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Domestic Partnership News Archive
March 29 - March 31, 2001




This page contains news for the period March 29, 2001 through March 31, 2001.





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Friday, March 30, 2001

Vermont lawmaker wants to replace civil unions with partnership plan

A story published today in the Burlington Free Press reports that Vermont's head of the House Judiciary Committee believes that two sisters who share a home deserve the same rights and benefits now granted to married couples and legally united homosexual couples.

Rep. Peg Flory, R-Pittsford, wants to repeal the state's controversial civil-union law and replace it with a much broader, reciprocal partnership plan.

The Legislature made history last year when it passed a law creating civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.  Beginning in July, two men or two women could form legally recognized civil unions, which would make them eligible for most of the legal benefits enjoyed by married couples.

Flory who opposed the civil-union law stated,  "My position has been that to distribute benefits in a parallel system (to marriage) that is exclusively based on sexual orientation is not an appropriate action for the state to take."

Under the proposal that she shared with her committee Thursday, two people age 18 or older who are legally prohibited from marrying would be allowed to form a contractual partnership.  Relatives, such as two brothers or a mother and daughter, as well as homosexual couples, would be eligible for the same benefits, protections and responsibilities as a husband and wife -- if they formed a reciprocal partnership in Vermont.

Lawmakers are talking about civil unions again this year because the issue figured prominently in many legislative elections last fall. Some legislators won on promises they would pursue repeal of the law.

Ardent critic Rep. Nancy Sheltra, R-Derby,  said that Flory's proposal falls far short of her goal.

"I can tell you that a lot of people aren't going to settle for anything less than repeal," Sheltra said.  "That is what Vermonters  expect."

On the other hand, Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, who helped write the civil-union law and is gay, blasted Flory's replacement plan.  "I think this is part of a continuing political assault on the civil unions and gay and lesbian couples' desire to have dignity, respect and legal rights."

Flory defended her bill by saying same-sex couples would still enjoy all the benefits they were granted under the civil-union law.  She changed the name of this parallel institution to marriage, however, because "I wanted it clear this was geared to more than just homosexuals."

Her proposal would eliminate the ceremonial element that is part of the civil-union process.  Couples would no longer need to have a justice of the peace or member of the clergy certify their civil union. Under Flory's plan, couples would simply fill out reciprocal partnership contracts, which would be widely available at locations such as town offices, and send them to the state Department of Health.

The bill also proposes a simpler process to dissolve these partnerships than the divorce proceeding for marriages and civil unions.  Couples who mutually agreed to split could simply file a declaration of dissolution with the Department of Health.   Embattled partners and those with children would have to go to family court to dissolve their reciprocal partnerships.

Susan Murray, one of two lawyers who argued the gay marriage case before the Supreme Court, said Flory's bill misses the point of the court ruling in the Baker case.

"The whole tenor and spirit of Baker was to recognize the intimate and lasting relationships of gay people," she said.  Instead, the Flory bill tries to equate gay relationships with the "very different kinds of bonds that blood relatives form."

Murray added, "We aren't opposed to comprehensive benefits for blood relatives.   What we are opposed to is demeaning gay relationships."

Flory said the Judiciary Committee would discuss her proposal Tuesday. It's already too late to expect the bill to receive consideration in the both the House and Senate this session.  Still, she said she would like to get a bill through the House before spring adjournment, so the Senate could take it up in the winter.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, predicted Flory's bill wouldn't heal the wounds created during last year's passionate debate over gays and civil unions.

"If you think that doing something like this is going to bring people together," he said, "I just don't see that happening."

Financial seminar held for wealthy unmarried couples

A story released today by PR Newswire reports that affluent same-sex domestic partners and members of unmarried couples gathered at the Argyle Hotel in West Hollywood yesterday to learn more about developing a financial strategy that takes into account their unique circumstances -- particularly when it comes to tax and estate planning.

The "Comprehensive Wealth Management Seminar for Unmarried Couples" was sponsored by Scudder Private Investment Counsel, the group within Zurich Scudder Investments that manages more than $16 billion in assets for wealthy individuals, families, endowments, foundations and middle market institutions.

Ted R. Ridlehuber, president and CEO of the Cannon Financial Institute and an expert in financial planning issues facing unmarried couples conducted the seminar. Mr. Ridlehuber was introduced by J.R. Mathena, the Los Angeles-based Scudder Private Investment Counsel vice-president who works most closely with the gay and lesbian community.

"In addition to the customary challenges of managing assets, a major concern for affluent single gender couples is ensuring that their wealth goes to whom they want," said Mr. Mathena. "Estate planning for members of the gay community and unmarried couples must consider that often there are no children involved, or when there are, only one member of the couple is usually recognized by law as the legal guardian. There are no joint tax returns, and when a member of a same-gender couple dies, there is no automatic tax-free transfer of investments and assets."

