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U.S. News Archive
June 21 - June 27, 2000





This page contains news for the period June 21, 2000 through June 27, 2000.


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Monday, June 26, 2000

Republican version of estate tax reform still favors married couples

A column published today by CNN financial analyst Daniel Kadlec warns that the Republican bill to phase out the estate tax has a little-noticed provision that will continue to take a large chunk in taxes anyway. It is called a "step-up capital gains tax."

Kadlec likens the bill to what a school-yard bully does when he offers candy in one hand while the other arm is folded behind his back. Take the bait and you're bound to get soaked, smudged, smeared or socked.

Kadlec says the ploy is an old one, and Uncle Sam is gaming taxpayers with a version right now. Eliminating the estate tax, which the Senate will consider this week, is the sweet stuff. Levying additional tax on capital gains, a form of wealth the stock-owning masses have come into big time, is the punch.

He points out that while just about every taxable estate stands to benefit if the so-called death tax gets buried, the rub of additional capital-gains tax is no trifle. Don't worry, he says. No one's messing with the cap-gains rate: 20% for long-held assets. What's getting deep-sixed is the "step-up" in value of some inherited assets. The step-up may sound arcane, but it's a bedrock of estate planning.

Say your parents own $300,000 of Microsoft stock for which they paid just $25,000 some years ago. If they sell while they're alive, they'll get hit with a cap-gains tax totaling $55,000 on their profit of $275,000. If they hold until death, though, their heirs will get the stock at the stepped-up basis of $300,000. They could turn around and sell, and owe no cap-gains tax. This money saver is an overriding motivator for many parents who choose not to sell, possibly forgoing a better end of their life. Under the bill, in some cases, that sacrifice would be for naught.

Under the Republican bill, you could leave your spouse $3 million at the stepped-up value, and an additional $1.3 million at stepped-up value to others. The surviving spouse in a marriage could leave yet another $1.3 million at the stepped-up basis. That's a lot of tax protection. Yet a single person could shield only $1.3 million in all, and by 2010, when the bill would be fully phased in, single estates will be common.

Fewer women say 'I Do', opt for cohabitation

A story published today by CNS News reports that fewer women, as a percentage, are making their way to the altar these days. It's not a new trend. According to the US Census Bureau, it began 50 years ago; the percentage of women marrying between the ages of 15 and 44 has actually been cut in half since 1950.

Divorce rates during that same period have more than doubled, although since the 1980's, divorce has become slightly less prevalent. Currently, more than half of all marriages end in divorce, and the fear of divorce is leading the children of divorcees to avoid the problems their parents faced, according to Susan Orr from the group Family Research Council.

More and more, cohabitation seems to be the answer - the permanent substitute for marriage. In 1970, only half-a-million couples lived together outside of marriage. Currently, close to five million couples are cohabiting. Thirty-six percent of these couples had children in 1998, up from 21 percent in 1977.

Wendy Wright, Director of Communications at the Beverly LeHaye Institute, said the data "shows the result of a philosophy that says the number one priority is personal, immediate fulfillment, rather than commitment to another person."

But Helen Grieco, president of the California National Organization for Women disagreed. "I think that's a lot of hooey," she said. "Rather than looking at this as a personality problem......I think we need to look at the hard economic problem[s]."

Grieco said, "I think it's hard to commit. You have to put work into your relationship and you're busy spending time at work... We have an insensitive, capitalistic sort of criminal situation going on."

Susan Orr partially blames the increase in "no- fault divorce [that] became prevalent in the early 1970's...that divests the marriage covenant of any permanency."

According to Wright, the modern cliché is "that marriage is just a piece of paper, that marriage really has no significance." In fact, she says, the devaluation of marriage has damaged American culture. "Society does take a hit when marriage is demeaned," Wright said. "It's going to be the children that are hurt."

A previous study by Bumpass and Sweet shows that couples who live together break up at twice the rate of couples who wait until they're married to live together.

