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Domestic Partnership News Archive
May 07 - May 13, 2001




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





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Wednesday, May 9, 2001

British lawmakers review home-sharers rights

A story released today by icWales reports that the British Lord Chancelor in his statement in the House of  Lords this week stated that the proposals to strengthen the property rights of unmarried couples are expected from the Law Commission 'later this year'.

Lord Irvine of Lairg said, 'The Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of the law as it relates to the property rights of home-sharers. The Government will, of course, consider what the Law Commission proposes."

"A working paper is currently expected later this year. It will be followed by a report in due course. The Government has taken no decision whatsoever in this area." he added.

Tory frontbencher Baroness Buscombe pressed the Lord Chancellor to define the term 'live-in couples'.

Lord Irvine, who reaffirmed the Government's support for marriage, replied, "I doubt if the Law Commission is as concerned with the sexual relations of people who live together as some others are."

Milwaukee Common Council rejects labor contract on same-sex benefits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Milwaukee city officials voted against a labor contract that would have granted health benefits to same-sex partners of city workers.

Tuesday's vote marked the first time in at least 40 years that the Common Council rejected an agreement reached by city and union negotiators.

Opponents of the deal say they could not justify asking taxpayers to pay for wage increases and the $60,000 a year needed to support the domestic partner benefits. The city's budget is so tight that officials may have to reduce street sweeping and street light hours to help cover a deficit of about $7 million from last year.

Supporters of the pact used a procedural move to delay final action until a meeting May 29.

Critics said other unions could seek domestic partner benefits, which would increase the city's costs. So far, no other union has asked for the benefits, which include health and dental coverage and funeral leave for couples listed on the city's same-sex registry.

The aldermen first voted 10-7 against the contract, but one alderman changed his vote to make it 11-6 to invoke the delay procedure.

``We're hopeful there will be a different result'' at the next vote, said Richard Abelson, executive director of the union, a 2,300-member local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union represents city workers such as librarians, building inspectors and court clerks.

Portland city council seeks clarification of domestic partners ordinance

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Portland city councilors are cautious on what the ramifications were for city-funded schools on a proposed domestic partnership ordinance that would change the definition of a family in Maine's largest city.

Portland's proposed domestic partnership ordinance would officially define certain gay couples and unmarried heterosexual couples as families. The measure may require some Catholic schools and day care centers to change their definition of family.

''The council has asked for clarification on exactly what are the potential ramifications,'' said Mayor Cheryl Leeman Tuesday. ''Nobody disagrees with the concept, but the devil is in the details.''

Leeman said she would be uncomfortable requiring religious organizations to recognize nontraditional families. ''This is all about rights,'' she said. ''There are areas where we have to be sensitive for both parties involved.''

With the current wording, the proposed Domestic Partnership Ordinance would affect high schools, vocational schools, junior high and middle schools, elementary schools, preschool programs, after-school programs and day care programs directly funded by the city.

Under the current terms of the ordinance, such schools and day-care facilities must recognize the city's new definition of family.

Because the city gives the Catholic Diocese more than $70,000 for transportation, it funds programs in part. That could mean that Catholic schools would have to treat domestic partners who register with the city as parents of students.

''It would just say,'' Leeman said, ''that if you receive any city money, then you would have to recognize the city's redefinition of family.''

Marc Mutty, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, said the Church would oppose any such redefinition.

''We are in the process of looking at this,'' he said. ''The Catholic church is pretty straightforward and there's no exception to the rule here. Married couples. Legally married couples or parents of opposite gender. Any other arrangement is not considered appropriate.''

Leeman said that depending on how the council's lawyer interprets the proposal, councilors may create a religious exemption.

The city council is scheduled to vote on May 21.

Louisiana senator introduces a mean-spirited bill

The New Orleans Times-Picayune issued an editorial today criticizing the a proposal introduced by a Louisiana senator which failed twice in the Senate floor. The full text of the editorial appears below.

The session is only about half over, but I'm already ready to make my nomination for the best speech of the year. It was delivered by Sen. Lynn Dean, R-Caernarvon.

It came on the Senate floor Thursday, when senators were debating what is perhaps the most useless bill of the session.

That would be Senate Bill 232, by Sen. Heulette "Clo" Fontenot, R-Livingston. The title is "MARRIAGE: Prohibits the recognition of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or similar relationships of other states."

It's useless because Louisiana already has a law prohibiting same-sex unions, passed by Fontenot himself back in 1999.

Vermont recently legalized them, which Fontenot says is the reason for his bill. He's afraid a same-sex couple will move to Louisiana from Vermont.

Suppose they did. What could Fontenot's bill do about it? The U.S. Constitution requires states to honor each other's contracts, and last time I looked, marriage -- or a domestic compact that mirrors the legal aspects of marriage -- is a contract.

All of which gets us back to Sen. Dean. He took the Senate floor to say that penalizing gay couples in a loving, civil union is wrong.