"There is a real need among gays and lesbians, who control an estimated $800 billion in assets, for customized financial solutions that mitigate their unique tax burdens and estate allocation issues -- and also reflect the individual's investment philosophies," said Mr. Ridlehuber.

Capitalizing on Zurich Scudder's detailed proprietary investment research and the experience of Scudder Private Investment Counsel's investment professionals, the group tailors portfolios and deploys a diversity of investment styles to help meet individual clients' wealth-building objectives. Scudder Private Investment Counsel's comprehensive wealth management approach is designed to work within each client's risk threshold producing the maximum level of after-tax, risk-adjusted return.

Minnesota Family Council  objects to governor's domestic partner benefits plan

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Minnesota Family Council hand-delivered to Gov. Jesse Ventura's office Thursday hundreds of e-mails and letters objecting to his plan to offer health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state employees.

Tom Prichard, the group's president, said taxpayer dollars should not subsidize unmarried couples. He also stated that the offering would move the state in the direction of recognizing gay marriage.

Prichard said the group will seek legislation or an amendment to a bill that would stop Ventura's administration from putting the benefits on the table during this year's labor negotiations.

``We're staying the course,'' said Employee relations commissioner Julien Carter. ``This is an important benefit to offer.''

Carter expects fewer than 1 percent of the state's 53,000-member workforce to take advantage of the offering if it is included in contracts. But he said the benefit conveys a more progressive workplace and would help the state compete for employees in a worker-hungry market.

Several Minnesota businesses are currently extending such benefits to their employees. The administration has no plans to offer the benefits to heterosexual domestic partners, Carter said.

British politician unveils inheritance plan for gay couples

A story released today by the Daily Telegraph reports that gay couples and unmarried heterosexuals will soon be able to inherit each other's retirement funds for the first time.

Ivan Massow, the maverick politician and independent financial adviser, aims to launch a "pink pension", with backing from Friends Provident and NPI, next week.  He said yesterday that stakeholder pension legislation makes it possible to avoid obstacles to this form of inheritance which exist in personal pension statutes.

Mr. Massow said: "Under the current rules, where a pension planholder dies after retirement, trustees are only allowed to pay out survivor's benefits to widows or widowers.

"In theory, they could pay a survivor's pension where someone could prove they were financially dependant on the person who had died but we have only managed that once in 15 years.

"Now the stakeholder white paper makes it possible for gay people and unmarried heterosexual couples to benefit from each other's pensions."

Stakeholder pensions are the Government's 'big idea' on retirement funding and go on sale next Friday. A spokesman for the Department of Social Security, which is overseeing the launch, said yesterday: "I have asked one of our pension officials about this and he says there is nothing in the rules which specifically allows pensions for unmarried partners -- but nothing which prevents it either."

But the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority said: "The key change is that the stakeholder rules refer to interdependency' rather than restricting payments to widows or widowers."

Thursday, March 29, 2001

New Zealand passes property relations bill for unmarried couples

A story released today by TVNZ News reports that New Zealand's parliament has passed a property relations bill that would give defacto and same-sex couples the same property rights as married couples after three years.  Defacto is a term used to describe unmarried opposite-sex couples who are living together in an intimate

Currently about 230,000 New Zealanders are in defacto relationships. Lawyers have noted that it would be more difficult to decide at what point a defacto relationship has started.  It is easier to determine when a marriage starts but is often less clear cut with defacto relationships.

The law has been changed to protect people in defacto relationships who have previously missed out. Assets will now be split 50-50, but individuals who do not want that can opt to "contract out" of the rules.  A simple contract agreement would cost around NZ$600.

The new law  would also affect married couples.  Judges will now have the power to award lump sum payments which could take into account one partner's future earning power. It is expected to be applied to women who have taken time out to look after their children and have taken on part-time work because of the children.

These changes in the property law will be enacted next February, 2002.

New Zealand enacts legislation for unmarried couples

A story written by Nigel Christie an attorney from Wellington, New Zealand reports that four new pieces of legislation with significance for same-sex couples were passed by the Parliament in New Zealand on Thursday, 29 March 2001.

The bills were introduced in March 1998 to amend the Matrimonial Property Act of 1976 (for married couples) and to create a new De Facto Property Act to provide property rights for de facto different-sex couples. There was a strong debate about the inclusion of same-sex couples, and the National Party Government of the time delayed final consideration of both pieces of legislation to evade the issue of same-sex couples since election time was coming.

The newly elected Labour/Alliance Coalition Government reactivated the legislation late in 1999 which incorporated both bills into one piece of property legislation designed to provide for married couples, de facto different-sex partners, and same-sex partners.

