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Domestic Partnership News Archive
August 21 - August 28, 2001




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




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Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Gannett company extends benefits to domestic partners

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the nation's largest newspaper publisher, Gannet company announced Tuesday that it will soon offer full medical benefits to same-sex partners who live together.The company also announced that it will offer benefits to unmarried domestic partners of the opposite sex.

To be eligible, partners must first have had a 12-month relationship. They must also sign an affidavit that declares there is financial dependence between them.

``We've been looking at it for years,'' said Gannet spokesperson Tara Connel. She said the company's rapid growth last year slowed the process of revamping the benefits.

Unlike married couples of the opposite sex, an employee claiming the benefits will still have to pay taxes on the amount used to insure his or her partner. The IRS does not extend tax exemptions for medical benefits to domestic partners.

Gannett employs about 53,400 people at 98 newspapers in the United States. The company also owns about 23 television stations. The benefits for partners will become available in January 2002.

Pension Board to weigh the rights of slain officer's family and her companion of 10 years

A story published today by the St. Petersburg Times reports that the family of slain Florida police officer Lois Marrero and her companion for 10 years, detective Mickie Mashburn will be on opposite sides of a debate that holds personal and political ramifications.

Mashburn plans to ask a city board this afternoon to award her Marrero's police pension, which ordinarily goes to a surviving spouse. It's worth about $ 28,000 a year for the rest of the beneficiary's life.

Marrero's family, however, plans to argue that the money Marrero contributed to the pension - about $ 50,000 - should go to Marrero's estate.

The nine-member Police and Fire Pension Board will consider both sides today, said Chairman Tom Singleton. Because Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriage, the board's attorney says Mashburn is not entitled to the pension. A man and woman living together outside of marriage also would not qualify, Singleton said.

"As a trustee, I've got to follow the law," Singleton said.

"The law needs to be changed, so that our families are recognized," said Nadine Smith, who heads Equality Florida, a gay advocacy group.

Mashburn has said she believes Marrero would have wanted her to get the pension and thought Marrero's family would agree. But they don't.

Marrero's family was there when Marrero and Mashburn exchanged vows 10 years ago in a friend's home with about 30 guests. A reception followed.

But family members say they also were there the past five years when the relationship was crumbling. Marrero, they say, was in love with another woman when she was killed.

The other woman in Marrero's life has declined to step forward, prompting Mashburn's lawyer, Danny Castillo, to question whether she exists.

Anyone who lives with a domestic partner should have legal protection, lawyers say.

"You should document for the event of a breakup, incapacity or death," said Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami Beach lawyer specializing in family law.

Marrero apparently left no will, though even that would not affect the pension, Singleton said. He was unsure how a will would affect the awarding of Marrero's pension contributions.

Marrero did not name Mashburn as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. Castillo, however, said Marrero named Mashburn as the beneficiary of a police union benefit that will pay her the equivalent of a year's pay.

If the Pension Board rejects Mashburn's application, Castillo plans to challenge the decision in court.

Sunday, August 26, 2001

Huntersville, North Carolina commissioners define 'family' for town's Park department

A story published today by the Charlotte.com reports that North Carolina's Huntersville commissioners have approved a guideline for the town's Parks and Recreation Department to define "family" when authorizing discounted memberships at the Huntersville Community Center.

The guideline defines a family as persons related by blood, marriage or adoption living together as a housekeeping unit. The definition is based on the town's zoning ordinance.

Commissioners' approval came at last week's town board meeting.

The definition is essentially unchanged from standards that previously been applied, and all discounted memberships in place will be honored.

Members of a same-sex household had called the center's pricing system unfair, because the guidelines would prohibit them from qualifying for family discounts. The distinction could mean the cost of an additional adult membership, or, if children are related to different adults in the household, an additional family membership.

Commissioners said their decision does not prohibit anyone from obtaining membership. Only discount levels are affected.

The guideline was approved by a vote of 3-2, with commissioners Tim Breslin and Jill Swain dissenting.

After the meeting, resident Beverly Mitzell who earlier in the month questioned the membership policies at the Huntersville Community Center because of the way officials define "family", said  that a strict interpretation of the guidelines could mean foster parents would have to purchase separate child memberships.

Mitzell said she believes the omission from the guideline or that further ordinance wording represents discrimination against a segment of the town's population.

Mayor Randy Quillen has said he supports the replacement of "family" with "household," an option suggested at a previous meeting.