NOW sees no problem with declining marriage rates and cohabitation. "The fact that more people are choosing not to get married does not mean they are not choosing to have partnerships," Grieco said. "The feminist movement is very committed to partnerships......in alternative or mainstream ways."

NOW also believes that "families are under stress because of economic problems and the way businesses are set up in this country."

Conservative groups are attempting to promote the institution of marriage. A movement in Colorado called Smart Marriage is calling for bipartisan support of a statement supporting the decision to wed.

Another community effort named Marriage Savers incorporates clergy who refuse to marry couples unless the couples have first had marriage counseling.

Wright backs efforts that she says emphasize marriage as "a unique institution that shouldn't be watered down."


Friday, June 23, 2000

ACLU challenges sodomy law in Minnesota

A story published today in the Star Tribune reports that the constitutionality of Minnesota's sodomy law was challenged Thursday in a lawsuit initiated by the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union.

"You don't need to be a lawyer to know the law is a violation of the right to privacy," said Jim Manahan, MCLU president from Mankato.

The law declares oral and anal sex unlawful even when it's private and between consenting adults. The statute, which has been on the books since the 19th century, calls for a penalty of a year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

Manahan said Minnesota is an island because North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin have repealed similar laws.

The statute is rarely used to charge people with crimes, but it is used to threaten prosecution and to deny people opportunities, he said. That might mean denying custody of a child to a gay parent or preventing an attorney from practicing law.

Some of the plaintiffs in the suit haven't used their names because they fear prosecution or other adverse affects. Examples include:

* A lesbian attorney who could face eviction from her home because the lease prohibits illegal activity.

* A married Minneapolis teacher who could lose his license if he were found to be violating state law.

* A quadriplegic married man whose only forms of intimacy are unlawful.

Attorney Tim Branson, who filed the suit, said "We are relying on the Minnesota Constitution's broad right to privacy."

New York sodomy law to be removed from state statutes

A press release issued today by the New York State Pride Agenda reports that a bill is moving forward in the Legislature to officially repeal the state's sodomy law. Passage of the repeal measure will be mostly symbolic because the sodomy law was declared unconstitutional by New York's highest court nearly 20 years ago.

Agreement for the sexual assault reform measure was reached yesterday in Albany by the Governor and leaders of the state Senate and state Assembly. According to the Pride Agenda, passage of the bill will not only result in the elimination of the crimes of "sodomy" but will also remove the term "deviate sexual intercourse" from the state's criminal laws.

"We're thrilled that New York's approach to sexual assault is coming out of the dark ages and that these offensive, misleading and stigmatizing terms will be going out the door," said Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "We thank our victim advocate allies for pushing so hard for this long-overdue change in the law."

The state's leading sexual assault victim advocates, including the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, made the repeal of offensive and antiquated terminology one of their top priorities among a broad range of needed reforms. The Pride Agenda provided technical assistance, strategic advice, media relations and financial support to the effort.

"We've wanted to get rid of this stigmatizing language for years - we know firsthand how it pains sexual assault survivors, whether they are gay or straight," said Susan Xenarios, Director of the St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Crime Victim Treatment Center and Co-Chair of the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims. "This was a great collaborative effort between the victim advocate and gay communities."


 Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Most high school seniors drink, half have sex

A story published today by Reuters reports that an Internet poll of high school seniors nationwide shows widespread use of alcohol and participation in sex.

The CBS poll was conducted among more than 2,300 U.S. high school students across the country in the graduating class of 2000. The surveys started four years ago when the class entered high school. The results will be published on the Internet by Simon & Schuster.

The survey reported that that drug and alcohol use was on the rise, with 61 percent of seniors polled said they drink alcohol and 18 percent saying they have tried marijuana. Fourteen percent were regular cigarette smokers, and 47 percent had tried a cigarette.

About 50 percent of the graduating seniors said they had had sex, up from previous years, and 18 percent said they were not virgins when they entered high school. Just 18 percent of the senior class of 1997 reported having had sex.

High-school-age kids were also more accepting of divorce, the poll said, and children whose parents had divorced were likely to say the separation was better than staying together for the children.


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