, is the rule," Thomas W. Smith, director of the NORC general social survey and author of the study, said, "Cohabitation remains, in America, a short term phenomenon." Cohabitation was one of the subjects which Smith's recent study looked at. His study, published by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), detailed the massive changes away from tradition in the American family due to divorce, cohabitation and single parenthood and their influences on American children.

According to Smith, the average rate for cohabitation is a little over a year, with cohabited relationships usually ending in break-ups or marriage. Statistics show that almost two-thirds of Americans chose to cohabit before getting married. Also, recent Census Bureau figures show that four million heterosexual couples are currently living in cohabitational relationships -- the figure is eight times that of 1970.

According to Waite, cohabited couples also lack the shared financial resources upon which married couples rely. "It's a deal -- a deal that [the life] they've chosen doesn't give them," Waite said. "It's every man for himself." Members do not pool their money, and those with separate incomes are forced to pay separate taxes.

Members of cohabitational relationships are also less likely to connect with their mate's family and to take care of their mate's children. In her article, "The Negative Effects of Cohabitation," written for The Responsive Community, an academic journal, Waite writes, "The parenting role of a cohabiting partner toward the child(ren) of the other person is extremely vaguely defined. The non-parent partner -- the man in the substantial majority of case -- has no explicit legal, financial, supervisory, or custodial rights or responsibilities regarding the child of his partner." Also, because many religions disapprove of cohabitation, many cohabiting couples are adverse to religious association.

The study also details the fact that members of cohabiting relationships are more likely to lead separate lives than are those who are married. A cohabiting couple is also less likely than a married couple or a dating couple to have a monogamous sexual relationship. Waite writes in The Responsive Community, "Four percent of married women had a secondary sex partner compared to 20 percent of cohabiting women and 18 percent of dating women."

Waite's results do not relate to cohabitational couples who are engaged. She feels that because those who are engaged are planning to spend their lives together, they are able to specialize. "They're not planning an easy exit; they're planning to get married, they just haven't done it yet," Waite said.


Census Bureau reports major drop in black households led by couples

A story published today in the Boston Herald reports that nearly half of black households across the country are being led by single women.

Census Bureau data from 1999, released today, showed that while married couples head 47 percent of the country's 8.4 million black households, 45 percent, or 3.8 million families, are led by lone women.

In 1970, married couples headed 68 percent of black families. By 1990, that figure had dropped to 50 percent.

Of the nation's 53.1 million white households in 1999, 13 percent are headed by women alone - the same percentage as in 1991, according to census numbers.

Charles Willie, a Harvard University sociologist, said yesterday it is difficult to determine what the latest statistics reveal.

"I think we have to be careful to about drawing cause-and-effect conclusions,'' he said. "This could be the front sector of a trend that eventually will find families from all population groups in it. The factors that contribute to the high numbers of single parents in the black community also are out there for the white community.''


Religious summit on divorce in Oklahoma

A story published today in the Oklahoman reports that a group of the state's religious leaders are meeting today at the state Capitol to discuss ways to cut Oklahoma's high divorce rate.

Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim representatives are answering the call of Gov. Frank Keating, whose Marriage Initiative prompted the meeting.

The story says that Rev. Kent Choate, family ministries specialist for the state Southern Baptist organization, said it tears him apart that Baptists lead all Christian denominations in divorce. Choate said Southern Baptists have made premarital counseling the cornerstone of their efforts.

Choate said the Baptists also will recruit and train marriage mentors who can talk about their successful marriages to newly married couples.

About 75 percent to 80 percent of Oklahoma weddings are performed by ministers. Choate says they need to start holding those they marry to a higher standard.

 

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