Breslin agreed and pointed out that services such as the town's sanitation pick-up are provided on a household basis.

"I want our center to be successful because I want as few of my tax dollars to go toward it as possible," Breslin said.

"But we're creating a successful marketing campaign for facilities in competition with this one. We're giving people compelling reasons to look elsewhere to spend their athletic monies."

"This is not a same-sex issue," Swain said. "This is about access for Huntersville residents to a terrific facility we have in our town."

Commissioner Bill Pugh said he believes the board might consider the guideline.

"At a further date, if we want to bring the category of `household' back up, I would have no objection to the discussion," he said.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Washington Supreme Court upholds Vancouver's domestic partner benefits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that the city of Vancouver can keep providing health benefits to domestic partners of gay and lesbian city employees.

The policy allows domestic partners, including same-sex partners, to receive health insurance benefits.  It also allows employees to use their sick leave to care for partners or partners' children.

Vancouver resident Roni Heinsma challenged the policy soon after it was adopted in 1998, arguing that the city was creating a kind of mini-marriage in violation of the state law against same-sex marriage.

The 8-1 decision will likely stretch beyond the city's borders. Other cities, including Seattle, and the state have similar policies, along with local governments in at least four other states.

"We conclude that the city's recognition of domestic partnership is limited and that the program does not unconstitutionally interfere with the Legislature's ability to regulate familial relationships on a statewide level," Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority.

In Washington, King County and the cities of Seattle, Olympia and Tumwater have similar policies. The Public Employees Benefits Board approved a similar policy for state workers last year at Gov. Gary Locke's request.

Since Vancouver's policy was initiated in 1998, about 30 domestic partnerships have been registered and approved.  The city paid more than $20,000 to cover the cost of the policy in 1998.

"A lot of private businesses have similar policies," said Ted Gathe, Vancouver's city attorney.  "It was felt by the city that recruiting and retaining employees is important, and this was one of the benefits that should be included in our package."

Experts debate effect of same-sex parents

A story published today by USA Today reports that experts are starting to take a closer look at how growing up with gay parents affects kids. An array of new findings on families headed by homosexuals will be reported at the American Psychological Association meeting that starts Friday in San Francisco. Although no firm figures are available, recent surveys suggest 3 million to 6 million U.S. children have gay parents.

Findings from studies on how these children adjust have emphasized their similarity to offspring of heterosexuals. But a leading edge of scientific research, much of which will be released at APA, is finding some distinctive qualities in gay families. Among highlights: 

- At 4 to 6 years old, kids with lesbian mothers aspire to occupations less typical for their gender than do kids of heterosexuals. Study participants have more difficulty guessing the sex of lesbians' children just by looking at photos of their bedrooms. The heterosexual mothers have more traditional views on how boys and girls should behave, says University of Virginia psychologist Charlotte Patterson. 

- Gay parents share child care and chores more evenly than heterosexual couples. "Both men assume mommy/daddy roles. They're coaches and cooks," says Yeshiva University psychologist Carl Auerbach. Similar findings turned up in a national survey of 256 families, mostly headed by lesbians, by Dowling College psychologists Suzanne Johnson and Elizabeth O'Connor. 

- Teens feel closer to lesbian "stepmothers" who join the household than they do to stepfathers. They also report feeling more nurtured by lesbian co-parents than by either heterosexual stepmoms or stepfathers.

Other surveys to be presented at APA find gay parents encountering fewer hassles in their communities than they had expected.

But critics strongly challenge the validity of this research, saying virtually all studies are small and likely to be skewed toward the better adjusted. Critics argue that many include no control group of heterosexuals' children, and don't follow kids over time to detect problems that surface in adolescence.

Moreover, therapists who see homosexuals' children, and the kids themselves, report scalding experiences that are bound to scar some.

"Having a gay parent is a social liability," says Goddard College psychologist Steven James. "Youngsters sometimes create very complicated lies to explain just the two bedrooms. They say, 'Oh, he's my uncle,' and it's hard on them. Parents often feel guilty."

"Gender plays a large role. . . . We may not think these (gender) differences are politically correct but, by God, they're developmentally correct," argues Yale University child psychiatrist Kyle Pruett.

In one pioneering but tiny study, sons of lesbians, born through sperm donation, were compared with sons of heterosexual couples. The boys with two moms were just as likely as the others to be masculine sports fanatics. But they also cook, garden and "are very sensitive to their own and others' feelings. They're more androgynous," says San Francisco psychologist Peggy Drexler.