"Jesus teaches that you should love your neighbor as yourself," Dean said.

"We should stop and think about that. . . .  We need to learn to love them and respect them . . . when they enter into a union that can last for years and years and years and have children in some ways. They are fine people."

Dean said the bill is unfair to people who have no control over their sexual preferences or gender identification. "I have read of and know of  some gay people who have committed suicide," he said. "You can't tell me those people were evil. They were in a world they couldn't quite match."

There was more to the speech, but you get the idea.

Not everyone is as tolerant as Dean, and those who disagree are entitled to their opinions. But holding private opinions and trying to put them on the state's law books are two different things.

Such bills serve no useful purpose. They aren't going to stop anyone from being gay. They aren't going to stop people from living together.

They just provide lawmakers with an easy way to grandstand.

Not so many years ago, people used to take the House and Senate floor to beat up on black people, who had no political power. It was interesting to see how quickly politicians quit doing that as soon as African-Americans began voting in large numbers.

I hope the day comes soon when gay-bashing becomes equally politically incorrect.

I also hope the legislative life of Fontenot's bill is over. The Senate voted 17-16 for it Thursday, but because it takes 20 votes for a bill to clear the Senate, it failed to pass.   Fontenot tried again Tuesday and failed again with a 17-15 vote, probably killing the bill for the session.

Fontenot said he was not pushing the bill to zero in on gay people but to protect "the sanctity of marriage". "We should do all we can to preserve the family and marriage. . . .  It is something I am personally convicted to do. I am not here because I hate individuals."

Sorry, but I'm afraid I don't get it. How would giving same-sex couples equal rights to such things as health insurance possibly affect the "sanctity of marriage?"   Is the institution so fragile that straightening out a few inequities in the law is going to undermine it?

The Vermont law does not refer to same-sex unions as "marriages," nor should it. It merely gives the couples the same legal rights as married people. Throwing up legal barriers against that strikes me as pointless and mean-spirited. The Legislature has better things to do.

Minnesota Governor may offer partnership benefits

A story released today by PlanetOut reports that the Minnesota Senate decided not to prevent the state's governor from offering state employees domestic partner benefits.

The Minnesota Senate cleared the way for Gov. Jesse Ventura to extend health benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees.

By a 36-31 margin, the body voted to approve an amendment to a state finance bill that will allow Ventura to put the benefits on the table during current negotiations with employee unions. Governor Ventura has been fighting for the ability to offer
domestic partner benefits since last fall.

The Senate action was a reversal of its 37-29 vote on Monday to restrict benefits to spouses, children and grandchildren of state employees.

Senators who backed the governor argued that legislators should not interfere with the executive branch's ability to negotiate contracts.

"We're taking an extraordinary step ... an unprecedented step," the Pioneer Press quoted Democratic Sen. Myron Orfield as saying.

Although the House must still take up the bill, the Senate's decision means that state negotiators will likely be able to offer the benefits soon. Employees not covered by a union, however, would still be ineligible for domestic partner coverage.


Monday, May 7, 2001

Brazilian same-sex unions bill sparks battle

A story released by Reuters reports that Brazilian legislators are preparing to vote on a bill on Wednesday that could legalize same sex unions in a country that has the world's biggest Catholic population.

Gay rights activists hail the legislation which would allow homosexual couples to transfer property assets and extend benefits like social security and health plans to partners.

Latin America's biggest country is considered socially progressive for the region, but the bill could still face opposition from conservatives in Congress and a growing number of evangelicals as well as the local Catholic church.

The project was first introduced in 1995 by Marta Suplicy, who was a federal deputy then and is now the left-leaning mayor of Brazil's biggest city Sao Paulo, but failed to rally support.

"There is a lot of prejudice against anything that has to do with homosexuals and within the gay movement there is a noisy sector that appears in the media in brides' veils...that has affected the debate in Congress," says lawmaker Roberto Jefferson who has reintroduced and modified the bill allowing the extension of benefits to any kind of same-sex partner.

Despite the changes, legislators like Deputy Bishop Rodriguez, who heads up the evangelical bench in Congress, said that passage of the bill could just be a first step toward legalizing gay marriages -- a measure he staunchly opposes.

"Even though the project would not legalize same sex marriage it opens a door," Rodriguez said. "This goes against the natural laws dictated by God."

On the other side of the battlefield, gay rights activists have staunchly launched a campaign defending the bill.

This time around, defenders of the bill have a point in their favor: since the legislation was first introduced, courts in Rio Grande do Sul state have recognized the rights of gay partners to receive health and social security benefits.

Still, most gay activists recognize the importance of ensuring the rights on a federal level.

"There is always the risk...of a homophobic judge finding a way to overlook the rulings," said Caio Varela, a lawyer at Attitude Institute, which gives legal and psychological assistance to homosexuals.

"With the law there would be nothing to discuss, the partnership would be clearly defended," Varela said.

The bill will be voted in the lower house on May 9 and if approved it will go on to the Senate.



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