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U.S. News Archive
April 07 - April 13, 2000





This page contains news for the period Friday, April 07, 2000 through Thursday, April 13, 2000.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Vermont committee sends constitutional amendment to Senate floor

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that the Vermont Senate will soon debate whether to overturn the state Supreme Court's ruling that gay and lesbian couples are being unconstitutionally denied the rights and benefits of marriage.

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, has proposed an amendment to the state Constitution that would overturn the court's December ruling.

Even though most of its members opposed the measure, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed 5-1 to at least forward the amendment to the Senate floor for a debate.

The constitutional amendment was not previously addressed in the House because such proposals must originate in the Senate is a tricky one.

Many opponents of granting marriage benefits to same-sex couples have urged the Senate to add to the Constitution a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The House rejected gay marriage but approved granting the rights through parallel civil unions. However, a constitutional amendment defining marriage would not prohibit civil unions.

The story says that Illuzzi believes his proposed amendment would accomplish the goals of opponents by defining marriage in the Constitution, reserving to the Legislature the authority for deciding who gets the rights and responsibilities of marriage, and declaring that no other provision of the Constitution can be construed to require those benefits be conferred upon anyone other than one man and one woman.

The constitutional amendments and the civil unions bill that would grant marriage rights and benefits are expected for full Senate debate by the middle of next week.

The following is the text of proposed constitutional amendment.

"Sec. 2 Chapter I, Article 22nd of the Vermont Constitution is added to read:


"Marriage is the legal union of one man and one woman. The general assembly shall define the legal benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage. No provision of this constitution shall be held to require that any such benefits and responsibilities be extended by the general assembly or the judiciary to any grouping of people other than one man and one woman."

Louisiana Supreme Court considers privacy challenge to state's sodomy law

A story published today in the Baton Rouge Advocate reports that an attorney for a man convicted under Louisiana's 195-year-old sodomy law, which makes noncommercial oral and anal sex between consenting adults a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, told the state Supreme Court yesterday that the law is an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

"We don’t have police officers in our bedrooms; we have the state in our bedrooms," Gretna attorney Byrne Dyer III, who represents Mitchell Smith, argued during a hearing at the Supreme Court.

The story says that the Supreme Court took Tuesday’s arguments under advisement without indicating when a ruling would be issued.

Smith was accused of raping a woman. Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Patrick Quinlan acquitted him of rape, but found him guilty of "crime against nature" because both Smith and the woman admitted they engaged in oral sex. Smith testified that he had consensual oral sex with the woman.

"Although not charged, she was equally guilty of the crime," Justice Jeffrey Victory said during the hearing.

In declaring the the sodomy law unconstitutional in February 1999, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal said noncommercial, consensual oral and anal sex is protected by the right to privacy in the Louisiana Constitution. The 4th Circuit judges reversed Smith’s 1996 conviction and sentence -- a three-year suspended jail term and two years of probation.

The 4th Circuit judges said they examined constitutional cases on sodomy laws in other states, rejecting arguments that sodomy is immoral, discourages procreation and leads to short-lived and shallow relationships.

Premarital counseling is in the national spotlight

A story published today by the Arkansas Gazette Democrat says that premarital counselors can forecast which relationships will turn into stormy marriages and they can also help reaffirm ones that are likely to work.

"There's no harm in asking a googly-eyed couple to take a cold, hard look at the depth of their commitment," writes Kim Ode, a Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist.

With divorce rates spiraling upward, some think premarital counseling is the best avenue for taking that "cold, hard look."

The story says that in former decades, people often married without any counselor's blessing and found their ever-afters blissful enough. Love birds wed with a wing, a prayer and little more to guide them -- and their matches often lasted. That was then.

And now? More than half of all first marriages end in divorce. Church and civic leaders are reacting to that sobering statistic by promoting premarital counseling because they hope to re-elevate the institution of marriage and encourage people to enter it with more forethought.

"When people are starry-eyed in love, they do tend to overlook things," says Bob Edwards, a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Arkansas Marriage Center in Little Rock. An outside party -- such as a counselor -- can help them identify possible problems.

Most large churches provide some type of premarital counseling by a minister or clergyman, often for free. But some couples choose more intensive programs with professional marriage counselors. In some programs, it is married couples who do the counseling.

