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Domestic Partnership News Archive
July 07 - July 13, 2001




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




<<   July 2001  >>

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Thursday, July 12, 2001

Milwaukee city officials hopeful to reach agreement with union

A story published today by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Milwaukee officials are hopeful that the city can reach a second contract agreement today with its largest union by offering health benefits for all unmarried couples, not the same-sex-only proposal that the Common Council killed a few months ago.

An internal memo that the Journal Sentinel obtained indicates that the city plans to make the offer today - and that officials believe leaders of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will accept it.

Aldermen who were asked about the memo Thursday said they believe that if the revised contract comes to the council, it will pass. The contract that included health benefits for same-sex couples only failed on a 9-8 vote, so at least one switch is just needed.

Supporters said it won't cost any more than the estimated $60,000 to expand the benefits plan beyond same-sex couples, because the figure was calculated based on the experience of cities that provide the benefits to all unmarried couples.

Critics said the no-cost-increase notion is implausible because a much larger group would be eligible. They also noted that the $60,000 estimate is just for AFSCME. If the plan is granted to all city workers, the cost could more than triple to $220,000 a year.

Mayor John O. Norquist spokesman, Steve Filmanowicz, said Norquist is grateful that council President Marvin Pratt is working to round up the votes to pass a new deal.

Tampa, Florida officials say pension laws do not recognize domestic partners as beneficiaries

A story published by the St. Petersburg Times reports that Tampa city and pension officials say the law is clear and their hands are tied on the issue on pension eligibility when it comes to domestic partner relationships

This means that detective Mickie Mashburn isn't eligible for the pension that ordinarily would go to the spouse of a slain police officer, the chairman of the police pension board said.

Police Officer Lois Marrero's death at the hands of a bank robbery suspect has reignited a simmering debate over domestic partnership benefits.

"It's a sad situation," said police Detective Tom Singleton, chairman of the city police and fire pension fund. "I'm sure some activist groups feel it is discriminatory, but it goes toward the legal definition of a spouse."

While their sexual orientation prevents gays and lesbians from legally marrying in Florida, a man and a woman living together outside of marriage are not eligible for police pensions in Tampa either, Singleton said.

"I told Mickie it's not a same-sex partner thing. It's just how the law reads," Singleton said. "She understands. She's not bitter."

"Just because state law doesn't recognize her doesn't mean there isn't any avenue for dealing with it," said Danny Castillo, an attorney hired by Mashburn. "We're going to do whatever is necessary to make sure she gets what she's entitled to."

Changing the rules, however, requires the police and fire unions to expand the definition of a spouse in their contracts. Union members would have to approve the change, and the Legislature must approve it.

Bills establishing domestic partnerships were introduced in the Florida Legislature in 1999 and 2000 but died in committee. State Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa, said a tragedy like Marrero's death could make a difference next time.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, said her group hopes a domestic partnership bill will be introduced again next year.

German court to decide on gay marriage law

A story released today by Die Welt (Germany) reports that the German Lander of Bavaria and Saxony, headed by the conservative CDU/CSU alliance, have told the country's constitutional court that the planned introduction of a law recognizing the status of gay couples would contravene the legal protection accorded to marriage and the family. They also complain that the proper procedures, involving participation by the Lander, have not been followed to introduce the law. The Lander, however, stressed that they do not oppose gay relationships or favorable laws that relate to gay couples.

Eberhard Pick of the ruling social democratic party says that the correct procedures are being followed, and that the law is entirely separate from that relating to marriage. Volker Beck, a legal expert from the Green party (also part of the ruling coalition), argues that similar laws have been introduced in many other European countries, with favorable results. The constitutional court is to take a decision on July 18, but the two opposing Lander are calling for a temporary injunction to prevent the law  from being enacted on August 1.

California bill extending domestic partner benefits moves in Senate

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a bill (AB25) introduced by Assemblyperson Carole Migden in the California Assembly that would allow domestic partners to seek economic and emotional damages in wrongful-death lawsuits was approved by a 4-2 vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill now advances to the Appropriations Committee for further review.

Sharon Smith testifying before the committee stated that she favored the bill which expanded benefits to gays and seniors who are registered with the state as domestic partners.

Smith who lost her "life partner and best friend", Diane Whipple in a fatal dog mauling last winter, said she is having trouble suing the owners and handlers of the dogs.

Kate Kendell, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is representing Smith and arguing that she is entitled to pursue such a claim as would a surviving spouse or relative.

However, current California law only allows spouses and other relatives to bring such lawsuits.

Since January 2000, 15,000 people have registered with the secretary of state as domestic partners. The 1999 law creating that registry allows only limited benefits -- the right to visit a partner in a hospital and some health benefits for state workers.

The new bill would also require health insurers to offer coverage for domestic partners, although employers would not have to provide it. The bill would also give partners medical decision-making authority in hospitals, inheritance without a will and unemployment benefits when a partner transfers a job.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Seattle has one of the nation's highest percentage of gay households

A story published today by the Seattle Times reports that one out of every 21 couples living together in Seattle is homosexual, according to new census figures that indicate the city has one of the nation's highest percentages of gay households.

But gay couples are still clearly an urban phenomenon. Of 15,900 same-sex pairs in Washington, about half reside in King County, and nearly one-fifth - 2,811 — live within three miles of Lake Union.

