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Domestic Partnership News Archive
May 21 - May 28, 2001

 

 

 
 

This page contains news for the period May 21, 2001 through May 28, 2001.

 

 

 

 

<<   May 2001  >>

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Saturday, May 26, 2001

Maryland man adopts partner of 32 years to make relationship legal

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that a Silver Spring, Maryland man has adopted his gay partner of 32 years to establish a legal family relationship, since they can't get married.

The petition, was approved Thursday by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge DeLawrence Beard, giving the men the right to make decisions about each other's medical care as well as claims of inheritance.

James Shrybman, the couple's attorney said that the couple did not want to be publicly identified, and the court records are sealed, as they are in most adoption cases. Other gay couples have succeeded at such adoptions, but the cases are very unusual, legal experts say.

"These are two gay men who have been partners who have resided together for many years," Shrybman said. "They wanted to establish familial relationships, which they're barred from doing in terms of getting married."

Shrybman, who specializes in adoptions, said this was the first time he had petitioned for one gay partner to adopt another. He said he has done adoptions of children by gay couples and of young adults who are adopted so they can be eligible for legal or job-related benefits from their adoptive parents.

Myron Dean Quon, a deputy director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay-rights organization, said that the success of gay adoption petitions depends on the judge.

Some judges have denied such petitions, saying that the purpose of adoption is solely to establish parent-child relationships. Others approve the petitions, Quon said, because they realize that gay couples can't legally marry.

Quon said adoptions can be problematic because they are more restrictive than marriage. "You can't have a divorce at some point," he said. "It's not really a substitution for marriage for gay couples."

Friday, May 25, 2001

Decatur, Georgia to offer domestic partners benefits

A story published today by the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Decatur, Georgia is planning to extend health insurance and other employment benefits to the partners of gay or unmarried heterosexual employees.

City Manager Peggy Merriss said that health insurance and funeral leave would be the benefits most likely extended to partners. City employees already can assign their retirement benefits to anyone they choose.

Merriss said she didn't know how many of the city's 200 full-time employees would be eligible for domestic partner benefits. Part-timers in the proposal are not eligible for benefits.

On April 27, DeKalb County became the first county in Georgia to offer domestic partner benefits.

Atlanta is the only Georgia city that offers the benefits, but several cities, including East Point, are considering the matter.

The City Commission should receive on the issue a report from city staff by August, said Merriss.
 

Thursday, May 24, 2001

Indiana Protestant church extends health aid for domestic partners

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the 831,000-member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indiana has become one of the first mainline Protestant denominations to authorize medical coverage for domestic partners of unmarried employees.

The decision was announced by the church pension fund, which had discussed the issue for five years and agreed to consider coverage if July's national General Assembly approved it. But the denomination's General Board said last month the pension fund should decide, not the national meeting.

The  proposed medical coverage, however, does not extend to pensions.

Unmarried couples living together should plan for the future

A story published today by the St. Petersburg Times reports that more than 5 million unmarried couples live together in the United States according to a 1998 Census report.

The story suggests a couple of helpful tips for unmarried couples in securing benefits and protecting their money and property:

Do research on your insurance.

Married couples are more likely to get discounts on their homeowners, renters and auto insurance policies. Some insurers are willing to extend that discount to domestic partners - and even to roommates, for that matter. Take the time to call around for a variety of quotes.

Inquire about domestic partner benefits.

A lot of companies are now offering health benefits, pension benefits, bereavement, sick leave and other provisions to the unmarried partners of their employees. Ask your employer about what's available.

Contemplate in forming a contract.

When married people break up, they have a ready-made legal instrument - the divorce proceeding - to help them keep some or all of their assets. Unmarried couples don't have the same protection. Consider drawing up a written agreement about your finances, property you owned before you started living together, and property you bought or inherited during your relationship.

Remain financially independent.

Financial advisers suggest that unmarried people maintain their own credit cards and bank accounts. However, they say it's usually not a problem to have a joint checking account for basic household expenses.

Be cautious in cosigning.

Avoid cosigning a loan or applying for a joint credit card unless you're prepared to assume complete and full responsibility for that debt.

Watch those real estate titles.

If you want your real estate or other property to go to your partner after your death, you can title assets jointly with rights of survivorship. Recognize that this approach designates both of you as owners of half the property, regardless of how much money you put into the investment.

Common tenancy can protect your interest.

If you buy property together and one pays substantially more than the other, you can become tenants in common and specify who owns what percentage of the property in the deed. But with this approach, the surviving partner does not have rights to the entire property.

Give thought to estate planning.

Make specific provisions in your will if you want your partner to inherit your assets. Consult with a lawyer who has experience with wills, trusts and the probate process.

Avoid estate taxes.

Married spouses can transfer assets to each other tax-free. But with domestic partners, assets valued above the $675,000 exemption can be hit with taxes of up to 55 percent.

To transfer money without getting penalized, one partner can make annual tax-free gifts of up to $10,000 to the other. Also, trusts can be used to transfer stocks and real estate at a tax savings.

Mediation or arbitration can lessen the frustration.

If you do break up and you cannot resolve financial conflicts on your own, mediation or arbitration proceedings would be faster, simpler and less costly than litigation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Maine's domestic partner laws challenged

A story published by the Portland Press Herald reports that Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, has filed an application with the Secretary of State's Office to force a vote on overturning the domestic partnership ordinance approved by the Portland City Council on Monday, and reversing legislation passed by the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The Civic League measure also would prohibit all state and local governments, including the state university system, from providing benefits to the domestic partners of their employees, and would take health insurance away from the domestic partners of employees who already have it.

