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U.S. News Archive
February 21 - February 29, 2000





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





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Monday, February 28, 2000

Kentucky exempts religious nonprofits from state marital status discrimination laws

A story published today by Planet Out reports that Kentucky's church-owned non-profits will be free to discriminate based on gender, marital status and religion if the governor signs a bill passed by the state legislature.

With the General Assembly handling so many religion-related bills that one legislator has expressed fears of a theocracy, both houses of the Kentucky legislature have passed a bill exempting church-run non-profit facilities from civil rights laws.

If Governor Paul Patton signs HB 70 (Kerr) into law -- and he has taken no public position to date -- those facilities will be able to refuse the business of those they disapprove of on religious grounds, including atheists and those of other faiths, unmarried couples, and gays and lesbians (who are protected by only by three municipal and one county ordinance, all passed last year).

The Senate on February 23 voted 17 - 12 to approve HB 70, which had previously been passed by the House 82 - 17 on February 2. All twelve "nays" in the Senate were Democrats; four Democrats joined 13 Republicans in support of the measure; and there were a number of abstentions.

HB 70 was introduced in the Senate by its President Pro Tem Dick Roeding (R-Fort Mitchell), who said it would "restore a measure of religious freedom to Kentucky's churches and religious organizations to allow them to manage their property according to their religious beliefs." Sponsor and author Representative Tom Kerr (D-Taylor Mill) had used almost the same words to introduce it in the House, where he called it "an attempt to restore a measure of religious freedom to our religious institutions."

"The religious banner has been used to promote unfair treatment and preferential standing and discrimination," state Senator Ernesto Scorsone (D-Lexington) said in debating the measure. "What we're really saying is, 'Churches, it's OK for you all to discriminate.'" He noted that churches are already exempt from state civil rights laws in hiring. He asserted that if churches go into business, "They have to play by the same rules and they can't discriminate. What comes next? Church buses don't have to follow the speed rules?"

Originally the bill would have exempted religious non-profit worship and recreational activities and facilities from all of the state's anti-discrimination protections, but it was amended to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and disability.


Sunday, February 27, 2000

Study links long-term marriages and financial prosperity

A story published today in the Arizona Republic reports that studies show that long-wedded people are more likely to enjoy financial bliss than their single counterparts.

If they pick the right kind of spouse and stay together for a few decades, that is.

"People who are continuously married have an advantage in terms of total wealth," said Janet Wilmoth, assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University.

The story says that in 1998 she reviewed data on 12,000 Americans ages 51 to 61 and found that marital history related to striking differences in debt load, home equity and overall net worth.

"Never-marrieds take the biggest hit - for every $1 a continuously married person has, (the never-marrieds) have about 25 cents," she said. Those divorced or widowed who remained single end up with about 50 cents on the dollar, and people with multiple marriages about 75 cents.

According to the story, the economic benefits of marriage include division of labor (one spouse could stay home with kids, eliminating child-care costs, for example) and shared expenses, which lead to lower per-capita costs for basic necessities. Merely living together doesn't produce the same results, because legal marriage often provides health insurance, retirement income and Social Security benefits.

"It's the idea of cumulative advantage," Wilmoth said. "A broken marital history puts you on another track that is very hard to recover from."


Saturday, February 26, 2000

Mandatory celibacy contributes to shortage of Catholic priests

A story published today by the Saginaw News said that at the age of 39, Leo Lynch found himself at a rending crossroads. His dilemma: continue faithfully serving the Catholic church as a celibate priest or forfeit his career for love.

The Saginaw resident and his wife, Judy, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in July. They have two sons.

"Marriage is a healthy life choice," Lynch says. "It's like the old saying, 'Don't criticize a person until you walk in his shoes.'

"Well I've walked in both and I see no conflict of having married priests. I have maintained my commitment to the church through my family."

The story says that Lynch is among more than two dozen priests who have left their canonical duties at the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw to wed in the past 30 years.

An estimated 130,000 priests worldwide - including 20,000 in America - have followed suit, according to statistics by Celibacy Is the Issue Inc.

