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Domestic Partnership News Archive
June 21 - June 28, 2001

 

 

 
 

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

 

 

 

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Thursday, June 28, 2001

Canada's tax law discriminates against siblings 

A story published today by the Toronto Star reports that Canadian sisters Helen Gallaugher and Barbara Whyte have lived together for a decade for reasons of health, economics and companionship. They are as dependent on each other for their sense of security going into retirement as any couple that's married or living in a common-law or same-sex relationship.

While the siblings are able to live comfortably and safely by pooling their resources, they fear for the day when one sister dies. They wish they enjoyed the tax benefits enjoyed by other cohabitants that the tax law acknowledges.

Current laws in Canada state that a sister, brother or parent cannot leave registered retirement savings to a dependent adult family member without having a large portion being gobbled by taxes. The full value would be added to the deceased person's income on the final tax return and much of the money could be taxed at the top marginal tax rate.

"We now have gay and lesbian partners who are considered as married couples and will enjoy the privileges of married couples where they automatically inherit the other's RRSPs tax-free," said Gallaugher.

"Why should not siblings who are dependent upon each other live and share everything in their lives together with the exception of the marriage bed not be afforded the same rights?"

"It's our money that we have put away," said Whyte. "I'm not looking for anything (in the way of survivor benefits) from the Canada Pension Plan, just the RRSPs."

The women recognize that gay rights were hard won, through lobbying and repeated appeals to the courts. Now these women are wondering who speaks for them.

Their member of Parliament, Liberal John Godfrey (Don Valley West) said yesterday he is sympathetic to the sisters' point of view.

"It is incumbent on the government to update our view of how society is functioning," he said.

Other Liberals spoke last year in favor of dealing with discrimination against familial groupings at the same time as same-sex partners. But Godfrey said he is not aware of any formal discussions since then.

Lawyer Sheryl Smolkin of consultants Watson Wyatt Worldwide said the issue of close personal relationships between adults is the next frontier for society to face.

"I think this is a logical extension to what has happened over the past several years," she said. She warned, though, that the advocates of change do face hurdles.

Governments around the world make advances in domestic partner rights 

A story released today by Planet Out reports that London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced today the creation of the London Partnerships Register. When the Greater London Authority (GLA) begins the service in September, both gay and straight unmarried couples will be able to register their relationship with the city, provided that one of the partners lives in London.

For a fee of 85 pounds couples will be able to register two days a week at the visitor's center at the offices of the GLA, the first governmental body in England to officially recognize same-sex couples. Although the registration carries no formal legal status, Livingstone told reporters he hoped "other cities will follow suit and that other organizations will accept it as proof of a relationship" in legal proceedings on such issues as pensions, immigration and tenancy.

In Taiwan, an official at the Ministry of Justice this week announced consideration of a plan to allow gay and lesbian couples to establish families and adopt children, according to a report in the Taipei Times.

"In accordance with the draft of basic laws on human rights protection, the government should safeguard the human rights of homosexuals by allowing them to form families and adopt children. But this is not tantamount to marriage," the official said.

"It is a big breakthrough in our long struggle for gay rights," said Lai Yu-lin, secretary general of Hotline, a Taiwanese gay rights group. However, Lai told the Times he was disappointed that gay people were not being afforded identical rights to heterosexual couples in the form of full marriage rights.

In Australia's Victoria state, the first 24 of 43 new laws recognizing gay and lesbian couples go into effect today.   The other 17 provisions of the Relationships Act, which addresses issues such as inheritance, health care decisions and next-of-kin relationships, will be in force by the end of September. Victoria gay rights activist Miranda Stewart told the Melbourne Age that today would be remembered for the move made by the state's government to treat gays and lesbians fairly. She said she hoped the national government would take a cue from Victoria and move in the same direction.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

City of Milwaukee proposes inclusion of unmarried and same-sex couples in benefit plan

A story published today by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that a month after the Milwaukee Common Council rejected a union contract that included health benefits for same-sex couples, the city might soon expand the proposal to unmarried opposite-sex couples to avoid the risk of an arbitrator's ordering larger pay raises.

The two-year contract, for 2001 and 2002, failed on a 9-8 vote. The aldermen cited the cost and not the unfairness of giving the benefits only to same-sex couples as a major reason for opposing the deal with District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. 

In the weeks since, aides to Mayor John O. Norquist have been quietly meeting with aldermen to see whether any would vote for the deal if opposite-sex couples were included. Two aldermen, Terrance Herron and Jeff Pawlinski, told the Journal Sentinel that they are open to the idea.

Herron said he would be willing to vote for a contract that includes health benefits for all unmarried couples. "If we can offer that and not go to arbitration, great," he said.

But he also said that the union should be willing to open up other already-decided issues in the contract, such as wages.

