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U.S. News Archive
March 27 - March 31, 2000





This page contains news for the period Monday, March 27, 2000 through Friday, March 31, 2000.


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Friday, March 31, 2000

U.S. Senate to consider bill authorizing religious discrimination

A story published today by the Washington Blade reports that a group of civil rights organizations, led by the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, urged senators this week to forestall rumored plans to move the Religious Liberty Protection Act directly to the Senate floor, without a committee vote, by Easter recess.

The Religious Liberty bill has been criticized by civil rights and moderate religious groups for its potential threat to state and municipal anti-bias laws -- particularly those protecting gays, unmarried couples, and people with disabilities. Although the original bill was drafted to strengthen rights for people of minority faiths, critics now believe that conservative political activists plan to use the legislation to interfere with the enforcement of state and local non-discrimination laws protecting various minorities by allowing exemption to those laws based on alleged religious beliefs.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) may bring the measure, which passed the House last year, straight to the Senate floor before members go home for Easter next month.

In response, LCCR and 27 other groups sent a letter to Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), which was also circulated to all senators, urging them to allow the religious liberty bill to go through the normal committee process.

"As currently drafted, RLPA could have unintended yet potentially harmful effects," the March 17 letter reads. "We believe that the committee process is necessary to ensure that any such effects of this important bill are fully examined."

Among those groups signing the letter were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and several mainstream religious denominations that once ardently supported the bill.


Thursday, March 30, 2000

Arizona Senate fails to decriminalize cohabitation, certain sex acts

A story published today by the Arizona Star reports that state lawmakers balked yesterday at repealing laws that make certain sex acts illegal.

A tie vote in the Senate killed a proposal by Sen. Ed Cirillo, R-Sun City West, to annul a law from territorial days that makes it illegal for unmarried heterosexual couples to cohabit. Cirillo said the law makes criminals of many people, including elderly citizens who live together after their spouses die rather than marry and lose Social Security income.

Cirillo's measure also would have gotten rid of a state law that criminalizes oral and anal sex, whether between people of the same or opposite sex.

The story says that Senate Majority Leader Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, acknowledged the laws are not enforced but said the government has a proper role in setting standards.

Reform rabbis approve same-sex union ceremonies

A story published today by the New York Times News Service reports that an association of rabbis from Judaism's Reform movement declared Wednesday that gay relationships are "worthy of affirmation" through Jewish ritual and that Reform rabbis who decide to officiate at same-sex ceremonies will have the support of the branch's rabbinical body--as will those who decide they will not.

The decision by the Central Conference of American Rabbis makes the association the largest group of American clergy to affirm that its members may conduct homosexual unions. The group represents about 1,800 rabbis who lead nearly 1.5 million Jews in the United States and Canada.

"The breakthrough is that it's a major religious group that says unequivocally it will support its rabbis if they participate in these ceremonies," said Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the conference's executive vice president. He said he also regards the resolution as a strong weapon against anti-gay bias.

The story says that the resolution also drew qualified support from rabbis who said they would not officiate at a same-sex union. They were particularly gratified by wording that was added to the text last week to note that a diversity of opinion about the subject exists within the Reform rabbinate, and to say explicitly that the conference will support those who do not officiate.

"I think it's a compromise," said Rabbi Clifford E. Librach of Sharon, Mass. He called the resolution "a victory for diversity and intellectual tolerance." He said he believes that Jewish tradition bars him from officiating at a same-sex union, as it did from officiating at an interfaith marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew.

The vote, after about an hour of discussion, came in a closed session. Conference officials later said about 400 rabbis attended and overwhelmingly approved the resolution by voice vote. The deliberations took place in the Koury Convention Center in this central North Carolina city, as the conference concluded a four-day meeting.


Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Embryo custody case considered by New Jersey appeals court

A story published today in the Bergen Record reports that with questions of abortion and property rights and contract law framing the debate, a state appeals court heard arguments Tuesday in New Jersey's first human embryo custody battle.

A three-judge panel listened as lawyers clashed for over an hour about the rights to seven frozen embryos produced for a divorced Camden County couple who had struggled with infertility.

The couple divorced in 1998. The husband is fighting to retain the embryos for possible use with another woman or to donate them to an infertile couple. His ex-wife wants them either destroyed or used for research.

The story says there are no legal precedents on the subject in New Jersey and so the judges are relying only on a thin body of case law in the country.

The appeal stems from a 1998 decision in which Superior Court Judge Lee B. Laskin ruled for the woman in summary judgment, meaning there was no trial. That ruling was immediately put on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.

Lawyers for her former husband argued that the ruling violates his rights to be a parent. They also said they want a full trial, claiming they have evidence that the former wife and husband struck a legally binding "oral agreement" never to destroy the embryos.

"Both parties made an intelligent, elective decision to carry to term these frozen embryos, not have them destroyed," Eric Spevak, the ex-husband's lawyer, said in an interview.