Premarital counseling, which has been around for many years, was once almost exclusively the domain of clergymen. But when ministers discovered how much time it required, taking them away from other duties, they cut back. Professional counselors began to take over. Now the pendulum has swung back somewhat, with religious groups renewing their interest.

The Roman Catholic Church has long promoted premarriage instruction. Protestant churches are more inconsistent, but the adoption of it as a requirement is beginning to spread. Now, many churches and ministers will not marry a couple unless they attend premarital counseling sessions.

The issue has been addressed at the state level of late, too, in concerted efforts to reduce U.S. divorce rates. Laws considered and adopted around the country include required premarital counseling and, in some cases, lower marriage license fees for those who've been counseled or have attended courses.

Marriage Savers, a Bethesda, Md., organization that promotes premarital counseling, has helped many cities around the country make it a requirement. Modesto, Calif., was the first to do so; since the law took effect in 1986, the divorce rate there has reportedly fallen 35 percent.

So there is evidence that counseling may be effective. But some wonder whether it is wise to pass laws requiring premarital counseling before its effects are more widely understood. And most people balk at the idea of intrusive government regulation, anyway.

Although premarital counseling programs may differ in their approaches, they all have common goals: increasing the would-be tandem's knowledge of themselves and each other, and furnishing them with methods of conflict resolution.

But some claim that, whatever the approach or goals, counseling is limited in what it can accomplish.

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker writes: "Trying to counsel two hormonally deranged young people about marriage after they've exchanged engagement rings is like trying to teach a dog to sit after you've already given him the bone. ... A few perfunctory counseling sessions aren't going to suddenly bring them to their senses."

She suggests that a required-to-graduate high school course on marriage and family might be more effective.

Engaged couples who seek unrequired premarital counseling are still the exception and not the rule. Professional counselors, in fact, report that most of their clients are from the married-already-and-disillusioned crowd. Typical unmarried couples seeking counseling are well-educated with above-average incomes; often, they are individuals whose parents divorced and who want to prevent the same from happening to them.

Why couples decide against counseling is anyone's guess. Maybe they fear they could discover that they really are mis-matched -- perhaps the fear of being alone and of having to start their search for a companion all over again outweighs the fear of making a mistake. Or perhaps they're just "starry-eyed" and think they don't need it.

For many, it may be a matter of perception. Counseling is commonly viewed as a curative, not a preventive measure: You seek counseling only after problems have surfaced, not before.

Counseling proponents hope to eventually dispel such perceptions. In the meantime, for couples who decide against premarital counseling, some counselors recommend they read His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley and other books on the subject.

Another alternative would be for a couple who are six or so months into their marriage to make an appointment with a counselor -- even if they're not having problems.

AASP makes presentation at Cal State University

AASP President, Dr. Nora Baladerian, and executive director Thomas F. Coleman, made a joint presentation today at California State University at Northridge.

The presentation was made at the Spring Intellectual Exchange of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. 

Baladerian and Coleman discussed the status of single people in American society, the underpinnings of marital status discrimination, and how the American Association for Single People is creating a collective voice for the 80 million unmarried adults in America.

The presentation was professionally videotaped for a documentary being created by AASP about the lives of unmarried Americans.


Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Major cities have high rate of unwed births

A story published in the March issue of American Demographics reports that in the 50 largest U.S. cities, an average of 43 percent of all births are by unmarried women, according to the 1997 Kids Count Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Nationally, the percentage of total births by unmarried women increased from 28 percent in 1990 to 32.4 percent in 1997.

The uptick in unwed motherhood is largely due to a decline in so-called "shotgun weddings", which fell sharply in the 1980s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increased premarital cohabitation has also played a role.

Between 1990 and 1994, 39 percent of births by unmarried women were to cohabiting women, compared to 29 percent between 1980 and 1984, according to the National Survey of Family Growth. Most of the increase was found among non-Hispanic white women.

Seattle Times criticizes Gore's tax plan as unfair to singles

An editorial published today in the Seattle Times objects to the tax proposals of Al Gore as "not smart" and unfair to single people.

