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Domestic Partnership News Archive
October 1 - October 06, 2001

 

 

 
 

This page contains news for the period October  01, 2001 through October 06, 2001.

 

 

 

<<   October 2001  >>

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Friday, October 5, 2001

Atlanta ordinance may require city contractors to offer domestic partner benefits

A story published today by the Southern Voice reports that Atlanta's city council introduced an ordinance Monday that would make it one of only a handful of cities around the country to require private companies to offer domestic partner benefits in order to be eligible for city contracts.

Council member Michael Bond, a candidate for City Council president, introduced the ordinance at the Oct. 1 meeting, where it was referred to the City Council's finance/executive committee.

The brief ordinance directs the city's law department to amend city code to "prohibit the city from contracting with businesses that fail to provide equal benefits to all employees."

The city "decries discrimination" and "provides equal benefits selection options to all its employees," and the city "urges private and public entities to provide equal compensation and benefits for equal services to all its employees," the legislation says.

"I don't anticipate any glitches along the way," Bond said.

Bond said the finance committee can hold the ordinance, but added he doesn't expect that to happen.

The ordinance Bond submitted is a single page and does not specifically state that city contractors would have to provide domestic partner benefits.

Instead, the ordinance would call for businesses with city contracts to provide "equal benefits to all employees."

Bond said the legislation he presented would not change city code, but merely directs the city's law department to create legislation dealing with business contracts and domestic partner benefits.

"We can probably take one of the laws from San Francisco or one of the other cities and just match it up in our code," he said.  "It's a matter of someone doing some legal research and make sure we can fit it appropriately in our code or where we appropriately need to amend our code."

Minister says surviving domestic partners of the Sept. 11 attack should not get aid assistance

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman and founder of Traditional Values Coalition, said yesterday that public and private relief agencies providing assistance to the survivors of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks should not provide funds to surviving members of gay partnerships.

Groups such as the Red Cross "should be first giving priority to those widows who were at home with their babies and those widowers who lost their wives," Sheldon said. Assistance "should be given on the basis and priority of one man and one woman in a marital relationship."

The conservative leader said that gay rights organizations are seeking to capitalize on the crisis.

"They are taking advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda," Sheldon said.

Sheldon said he was prompted to make his comments by reports of distribution of aid to gay partners and by the advocacy of such assistance by gay groups such as Empire State Pride Agenda.

"There is no question that groups like the Empire State Pride Agenda would very much like to redefine what marriage is and how marriage functions and who enters into marriage," Sheldon said.

Nebraska Supreme Courts to hear arguments on same-sex adoption case

A story published today by the Lincoln Journal Star reports that the Nebraska Supreme Court has scheduled to hear arguments today in an adoption case that observers say could redefine "family" and children's rights in the state for years to come.

At the center of the controversy, which has generated nearly a dozen legal briefs from a disparate array of national and state organizations, is a 3-year-old Lincoln boy, identified as Luke in court papers, who is being sought for joint adoption by his birth mother and her lesbian companion.

The appeal scheduled for hearing this morning stems from 2000 lower court ruling that state law permits joint adoptions only if couples are married.

Luke's biological mother, "B.P." in court records, and her companion, identified as "A.E." in the records, have said joint adoption would entitle the boy to both women's Social Security benefits, inheritance and health insurance policies.

According to legal briefs in the case, the women met about eight years ago and in 1995 were joined in a commitment ceremony. Later, they planned a pregnancy by artificial insemination, which resulted in Luke's birth in December 1997.

During the subsequent adoption proceedings, an adoption specialist recommended to Lancaster County Judge James Foster that the joint adoption be approved.

But Foster, in a December order, said state law would allow A.E. to adopt the boy only if his natural mother relinquished her rights to the child.

He said the state permits joint adoptions - adoptions in which both partners retain custody - only for married couples.

On appeal, the women's attorney, Amy Miller of the Nebraska American Civil Liberties Union, argued Foster's ruling was not only unsupported by state law, but also violated the U.S. Constitution's "equal protection" and "due process" provisions.

"Under the trial court's interpretation, many potential adoptions would be disallowed regardless of the best interest of the child," she wrote in a brief filed with the court.

Also, she argued, a "plain" reading of adoption law clearly allows for Luke's joint adoption. She cited a section of the law that reads: "Any minor child may be adopted by any adult person or persons."

In its brief opposing the adoption, the Nebraska Attorney General's Office said Miller's arguments, when considered along with the adoption law's legislative history, lead to an "illogical" result.

In addition, Grasz said, the same adoption law cited by Miller contains language permitting an "adult husband or wife" to adopt a child of the other "spouse."

He said that language "expressly limits such adoptions to spouses."

Grasz also said the appeal was an "attempted end run" around the constitutional amendment adopted by Nebraska voters last year that recognizes marriage as a union between only a man and a woman.

