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Domestic Partnership News Archive
April 07 - April 13, 2001

 

 

 
 

This page contains news for the period April 07, 2001 through April 13, 2001.

 

 

 

 

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Thursday, April 12, 2001

Canada's same-sex bill draws fire from gays

A story released today by the Vancouver Sun reports that Svend Robinson, Canada's first openly gay member of Parliament is being criticized by prominent members of the gay and lesbian community for passing a bill that would extend common-law marriage benefits to same-sex couples and same-sex marriage.

Jane Rule, a celebrated author and outspoken lesbian, is furious about what's happening. So is Gareth Kirkby, managing editor of Vancouver's biweekly Xtra! West newspaper, who recently wrote an editorial against same-sex marriage.

Rule doesn't oppose gays and lesbians having the choice of marriage, although she says it was not something that she thought was a priority since it's mainly a religious rite. What she opposes is the government attempting to regulate any kind of relationship through marriage licenses or regulating common-law relationships or any other relationships.

"What we are pleading for is the state to take greater control over our relationships. I am violently opposed to the common-law provisions. It's privatization of welfare not just for gays and lesbians, but for heterosexuals as well." said Rule.

Kirkby, on the other hand, is adamantly opposed to marriage. His argument is a cultural one and one that Rule dismisses as "a far-out bark."

What Kirkby suggests is that marriage is the antithesis of gay and lesbian culture -- a non-hierarchical culture that values all relationships equally.

It's also a culture, he notes, where a recent study found that only eight per cent of gay men in Vancouver were in long-term relationships.

"We know that a 30-year relationship is no better, no better, than a nine-week or a nine-minute fling -- it's different, but not better," he wrote in an editorial headlined, "No, no, no to marriage rights."

Robinson, on the other hand, argues that it's a simple case of equal rights: Without legal recognition, same-sex relationships aren't valid in the eyes of the law.

"It's much more than a symbolic affirmation of our relationships. Equality should extend to all areas and as long as heterosexuals celebrate their relationships with marriages, gays and lesbians should be able to celebrate as well."

Robinson said if his bill is passed and same-sex marriages are legal, he and partner Max Riveron will likely discuss the prospect of marriage.

Milwaukee city officials informed that same-sex benefits may spur lawsuit

A story published today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a Milwaukee city attorney's opinion issued Wednesday noted that the same-sex benefits included in the contract agreement between the city and its largest union could be challenged in court as discriminatory based on sexual orientation.

The opinion also noted that similar benefits in other cities, including Chicago, have so far withstood legal challenges - though Illinois law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, as Wisconsin law does.

Although critics of same-sex benefits on the Common Council may use the opinion to bolster efforts to block the contract, supporters of the benefits say the opinion is really a victory for them.

"It appears every time it's been challenged in court as illegal the courts have found the opposite," said Richard Abelson, executive director of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is seeking the benefits.

Council action on the tentative agreement was delayed last week when Ald. Willie Hines - one of several aldermen who question the inclusion of the same-sex benefits - asked for the opinion from City Attorney Grant Langley.

The tentative agreement, which covers 2001 and 2002, includes a provision that would extend health, dental and other benefits to same-sex partners of city workers. The benefits would go to partners of city workers included in the city's same-sex registry, which is open to all residents.

Hines said the opinion shows that the city could possibly face a potentially expensive lawsuit from unmarried opposite-sex couples. If the city lost, it may have to extend the benefits to those workers, dramatically inflating the annual price tag of $40,000 to 80,000 that advocates of the change say it now carries.

The opinion reviews several cases where same-sex benefits have survived challenges, though the issue appears to remain largely unsettled in Wisconsin.

The state Court of Appeals did hold that the Madison School District was within its authority when it agreed to the benefits as part of a contract. But that ruling was based on a challenge by a group of taxpayers, not one by unmarried opposite-sex couples who could argue they are being excluded from the benefits.