The editorial notes that Gore has proposed to increase Social Security benefits to parents and survivors. While these ideas are no doubt poll-tested to be popular, the editorial claims they are not smart proposals.

Gore's first plan would let an applicant count up to five years spent caring for children as having worked and paid Social Security tax, even though the applicant didn't work for money and paid no tax. While this has an emotional appeal, the editorial says it is a gift of the system's resources. It also does nothing to help today's young parents stay at home with children, because they won't get the extra money, with full benefits, until age 67.

His second proposal is a variant of one that has been kicking around for several years. The editorial says that "Social Security is set up for a world in which husbands earn most of the money and die first. The system needs to be adjusted for a world of two earners. The idea is to lower the benefits paid to spouses while the principal earner is still alive, but to raise the percentage paid to whoever survives. This is a tradeoff to benefit the two-earner family. What Gore has done is to take the sweet part and leave out the cut."

What that would do, according to Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution, is make the system unfair to singles, because a single person would get a smaller retirement check than the widow of a married man with the same earnings history as the single.

Virginia senatorial candidate calls for repeal of "death taxes"

A story published today in the Washington Post reports that U.S. Senate hopeful George Allen (R) called again today for childhood-to-grave tax cuts. The proposals were criticized by incumbent Charles S. Robb (D).

Appearing at a Rotary Club in suburban Richmond, Allen outlined a five-point plan to eliminate estate taxes, fix the marriage penalty, create insurance deductions and incentives for long-term care, and give families a $1,000-per-child credit for many classroom expenses except private school tuition.

Repealing the so-called death taxes on estates would provide nearly $7 billion in relief each year, Allen said.

"They tax you to death, and, in fact, once you die, they want to tax you again," Allen said. "To paraphrase another former Virginia governor, Patrick Henry, our rallying cry should be, 'No taxation without respiration!' "

Federal estate taxes favor the married over single people. A person may leave millions of dollars of assets to a spouse without any tax being imposed at all, whereas a single person who leaves assets to a friend or a domestic partner may have as much as 60% of the assets taken by the federal government in estate taxes.


Monday, April 10, 2000

AASP taped for public television program

Los Angeles public television station KCET taped a segment of its "Life and Times" program which focused on the American Association for Single People.

Host Val Zavalla, a single woman, interviewed AASP executive director Thomas F. Coleman.  Coleman and Zavalla discussed various types of discrimination experienced by unmarried adults in California and how AASP suggests that the lives of single people could be improved.

The show will air sometime in the next two weeks.

More than half of young adults cohabit prior to marriage

A story published today in the Christian Science Monitor reports that cohabitation prior to marriage is now the norm for young couples. Many divorcees also cohabit prior to remarriage.

The story focused on one particular divorcee. Five years of marriage left a bitter taste in Dianne's mouth. After infidelity on her husband's part led to an ugly, painful divorce several years ago, she says, "I was determined to be single for the rest of my life."

So when Dianne, who asked that her last name not be used, met another man, she dated him for two years - and then they moved in together for three years.

"In my mind, if I didn't marry him, if we didn't become one, he couldn't hurt me," she says. "If he betrayed me, I could walk away. No divorce. I thought living together was the perfect arrangement."

The story says that Dianne's decision would have been almost unheard of 30 years ago, when only a few hundred-thousand couples lived together outside of wedlock in the US.

But today, in the wake of the sexual revolution that eroded social stigmas about sex and marriage, she and her partner are one of the 4.5 million unmarried heterosexual couples who live together. This is in addition to more than 1.5 million same-sex couples.

The shift in lifestyle is virtually unprecedented, changing so rapidly and on such a scale that for nearly two decades, no accurate studies and statistics were available on cohabitation.

But in recent years, as research on unmarried couples who live together piles up, researchers are discovering some surprising things - including that cohabitation is more likely to end in disappointment than in fulfillment.

"It's sobering," says William Doherty, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who says he used to be "fairly positive" about cohabiting as a good way for people to find out whether they would be compatible marriage partners. "It's been sobering for me, and for a lot of others in this field."

The story says that couples who live together have more conflict and less satisfaction with their relationships than married couples do.

Although some 60 percent of cohabiting couples go on to marry, their marriages are often less stable and are more likely to end in divorce.