Still, Pruett says, "we do know kids look for same-sex role models, and they benefit from having mothers and fathers."

Union seeks domestic partner benefits in contract

A story published by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that unionized employees in the newsroom of the Oakland Tribune and its six sister papers in ANG Newspapers are calling on management to put language in their contract that would prohibit discrimination against gays. The union is also seeking benefits for domestic partners.

About 200 workers -- reporters, editors, photographers and graphic artists -- have been working without a contract since Friday. ANG, which is owned by William Dean Singleton's Media News Group in Denver, consists of the Tribune, Pleasanton Tri-Valley Herald, San Ramon Valley Herald, (Fremont) Argus, Hayward Daily Review, Alameda Times Star and San Mateo Times. Although the gay rights and domestic partner provisions were not part of ANG management's initial proposal, an East Bay gay-rights activist said ANG management has told him the company will support the union's antidiscrimination request.

The issue was magnified after an editorial in the Tribune on Aug. 14 blasted Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington as "despicable" and a "coward" who was promoting "the rights of homosexuals." Although the Tribune later apologized for its harsh language, it wasn't before organizers of East Bay Pride, Oakland's gay pride festival, severed their affiliation with the newspaper.

Sean Holstege, a Tribune reporter and the chairman of the bargaining unit for ANG's members of the Northern California Media Workers Guild, said his group objected to the editorial's tone. It's to management's credit it apologized, he said, but "their words are empty. Let's see it backed up by what we see at the table." 

The union may be in for a tough battle. The two sides first exchanged proposals June 25. The union rewrote the last contract completely, seeking raises and other new provisions.

Management presented the previous contract with two key omissions, Holstege said: the payment of overtime for work days that extend beyond eight hours, and the right of the union to file grievances and arbitration for cases of discipline and discharge.

Holstege said the paper is countering that, due to tough times in the newspaper business, revenue is down and raises aren't likely. But he said ANG's parent, Media News, had revenue of $950 million last year, and acquired papers from the Marin Independent Journal in Novato to the Salt Lake Tribune. He said that while ANG accounts for only 9 percent of Media News' circulation, it brings in 18 percent of the revenue.

Media News owner Singleton "now needs to invest in the Bay Area where he makes all the money," Holstege said. "I'm not going to be impressed when they tell us how poor they are."

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Decatur, Georgia approves domestic partner benefits for city employees

A story published today by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reports that Georgia's Decatur city commissioners have approved a domestic partner benefits package for its city employees.

Beginning Jan. 1, the partners of gay and lesbian city employees will be eligible for the same benefits as the wives and husbands of heterosexual employees, said Cassondra Breedlove, the city's personnel director. Atlanta approved the benefits in 1993; DeKalb County did the same in April. Decatur and DeKalb County, however, only offer these benefits to gay and lesbian employees compared to the city of Atlanta which extended the benefits to unmarried heterosexual couples.

Data shows same-sex couples on the rise

A story published today by the New York Times reports that according to the 2000 Census data, same-sex couples head nearly 600,000 homes in the United States, with a gay or lesbian couple being in nearly every American county. 

The census data revealed that in 594,391 of such homes in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, nearly 16 percent were in California, and 8 percent were in New York. San Francisco had one of the highest shares among metropolitan areas, but gay and lesbian partners were also found in rural parts of the Midwest and the Deep South. Such living arrangements are a tiny share of the nation's households, slightly more than one-half of 1 percent of the 105.5 million homes.

Not surprisingly, the three most populous states had the highest proportions of same-sex couple households. In California, with 10.9 percent of the households in the United States, almost 16 percent of homes were headed by same-sex couples. In New York, with 6.7 percent of the households, the rate was 8 percent.

Among cities, San Francisco, Washington and New York had some of the largest numbers of same-sex homes.

But reflecting how widely dispersed these households are, the data also revealed that there was at least one same-sex couple home in 99 percent of the nation's counties.

The census figures were derived by counting the number of people who checked off "unmarried partner" on their form who also said they lived with someone of the same sex. Advocacy groups for gay men and lesbians consider that to be a gay or lesbian couple since other options like "roommate," "boarder" or "other nonrelative" were available.

The census count is not an official or complete tally of gays because the form does not ask about sexuality.




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