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U.S. News Archive
March 20 - March 26, 2000





This page contains news for the period Monday, March 20, 2000 through Sunday, March 26, 2000.


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Friday, March 24, 2000

Unmarried voters could decide presidential race

A story published today in the Los Angeles Times reports that marital status has been a significant factor in the last four presidential races, with a dramatic shift in the voting patterns of single women.

In 1984, single women favored the Democratic candidate for president over the Republican candidate by only one percentage point. There was a 15 point preference for the Democratic candidate by single women in 1988. That jumped to a 22 percent advantage to the Democrats in 1992. In the last general election for president in 1996, single women voted for the Democratic candidate by a 34% margin over the Republican candidate.

The story says that Republican strategists are not optimistic about capturing the vote of single women in the 2000 presidential race.

According to the results of a recent Voter.com Battleground 2000 bipartisan poll, Bush currently has a 14 percent lead over Gore among married women even as Gore continues to lead among single women.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted earlier this month. Some 42% of these likely voters were unmarried.

Exit polls conducted during recent general elections showed that more than 33% of those who voted were unmarried. If this month's poll by voter.com is any indication, the percent of voters this November who are unmarried may increase significantly over the last general election.

Unmarried adults are a larger percentage of voters than many other constituencies to which politicians cater. According to a story published in the March 20, 2000 edition of Newsweek, those living in union households comprised 22.7% of the total electorate nationally in 1998, while senior citizens constituted about 19.6%, African-Americans were some 10.2%, Latinos a little over 5%, gays/lesbians/bisexuals about 4.2%, Jews approximately 2.6%, and Asian-Americans about 1.2%.

In view of the large size of the unmarried voting public, somewhere between 33% and 42% of all voters, one would wonder when candidates will begin to pay attention to the concerns of unmarried voters, including the issue of pervasive marital status discrimination in employment, housing, insurance, credit, taxes, child custody, and government programs.

Federal appeals court hears unmarried couple housing case

Does a landlord who rents property for a profit have to accept unmarried couples as tenants despite the landlord's religious objections to unmarried cohabitation? Last year a three-judge federal appeals court ruled in favor of the landlord, but that ruling was reviewed yesterday by an 11 member panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The court will decide whether landlords in the nine western states governed by the Ninth Circuit, including California, must obey state laws which prohibit marital status discrimination in housing or whether they can use religious reasons to disobey these civil rights laws.

The supreme courts of California and Alaska have refused to grant so-called "religious freedom" exemptions from fair housing laws in those states. However, a federal court decision can override these rulings.

Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People, successfully represented tenants in both the California and Alaska cases.

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that many members of the 11-judge panel that heard oral arguments yesterday appeared skeptical about the landlords' claims their rights are being violated by state laws that prohibit housing discrimination against unmarried couples.

The case is Thomas vs. Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, 97-35220.

According to the AP story, several members of the 11-judge panel questioned whether the mere existence of the law could actually interfere with landlords' right to practice their religion.

Noting that state and local authorities in Alaska have not filed complaints against any of the property owners who are involved in the lawsuit, Judge Susan Graber compared them to demonstrators who want courts to hear their religious arguments before they are charged with wrongdoing.

"Your clients are saying, 'Please come down and arrest me,"' she told the landlords' lawyer.

Judge Margaret McKeown wondered how government officials would know about the landlords' religious objections to unmarried couples unless a rejected tenant filed a complaint. "Is your client going to walk down and tell them?" she asked.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima asked whether the landlords could have simply chosen another business.

The suit was filed by Kevin Thomas and Joyce Baker, who each own several rental properties in Anchorage. The landlords said they had consistently refused to rent to unmarried cohabitants because of their objections, as Christians, against nonmarital sex.

According to a story published yesterday by the Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, Thomas and Baker only could speculate that unwed couples would try to rent from them, would file civil complaints after being turned away and then would persuade the city or state to issue enforcement orders, said Judge Pamela Rymer of Pasadena. "That's not sufficient to show a serious threat," she said.

Judge Susan Graber of Portland compared Thomas and Baker to people engaging in civil disobedience and begging the authorities to come after them when "there's no indication that will happen."

But Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, also of Portland, said that as long as the anti-bias laws are on the books, there's always an implicit threat of enforcement.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, backed by his counterparts in Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state, submitted a brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, urging the judges to reverse the January 1999 decision, in which a panel of three of the circuit's judges ruled in the landlords' favor.


Wednesday, March 22, 2000

Most couples now cohabit prior to marriage

A story published today by the University of Wisconsin's Daily Cardinal reported findings by a university professor on the increase in unmarried cohabitation in America.

Cohabitation is becoming more common in the United States, according to UW-Madison sociology professor Larry Bumpass. In a recent study, Bumpass said that "cohabitation has grown from a rare and deviant behavior to the majority experience among cohorts of marriageable age."

According to the study, the proportion of all first marriages that began as cohabiting relationships rose from 43 percent in 1980-1984 to 54 percent for unions formed in 1990-1994.

Bumpass said this trend accompanies the extensive presence of premarital sex in recent years.

"With premarital sex almost universal, 85 percent or so by age 20, and [with] marriage delayed, the culture is heavily influenced by a large proportion of young adults in their 20s who are unmarried and sexually active," Bumpass said.