It's unclear whether any aldermen who publicly said that their opposition to the initial contract was based on cost will take that financial leap. But they are not the ones being asked to switch their votes. The ones being asked are those who opposed the contract on the issue of fairness, including fears of a lawsuit against the city by unmarried opposite-sex couples.

Supporters, however, are saying that the same price tag would apply if opposite-sex couples, potentially a much larger group, were included. They said the model used to come up with the $60,000 figure was based on the experience of cities such as Madison, which offer the benefits to all unmarried couples.

Ald. Fred Gordon, chairman of the committee, said it's far from clear whether aldermen would support offering all unmarried couples the health, dental and funeral leave benefits.

"We're divided pretty strongly along ideological lines," he said. "I'm not sure who would flip."

Although backers of benefits for same-sex couples argued that they carry a minimal cost, partly because those who accept them must pay income taxes on their value, critics noted that the cost will grow as other unions get the same benefits.

One estimate from council staff said it would cost about $220,000 a year if the benefits were applied to all workers.

"I couldn't justify increasing benefits," said Ald. Bob Donovan, who opposed the deal. "I think we need to be looking at ways, as bad as it sounds, to be freezing benefits as much as possible."

Economic necessity deters couples from marriage

A story published by the Columbus Dispatch reports that driven at times by economic necessity, at times by convenience, cohabitation has became more common in the 1990s, census figures show.

In 2000, unmarried heterosexual couples sharing a home represented 5.4 percent of all households in Ohio’s Franklin County, up from 3.9 percent in 1990.

"There's no doubt, there are a lot of people shacking up,'' said Greg Quinlan, president of Pro-Family Network, an advocacy group based in Cincinnati.

"Unfortunately, this says a lot about the condition of our society. We are sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind,'' he said. "It's disturbing because some of it is economics. In this country, there's no reason economically to stay married.''

The census counted 23,849 unmarried heterosexual couples sharing a home in Franklin County last year -- up 62 percent from 1990.

Statistics for 2000 are based on the complete census count, while 1990 data came from a sample of households.

As more people push marriage off into later years, many choose to share a home before marriage.

These households are scattered across the state, with large concentrations throughout Appalachia.

Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People, a California-based group that promotes the rights of unmarried people, said the trend has been building for years.

"While they're nothing to sneeze at, the numbers really shouldn't matter that much,'' he said. "We ought to respect the diversity of lifestyles and people's choices -- whether it's 10 couples or 100 couples.''

The key for unmarried people, he said, is using their large numbers to advocate changes in tax and benefit laws.

Although about 5,000 private and public employers nationwide offer benefits for unmarried couples, many of them are limiting benefits to same-sex couples because heterosexual couples have the option of marrying.

"The only way change will occur is if they join together like seniors did under AARP ,'' Coleman said.

But Quinlan doesn't believe that unmarried partners are entitled to benefits.

"I don't think it's the job of the government or society to negate marriage,'' he said.

"Besides the religious, moral and social questions, how do you know who's truly a domestic partner and who isn't? That can be a policing nightmare, with private employers or with the government. I believe it's an anti-family move that does not support the traditional family.''

Three years ago, the Columbus City Council voted to approve partner benefits for municipal employees, only to reverse itself a month later after a firestorm of controversy.

For many couples, however, marriage is not viable.

Rebecca Cox and Nathaniel Phillips Jr. met seven years ago on Thanksgiving Day at a Chillicothe restaurant where both were dining alone. Three years later, she moved into his Williamsport home.

Cox, 46, calls Phillips, 60, her "spousal equivalent'' but knows that there'll likely be no wedding bells.

Marriage, she said, probably would derail her Social Security disability and other benefits. And Phillips' insurance coverage from his job at the Central Ohio Transit Authority would not cover her existing medical conditions, she said.

"It really can be a complicated situation if you're on any kind of assistance,'' she said. "It makes it harder because we're older and we feel we're in this for the long haul."

A junior at Ohio Dominican College studying elementary education, Julie Dalton said the financial aid she receives would be jeopardized if she got married and her partner’s income as a landscape designer were factored in.

"He makes too much money for me to get aid and too little to afford to pay for my education. I'd have to drop out of school.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be married. But financially, our arrangement makes more sense,'' she said.

New York’s same-sex households soars

A story published today by the New York Post reports that the 2000 Census figures show that over the last decade, the number of reported households with same-sex couples in the state of New York has more than tripled.

While most of that growth was in New York City, the 2000 count showed significant same-sex growth in a number of suburban areas - a sign that the homosexual community is becoming more diverse, said advocates.

"There are more people coming out and feeling safe enough to tell the government who they are," said City Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

Across the state, the total number of households with same-sex partners in 2000 was 46,490 - a staggering 238 percent increase over 1990's figure of 13,748.

In New York City, there were 25,906 such households, up 156 percent over the 1990 figure of 9,301.