Many couples who live together choose to have children - 4 in 10 children born out of wedlock are born to cohabiting parents.

Experts say the increase in unmarried cohabitation may be a reflection of society itself. They point, for example, to a growing emphasis on the primacy of individual fulfillment in any relationship, and to a culture that stresses immediate gratification over satisfaction reached through hard work and commitment.

"There's a whole lot of scholarly speculation about changing values," says Pamela Smock, a sociologist who recently completed an overview of cohabitation studies for the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center. "Although I hate to make sweeping generalizations, we seem to be more and more comfortable over time with impermanence. If something doesn't contribute to our individual growth, then we leave it. Our threshold has somehow changed."

Smock and others also point out that for young couples today, marriage can be a terrifying prospect. Many are the products of marriages that ended in divorce. And in a society that has undergone such dramatic changes in attitudes about marriage and divorce, there's often little encouragement for young people trying to understand lifelong commitments.

"This generation has so much anxiety about marriage," says Les Parrott, a professor of psychology at Seattle Pacific University, and director of the school's Center for Relational Development. "Marriage changes you, and you change together, and you need skills to do that." Skills, he adds, that society is failing to instill.

"I think there is a myth about marriage that says this person should complete me. Of course they never do," Mr. Parrott says. "Marriage is not about finding the right person. It's about becoming the right person. And that's a hard lesson for a lot of us to learn."

Some experts believe that the social upheaval of the past few decades - and the rise in cohabitation figures - doesn't mean marriage is being abandoned. For one thing, cohabitors represent only about 7 percent of all couples in America today.

"Most people still want that formal recognition, and not just by the state," says Sarah Willie, a sociologist at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania who also points to increasing pressure from homosexual couples who want the right to marry legally. "Culturally, it's quite meaningful to have one's family and friends and society at large recognize a lifelong partnership. And people need that help, and support, in keeping their relationships together."


Sunday, April 9, 2000

AASP quoted in LA Times story on unmarried couples

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine published a story today about the rise in unmarried cohabitation. It focused on the lives of three Southern California couples who have lived together for many years.

The story reports that in the 1960s, the decline in marriage was blamed in one way or another for nearly every social problem, from crime to teen pregnancy to drug abuse. It asks why there is no similar outcry today.

The answer could lie here: Crime rates fell sharply in the 1990s, schools improved in many communities, test scores rose and drug abuse and teen pregnancies diminished. The social fabric mended a bit--at a time when unmarriage went mainstream. Perhaps the doomsayers had it wrong.

After discussing the prevalence of marital status discrimination, the story says: "If equal treatment is going to come, it will be in part through the efforts of such groups as the Alternatives to Marriage Project and the Los Angeles-based American Assn. for Single People. Both support efforts to grant domestic partnerships, whether same-sex or heterosexual, the same benefits and protections in housing, employment and other areas that married couples receive from government and employers."

To read the complete story, click here.


Saturday, April 8, 2000

Bill would cut marriage fee in Colorado by half

A story published today in the Denver Rocky Mountain News reports that the cost of getting married in Colorado may be reduced.

Sen. Doug Linkhart is chief Senate sponsor of HB 1025, which would slash in half the $20 fee that the state pockets from marriage license applicants. The money is currently used to fund a variety of child abuse programs.

To make up for the loss to those programs, Linkhart said $15 will be used out of the current $99 that the state slaps on people who file for divorce.

"We'll be cutting the price of marriage in half and not increasing the cost of divorce, so it's a good family bill," Linkhart quipped.


Friday, April 7, 2000

Study says that single mothers die sooner

A story published today by the BBC reports that a new study has concluded that bringing children up alone increases health risk and that single mothers have a higher risk of early death than those who live with a partner.

Researchers found that women who live alone with their children are 70% more likely to suffer premature death.

The study of more than 700,000 women in Sweden suggested suicides, violence and alcohol-related death were the biggest causes of increased risk to single mothers.

The story says that the excess risk of death remained after adjusting the findings taking into consideration financial status and previous medical experiences of the women.

Though financial, social and health disadvantages of single mothers played a part, there was a risk of death independent of these factors, said Gunilla Ringback Weitoft of the National Board of Health and Welfare in Stockholm, who led the study.