However, contrary to popular opinion, the trend of increasing cohabitation has been led by the less-educated, Bumpass said.

"Of course, high proportions of the college educated, and of college students, have lived in a cohabiting relationship," he said.

This trend can have various consequences. According to Bumpass, as cohabitation becomes increasingly common, live-in relationships may include a greater proportion of couples with less serious commitments who cohabit as a matter of temporary convenience.

Regardless of the view one takes about its morality, Bumpass said that cohabitation has become a commonplace element of our culture.

"In the old days, living together flaunted the fact that an unmarried couple was sexually intimate," Bumpass said. "Nowadays, how shocking can it be that a couple who have been presumed to be sharing a bed have decided to share a kitchen?"

Oregon adoptees and birth parents await open adoption records

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that the Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday let stand the state's adoption rights law, propelling hundreds of adoptees closer to getting their birth certificates.

A new law was approved by voters which would give adopted children access to their birth records. Six anonymous birth mothers challenged the law, arguing it would betray promised of confidentiality made to them when the gave their children up for adoption.

Some argue that adoption files should be open only to those with medical needs, such as whether they might have inherited a disease, and only to a neutral third party who would study the facts and determine if medical need outweighs the birth parent's right to privacy.

Many of the birth mothers were unmarried at the time they gave birth.

Mary, an Oregon woman who talked with The Oregonian newspaper, but asked that her real name not be used, relinquished her daughter for adoption more than a dozen years ago.

She said unless Measure 58 is blocked, she'll never know when, or whether, a traumatic part of her past will be thrust in her face.

"It's like having a bomb held over your head, not knowing when it might go off," she told the newspaper. "It never occurred to me this could happen. I thought any contact would be by mutual consent."

For others, however, Tuesday's court ruling prompted a sigh of relief.

Gay Bement has been searching for her birth father for four years. The 57-year-old Milwaukee homemaker requested her adoption records from the state Health Division shortly after the law passed.

Since then, she's been left dangling with no information as the case inched its way through the legal system.

"The family has seen me with a lot of tears and a lot of anger," she said. "I cannot believe that in this day and age our rights can be squelched by the courts and six ladies who made a mistake."


Bill to ban gay adoptions passes Mississippi House of Representatives

A story published today by Planet Out reports that a bill to block gay and lesbian couples from adopting children in Mississippi passed the state's House of Representatives today by an overwhelming 107 - 8, thanks to aggressive lobbying by Donald Wildmon's Tupelo-based American Family Association.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

In response to the House action, a coalition of faculty, staff and student leaders from Mississippi universities issued a statement in opposition to the ban. The coalition includes teachers of psychology and social work from the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi.

Their statement said, "The State Legislature's decision should be based on scientific research, and on what is in the best interests of Mississippi children. With those criteria, the only sensible action is to defeat this bill. Every respected national organization in the mental health and child welfare field has recognized that a parent's sexual orientation is irrelevant in determining child custody. Among the organizations that have taken this position are the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers. The presumption that a gay or lesbian person is unfit to be a parent has no basis in fact and is rebutted by the available scientific evidence. Research indicates that the sexual orientation of parents does not adversely affect their children or the quality of their parenting. Children raised by lesbian or gay parents are as healthy psychologically and socially as children raised by heterosexual parents. Gay men and lesbians are as fit parents as heterosexuals. This bill is not in the best interests of our state or its children. We call on the State Legislature to defeat it."

Only the state of Florida bans adoptions by gays and lesbians, although Utah Governor Mike Leavitt has just signed into law a prohibition against adoption by unmarried cohabiting couples.


Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Single co-owner can sue for reimbursement of interest in house

A story published today in the Denver Post reports that the Colorado Supreme Court just decided a ticklish social question: What happens when two single people combine their savings and build a nice home but later decide they don't like each other?

The court unanimously ruled that the person who left the house can sue the party staying in the home for "unjust enrichment."

The case involved a woman who kicked a man out of their jointly-owned house and then put up a "No Trespassing" sign with the addendum: "This means you, Erwin."

Justice Rebecca Kourlis said that for many years, judges refused to award money in such cases because cohabitation was frowned on. But times have changed, said Kourlis, who wrote the court's opinion.

The correct remedy is to treat the parties fairly, requiring the person who has been "unjustly enriched" by the cohabitation to make restitution to the person who lost money, said the justice.

"Unjust enrichment" doesn't require that the two parties ever made promises to each other, Kourlis added.

The ruling came in the case of Erwin Bachrach and Roberta F. Salzman.

According to the story, Bachrach and Salzman met in 1986 when Salzman, a divorcee, responded to a personal advertisement in the Vail Trail newspaper. In 1993, the two agreed to build a home and together purchased a lot. They built a $520,876 home designed by Bachrach, a longtime "designer and drafter" of residential properties.

In addition to designing the house and overseeing construction, Bachrach contributed $167,528 to the construction. Salzman paid $353,347.

They moved into the home in April 1995, sharing a bedroom. Within a year, the couple found each other to be "intolerable," according to court documents. On Jan. 15, 1997, Salzman kicked Bachrach out, changing the locks and posting the no-trespassing sign.

Bachrach filed a lawsuit in District Court in Eagle, but the trial court judge refused to grant either party anything. In Monday's decision, Kourlis said that under the theory of unjust enrichment, Bachrach is entitled to repayment from Salzman.


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