But James Katz, the woman's attorney, argued there is no need for a trial. He said the ex-husband's demands would effectively "coerce" his client to become a parent against her will. He also argued that father is fully capable of having more children.

In a similar case in 1992, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the husband's right not to have children outweighed his wife's right to donate the embryos.

In May 1998, the highest court in New York ruled that five embryos created by a divorcing couple must be destroyed, despite the woman's desire to use them to have children.

The story explains that the New Jersey couple married in February 1992. When the wife was diagnosed with a blocked fallopian tube, the couple had the embryos created. The couple conceived a child naturally in March 1996. They filed for divorce that November.

The couple signed a consent agreement when the embryos were created that said in the event of a divorce, the tissues would be relinquished to the clinic, unless a court specified otherwise.

Marriage license fees may be restructured in Michigan

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that couples who don' t receive premarital counseling would help pay the marriage license fees for those who do if a bill that gained the endorsement of the Michigan House Ways and Means Committee becomes law.

The bill would reduce marriage license fees from $70 to $25 for couples who receive at least 12 hours of approved premarital counseling. The fees would jump from $70 to $95 for those who don't participate in such counseling to help make up the difference.

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Elaine Harder, R-Jackson, said that counseling would help couples prepare better for a lifelong commitment and might prompt some to realize they should not marry.

The bill now goes to the House floor.

The proposal is a watered-down version of what began as a so-called "covenant marriage" bill.

In the original version, couples would have agreed to 12 hours of premarital counseling and a two-year waiting period between the time they decided to divorce and the time they did so. In exchange, they would have gotten a $50 break on the cost of their marriage license.

That bill was defeated by a Senate panel.

Study says that cohabitation is replacing marriage

A story published today by the Christian Science Monitor reports that a new national study finds that even when unmarried women become pregnant, more couples are choosing to live together rather than marry.

About 55 percent of couples who cohabit get married, while some 40 percent end the relationship within five years, according to the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the institute, notes that cohabitation is becoming a substitute for marriage rather than a prelude to it. This pattern is redefining families.

The story says that Smock's findings echo the views of Robin Baker, a British researcher who has written widely on human sexual behavior. In his forthcoming book, "Sex in the Future: The Reproductive Revolution and How It Will Change Us," Mr. Baker asserts that "the nuclear family is about to suffer a takeover."

Baker sees a pattern of shorter relationships and greater mobility from partner to partner. If the trend continues, he adds, the majority of children will eventually live in single-parent families, making this the social norm.

Yet Baker embraces this fatherless pattern, boldly claiming, "Single parenthood will become the best system for raising children in the 21st century."

He also suggests that reproductive technology, such as in-vitro fertilization, could mark the end of the need for men and women to form lasting relationships. Baker outlines a chilling futuristic scenario in which people meet at "reproduction restaurants" to "eat, drink, and browse their reproductive possibilities - and maybe even commission a child over a gourmet meal...."

As sex becomes detached from reproduction, Baker explains, having a baby "will be more of a personal thing than a couple thing." But Baker himself poses a crucial question: "What is a family when every child in the family has a different father - or mother?"

Thirty years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted that serial marriage would become the pattern of the future. But who could have imagined the widespread acceptance of serial partnerships, without a wedding ring in sight?

Aware of the urgent need to promote marital stability, some states are attempting to teach students about the importance of two-parent families. Florida and Arizona now require high school students to take a course on marriage.

Last week Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma also announced that his state will use $10 million in surplus welfare funds to strengthen marriages and reduce the divorce rate. One goal of this federal block grant money, provided to each state, is to "encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families." The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative includes fatherhood projects and youth-education programs.

Federal agency issues waivers to state "responsible fatherhood" programs

A story released today by U.S. Newswire reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala and Vice President Al Gore today announced the approval of waiver demonstrations for 10 states to improve the opportunities of young, unmarried fathers to support their children both financially and emotionally.

The projects will test new ways for state-run child support enforcement programs and community-based organizations, including many faith-based organizations, to work together to help young fathers obtain employment, make child support payments and learn parenting skills.

"These demonstration projects will test innovative new strategies to help low-income, unmarried mothers and fathers work together for their child's good," said Shalala. "We hope these child support agencies and family support organizations will learn new ways to work together, so that children receive the regular financial and emotional support they need and deserve."

The projects approved today will test approaches to serving young, never-married, non-custodial parents who do not have a child support court order in place and may face obstacles to employment.

Activities will include promoting voluntary establishment of paternity; educational services and career planning; fatherhood and parenting workshops; promoting the formation or continuation of a supportive relationship between parents; financial planning and skill education; "team" parenting for both mother and father; substance abuse and anger management services; awareness of domestic violence issues; transportation assistance, and regular child support enforcement services.

Some of the projects will provide direct services for custodial parents, and all will provide for referral of custodial parents to child support services and other services as needed. The demonstrations will also test a new cooperative working relationship between child support enforcement and non-governmental agencies.