"We are praying and thinking about it and talking with folks who have concerns about this, about domestic partnership and the agenda of the gay movement here in Maine and throughout the country," Heath said Tuesday. "We're trying to develop a prudent and appropriate and helpful strategy."

In March, the State Employee Health Commission approved granting health insurance benefits to gay and unmarried heterosexual partners of state employees. The university system and the city of Portland have offered the benefits for some time, and the ordinance approved by the City Council on Monday would require any recipient of city funds to offer the benefits to employees.

On Tuesday, the House approved, by a vote of 91-49, a bill that would require health insurance companies to offer domestic partner benefits if they offer coverage to the spouses of plan members. The Senate has tentatively approved the bill, but has yet to take a final vote.

State Rep. Ben Dudley, who sponsored the bill that the Civic League would like to overturn, said that by requiring insurance companies to provide the benefits, he is helping small businesses.

"Part of what it takes to run a successful business is recruiting and retaining good employees, and they're going to do this with a good employee benefit plan," he said. "Employees, more and more these days, are looking to cover their domestic partners."

Karen Geraghty, a Portland city councilor who co-sponsored the city's new ordinance, said she and others knew that Heath had applied to circulate a petition. They already are organizing a coalition of businesses, labor organizations, gay-rights activists and others to keep it from leading to new legislation.

She noted that domestic partnership benefits apply to unmarried heterosexuals as well as to the partners of gay employees, and said that the issue is workplace equality.

"This is about denying people's access to health care," she said. "This is about inequity in the workplace. That's why employers are offering these policies to unmarried partners . . . This is all about getting more people in Maine access to health care."

The Secretary of State's Office is reviewing the petition now, and has until June 4 to respond to Heath. Once that office and Heath finalize certain details, Heath will be able to collect signatures – he needs 42,101 – to place the question on the ballot.

If he gets the signatures, which, with his organization and history, he likely will, the Legislature will have an option to enact his proposal.

That, however, is unlikely, because if Dudley's bill becomes law, legislators will have again expressed their position on the issue. In that case, the question will go to voters

3 U.S. cities tie for most unwed residents

A story published by the USA Today reports that the cities with the largest percentage of their population living together outside marriage are Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Seattle with 3.6% of the residents identify themselves as "unmarried partners".  Rochester, New York and Manchester, New Hampshire came close with 3.5%.

Susan Blexrud, director of communications for Orlando, says the statistics on her city are "surprising but not alarming. We have a very diverse population. We are growing and changing and getting a breath of fresh air."

She also says the city was rated fifth in Child magazine's list of the best cities for families.

Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle says, "I really just don't have an explanation for what is going on."

The total number of households with an unmarried partner jumped 72% in the past decade. Although the numbers include both opposite and same-sex couples, experts believe the majority of live-ins are opposite sex.

"Florida has a high percentage of senior citizens, and it could be to their advantage financially to cohabit rather than marry," because of Social Security and other issues, speculates Jason Fields of the Census Bureau's population division.

Fields suggests that some university towns, which often have a disproportionate number of young cohabitors, also may be candidates for the live-in list.

The top 20 towns include two more cities in Florida — St. Petersburg, 3.1%, and Tampa, 3% — and two in California — Berkeley and San Francisco, each 3.2%.

Among the 238 cities the paper ranked, the one with the smallest percentage of live-ins is Provo, Utah, with 0.4%.

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Portland, Maine city council approves partnership ordinance

A story published today by the Portland Press Herald reports that with a vote of 8-0 on Monday night, the city councilors of Portland, Maine approved an ordinance that recognizes gay and unmarried heterosexual couples as families and requires agencies that get financial support from the city to recognize them as families too.

The ordinance changes the city's definition of family to include couples who register with the city. It also requires agencies that receive city money to provide health insurance to the domestic partners of employees, if their health insurance companies offer such coverage.

Councilor Peter O'Donnell, who sponsored the ordinance with Councilor Karen Geraghty, said the ordinance is a logical step toward providing equal rights for everyone, no matter their sexual orientation.

"I want to tell everybody what the agenda is," he said. "It's the same basic human rights that everyone is entitled to. . . . This is a small step. Some people think it's a symbolic step, but symbolism has so much meaning."

And the law is more than symbolism. Under the ordinance, any private school system or child-care program that receives city money will be required to recognize unmarried partners who parent their students; let them pick up the children from school or child care, and give them academic information.

Of the 21 members of the public who addressed the City Council, three opposed the ordinance.

"What part of two referendums against gay rights don't you get?" asked Carole Jean. "It's immoral and it goes against all that's natural, that God gave us. . . . If you want all these gay rights, move to Vermont, California or join the Dutch because they're very liberal, believe me."

Rita Kissen, whose daughter is in a long-term relationship with another woman, was delighted with the vote.

Kissen told councilors about her 21-month-old grandson, Benjamin – the son of her daughter and her daughter's partner.

"What Benjamin doesn't know yet is that some people don't think that Benjamin has a real family because Benjamin has two mommies," Kissen said. She said that the vote will "tell those kids . . . that we support real family values."

Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood and School Committee Chairwoman Jill Duson also spoke in favor of the ordinance.

By passing the ordinance, Portland became the 72nd municipality in the nation to offer a registry.

Under Portland's ordinance, couples will have to pay a $20 fee and certify that they live together in an exclusive relationship "of mutual support, caring and commitment."

In order to dissolve the relationship, they would have to file other documents at City Hall.

 

 

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