If the council were to reject the AFSCME contract, it would be the first time it had ever blocked a negotiated deal, said Ald. Mike D'Amato, who backs the benefits.

"The contract is a good deal for the city," he said, adding the idea that the city could face a lawsuit shouldn't intimidate the council. "If we're going to begin making policy based on people threatening to go to court, we're going to stop any progress."

Patrick Flaherty of the Domestic Partnership Task Force said he hoped aldermen don't use the opinion as political cover to vote against the contract. He said many private-sector companies with operations in Wisconsin, such as IBM, offer such benefits.

"I've got to believe IBM's legal department has more attorneys than the city attorney's office," he said. "They've operated without challenge here for years."

Maine poll supports plan to insure domestic partners

A story published today by the Morning Sentinel reports that most Maine residents believe the state's businesses should provide insurance coverage to the domestic partners of employees, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, according to a new poll conducted by Critical Insights of Portland.

The phone survey of 403 adult Mainers, which was conducted last month and released this week, found that about 57 percent support the idea of insuring domestic partners of unmarried employees, while 24 percent oppose the idea and about 18 percent are undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

The results brought good news for Rep. Benjamin Dudley, D-Portland, who is sponsoring   legislation that would require insurers to offer coverage for unmarried domestic partners if they offer coverage for spouses. The bill is designed to help the employees of small businesses, although some individual policyholders might also benefit from it. Dudley said large employers have access to such coverage now.

"There was already a strong case to be made for the bill," Dudley said and the poll "further supports the need" for such legislation by showing that most Mainers back it. Dudley's bill would apply to both homosexual couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.

It would require insurers to offer coverage for partners, but it would not require employers to buy such coverage.

Dudley's bill, which has the strong, but not unanimous, support of the Legislature's Banking and Insurance Committee, defines a domestic partner as an unmarried, mentally competent adult who has lived with another person for at least 12 months as that person's sole partner. If enacted, the bill would take effect next January. The House and Senate have yet to vote on the measure.

Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, tried and failed to get the Legislature to block a provision in a new state-employee contract that will insure the opposite-sex and same-sex partners of unmarried state employees. The House refused to intervene, arguing that the Legislature should not inject itself into collective-bargaining issues.

Opponents of the two insurance initiatives say they undermine the sanctity of marriage and promote a gay agenda. They also say the new state-employee contract and Dudley's bill contradict the will of the voters because they repealed a gay-rights law in 1988 and defeated a proposed gay-rights law in 2000.

Supporters say it is misleading to portray the insurance plans as attempts to promote gay rights because heterosexuals would benefit in far greater numbers than gay people and because the state should do what it can to expand insurance coverage to as many Mainers as possible.

"The truth is that heterosexuals are up to six times more likely to apply for domestic-partner benefits than gay employees," said David Garrity of the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance, because "there are a lot more of them" and some gay people might be reluctant to seek such coverage, fearing retaliation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Cambridge council pushes for reinstatement of domestic partner benefits

A story published today in the Harvard Crimson, a campus newspaper at Harvard University, reports that the Cambridge City Council last night made the initial step toward reclaiming its power to grant domestic partnerships marriage benefits, following the annulment of the city's 1992 ordinance by the state legislature earlier this year.

The council unanimously ordered City Manager Robert W. Healy to write a petition to the state legislature asking the reinstatement of Cambridge's home-rule decision making power on the issue. If the petition is approved, the council is expected to reinstitute legal benefits of marriage, including health insurance, for the domestic partners of city employees.

"For a long time, we weren't able to provide benefits for all, then we were able to do it, and now we are unable again," said Councilor Kenneth E. Reeves.

Speaking during the public comment period, Laura Moskowitz, who identified herself as the domestic partner of a city employee, said that the recent change in Cambridge's benefits has caused problems beyond the purely financial.

"It's been very distressing to explain to our 9-year-old why only one of her parents can be on our health insurance," she said.

While the petition would likely not change the legislature's recently passed marriage policy for the whole state, it would allow municipalities to individually define who should receive civic compensation of marriage.