Single mothers were six times more likely to receive social welfare and two times more likely to receive unemployment benefit than mothers who lived with a partner. Such women were more likely to work full-time and on average worked longer hours, increasing the stresses on them, Weitoft said in the Lancet medical journal.

Their risk of suicide was four times greater and their risk of being a victim of domestic violence was five times greater.

Weitoft said: "Psychological stress, stigma and financial difficulties associated with lone parenthood have adverse health consequences. For previously married people, the stress suffered during marital breakdown also contributes."

But she cautioned that getting out of a failing or abusive marriage may sometimes be in a woman's best interest.

"An intact marriage is no guarantee of an emotionally healthy, well-supervised home environment," she said.


Premarital counseling would cut cost of marriage license in Minnesota

An article published today in the Star Tribune reports that under a bill now awaiting the signature of the governor, an engaged couple taking 12 hours of premarriage education could save $50 on the cost of a marriage license in Minnesota.

The bill actually increases the cost of a wedding license by $5, to $75. But by completing the voluntary premarital instruction, a couple would cut the cost to $25.

The education session would include a "premarital inventory," which the chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, calls a compatibility test.

The instruction could be given by a minister or a licensed marriage or family therapist.

"I've been probing around for years for ways to strengthen families," said Dille after the Senate passed the bill on a 55-7 vote. The House earlier had approved it, 97 to 35.

Dille said Florida, the only state with such a law, had a 5 percent participation rate in 1999, the first full year the law was in effect.

Dille said a study in Colorado showed that 12 hours of premarital education that focused on communications skills and conflict management reduced the divorce rate by 50 percent at the five-year mark, compared with the rate for a control group that did not take such counseling.

Sen. Martha Robertson, R-Minnetonka, voted against the bill.

"I don't understand why you would create a differential in the wedding license," she said. "It just seems to add some unneeded confusion on what it costs to get married. . . . You've always got the option for counseling."


New Jersey Supreme Court limits rights of grandparents, expands rights of ex-partners

A story published today by New York Newsday reports that the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that grandparents may not claim custody or to seek visitation with their grandchildren if the child's parents object. In another case, however, the court affirmed the right of a woman to seek visitation rights with the biological child of her former lover.

The court explained its grandparent ruling in two cases it decided yesterday.

In one case, grandparents were seeking to maintain monthly visits they had enjoyed for five years with a granddaughter who was adopted by a new family. The court cut off these visits.

In the second, grandparents were competing with the biological father for custody of a granddaughter who had been living in their home since her infancy. The court ordered the child removed.

In the case of the adopted child, the court concluded that New Jersey adoption law requires complete termination of the rights of the biological parents when children are placed with an adoptive family. The court reasoned that such a termination of rights must then logically extend to biological grandparents as well.

In the case of the custody dispute, the court ruled that the rights of the biological father supersede the claims of the maternal grandparents, even though the father and mother were unmarried and the child had been living with the grandparents for several years.

As a result of the ruling, 3-year-old Chantel Watkins-Murphy, whose mother was killed in an accident shortly after her birth, will be removed from her grandparents home and placed with her father, Larry Watkins, with whom she has spent weekends.

The lesbian co-parent case had a different outcome.

In V.C. v. M.J.B., two women jointly decided to have children in 1994. Through artificial insemination, M.J.B. became pregnant and delivered twins. Between 1994 and 1196, the two women had a marriage ceremony and jointly parented the children and the four functioned as a family. After the women ended their relationship in 1996, M.J.B. sought to prohibit J.V.C. from visiting the children.

The Supreme Court ruled that J.V.C. had become a psychological parent to the child and should be allowed visitation. The Court said that someone who has functioned as a parent to the child should not be excluded from the child’s life.

The Court’s decision in this case followed the traditional family law standard that custody and visitation disputes are to be determined by what is in the best interests of the child. The Court’s opinion states that "[o]nce a third party has been determined to be a psychological parent to a child ...he or she stands in parity with the legal parent. Custody and visitation issues between them are to be determined on a best interests standard."

To read the complete decision in the lesbian co-parent case, click here.


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