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Domestic Partnership News Archive
March 14 - March 20, 2001




This page contains news for the period March 14, 2001 through March 20, 2001.





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Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Nevada legislator introduces bill that would benefit unmarried couples

A story published today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that a measure that would legalize relationships between unmarried gay or heterosexual couples was introduced as one of the 135 bills introduced in the legislature Monday.

Assembly Bill 496 introduced by Assemblyman David Parks, would allow unmarried couples to sign a "declaration of reciprocal beneficiary relationship" statement. Parties in such relationships could make hospital or funeral arrangements and control estates for their domestic partners.

Partners could receive medical insurance benefits only if employers agree to make those benefits available to domestic partners. And unions could negotiate for medical benefits for domestic partners.

Parks, D-Las Vegas, said that the proposal has nothing to do with gay marriage but sets up the legal rights for all unmarried couples. He said there are four times as many unmarried heterosexual couples as there are homosexual couples.

"I am sure there will be quite a bit of opposition," he said.

The report added that other bills introduced in the assembly before the deadline dealt with marijuana use for medical reasons, legislation establishing a statewide gaming work card system, law clarifying that the open meeting applies to community college presidents, and increasing penalties for dumping trash in the desert.

Milwaukee's city employee union ratifies contract that includes benefits for same-sex domestic partners

A story published today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that members of the largest city employee union ratified a new contract that included benefits for same-sex domestic partners. The vote came two weeks after delegates on the union's joint bargaining committee rejected the contract and decided to send the proposal to the full membership with a recommendation that it be rejected.

Richard Abelson, executive director of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, confirmed Monday night that the union membership had approved the pact, but he declined to provide vote totals.

"Of the many issues negotiated, few have generated as much dialogue among members" as the same-sex domestic partners provision, he said after the votes were counted.

With about 2,300 members, District Council 48 is the largest city employee union. Its contracts typically become the model for all general city workers and generally become the basic benefits package for non-union and management employees.

"There are people who are very strongly opposed to the domestic partner benefits in our membership, and there are people who are very strong advocates," Abelson said. "This is a democratic union, and the membership has the final voice."

The contract voted on Monday, which would cover two years, includes wage increases of 2.5% in 2001 and 3% in 2002. Those increases are roughly comparable with ones in the most recent contract, approved just last fall, which included a 3% increase for 1999 and a 3.25% increase for 2000. Abelson said the deal also included improvements to vacation time and a shift differential for those who work at night.

Abelson said the city estimated that the cost of extending health, dental and funeral benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city workers covered by the deal would be between $45,000 and $60,000.

Although the contract was approved by union members, it still faces critics on the Common Council, which must approve all contracts before they take effect. Opponents say the same benefits - which would go to workers listed on the city's same-sex domestic partner registry -may later be demanded by unmarried heterosexual couples living together. Some council members have said they will vote to reject the overall contract on that basis alone.

Ald. Fred Gordon, chairman of the Finance and Personnel Committee said Monday that he may ask for a city attorney's opinion on how to proceed in determining if it's ok to provide the benefit or to reject a contract on that basis alone.

"If we denied it, what would the legality be?" Gordon asked. "Would we open ourselves up to a lawsuit?"

Mayor John O. Norquist, whose administration negotiated the deal, said he is generally supportive of extending the benefits to same-sex partners. He has not taken a position on the AFSCME contract, but adds that the same-sex partner benefits should be viewed as part of an overall contract.

U.K. to include same-sex households in national census

A story released today by Planetout.com Network reports that Britain's Office of National Statistics will include same-sex partners living together in their census form for the first time this year. But critics are concerned that the results will be used to inaccurately portray the size of the gay and lesbian community in the country.

Tony Hoare, a research consultant, stated that a possible problem would be misrepresentation of the figures. "This will make the issue of homosexual incidence look artificially low ... since around half of gay people live on their own," he said.

However, Hoare asserted that the collection of the data would be a move in the right direction. "I think that the inclusion of this question in a census is a step toward recognition -- but I would prefer it to be more overt, as I believe the current wording is likely to cause more problems that it will solve," he said.