Nevada marriage defenders denounce reciprocal beneficiary relationships

A story published today by the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that critics committed to traditional marriage testified against a bill that would give legal rights to unmarried gay or straight couples Tuesday.

Richard Ziser, leader of the Coalition for Protection of Marriage, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that the "reciprocal beneficiary relationship" set up by Assembly Bill 496 would give domestic partners the same legal status as spouses. Ziser reiterated to the panel of legislators that they would be thwarting the wishes of voters if they approved the bill.

In November, 70 percent of Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment that calls for the state only to recognize as marriage a relationship between a man and a woman.

Under the bill, unmarried gay or heterosexual partners could sign a reciprocal beneficiary relationship agreement. They would then be allowed to make medical, estate or funeral decisions for their partners. But they would not be entitled to health care benefits unless their employers permit employees to designate domestic partners as beneficiaries.

"This is an immense unmet need in today's society," said Assemblyman David Parks, D-Las Vegas.

Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, did not ask the committee to vote on the bill. All bills must pass out of legislative committees by Monday or they will be dead for the remainder of the 2001 Legislature. After the hearing, some committee members predicted Anderson will let the bill die without a vote.

Parks noted that longtime domestic partners often do not make will arrangements and that, if one partner dies, the estate does not automatically go to the surviving partner.

Nancy Mereidith, a Reno nurse, said she has witnessed many situations in which one partner could not visit the other in the hospital. Rules in some hospitals allow only members of a patient's immediate family to visit.

"These unfortunate decisions occur every day. ... Our compassionate nurses sometimes bend the rules," Mereidith said.

But Ziser, Robert Payant of the Nevada Catholic Conference and others contended that a new legal relationship is not needed to help these couples. Simple changes in laws they believe would allow people to designate anyone to visit them in a hospital.  They said unmarried couples could secure durable powers of attorney to manage the estate of a sick partner or simply designate the partner as the beneficiary in a will.

"We believe the idea of adding a new entity to law is unwise," Payant said. "Marriage is the basis of our society, one man and one woman in a committed relationship."

Parks, however, said too often couples do not take the time to secure durable power of attorney agreements. His reciprocal beneficiary relationship arrangement is as simple as having a form approved by a notary public.

Rev. Valerie Garrett of the United Church of Christ and advocate for the bill said that the world today no longer consists of the "Cleaver model family of the 1950s."

"Today more and more people are building committed relationships with people not in their families," Garrett said.

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Tribune newspaper chain offers domestic partner benefits to all its business units

A story published today in the Editor and Publisher Magazine reports that effective next January, the Tribune Co. is opening its health insurance and welfare benefits to both same-sex and the unmarried heterosexual domestic partners of employees in all its business units, including its daily newspapers.

The annoucement comes about a year after Chicago-based Tribune - which had not offered domestic-partner benefits-bought Times Mirror Co., which offers those benefits.

At the time of the merger, Tribune vowed to keep all benefits in place for at least a year, and a corporate team began to examine new welfare packages.

"This gave us the chance for an orderly and thoughtful process," company spokesman John Lyday said.

To be eligible, employees must declare they have been in an "exclusive, committed relationship of at least 12 months that is expected to last indefinitely," Lyday said. About 22,000 employees will be covered by the new benefits.

"It's gratifying to know that our education efforts and the lobbying conducted by gay and nongay employees has resulted in tangible success," said Karen Bailis, a National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) board member who is an assistant news editor at Melville, N.Y.-based Newsday, which is a former Times Mirror paper.

From 1997 to 2000, the number of news organizations offering domestic-partner benefits almost tripled, to 73 from 26, according to an NLGJA study.

Critics denounce Nevada measure giving unmarried or gay partners benefits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that opponents of a Nevada measure that would allow unmarried couples control over one another's finances, funerals or estates diminishes the traditional family, addressed the Assembly panel Tuesday.