The Bills which have now been passed are:

1) The Property (Relationships) Amendment Act 2001.  This will provide same-sex couples and de facto different-sex couples the same relationship property rights (and obligations) as married couples  and upon the dissolution of a relationship. Essentially, there is to be a presumption of 50-50 division of property for couples who have been together in a relationship "in the nature of marriage" for a period of three years or more. Division is based on contribution to the relationship (not just to the relationship property). A provision in the bill also allows couples to "contract out" of this set up.

2) The Administration Amendment Act 2001. This will give same-sex partners access to the same rights married partners enjoy in relation to the estate of a deceased partner who has died intestate.

3) The Family Protection Amendment Act 2001. This will provide same-sex partners with the same rights and legal standing to make a claim against the estate of a deceased partner where, for example, the deceased's will is out-of-date or has failed to make provision for the surviving partner.

4) The Family Proceedings Act 2001. This will provide for "spousal maintenance" after dissolution (where necessary) - but is a separate issue from the division of property.

The most contentious issues for conservative opposition groups have been:

(a) the inclusion of same-sex couples and de facto opposite-sex couples in the same provisions as married couples - many arguments center around the "sanctity of marriage";
(b) the provisions relating to "future economic disparity" and ability of the courts to award a lump-sum payment to offset this;
(c) the fact that property legislation will now apply to, for example, the situation where a married man has a "secondary (de facto) relationship" - and the de facto partner makes some form of claim. That is, the provisions apply to successive and contemporaneous relationships.

 All this legislation comes into effect on 1 February 2002.

California's civil union bill amended to exclude heterosexual couples

A bill to create "civil union" as a new legal status for unmarried couples who are living together in a committed relationship was amended by its author today to exclude heterosexual couples.  As originally drafted, the measure would have allowed any two adults who are not closely related by blood to enter into a civil union and thereby gain all of the rights and incur all of the obligations of marriage under state law.

With the exclusion of male-female couples from its provisions, the bill seems to take on the form of a quasi-gay-marriage proposal.  It gives all state law rights of marriage benefits to same-sex couples under the title "civil union" but prohibits heterosexual couples and blood relatives from eligibility. 

Maine's legislative board rejects domestic partner benefits debate

A story published today by the Bangor Daily News reports that Maine's legislative governing board on Wednesday refused to admit a bill that would have allowed lawmakers to debate the state's plans to extend publicly funded health insurance benefits to unmarried homosexual and heterosexual domestic partners.

"I wish we didn't have to consider this," Michael  Heath of the Christian Civic League of Maine said of the referendum plans in a prepared statement Wednesday. "There may be no other option. Augusta is controlled by political forces friendly to the goals of homosexual activists."

Heath was referring to an afternoon meeting of the Legislative Council, a governing committee of the Legislature composed of five Republican legislative leaders and five Democrats. The council makes executive decisions affecting the Legislature, including whether to allow after-deadline bills into the House or Senate. Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, made the request for a bill allowing legislative debate on the issue of insurance benefits for state employees and their partners. He said lawmakers never had advance notice when the issue was presented before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee.

With little discussion, the council issued a 5-5 party line vote with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing any effort to let the bill in. The tie killed any chance of bringing the matter up for discussion in the current legislative session. Duprey was considering, however, trying to strip funding for the insurance benefits in an amendment to the budget which was scheduled for debate late Wednesday evening. The lawmaker said he also was considering Heath's suggestion of a referendum.

"The people have spoken twice on the issue and maybe it's time for them to speak again," Duprey said. "I would have liked the legislative process to take effect. I'm going to drop back 10, decide to punt and figure out what I'm going to do next."

Heath said Duprey had raised a legitimate public policy question that needed to be decided in Maine before the larger issue of civil homosexual unions divides the residents of Maine. He said that in addition to the referendum, his organization will also evaluate the practicality of bringing legal action against the state, although he remained circumspect on that option.

Two weeks ago, lawmakers voted 85-56 to kill a joint order sought by Duprey that would have also opened discussion on the issue of insurance benefits for partners of unmarried state employees. The plan has already been sanctioned by the State Employee Health Commission which approves insurance policies for state employees and has the support of Gov. Angus S. King. Carl Leinonen, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, estimates the state's share of additional insurance costs under the enlarged plan at between $150,000 and $300,000 for about 100 people.

Sen. Paul Davis, a Sangerville Republican who also serves as assistant GOP floor leader in the Senate, said Duprey was right to insist that the Legislature weigh in on the insurance issue. As one of the five Republicans on the panel to vote in favor of the after-deadline request Wednesday, Davis said the council had made the wrong decision.

"Any change in policy like that ought to have a full hearing," Davis said. "The public should be allowed to have a hearing. I have great concerns about us providing insurance and things for [people not] in traditional marriages. I think we ought to look at traditional marriages first before we look at providing insurance for alternative lifestyles."



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