Researchers speculated that the increase was not entirely the product of actual growth.

"There has been a lot more social awareness," said Jason Fields, a family demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau. "More people were willing to mark the form."

"Policy doesn't take into account gay families," said David Smith, a spokesman for the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, a national gay and lesbian political organization.

"Lawmakers know at every level of government that they have gay constituents and it's important that they represent them as well."

The data released did not include demographic information about children in same-sex households.

But a Harris Poll survey last year estimated that nearly 25 percent of gays and lesbians - singles and couples - had children in their homes.

Genevieve Wood, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, expressed concern about children reared in same-sex households.

"Children are more often in poverty in cohabiting homes," Wood said, "and that goes across the board."

Massachusetts’ domestic partner health benefits debated

A story published by the Boston Globe reports that Boston’s state government will likely loose its top workers to large corporations and stands to fall even further back if it does not extend health benefits to domestic partners, advocates said yesterday.

''We are now far behind the trend in private industry,'' said state Representative Byron Rushing, a South End Democrat who was one of nearly 100 people attending a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Service yesterday. ''I think the public and our constituents have passed up most of the members of the Legislature.''

Opponents of domestic-partner benefits protested that the bills before the House and Senate would weaken the traditional family unit and are meant to pave the way for same-sex marriages or civil unions in Massachusetts.

Daniel Avila, associate director of policy for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, added that the measures would also ''blur the line between marriage and cohabitation.''

A number of pending bills would also extend health care and other benefits to the partners of state employees. Some of the bills would give the benefits only to gay couples, while others would also grant benefits to unmarried heterosexuals.

''The idea that two people who sit down at desks across from one another and do the same work but get different benefits ... based on who lives in their house - that is anathema to me,'' said state Senator Dianne Wilkerson, a Roxbury Democrat.

The Senate has passed several domestic partner benefit bills in recent sessions, but they have all been blocked by the House and the governor's office over differences in philosophy.

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran has said he is opposed to granting domestic-partner benefits only to same-sex couples, saying it would put gay couples in an ''exalted status'' over unmarried heterosexual ones.

Last year, former governor Paul Cellucci vetoed a measure that would have granted benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners of City of Boston employees, saying it was too broad.

A spokesman for Acting Governor Jane M. Swift said she, like her predecessor, ''is generally supporting of benefits for same-sex partners.''

''We will have to see what comes across her desk,'' spokesman Jason Kauppi said.

Maryland's Montgomery County Council expands domestic partner policy to county police employees

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that Maryland's  Montgomery County Council ratified yesterday a labor agreement that will extend health and retirement benefits to the live-in partners of heterosexual county police department employees, a move that follows a growing national trend to put unmarried heterosexual and gay and lesbian couples on equal footing.

The provision was part of the terms negotiated between the administration of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and the Fraternal Order of Police in this year's collective bargaining agreement. It will go into effect 91 days after Duncan signs the bill.

Two years ago, the county extended benefits to the live-in partners of all homosexual county employees. Because homosexual couples could not marry, council members at the time cast the measure as a way to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But the union representing the police in this year's collective bargaining agreement argued that extending those same benefits to heterosexual domestic partners was a matter of equity.

"This was done because we have members who are in opposite-sex relationships that said to us, 'Why shouldn't we be treated the same as people in same-sex relationships?' " said Walter Bader, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Montgomery County Lodge 35.

Yesterday's council decision affects only police department employees and is expected to cost the county $208,380 next year. But already, Montgomery unions that represent other county employees are signaling that they will seek similar decisions.

Gino Renne, president of the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization, said he may ask Duncan or the council to act legislatively, rather than wait for the next bargaining session.

"This is a very different society than it was 40 or 50 years ago," Renne said. "Opponents want to focus on the right or wrong of it. The way labor looks at it is, it's another tool to expand health coverage."

It is also a growing trend that is hotly debated within the gay community, according to David Elliot, communication director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. From Howard County Community College to corporate America, more employers are extending benefits to unmarried domestic partners regardless of sexual orientation.

"It's a contentious issue," Elliot said. "There are some who feel we should worry about gay and lesbian couples first because, after all, heterosexual couples can marry, but we don't share that view."

To qualify live-in partners for health benefits, Montgomery employees must prove that they have shared the same legal residence for at least one year and that their finances are shared.

Although the expansion received less public debate yesterday than other provisions of the labor agreement, some council members expressed concern.

"It wouldn't have been my preference," said council President Blair G. Ewing (D-At Large). "I'm no prude, but I don't think that generally government ought to sanction this."

Others said they supported the overall labor agreement and saw nothing wrong with the expansion.

Columbus leads Ohio in same-sex couples living together

A story published today by the Columbus Dispatch reports that an increasingly accommodating business climate in central Ohio is one sign of the region's large and growing gay population.