"The idea of adding a completely new entity to the law would be damaging to our state,'' Robert Payant, lobbyist for the Catholic Dioceses in Nevada, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee during a hearing on AB496.

"We oppose it because of the moral aspect.  It's harmful to our protection and promotion of marriage.''

The bill introduced by Assemblyman David Parks, D-Las Vegas, would allow unmarried couples to sign "declaration of reciprocal beneficiary relationship'' statements.

The proposed measure would also provide medical insurance benefits to a partner only if an employer agrees to make those benefits available, and unions could negotiate for medical benefits for domestic partners.

"AB496 is not trampling on the sanctity of marriage,'' said Parks. "It's balanced and fair. The laws of the state reflect changes in society. Not all changes in society are things we like.''

Last November, Nevadans voted nearly 3-to-1 to ensure that gay marriages are banned in the state.  Question 2 must be approved again by voters in 2002 before taking effect.

"Five months and five days ago, we passed Question 2 with a 70 percent vote,'' said John Wagner, a lobbyist for a conservative group calling itself the Nevada Republican Assembly.  "AB496 is a direct attack on Question 2 and attempts to thwart the will of the people.''

Parks countered that his bill isn't aimed at redefining the family, but instead attempts to obliterate discrimination against unmarried couples.

Others wondered what increasing rights for gay couples and unmarried couples meant for heterosexuals.

"This is a wolf in sheep's clothing,'' said James Dunn, who opposed the bill.   "If same-gender marriage is P.C., then are those of us married for 34 years not P.C?  I'm tired of being sorry for having a conventional marriage.''

Mark Nichols, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers and an advocate for the measure stated, "The family of the 21st century doesn't look like the Cleavers or Jetsons, the current system is discrimination -- and it's wrong.''

Passing the measure he added would be "good public policy and meet the reality of Nevada today.''

University of Nebraska regents cut domestic partners from tuition rebate plan

A story published today by the Daily Nebraskan, a campus newspaper at the University of Nebraska, reports that the Board of Regents turned down a tuition rebate plan for domestic partners amid support from local groups Saturday.

The regents did approve an amendment with a vote of 8-0 that will give reduced tuition and fees for full-time employees' spouses and dependent children.

Pat Tetreault, a staff member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was one of 27 people who showed up to support domestic partner benefits. Tetreault said denying domestic partner benefits showed that gay employees weren't appreciated.

"This board and administration do not value all the staff," she said.


Regent Randy Ferlic of Omaha said the board denied giving domestic partners tuition remission because of cost.

Tetreault said universities and companies that provided domestic partner benefits had found the cost associated with the benefits was small.

UNL Student Regent Nathan Fuerst said the board shouldn't offer benefits to married employees while denying them to domestic partners.

"Taking a step forward while taking a step backward doesn't make any sense to me," he said.

Regent Drew Miller of Papillion also gave reasons why he was against offering the benefits to domestic partners. Among them were based on the weakening of the institution of marriage and that state law does not recognize domestic partner benefits.

Will Marunda, UNO student body president, offered an amendment that would let employees give the benefits to anyone. That amendment failed.

Tetreault said that overall, even though domestic partner benefits were denied, she felt as though the discussion itself was an accomplishment.

"It's progress that they were even talking about it in public," she said.

Tetreault also said she was pleased NU President Dennis Smith was directed by the board to look into the issue of domestic partner benefits.

The regents also approved adding prescription contraceptives to the university's employee health benefits package.

The bill, which passed unanimously, will make oral contraceptives and prescription devices for the use of birth control part of health benefits available to NU employees.

 

Monday, April 9, 2001

Health tax credit in Bush budget for 2002 may help many domestic partners

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that the 2002 budget proposed today by President Bush contains a variety of tax credits, including credits for people who buy health insurance.

This is among more than two dozen tax relief items squeezed into Bush's overall tax cut, which remains at $1.6 trillion over 10 years.

