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U.S. News Archive
March 06 - March 12, 2000





This page contains news for the period Monday, March 06, 2000 through Sunday, March 12, 2000.


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Saturday, March 11, 2000

New Mexico couple being prosecuted for unmarried cohabitation

A story published today in the Albequerque Journal reported that a an unmarried couple in New Mexico is being prosecuted under a cirminal law against unmarried cohabitation.

Richard Pitcher and Kimberly Henry of Peralta have been formally charged by Pitcher's ex-wife under the state's anti-cohabitation law, which prohibits unwed people from living together as "man and wife."

New Mexico is one of 10 states that criminalize unmarried cohabitation. The others are Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Henry has been summoned to appear in court April 4 for arraignment. Pitcher expected his summons in the mail soon.

The charges were filed in Magistrate Court recently by Pitcher's ex-wife, Vickie Jenkins, now known as Vickie Avants. The District Attorney's Office is not involved.

According to a police report, Avants told a Valencia County deputy that Henry and Pitcher have been living together since about Feb. 9 and are not married.

The story says that Avants, who has two girls -- one fathered by Pitcher -- believes her ex-husband's living situation will expose the children to a "nonfamily environment," according to the report. The children do not live with Pitcher, according to Avants' new husband.

The criminal complaint Vickie Avants filed cites the cohabitation law, enacted in 1963.

People convicted of a first offense are warned by a judge to "cease and desist." Subsequent offenses are petty misdemeanors, punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to six months in jail, or both.

The story says that Pitcher, an information technical consultant, and Henry, a social worker, plan to get married within a year. They have hired attorneys William J. Cooley and Charles E. Knoblauch to defend them.

"It's ridiculous," Pitcher said of the law.

Knoblauch likened the law to others on the books, like "improper use" of the state and national anthems. That law makes it a petty misdemeanor to sing, play or render the anthems "in any public place or assemblage in this state except as an entire or separate composition or number."

"These laws are rarely if ever enforced in this country for practical reasons," he said. "I think if you were to survey the population of Bernalillo County, you'd find that perhaps 25 percent of the adult population has committed this crime (unlawful cohabitation) at some point."

Avants could not be reached for comment Friday. Her new husband, Roger Avants, who has a 3-year-old boy from a previous marriage, said the case boils down to family values and morals. He said First Baptist Church in Bosque Farms, which they attend, teaches that cohabitation is morally wrong.

"The whole issue is we care for what (the children) are taught," he said. "We want to raise our children to be morally right and at least to have instructions on how to be decent members of society.

"It is nothing that is being done vindictively or in revenge," he said. "It is simply that the law allows certain things and disallows others. The law is simply the law."

But Knoblauch said the law hasn't gone through the "judicial wringer," and noted that the case raises constitutional issues, like freedom of association.

Cooley said they intend to fight the case "vigorously."

"Mr. Knoblauch's job and my job is to get the Legislature to take some of these old archaic laws off the books and start concentrating on better laws," he said.

The story says the cohabitation law has been scrutinized before, but apparently not in court. Former Catron County Sheriff Vernon Mullins announced in 1987 that he was going to enforce it, but the issue faded away. The following year, the Rev. James Gibson of Rio Rancho asked that it be enforced there. Police and the mayor at the time essentially told him the law was unenforceable, previous newspaper stories said.

"It's one of those great examples of why it's so important to pay attention to laws and not to pass foolish laws and rules that you don't intend to enforce," said 2nd Judicial District Judge Anne Kass, who has heard family court matters for 15 years. "What happens is people, first of all, don't respect them, and then, they start to generalize (that attitude) toward other laws."


Thursday, March 9, 2000

Minimum wage bill amended to include tax breaks that would help some single people

A story published today by the Associated Press summarized some of the details of the amended minimum wage bill pending in Congress.

The bill would increase the minimum wage by $1. According to some studies, the majority of workers who benefit from a hike in the minimum wage are lower-income single people. Some of the studies are reported on the website of the Employment Policies Institute at www.minimumwage.com.

Amendments to the bill would create tax breaks to help reduce some extremely high tax rates on upper-income Americans, including well-to-do single people.

Under current law, when a married person dies, all assets left to a spouse are not subject to federal estate tax. Therefore, a survivor who inherits $10 million from a spouse may keep the entire amount without paying any federal estate taxes whatsoever. However, if a single person leaves an estate of the same amount to a domestic partner or close friend or relative, the government would take 60% of it in taxes.

Currently, there is a 5% federal tax surcharge on estates over $10 million. And that is on top of a 55% tax on estates of this size. Of course, this is over and above any state inheritance tax which might be levied on the transfer.

The tax-break amendments to the minimum wage bill would repeal the 5% surcharge. They would also reduce the maximum tax from 55% to 50% in 2002, then reduce all rates by 1 percentage point in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Mississippi may remove child custody preference for mothers

A story published today by the Sun Herald reports that Mississippi judges would have to give dads equal consideration for child custody under a bill passed by the House.

The bill, approved Wednesday, clarifies that judges cannot presume ''that it is in the best interest of a child that a mother be awarded either legal or physical custody.''

Rep. John Reeves, R-Jackson, said ''husbands and wives ought to be able to stand equally before the law.''

Most female legislators joined in supporting the bill. Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, praised the change and said ''there are some fathers who are good people'' who should be considered for custody.

Another bill approved by the House was a standard premarital agreement act, which sets out what the two sides can agree to before a marriage.

