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U.S. News Archive
October 28 - October 31, 2000





This page contains news for the period October 28, 2000 through October 31, 2000.


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Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Researchers meet to discuss unmarried cohabitation

A story published yesterday in the Daily Collegian, a campus newspaper at Pennsylvania State University, reports that researchers from across the country met yesterday and are meeting again today at Pennsylvania State University's Nittany Lion Inn to speak about cohabitation.

Alan Booth, professor of sociology, human development and demography and Ann Crouter, professor of human development and family studies, organized "Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation for Children, Families and Social Policy."

The symposium will explore the way informal unions affect family relationships, the well-being of children in the situation and will focus on policy issues and legal rights and obligations.

"It is really to pull together some of the best researchers from different disciplines to discuss what we know about cohabitation and its affect on children and adults," Crouter said.

The symposium is open to the public and among the attendees will be the Dorian Solot, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

Solot co-founded the national organization for unmarried people when she and her partner Marshall Miller decided that marriage was not the path they wanted to follow.

"Early on in our relationship we decided that marriage wasn't what we wanted. We didn't think it was that big of a deal, but we found out that it was," Miller said.

After they made their decision, they received a lot of pressure to marry, Miller said.

Miller said they had many experiences with discrimination. At one time, a landlord refused to rent to them because they were not married. Insurance companies refused to give them insurance.

"I was very surprised about the amount of discrimination we received. Everywhere we turned there was pressure to get married. In 1998, we decided we would do something about it," Solot said.

The organization focuses on three types of couples. First, people that have just chosen not to marry. Second, same-sex couples and finally, couples that lived together before marriage and intend to marry.

"I think that marriage is a great option for some people but it's not the best option for everyone," Solot said. "I'm excited because cohabitation is becoming more acceptable."

The couple has found that the Alternative to Marriage Project is a particular interest to college students.

Their organization has grown significantly. Cohabitation has increased significantly. More than 11 million couples in the United States are cohabiting.

They are trying to bring an awareness that there is an option to cohabit and that their organization offers support to couples who want to take that route.

"We're the organization that comes out and says that discrimination against unmarried couples is wrong," Miller said. "So far we have gained a lot of interest from the media and overall the responses have been positive."

Missouri court says herpes disclosure required between unmarried sex partners

A story published today in the Kansas City Star reports that a Missouri appeals court ruled Tuesday that unmarried people may sue sexual partners who give them herpes. This is the first such ruling in the state.

The appeals court in Kansas City said that people who know they have the sexually transmitted disease must tell their partners. The panel's decision extended the same rights to unmarried couples that a 1986 case gave to married couples.

Tuesday's ruling sends the case of a Columbia woman back for trial in Boone County, where a judge dismissed her lawsuit last year.

The lawsuit is against a Columbia man in his 20s who the plaintiff contends gave her herpes and genital warts two years ago. The defendant denied the allegations. Herpes is treatable, but not curable.

Dan J. Pingelton, attorney for the plaintiff, said his client was infected at age 19 in her first love affair. The lawsuit cites extreme physical and emotional pain and seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages.

The defendant knew he had herpes and did not tell, Pingelton said.

"He owed her a duty like I owe you a duty not to hurt you when I drive down the road," Pingelton said. He said the ruling applies to herpes cases, but future cases could extend the decision to other sexually transmitted diseases.

Samantha A. Harris, who represents the defendant, said she would consider an appeal. The ruling could lead to a flood of lawsuits, she said.

"If you can sue for damages from casual sex and casual dating," she said, "it's really going to get interesting."

Harris also had argued the plaintiff assumed the dangers of sex and therefore she did not have a claim. The woman did not ask if her partner had a disease when they started the relationship, Harris noted.

Pingelton said many other states allow such lawsuits, and the appeals court relied on rulings in California, Alabama and Minnesota. He could find no case law in Kansas.

According to Medical experts said it can often be difficult for people to prove who gave them herpes and when. Many who have it do not know, experts said, because the disease hardly appears at all in some cases and can remain dormant for years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that about 45 million people nationwide have sexually transmitted herpes and about 1 million more get it each year.

No sex toys for singles in Alabama

According to a story published in the most recent issue of LGNY, a federal appeals court has reinstated a criminal law prohibiting the sale of sex toys to adults.  The court overturned an earlier ruling by a federal district court judge which found the statute unconstitutional.

The appeals court suggested, however, that married people might have a constitutional rights to use sex toys, and so it remanded the case for a further hearing on that issue.  But for singles in Alabama -- they will have to go out of state to buy such a toy.

The state successfully argued that it has a legitimate interest in attempting to discourage "autonomous" sexual expression -- that is, masturbation. It appears that Alabama fears that people who buy sex toys may waste their precious bodily fluids, which need to be preserved for more productive uses.

In 1998, Alabama amended its obscenity law to add a ban on the distribution or sale of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for any thing of pecuniary value." Several sellers of such items, together with two married women who used them as marital sex aids, filed suit with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of this law. The plaintiffs were successful last year in persuading U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith, Jr. that the law was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because the state had advanced no rational basis for it.

The court of appeals disagreed, in an opinion by Circuit Judge Black, who accepted the state's argument that its interest in promoting "morality" served as a rational justification for the law.

However, the court concluded that the married women plaintiffs in this case might still be able to argue that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to them, since Supreme Court cases have indicated that the right of privacy specifically applies to the private, consensual sexual activities of married (and unmarried) heterosexual couples. Consequently, the court decided to send the case back to Judge Smith for a more focused consideration of whether the law might be unconstitutional as applied to married people.




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