The demonstrations will total $15 million in combined federal and private funding over a three year period. The demonstrations will be in Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Chester County, Pa.; Chicago, Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Milwaukee/Racine, Wis.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and New York City.


Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Sex-ed study is criticized

A story released today by U.S. Newswire reports that Advocates for Youth claims that a new study on abstinence-only sex education is flawed and misleading. The study, which claimed that abstinence-only-until-marriage education is the most effective form of sex education, was conducted by the Medical Institute for Sexual Health (MISH).

"This 'study' is based on misinterpretation of fact and blatant misrepresentation of sexuality education programs," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. "In fact, one program that MISH touts as a successful abstinence-only program actually included contraceptive access as a key component for reducing teenage pregnancy. The program, The School/Community Intervention in Denmark, SC, focused both on delaying too-early sexual activity and on providing sexually active young people with contraceptive counseling, services and supplies," he concluded.

The Advocates groups says that extensive research shows MISH's support for abstinence-only education to be misguided. Studies by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization show that comprehensive sexuality education -- which teaches about both abstinence and contraception -- is the most effective sexuality education for young people. Those who receive this kind of education are more likely to begin having sex later in life and to use protection correctly and consistently when they do become sexually active.

They says this is why the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association (ANA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) support comprehensive sexuality education. In fact, the AMA recently urged schools to "implement comprehensive, developmentally appropriate sexuality education programs" as part of an overall health education program.

"Despite expert findings, despite contradictions in their own findings, this and other right-wing organizations want to pour taxpayer dollars into sexuality education programs that censor vital information about contraception -- information necessary to help teens avoid unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases," said Wagoner. "Ignorance is nobody's ally in the era of AIDS. What these organizations must realize is that denying young people critical information about contraception is not only naive and short-sighted, but irresponsible and dangerous," said Wagoner.

Advocates for Youth is calling on policy makers to put ideology aside and increase funding for realistic, balanced sexuality education that provides young people with information about both abstinence and contraception. "Despite MISH's 'findings' the research is clear. It's not either abstinence or contraception -- teens need both," said Wagoner.

Advocates for Youth is a national, nonprofit organization that creates programs and supports policies that help young people make safe, responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

Births to unmarried parents keeps increasing in U.S.

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that births to unwed mothers, on the rise for years, hit an all-time high in 1998 according to a new report released by the National Center for Health Statistics.

National figures for 1998 show that 32.8 percent of all births that year were to unmarried parents, up from 32.4 percent the previous year.

"The social disapproval factor has definitely lessened,'' said Stephanie Ventura, lead author of the report compiled from state birth data.

Some 1.29 million babies were born to single women in 1998, up 3 percent from the prior year and the highest number reported since the government started collecting birth data in the early 1900s.

Jacqueline Darroch, senior vice president for research at Alan Guttmacher Institute, a private research group, said the rise in unmarried moms doesn't necessarily mean that children don't have fathers because many women are living with, but not marrying, their partners.

"Nonmarried does not necessarily mean that it's the mother alone without a father,'' said Darroch, citing a government study that showed about 4 percent of women, or about 2.6 million, living with partners.

The new report shows that the birth rate for unmarried women in 1998 was 44.3 births per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15-44 years, one percent higher than in 1997 (44.0) but still 6 percent below its highest level, 46.9 in 1994.

According to the report, birth rates for unmarried women vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin. In 1998 the rates were 27.4 per 1,000 non-Hispanic white women, 73.3 percent for black women, and 90.1 for Hispanic women.

While the proportion of all births occurring to all unmarried women was 32.8 percent in 1998, the figures for racial and ethnic subgroups also varied using this measurement. Some 21.9 percent of non-Hispanic white babies were born to unmarried mothers, compared with 69.3 percent of non-Hispanic black babies being born out of wedlock, and 41.6 percent of Hispanic babies being born to unmarried mothers.

For a comparison of percentages of births to unmarried mothers, state by state, click here, and then go to the bottom of the new page for the appropriate chart.

Senate Republicans push new bill to give married couples billions more in tax relief

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that a Senate Republican bill intended to ease the income tax marriage penalty paid by millions of two-income couples would provide billions of dollars more in tax relief than a measure passed earlier this year by the House.

Senate GOP aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the bill's price tag at between $230 billion and $240 billion over 10 years using projected budget surpluses. The version passed by the House in February would cost $182 billion over a decade.

President Clinton, who wants a less costly marriage penalty bill, threatened to veto the House measure in part because it would use such a large chunk of the surplus.

About 25 million two-income couples pay more income taxes simply because they are married than if they were single. Millions of other married couples, however, receive a "marriage bonus" under current income tax laws.

The story says that Senate Democrats were expected to draft their own alternative that targets the tax relief more toward the middle- and lower-income groups and also avoids giving untoward tax relief to couples who now earn a tax ``bonus'' -- generally those in which one spouse earns the lion's share of the income.

"The Republicans want to give broad-based tax relief disguised as a marriage penalty bill,'' said Mike Siegel, spokesman for Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.


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