Reeves said there is confusion now in Mississippi about premarital agreements and lawyers have trouble advising clients who want to sign one before marriage.

The bills now go to the Senate.


Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Census Bureau releases profile of nation's Hispanic population

The Census Bureau released a report today which demonstrated that the Hispanic population in the United States is not one homogeneous group. Rather, it is comprised of several distinct sub-groups with origins in various locations in North, Central, and South America.

"The country's Latino population is not as homogeneous as some might think," said Roberto Ramirez, author of The Hispanic Population in the United States March -- 1999. "In many respects, people with origins in Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America and South America, as well as other Hispanic countries, have wide variations in their social and economic characteristics, from educational attainment and marriage, to employment and income."

One portion of the report focused on the marital status of people of Hispanic origin. It showed that, overall, 46% of Hispanic people age 25 and over are unmarried. See Table 2.1.

The percent of unmarried Hispanics varies considerably among Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central ?American sub-groups. For example, some 47% of Mexicans are unmarried, while only 42% of Cubans are single. Hispanics from Central and South America have 49% unmarried. A majority of Puerto Ricans, some 58%, are unmarried. See Table 2.2.

California voters limit marriages to male-female relationships

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that Proposition 22 was adopted by California voters yesterday. The ballot measure limits marriage to one man and one woman.

The initiative was approved by a margin of 61.4% to 38.6%, much wider than public opinion surveys had predicted. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, there were 4,160,706 votes for the measure and 2,617,838 votes against it.

No state allows same-sex marriages. But since the Hawaii Supreme Court raised the possibility of legalizing gay marriage in 1993, 31 states have passed pre-emptive laws denying recognition to same-sex couples legally married anywhere else. California is the third to adopt the law at the ballot box.

The story says that exit polls conducted by Voter News Service found that the measure was supported about equally by men and women and by all races and income groups. It was opposed by young voters and by about two-thirds of Democrats, but Republicans backed it by 6-1.

To see the final tally as reported on the website of the California Secretary of State, click here.

Towns in Vermont say no to same-sex marriage

Yesterday was Town Meeting Day throughout the state of Vermont. The Legislature was in recess for the week so lawmakers could take the pulse of their constituents on important issues.

Some question related to same-sex marriage or benefits for same-sex couples was on agenda at the town meetings in more than 50 of Vermont's 246 communities.

Nowhere did voters indicate support for same-sex marriage. And fewer than 10 towns recommended that the Legislature approve legal benefits for gay and lesbian couples.

In a few towns, however, the vote was close. Montpelier, for example, voted 1,300 for marriage and 1,501 against. Several communities supported domestic partnerships, though, including Brattleboro, Montpelier, Lincoln, Stamford and Dorset.

The town of Athens had three questions on the warning, which prompted sometimes heated debate. Opponents of same-sex marriage denounced homosexuality, and Town Clerk Darlene Wyman said she would quit as a matter of conscience before she would sign a marriage certificate for a gay couple.

When the Legislature returns next week from its Town Meeting break, the House is scheduled to take up a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into "civil unions," which would have essentially the same legal benefits now available to traditionally married couples.

The bill was drafted in response to a decision issued by the Vermont Supreme Court in late December, which said that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to the same legal rights and benefits extended to married couples.

Some lawmakers want to broaden the bill to include any two unmarried adults, including heterosexual couples such as seniors who often live together without marrying for fear of losing pension survivor benefits, and unmarried blood relatives who might also want similar legal protections. Whether the results of the Town Meeting ballots will cause the bill to be more inclusive remains to be seen.

Exit polls conducted by Voter News Service asked those who voted in the primary how they felt about this volatile issue. Results showed a sharp division in the opinions of Democrats versus Republicans.

A majority of Vermont Democrats polled Tuesday said the state should allow gays and lesbians to marry, and nearly seven in 10 said they would support establishing a system of domestic partnerships.

Republicans were opposed to either option, with about fourth-fifths against same-sex marriage, and three-fifths opposed to domestic partnerships.

The service conducted what amounted to two separate polls of Republican and Democratic primary voters, surveys that were designed mainly to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the presidential candidates.

Information for this story was obtained from articles published today by the Associated Press and the Rutland Herald in Vermont.


Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Seminar in Austin to help single parents and other families

A story published today by the American-Statesman reports that a day-long seminar on parenting will be conducted on Thursday in Austin, Texas. Some of the sessions are devoted to problems experienced by single parent families.

More than 20 writers, theorists and parents offering advice and wisdom at Thursday's Celebration of Families Parenting Fair. The fair, which will run from 3 to 8:30 p.m. at Palmer Auditorium, will include about 120 exhibitors ranging from summer camps to health care, children's programs and a keynote speech.

Geoffrey Canada, director of the Rheedlen Center in New York City, which provides services to more than 6,000 low-income families, will be the fair's keynote speaker. He said parents and society in general are harming boys by teaching them to hide their emotions and by not providing clear, positive messages about what it means to be a man.

"The first thing we really have to do is get boys to understand how they deal with their own pain," said Canada, whose latest book is "Reaching Up for Manhood." "If we teach them to deny their own pain, they are not going to be able to relate to the pain of others."

Last year, about 1,500 parents and 300 children attended the fair, said Mary Robinson, parent outreach coordinator at Connections Resource Center, which is organizing of the event.

Seminars include "Fathers: Staying Involved after Divorce''; "Raising a Family in a New Culture''; "Blending Work and Family'' and "Single Parenting'."


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