Concerns about privacy have also been raised, but ONS assures that identifying information are kept confidential for 100 years. It further stated that it is illegal for ONS to pass personal information from the census to another government department or other organization.

Last year's U.S. census raised many of the same issues for gay and lesbian Americans. Many of the largest gay rights organizations sponsored a campaign to make sure that gays and lesbians marked the "unmarried partners" option when asked to describe their households. While some hoped the data would encourage lawmakers to pass anti-discrimination laws or allocate resources to gay causes, others feared an undercount could help gay rights opponents downplay the community's significance.

The U.K. census forms will be distributed to residents on April 2001.

Monday, March 19, 2001

Swiss province enacts partnership law

A story released today by the International News reports that gay and unmarried couples in Switzerland's Geneva province were granted some rights as married couples with exception in matters of immigration, social security, taxes, inheritance and adoption.

The partnership law called "the Pact of Civil Solidarity" passed the provincial Grand Council Feb. 15, 2001.

The legislation's preamble states, "Cantons are legally competent to enact anti-discrimination legislation protecting certain arrangements under which people can live together without being married."

The statute will take effect in a few months.

Saturday, March 17, 2001

Connecticut's Assembly hearing on same sex-unions heats up

A story published today in the New Haven Register reports that the Connecticut General Assembly got a taste Friday of the controversy it would ignite if it decides to take up a bill allowing gay couples to marry or enter into civil unions later this year. Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue attended the informational hearing at the legislature's Judiciary Committee, forcing Capitol police to redirect the overflow crowd into adjacent rooms.

Backers of a domestic partnership law argued that gays deserve access to the same legal rights on inheritance, medical decisions and employee benefits that heterosexuals enjoy when they marry.

"I believe that enacting a law regarding legal rights for same-gender couples establishes that individuals have a fundamental right to choose their partner and others cannot proscribe (outlaw) their right," said Rudolph Arnold, head of the Democracy Works advocacy group.

Opponents, who included Catholic Bishop Daniel Hart of Norwich, Archbishop Peter Rosazza of Hartford and other religious leaders, argued strenuously against the idea, saying that God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman.

"Marriage is a communion of love between a man and a woman in a reciprocal gift that is open to the generation of new life," Hart said. "Distorting the nature of marriage is erroneous.  It is untrue and a dangerous threat to society.  Such distortion is caused when other unions are held equivalent to marriage."

State Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the committee, emphasized there's no bill that grants gays the right to domestic unions before the General Assembly this session.  If the Judiciary Committee wanted to consider such a measure, it would have to act by April 18, he said.

"I think the reason we're in here today is there's an interest around the nation to sort out the legal rights and responsibilities of same-gender couples," Lawlor said. The hearing "is to help us think through this very, very complicated issue."

Connecticut's Republican Gov. John G. Rowland said that he didn't have a position on a domestic partner law, but expressed concern about the political repercussions the law might bring like in the state of Vermont where a similar law was passed.

Beth Robinson, a lawyer who argued the Vermont case and later ran a political action committee to defend lawmakers who backed the bill, said the backlash has been exaggerated.

For Teresa Lawrence, a professor emeritus at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, a domestic partnership law would mean peace of mind.  Lawrence testified that she's lived with her lesbian partner for 33 years and worries about the future of their estates and who will make medical decisions if one of them gets sick.

"These are not hypothetical situations, but literally matters of life and death," Lawrence told the committee. "We sincerely hope that whoever predeceases the other can be assured that we will be at each other's side and that our last moments can be spent together in the kind of peace and dignity we deserve."

Several opponents said it was wrong to grant gays the right to marriage because their lifestyle is chosen, a position that elicited groans from portions of the audience.   Bishop Richard G. Gatling Sr. of Hartford, who is black, said he objected to supporters of the bill who likened their fight to the civil rights struggle.

City of East Point proposes domestic partner benefits to municipal workers

A story published today in the Atlanta Journal Consitution reports that East Point employees could become only the second group of municipal workers in Georgia with domestic partner benefits if the city council approves proposed changes to the city's insurance policy Monday.

