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



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

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Sunday, December 31, 2000

Couples to challenge Utah adoption ban

A story published today in the Salt Lake Tribune reports that same-sex couples, such as Cristy Gelave and Roni Wilcox, are gearing up for a legal challenge to Utah's statutory ban on joint adoptions of children by gay and lesbian couples.

Two years ago, Gleave and Wilcox, partners of five years, conceived a child whose anonymous father was chosen for intelligence, dark hair and hazel eyes.  Few lesbian couples in Utah have used artificial insemination as a path to parenthood.

For Wilcox and Gleave, it was a decision made easier by a series of judicial rulings granting adoption rights to the nonbiological parent of gay and lesbian couples in Utah and elsewhere.

On March 22, Gleave legally adopted Yeager, a sturdy child with blond hair and big hazel eyes. Absent the adoption, Gleave's parental rights in a custody battle or in the instance of Wilcox's death would have been uncertain. Yeager also would have tenuous legal standing to benefit from Gleave's estate, medical insurance coverage or Social Security benefits.

The story stresses how the date of Yeager's adoption is especially critical. A week earlier, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt -- saying he believed it best for a child to be raised by a mother and a father -- signed a law, enacted by the Legislature, that banned adoptions by sexually involved couples who were living together but not married.

As a result, Yeager may be the last legally adopted child of a nonbiological lesbian mother in Utah.

"It's heartbreaking," says Laura Milliken Gray, a Salt Lake City attorney who has handled more than half of the state's gay adoptions. "Loving couples come in here every day asking 'Why? Why can't we adopt?' "

"What's so insane about this law," Gray says, "is, if you are single and gay and don't live with anyone, you can still adopt. It's crazy."

Gay adoptions in Utah were virtually unheard of a decade ago. Family law attorneys believe the first adoption of a child by a gay Utah couple occurred around 1998; as many as 30 followed. Some were "stranger adoptions," or adoptions of a child who didn't previously live with either parent.

Others were "second parent adoptions" or step-parent adoptions involving a child already residing with one or both parents. All proceeded under a Utah adoption law that stood unchallenged for 60 years.

The story says that the old law began to be eroded when an administrative policy was enacted by the board of Utah's Division of Child and Family Service that bars same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples from state-sponsored adoptions.

The ensuing fight engendered a conservative backlash joined by Brigham Young University law professor Lynn Wardle, who testified in favor of Utah's new statute.

"This was a response to the problem of stealth adoptions," Wardle says. "There were a number of judges who were sympathetic to gay and lesbian couples. . . . That was troubling."

That is a disingenuous argument, Gray says, because Utah's old law specifically called for judicial review.

Then, the passage of a new statute aligned Utah with Florida as the only states where gay couples are prevented from adopting. Soon after, Mississippi became the third. Only Vermont specifically allows gay couple adoptions.

Wilcox and Gleave, along with several other Utah couples, are preparing to challenge Utah's new law, with Gray in their corner.

"Gay couples who adopt are just like straight couples who can't have children who want to adopt -- there is a real desire there, a love and a passion for parenthood," says Gray, who reserves a wall in her office for pictures of gay families she has helped preserve. "There is no accident when a lesbian couple gets pregnant."

Saturday, December 30, 2000

Many Christian couples still choose to delay sex until after marriage

A story published today in the Akron Beacon Journal reports that a large number of Christian couples, such as Andre Williams and LaShante Smith, are choosing to remain celibate until they marry.

Williams met Smith at a prayer meeting at Friendship West Baptist Church. The two had known each other for about 15 years, since Williams had played basketball for Smith's godfather in college. Smith was in junior high school then, and Williams was a big brother of sorts.

But the 24-year-old who spoke at that Dallas prayer meeting in January 1999 was no little girl. She was a college graduate with a budding career in telecommunications.

His feeling that this was more than friendship solidified the day Williams, then 32, told Smith that he was in love and wanted a romantic relationship with her.

``She said, `That's good, but I need to pray about it,' '' Williams recalled.

And he knew he had found the right woman when she also made it clear that their dating relationship would not include sex.

For many adults, the prospect of romance without sex is like love without music. In contrast, some Christian singles are living a faith that has long demanded abstinence until a couple are pronounced husband and

Even as marriage rates drop, divorce rates swell and the age of first marriage climbs, these Christians struggling to live celibate single lives are increasingly looking to pastors, church singles groups and friends for support. In recent years, pastors have begun responding, tackling the topic in books, seminars and sermons.

``Marrieds and singles have been struggling with sex, and pastors have been silent,'' said the Rev. Sheron Patterson of Jubilee United Methodist Church in Duncanville. ``But they are waking up.''

``Here we are in a culture that obviously sees itself as sexually progressive compared to 100 years ago,'' said Bonnie Miller-McLemore, a professor of pastoral theology at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. ``On the other hand, with the puritan streak that runs through American culture, we still don't talk about it.''

For many, Christian theology has always advocated an exclusive relationship between sex and marriage.

But there is not just one Christian approach to sex regarding unmarried adults, said Miller-McLemore, an author of From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate, a book from the Religion, Culture and Family Project at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

``There are probably at least three positions: Catholic, evangelical and a liberal, more progressive position,'' she said. ``In the two cases of Catholic and evangelical, you will get an unequivocal teaching of the church. . . . In the progressive approach, there's a `Let us not deal with this.' ''

Though the approach is perhaps not clearly articulated from pulpits, Miller-McLemore, for one, envisions a progressive Christian teaching that would ``honor the importance of bodily, physical contact,'' and allow for sex in committed, if ringless, relationships, she said.