Church law prohibits priests from marrying or running for an elected office. A priest who marries should automatically cease conducting church functions, including celebrating Mass and delivering holy sacraments.

However, dome married priests remain optimistic that change is on the horizon for the 62 million-member church.

"There are many things in the Catholic church that look kind of cut and dried, such as one day using married priests to offset priest shortages," says Smolinski, a chaplain at Saint Mary's hospital. "However, at the level of the people, we do what we can to slowly change things for the better."

Their efforts are slowly paying off. In 1981, the Vatican granted dispensation to married ministers converting from other faiths. The move was designed to help offset Catholic priest shortages.

In 1996, William W. Lipscomb became Michigan's first married Catholic priest. Lipscomb previously served as a military chaplain and an ordained Episcopal priest before converting to Catholicism.

Last year, 47,210 priests served in the United States, down 383 from 1998, according to data from the Official Catholic Directory.

Utah House passes bill requiring "abstinence only" sex education

A story published today by the Desert News reports that the Utah House of Representatives passed HB411, a bill banning the teaching of anything but abstinence in sex education classes in public schools.

Passage of the bill left some who opposed it actually shaking their heads. But to supporters, it only makes sense — don't teach teenagers sexual alternatives that could lead to disease, death or pregnancy.

Currently, most teenagers take health courses that don't teach ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies. Courses that deal with those sensitive issues come only with parental approval and all courses teach abstinence as the best way to go.

"Sexually transmitted diseases are ugly," said Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful. "But as bad as they are, unwanted pregnancies are worse," she said in seeking an amendment that would allow parents, with a written request, to let their children get special education on disease and birth control measures.

But instead of adopting Allen's amendment, legislators changed it to say only abstinence can be taught in special classes.

And then they adopted another amendment that said children must be taught that any "sexual relations outside of marriage is criminal conduct."

HB411 is against parental choice in schools, something Republicans love to tout, because it takes away from parents and children some very important choices: like the choice not to get HIV and die from AIDS and the choice not to get pregnant, several legislators said.

The bill passed 40-27. Only Republicans voted for it. Eight moderate Republicans and all the Democrats voted against it.

It now goes to the Senate where it's future is unknown.


Friday, February 25, 2000

Virginia sodomy reform bill defeated

A story published today in the Washington Blade reports that a bill to reduce the penalty for having oral or anal sex in Virginia was defeated Wednesday by a committee in the State Senate.

By a vote of 9-6, the Senate Courts of Justice committee voted to "pass by indefinitely" House Bill 718, which would have reduced the penalty for violating Virginia’s "Crimes Against Nature" law, which prohibits any act of oral or anal sex, from a felony to a misdemeanor. The parliamentary motion means that the bill will not be considered again before the end of the session, essentially killing it.

HB 718, proposed by Del. Karen Darner (D-Arlington), had passed the House Courts of Justice committee on Feb. 13, and barely cleared the House of Delegates last week with a vote of 50-49 before being defeated.

The story reports that one bright spot in the Legislature is a hospital visitation bill which would allow individuals to specify who could grant visitation rights to them in the hospital if they should become incapacitated. Because unmarried couples are not legally related, they can be denied the right to visit their partners in the hospital, especially if the patient’s family opposes their presence.

That hospital visitation bill (SB 734) sailed through the Senate with no opposition and is expected to pass easily in the House.


Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Voters in Ferndale, Michigan defeat anti-discrimination ordinance

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that voters in this Detroit suburb narrowly rejected a controversial ordinance that would have banned discrimination against gays and other minority groups.

The proposal, which would have outlawed discrimination in a dozen categories, including marital status discrimination, failed 51 percent to 49 percent Tuesday, according to unofficial returns. The vote was 2,406-2,289.

It was the sexual-orientation category that brought the majority of opposition.

Tuesday's turnout - 28 percent of Ferndale's registered voters - was heavier than usual for primary elections, city officials said.

Ferndale's City Council passed the ordinance last fall, but it was overturned in a petition drive.