"This plan reflects the president's vision and priorities for providing tax relief for American families," said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. "I look forward to the day when the tax overpayment that is sent to Washington is returned to the hardworking Americans who earned it."

The president is committed to his $1.6 trillion figure, even though the Senate voted last week for a budget trimming the tax relief by 25 percent, to $1.2 trillion. Bush wants the bulk of the tax cut to come from across-the-board income tax reductions, repeal of the estate tax, relief from the marriage tax penalty and doubling of the $500 per child tax credit.

The president on Monday proposed a long list of specialized tax breaks that would total $137 billion over 10 years. Many are part of broader White House initiatives involving education, trade, the environment, health care and other issues.

The biggest single item  that would provide a tax credit for people is the purchase of private health care insurance if they are not covered by an employer plan or public health programs.

Although not mentioned in the story, the health care tax credit would help many unmarried couples whose employers do not allow a worker's domestic partner to get benefits under the company's health plan. Many of these couples are forced to purchase a private policy for one of the partners.

The health credit proposal is similar to legislation pushed in Congress by Republicans who contend the private sector can best help the estimated 44 million Americans who have no health coverage. Democrats generally favor expansions of  federal and state programs to provide that help.

When fully phased in, the maximum annual credit would be $1,000 for individual taxpayers with up to $30,000 in adjusted gross income, $2,000 for married couples with incomes up to $60,000.

It would also be refundable, meaning that people who don't actually pay income taxes could still enjoy its benefits.

The plan is estimated to cost $71.5 billion over 10 years, but the total would reach only about $53 billion if restricted to people who pay income taxes.

Bush also is proposing to make medical savings accounts permanent. This is a perennial GOP favorite that lets people make tax-deductible contributions for health costs. In addition, the president wants to allow people a deduction for long-term health care costs whether or not they itemize on tax returns.

In many cases, Bush is proposing tax breaks long supported by key lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

For example, the president endorsed a measure by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that would create tax deductible savings accounts for 20 percent of annual income for farmers and ranchers. Grassley is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which likely will determine the success or failure of Bush's overall tax relief plan.

 Bush is also proposing:

 -A new 15 percent tax credit for individuals who purchase home water heaters or home electric systems powered by solar energy.

-A $400 annual credit for teachers' out-of-pocket classroom expenses.


-A three-year extension of a tax credit for electricity generated by wind and biomass, such as farm and forest by-products.

 -Repeal of a limit on how much utilities can deduct for the costs of taking nuclear facilities out of service.

 -Tax credit for developers of affordable, single-family housing.

-A 50 percent capital gains tax break for private landowners who voluntarily sell land or water resources to a government agency or conservation organization for preservation.

 -Permanent extension of a current "brownfields" tax credit for expenses involved in cleaning up abandoned industrial sites.

 -Making permanent the adoption tax credit and raising the amount from $5,000 to $7,500 for most children.

 -Extension for one year of a number of tax breaks that expire at end of 2001, including a credit for employers who hire certain disadvantaged workers and a provision protecting taxpayers who claim the $500 child tax credit and certain other individual credits from getting tangled in the complex alternative minimum tax. Total cost: $3.4 billion.

Maine's domestic partner insurance bill challenged by Christian right

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Christian activist groups have begun organizing for a possible referendum to defeat Maine's new policy of providing domestic partner benefits for state employees.

The formation of the Ad Hoc Committee for Marriage and Family announced at a State House news conference Monday, is also targeting a bill before the Legislature that plans to extend health coverage to more domestic partners of workers in private businesses.

Critics of the measure said that the new state workers' policy, which takes effect on July 1, and the proposal before lawmakers both undermine traditional marriage and family structures while advancing a gay agenda.

In addition, they contradict the will of voters, who repealed a gay rights law in 1998 and defeated a similar proposal last November, they said.

''Maine people have twice rejected gay rights at the polls. And now her elected leadership wants to steal those elections,'' charged Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine.