Same-sex pairs represent one out of every 83 partners - married and unmarried - in Washington. That's slightly more common than the one in 104 in the 25 states whose data has been released so far. Same-sex couples were one in 70 couples in Tacoma, one in 115 in Bellevue and one in 135 in Yakima.

These figures, however, does not include the homosexual population that do not live together as couples.

Though information from only half of the states has been released, of the major cities reported so far, Seattle ranks behind only Washington, D.C., in the percentage of same-sex couples.

Gay male couples outnumber lesbian couples on Capitol Hill and in Belltown, Alki Beach and downtown Bellevue, areas with expensive condominiums and busy streets, while lesbians are more numerous in Rainier Valley, Lake City, Vashon Island and more affordable northern suburbs such as Shoreline and Lynnwood.

"You should follow gay males for gentrification because they have more income and are making everything look nice, and you should follow lesbians for good deals," said University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz.

The data released today represent the government's first attempt to accurately count same-sex partners. The census does not ask sexual orientation, but people of the same sex could identify themselves as unmarried partners.

Neighborhood-level counts also illustrate how lesbian and gay male couples are increasingly moving out of the "gay ghetto" of Capitol Hill, flying flags over homes from Ballard to Skyway, raising children and assimilating with their straight neighbors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Domestic partner of slain Florida police officer not eligible for pension

A story published today by the Tampa Tribune reports that veteran police Officer Lois Marrero was a little more than a year from retiring with a generous pension when she was killed by a suspected bank robber Friday.

Marrero's spouse would have been entitled to monthly pension payments equal to half her salary. But Marrero had no spouse - at least not one recognized by Florida law.

The 18-year police veteran shared her life with Mickie Mashburn, a detective on the force. Though the women had been a couple for 10 years, Mashburn can't collect spousal benefits from the department's pension fund.

Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages, and the pension plan only pays a pension to the surviving spouse or children, according to pension board Chairman Tom Singleton.

``It's a tragic situation,'' Singleton said. ``It's a whole new arena for us - same-sex partners. I can say it's something we'll be looking into.''

Singleton, a longtime friend of both women, said he wishes he could do more. ``Lois was a hell of a cop, and Mickie is, too,'' he said.

Although she won't receive her partner's pension, Mashburn may be eligible for other benefits.

The city will pay the equivalent of one year's salary, up to $50,000, to whomever Marrero named as her beneficiary. The Central Florida chapter of the Police Benevolent Association also contributes at least one year's salary.

The PBA also pays an emergency death benefit of $2,000 to the beneficiary when an officer is killed in the line of duty.

Florida also offers a $75,000 payment to a designated beneficiary for a police officer who is unlawfully or intentionally killed in the line of duty.

Monday, July 9, 2001

Maryland's Montgomery county official vetoes domestic partner bill

A story published today by the Journal reports that Maryland's Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) vetoed a bill Friday ratified by the council last month that would extend pension benefits to unmarried heterosexual partners of some police officers. 

In a letter to County Council President Blair Ewing, D-At Large, Duncan said he did not oppose the police benefits section of the bill, but rather two amendments tacked onto the legislation by council members. The amendments concern the county's disability retirement system and would only affect a small number of people, he said. 

The benefits measure was part of a collective-bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police and only applies to members of the police bargaining unit. Some unit members pushed for the measure after the council gave benefits to same-sex domestic partners of county employees in 1999. 

``I urge the Council to act quickly to enact a bill identical to this one but without the the two offending amendments and, upon delivery to me of such a bill, I will sign it into law," Duncan said in the letter. 

Walter Bader, president of the FOP Montgomery County Lodge 35, said Friday he was disappointed the legislation didn't pass, but acknowledged he had reservations about the amendments. 

Now, he said, his concern is getting a bill without the amendments back to the council in time to have the legislation take effect in October. He also does not want to hold up any retirements. 

``We'll work to get that bill back over there and get it ratified quickly," he said. 

The bill was introduced in May primarily to implement certain elements of the FOP collective-bargaining agreement. 

Other portions of the bill addressed the county's retirement programs, which do not affect or cover the police. 

In his letter, Duncan said the amendments would affect a small number of people. 

`` I am concerned that the amended bill represents a major policy shift with potentially significant fiscal impacts, undertaken without public hearings or adequate consideration of future consequences or implications for collective bargaining," he wrote. 

Beginning July 1, FOP members were eligible for health insurance, although that was not part of the agreement. 

In 1999, the council voted to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of county employees, prompting members of the police bargaining unit to express a desire for benefits for unmarried heterosexual partners. 

``Some people thought that because we get same-sex domestic benefits, it was only equitable that we get this," Bader said last month after the council passed the measure. ``We felt it was fair."

Canadian judge rules law preventing domestic partners from adopting unconstitutional

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Canadian provincial Supreme Court judge in Nova Scotia handed down a decision that stated the law preventing same-sex couples from adopting was unconstitutional and discriminated against all unmarried couples.

The case was launched by a lesbian couple who already have children but argued that they were being discriminated against because the province would not recognize them as parents for adoption purposes.

The ruling means the children of unmarried common-law couples will now be able to register their relationships with both parents, inherit under the Intestate Succession Act and receive maintenance from both parents.

In her ruling, Justice Deborah Gass said families are an essential part of the democratic society and can't be restricted based on sexual orientation.

"The evolution of the concept of family and the importance of family to children ... support the contention that this exclusion is unjustified.''



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