City manager Michael Miller said he has been working on the changes since October 1999, when a city employee asked whether the benefits could be provided. "There was a request and we felt, out of fairness, we should offer the benefits," said Miller.

Stephen Scarborough, a staff attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights group, said while a number of businesses across metro Atlanta have adopted domestic partner benefits, governments are often slower to follow. But he said with the tight labor market and several trailblazers setting the way, he believes more will follow.

"I think it will probably be a real domino effect, now that Atlanta has done it," Scarborough said. "I think other metro cities will fall in line."

East Point plans to offer medical and dental benefits to both gay and unmarried heterosexual couples who are in a committed relationship. The couples must show  that they have been in the relationship at least a year and are not related. The couple will be asked to meet several requirements, such as having joint ownership of a home or bank account or being a beneficiary on the other person's will, to qualify for the program.

Miller said he did not know what the additional insurance coverage will cost the city, but expected the expense to be minimal. Jack Thompson, an insurance consultant for the city, said he expects more unmarried heterosexual couples will sign up than gay couples.

None of the council members spoke against the idea when the plan was presented to their attention. Miller said they hope to have legislation to change the city's insurance policy available for Monday night's meeting. If not, he said, it would be brought before the council April 2.

Saturday, March 16, 2001

Same-sex benefits in proposed contract balked by Milwaukee city workers union leaders

A story published today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that negotiations between the city and its largest union regarding benefits for same-sex domestic partners has been rejected by the union leadership which faces a vote by all members on Monday.

The domestic partner provision appeared to be a stumbling block to the contract's ratification the story reports. For weeks, it has been a hot topic of debate among the members of the union, District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

If union members reject the contract on Monday, it would deal a significant blow to the efforts by local gay-rights activists to obtain domestic partner benefits in the public sector. But one vocal opponent of the benefits, Ald. Thomas Nardelli, said such a vote would be a message from the rank-and-file members that they don't share the priorities of those who lead AFSCME's national and international offices.

It is virtually unheard of for a union to reject enhanced benefits, unless the other side requires an unpopular concession elsewhere in the agreement. None of the union members interviewed pointed to any major concession on the union's part.

Instead, they said some members worried that the benefits, which would apply only to same-sex couples listed on the city's domestic partner registry, would later be demanded by unmarried heterosexual couples who live together. Others were confused about how much the provision could cost the city. Estimates from supporters range from $40,000 a year to $80,000 a year.

If the contract is approved, it could result in an expansion of the benefits citywide, since the AFSCME contract typically becomes a model for unions representing other general city workers. The AFSCME benefits are also generally applied to non-union management workers.

An approved contract may still face controversy when it reaches the Common Council, which must approve all union contracts. Nardelli, for example, said he would vote against the entire contract if domestic partner benefits are included, on grounds that the new benefits would lead to costly paperwork for the city and demands for the same benefits from heterosexual domestic partners.

However, gay and lesbian city workers can count on strong support from at least one council member, Ald. Michael D'Amato.

"It's important that the union members look at the contract as a whole and they don't look at this one item alone," D'Amato said. "I would just hope that members would support the other members that have not been treated equally in the past."

In 1997, the council shelved a proposed ordinance that would have extended benefits to same-sex couples.

Mayor John O. Norquist in the past supported expanding benefits to same-sex partners, but he has yet to fully support including the benefits in the contract.

Steve Filmanowicz, spokeman for the mayor, said the mayor wanted to review the contract as a whole before making pronouncements on specific items.

Friday, March 15, 2001

Portuguese legislators grant rights to same-sex couples

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Portuguese lawmakers approved a law granting legal rights and tax benefits to gay and lesbian couples who have lived together for more than two years.

The bill approved by the left-wing majority of Portugal's 230-seat National Assembly saw strong opposition from the right-wing factions of the parliament.

In 1999 a majority of lawmakers, including the governing left-wing Socialist Party, balked at a proposal to incorporate same-sex relationships in the legislation on common law marriages.

However, changes in the bill dealing on taxes persuaded more legislators to approve it.



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