The league, the Christian Coalition of Maine and the Maine Grassroots Coalition are opposing a bill that would require health carriers to make policies covering domestic partners available to health plan members, just as they do for spouses of health plan members.

The proposal, which was scheduled for committee review Monday, does not mandate that employers purchase policies with domestic partner coverage for their workers. Under attack also is a state policy extending health-insurance benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners of state workers. The Legislature has voted to let the policy stand without further review.

Opponents have signaled that they might organize a referendum in response to the domestic partners policy. On Monday, they took the initial step by appealing for 1,500 volunteers to gather more than 52,000 voters' signatures, enough to force a statewide referendum.

Heath said the groups will announce on June 15 whether they will take further steps to turn around the state policy, the insurance bill if it passes, or both.

The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Benjamin Dudley, acknowledged Monday that the opposing groups also are forces to be taken seriously, but he said they appeared ''confused'' about what the bill would do.

Dudley, D-Portland, said the bill calls for no state spending and does not obligate businesses to provide domestic coverage to their employees.

Supporters also noted that the bill only affects insurance carriers who do not offer domestic partner coverage to companies with fewer than 50 employees. Larger employers can already get the coverage.

The state's new domestic partners policy which takes effect in July received a full public airing before the State Employee Health Commission earlier this year, according to supporters.

Maine's governor reiterated that the state government needs to keep pace
with private employers so it can recruit and retain employees.

Portugese lawmakers approve partnership law

A story published by Rex Wockner's International News on their March 19 issue reports that the Portuguese parliament  passed a partnership law that extended gay couples the same rights given to unmarried straight couples who live together.

The unmarried couples of either sex who have cohabitated together for two years will be granted marital rights in such areas as vacations, taxes, inheritance, pensions, housing contracts and rental leases.

The "De Facto Unions" legislation is expected to be signed by President Jorge Sampaio and become law within several months.

 The new law, however, will not allow gay couples to adopt children.

Saturday, April 7, 2001

Florida Supreme Court won't hear challenge to Broward County's same-sex benefits law

A story published today in the Miami Herald reports that a Broward County law extending marriage-like benefits to unmarried domestic partners of employees, homosexual or heterosexual, has won tacit legal approval from the Florida Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, upholding the Fourth District Court of Appeal's ruling on the county law.

``This affirms basic human rights,'' said Dean Trantalis, an attorney who signed a brief supporting the county. ``The Supreme Court of Florida sent a message that I hope will resonate through the country that equal rights must be afforded to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.''

In a one-paragraph ruling, the court wrote that it ``determined that it should decline to exercise jurisdiction.''

Because there is no conflict among lower courts over whether such an ordinance is legal, it wasn't surprising that the court declined to hear the issue, said constitutional scholar Bruce Rogow.

``This is something of great local importance, but it's not  necessarily of great public importance because it's not having a statewide effect,'' Rogow said. ``The Supreme Court isn't going to be pressed into hearing an issue before it needs to be heard.''

Wally Lowe, a self-employed broker who lives in unincorporated Broward near Plantation, filed the suit challenging the law and said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision not to review the case.

Lowe also added that he won't pursue his challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, but will instead lobby the Florida Legislature to outlaw domestic partner ordinances.

``Hopefully, the Legislature will close the loopholes in the Defense of Marriage Act that this Broward County ordinance drove around,'' Lowe said.

Lowe's challenge to the Broward ordinance rested on the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1997 law passed by the Legislature to ban same-sex marriages.

Broward's ordinance which was approved by the commission in 1999, grants registered domestic partners of county employees the same rights as spouses, without regard to gender. The law also gives extra consideration to companies seeking county contracts if they have a similar policy.

Lowe asserted that the Broward ordinance was a de facto legalization of same-sex marriages. Judges disagreed.

"I think this ruling today interjected fairness into people's lives,'' said Broward Circuit Judge Robert Lance Andrews, who made the original ruling upholding the ordinance. ``You don't treat people differently because of their race, creed, color or sexual orientation.''

 

 

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