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau unveiled another: the first official count of gay and lesbian couples living together.

Ohio’s Franklin County had 3,241 homosexual households in 2000 -- more than any other Ohio county -- a 263 percent increase from 1990, census figures show. Ohio overall has 18,937 gay-partner households.

Comparisons between 2000 and 1990 are tricky because the 2000 data were culled from short-form questions sent to every U.S. home, while the 1990 figures came from a sample of households.

National gay-household numbers have not been issued yet; the Census Bureau is still processing data.

Already, Ohio's numbers have produced different reactions from each end of the political spectrum.

Jeff Redfield, president of Stonewall Columbus, a gay-rights group, called the numbers disappointing. Many gay and lesbian couples, he said, failed to check the unmarried partner box on the census form out of fear of having their relationships revealed.

"This just shows how much work there is to be done, how much more education is needed,'' he said. "It shows how many people are still living in fear of being found out, losing their jobs or being attacked based on homophobia.''

Linda Harvey, director of Mission America, a Christian nonprofit organization based in Columbus, finds the numbers disturbing.

"Those who advocate such lifestyles would say we have a more accepting culture now, therefore more people are coming out,'' she said.

"But there's lots of evidence this lifestyle is something some people are trying and experimenting with halfway through their lives.''

And she's not convinced statistics for the gay population are valid from one year to the next. "Those who identified themselves as homosexual last year might not be this year,'' she said.

Several area businesses in Ohio, however, have started extending health and other benefits to unmarried partners -- gay or straight.

Bank One became the most recent this year when it began offering the benefits to employees' domestic partners. The Limited, Nationwide and Donatos Pizza are also among the 5,000 private and public employers nationwide that offer some form of benefits for unmarried partners.

"Within the next 10 years, I think it will be standard,'' said Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People, a California-based group.

Census data shows same-sex households in every Kansas county

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the number of same-sex partner households in Kansas showed a fivefold increase in the past decade, with such living arrangements found in all 105 counties.

"We were there all along. We just weren't being counted," said David Elliot of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington. "It's not like we were invented in the last decade because of Ellen DeGeneres."

Donald Haider-Markel, a Kansas University political science professor, agreed.

"There is no reason to think the number of gay and lesbian people has changed over time. The only thing that changed is the number who would identify themselves," he said.

Haider-Markel also said the numbers don't really reflect how many gays and lesbians live in Kansas because the question was asked only of couples.

"I'm not sure these figures give us a true sense of the gay and lesbian population in the state," he said.

Haider-Markel estimated the state's overall gay and lesbian population around 2 percent of the 2,688,418 Kansans the Census Bureau reported for April 1, 2000.

Census figures released Tuesday showed 3,973 same-sex partner households in Kansas in 2000, a 514 percent increase from 1990.

Male couples made up 1,888 households, a 423 percent jump and female couples comprised 2,085 households, a 629 percent increase.

Same-sex partner households made up 9.4 percent of the state's 42,299 unmarried partner households and 0.38 percent of all 1,037,891 Kansas households.

In 1990, unmarried partner statistics were based on a sample of responses while the 2000 figures were based on a count of all households.

Sedgwick County led with 820 same-sex partner households, including 685 in Wichita. The numbers ran all the way down to one or two such households in many of the rural western counties.

There's a comfort level for same-sex partners living in urban areas, which tend to be more tolerant of diversity, said Haider-Markel, who has researched and written about gay and lesbian issues.

"The biggest reason for moving to an urban area is the psychological cost of staying in the closet," he said. "The notion that you can't be who you are —— you can't say 'we' when talking about your personal life."

The report also showed that in 2000, 1,429 same-sex partner households were in rural Kansas, the Human Rights Campaign in Washington noted. In 1990, there were 185 such households in rural areas.

Haider-Markel said there have been no major problems with same-sex partners living in rural areas. That may be because they don't advertise their lifestyle and rural Kansans' general live-and-let-live attitude.

"It's when people want to bring their private lives to the public that some people get upset," he said. "As long as they say nothing, they will be OK, but when they start flying rainbow colored flags, it'll be a problem."

Sunday, June 23, 2001

Belgium set to legalize same-sex marriages

The story released today by Reuters reports that  Belgium's government has approved a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, a move that would make it the second country in the world to legalize same-sex weddings after the Netherlands.

The bill, approved on Friday by the country's core cabinet, would amend the country's civil code to grant couples of the same sex virtually the same legal status as heterosexual ones.  The bill, however, stopped short of allowing couples to adopt children.

The cabinet is to present the bill to parliament in the next few weeks, a Justice Ministry spokesman said on Saturday.

"It could become law at the beginning of 2002 at the earliest," he said.

The bill follows a law passed in 1998 recognizing gay and lesbian couples who live together as households with some of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.


 

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