``It is really easier when you can make an absolutistic claim such as no sex out of marriage,'' she said. ``It is a lot harder to be morally nuanced.''

And there is room in the discussion for a nuanced Christian approach to sex and single adults, Miller-McLemore said.

Even in traditions that have demanded celibacy from single believers, not all have been as committed as McClure.

In general society, sex and marriage have separated from each other to the point that premarital sex may be a misnomer, said David Popenoe, a sociology professor at the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers, and co-director of the school's National Marriage Project.

The project released a study in June called Sex Without Strings, Relationships Without Rings. It looked at 10 groups of singles in their 20s without college degrees and discovered that their dating was not geared toward marriage, he said. Instead, those singles focused on their careers and establishing financial security.

Marriage rings were scarce, but sex was not, Popenoe said.

Reconnecting marriage and sex in the minds and lives of their flocks has become a priority for some pastors who work with singles, Nelson and Patterson said.

Patterson began talking about sex to congregants in the 1980s, when she was an assistant pastor at a Dallas church and started a singles ministry. Her message was celibacy, and she makes the case with Bible verses and social observations.

``I used to have a fire-and-brimstone message about sex,'' she said. ``Now my message is that celibacy is the best option for the single Christian."


Friday, December 29, 2000

More schools telling kids that sex is only for married couples

A story published today in the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reports that increased federal funding for "abstinence only" sex education programs is causing more schools to tell students that sex is only for married couples.

Cartoons are one weapon used in the abstinence-only programs, as are films, celebrity rallies, school classes, and even lollipops and pencils.

A recent survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization aligned with birth-control and abortion rights advocates, found an elevenfold increase since 1988 among secondary school teachers who say they do not discuss any method other than abstinence as a way to avoid pregnancy.

Groups promoting abstinence until marriage have flourished since conservative Republicans in Congress, in a little-noticed amendment to the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, stepped up federal financing to promote chastity, which had totaled $60 million since 1981.

The new statute set aside $250 million for five years - $437 million including mandatory state matching funds - and prohibited participating programs from encouraging use of condoms or contraception or giving any information that might undermine the abstinence message.

Along with other increases in financing for abstinence programs, federal and state governments will pay $100 million over the next year to teach chastity as the only realistic strategy for avoiding disease and pregnancy.  In contrast, the federal government spends only $30 million a year on education to fight HIV, largely by urging youngsters to use condoms if they do have sex. Aside from spending on abstinence and HIV programs, the federal government designates no other money for sex education.

The abstinence-until-marriage programs encourage students to view commercials, television shows and movies portraying sex between singles with skepticism and to refuse physical intimacy not anchored in wedding vows - values that most parents tell pollsters they want schools to pass on.

The story points out that these abstinence only programs actually conflict with the views of most parents, who overwhelmingly favor teaching youngsters to take precautions if they do have sex, in shunning practical information for students who ignore the abstinence message.

Contrary to the wishes of more than 80% of the parents surveyed in a half-dozen national polls over the last decade, abstinence-until-marriage programs do not tell youngsters how to obtain or use birth control and condoms, instead focus on their potential for failure. Some describe in gruesome detail the advanced stages of venereal diseases, but do not mention where teenagers should go or what they should do if they catch one.

According to the story, educators predict a vigorous debate over abstinence courses next year, when most of the money available faces reauthorization.

"This is really an argument not about research," said Sarah S. Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which believes that teenagers need to learn about birth control and disease prevention, which the abstinence courses avoid. "It's about what people believe is right."

The three studies that have looked into the effectiveness of abstinence programs which have generally been recognized as the most valid have shown insufficient evidence that they delay sex, said Douglas Kirby, a senior research scientist at Education, Training and Research Associates in California.

Kirby's group produces its own curriculum, which promotes abstinence but also emphasizes the importance of using condoms and contraception.

A second review of the studies by Rebecca Maynard of Mathematica Policy Research, a data analysis company in Princeton, N.J., reached a similar conclusion. Maynard is running the government's first evaluation of federally financed abstinence programs.

A National Academy of Sciences committee on HIV prevention recently called spending on abstinence-only programs "poor fiscal and public health policy." A panel of scientists the National Institutes of Health convened in 1997 deemed the programs an obstacle to reducing the risky behaviors among teens that spread HIV and called for the elimination of their financing.

Debbie Olson, a Chicago nurse who heads the Southwest Parents Committee, which teaches abstinence, acknowledged that few recognized studies proved conclusively that courses like hers keep teenagers from having sex. But, she said, she just knew it was right, on moral if not scientific grounds.

"It's a philosophical difference over what is sex for," she said. "Is it for recreational sport or is it something special and meaningful?"

Although advocates appear polarized into two camps, pitting "abstinence only" against "comprehensive sex education," studies over the last 15 years have documented success among programs that combine both approaches: discussion of the risks of early sexual involvement and the skills needed to refuse advances, backed up with instruction about precautions for those who have sex.

The studies found no proof that talking about protection led teenagers to have sex earlier.

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