In 1991, Ferndale voters defeated a different proposal banning sexual-orientation discrimination.


Tuesday, February 22, 2000 

New York judge says homeless single people can't be forced to work for shelter

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that a judge ruled Tuesday that New York City may not force homeless single adults to accept workfare jobs in exchange for city shelter.

Justice Stanley Sklar said the law violates a consent decree that requires the city to give shelter for every needy adult who seeks it.

Under the city program known as workfare, welfare recipients are put to work by city departments.

The law requiring the homeless to work stems from a 1995 regulation issued by the state Department of Social Services at the city's request. It requires anyone seeking shelter in New York - even for one night - to comply with welfare eligibility rules.

But in 1981 and 1983, the city signed consent decrees in which it agreed to provide shelter to every needy, single adult who asked for it.

Sklar ruled that the consent decrees hold. Because the agreements only cover single people, lawyers for the homeless could ask the courts to extend the ruling to homeless families with children.

Definition of 'family' is expanding

A story published today in the Seattle Times reports that changing demographics and living arrangements are causing people to define "family" in a broader way.

Many changes have already occurred but the American family is poised to change even more dramatically in the coming century, experts say. As more women enter the work force, cohabitation rates climb and societal tolerance for alternative lifestyles increases, we will continue to move light-years from the idealized image of such '50s TV families as Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleavers - the traditional two-parent model with stay-at-home mother, working father and two children under one roof.

"Were talking about profound changes," says Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey conducted annually by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. "You can actually look at the course of human history and talk about only a few shifts in basic family types, and we're seeing one of those shifts right here - it's historic."

Marriage has declined as the primary institution under which households are organized and children are raised, he notes. Growing numbers of women are delaying marriage and childbirth or possibly never marrying or having children, and other diverse living arrangements are flourishing, with no decline in sight.

"What was the normal or average family is not what it was a generation ago - there is not one dominant family type like there was before," Smith says. "A majority of people raising children today are raising them in a different kind of family than the one in which they were raised."

Smith's survey, "The Emerging 21st-Century American Family," revealed these trends, expected to continue:

* By 1998, only 56 percent of adults were married, compared with nearly 75 percent in 1972.

* Because of high divorce rates, cohabitation and single parenthood, a majority of families rearing children in the next century probably will not include the children's original two parents. In 1998, just 51 percent lived in a two-parent household compared with 73 percent in 1972.

* The percentage of U.S. households composed of married couples with children dropped from 45 percent in the 1970s to 26 percent in 1998.

* Children living with single parents increased from less than one in 20 in 1972 to almost one in five in 1998, while the percentage of children living in a blended household more than doubled, from 3.8 percent to 8.6 percent.

* The number of households with unmarried adults and no children more than doubled in that time period, to 33 percent, becoming the nation's most common living arrangement.

The story predicts that social scientists expect to see more such households in coming years. As values change, researchers such as Smith say there is less social stigma attached to nontraditional arrangements.


Monday, February 21, 2000

Many embryo clinics discriminate against unmarrieds

A story published today by Reuters Health reports that national guidelines governing the donation of frozen embryos need to be clarified as use of the assisted reproductive technology grows, results of a recent survey suggest.

The procedure involves the donation of a fertilized human egg to an infertile couple or a single woman. While it is not a frequently used alternative for infertile couples, embryo donation could become more popular in the future, researchers predict.

The survey, sent to members of the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology, sought to determine the consistency of screening requirements for donors and recipients in 108 assisted reproduction programs throughout the US.

"Variability in program procedures and policies suggests that guidelines need to be clarified," conclude Dr. Sheryl A. Kingsberg of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, and colleagues.

Unmarried couples were eligible to receive embryos at 61% of the programs, single women at 59% and lesbian couples at 55%. All of the programs considered married couples to be eligible recipients.

"As public awareness broadens regarding the potential of embryo donation as a reproductive option and as an alternative to traditional adoption, fertility programs can expect the interest in donated embryos to grow significantly," the authors predict.


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