David Bydalek, attorney for Family First, a statewide conservative advocacy group that filed its own brief in the case, said the organization would have been actively involved in the appeal even if Luke's prospective parents were male and female.

The key, he said, is the couple's marital status.

"The ramifications of this is it's just bad public policy to allow adoptions in unmarried homes," he said.

"This is mainly an adoption case. I don't think the constitutionality of (the 2000 constitutional amendment) would be undermined by this case."

Domestic partners cry discrimination in Royal Air Force

A story published today by the Rainbow Network reports that according  to two women currently serving in Britain's Royal Air Force, discrimination against same-sex couples still exists in this branch of the military.

Lianne James and her girlfriend Helen Nutsey have complained about the lack of suitable housing for same-sex couples and the possibility of being separated during postings.

“We filled all the forms in and they said we could have a surplus quarter, which basically anyone in the RAF is entitled to. We were told that we couldn’t get one because there were too many married couples.” said James.

James and Nutsey have been refused a married quarter because the RAF “can`t allow co-habitation in a Family Quarter with anyone except a legal spouse”.

The Defense Housing Executive, which organizes accommodations,  is under the authority of the RAF and does not have a same-sex couples policy.

James said that the RAF discriminates against lesbians and gay men. She remarked: “Even though they’ve let us into the Air Force they won’t cater for us. My girlfriend can’t come with me if I get posted, they won’t take any of that into account."

“When Service married couples are posted, the RAF try their best to co-locate them, not necessarily on to the same unit but in the local area. They won`t be willing to co-locate Helen and myself as we are obviously not married.”

James said that if they are separated during their postings she will not go unless Nutsey goes with her, adding: “We’ve made our lives together, we both wear wedding rings and we see ourselves as married.”

Both women are prepared to face the consequences of such a decision. James said: “At the less serious end of the scale is that I`ll be charged for not turning up for duty at my next unit, maybe charged again for disobeying a direct order. At the other end I`ll probably be dismissed from the RAF.

“If they won’t recognize our lives then I don’t see why I should stay somewhere where they don’t want us.”

Thursday, October 4, 2001

Sedgwick county commissioners revoke domestic partner benefits to county employees

A story published today by the Wichita Eagle reports that a unanimous Sedgwick County Commission on Wednesday revoked domestic-partner benefits for unmarried employees saying they had heard the will of the community.

Commissioners, besieged by phone calls since Friday, voted to overturn a decision by County Manager William Buchanan to offer the benefits.

"The majority of citizens (who called commissioners) shared that they did not think it was right to reward people who live together that are not married," said Commissioner Carolyn McGinn. "Sometimes decisions are made based on the pulse of the community. This is such a case."

Supporters of the benefits said commissioners made a rushed decision and listened to only one side.

They said opponents began organizing through their churches as soon as the benefits became public knowledge Friday, while supporters didn't know that there would be a vote until Tuesday, when a majority of commissioners had already made up their minds.

McGinn, who chairs the commission, added the item to the agenda Monday and decided not to allow public comment at Wednesday's meeting.

"What I really wanted was for those of us who are supporters to have the opportunity to be heard," said Jennifer Callahan, a county employee who had planned to sign up for the benefit. "I asked to speak. They said no."

She said she had talked to a number of her fellow employees and that there was broad support for the benefits, even among those not personally affected.

The Rev. Bo Graves of the First Baptist Church of Haysville, hailed that decision saying that the benefits to remain in place would have amounted to using taxpayer money to devalue marriage and the traditional family.

"I commend the commissioners for taking a stand," he said.

Commissioner Tom Winters, who originally supported Buchanan's action but changed his mind after the deluge of phone calls, apologized for a comment he made last week that he didn't think the benefit change would ignite outrage because "I don't think that there are a lot of haters in this community."

"Those words came out all wrong," he said. "They did not convey what I was trying to say. I truly do believe . . . that you can disagree with someone's actions very strongly and not have hate in your heart."

Organizations provide relief funds to surviving domestic partners of Sept. 11 attack

A story released today by the CNSNews.com reports that domestic same-sex partners of those who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks are now eligible to receive relief funds from organizations who, along with Congress, are beginning to redefine the definition of family in the United States.

The American Red Cross has also announced that it would give benefits to homosexuals who lost their partners in the World Trade Center, September 11 attack.

"Red Cross is a neutral and impartial organization and we help people who need help. So, we don't help with regards to race, creed, color, religion and sexual orientation. We help people who need to be helped," Stacey Grissom, media relations associate for the Red Cross, said.

Grissom said the Red Cross is currently working with employers to locate information on victims' nearest living relatives. "So in those cases where the next of kin is listed as a domestic partner, that would be a person who would definitely get benefits," she said.

Other relief agencies such as the United Way are also sending donations to victim service organizations that in turn have indicated they will offer financial assistance to homosexual domestic partners.

Matt Foreman, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, said his group had received commitments from several relief organizations to assist homosexuals who had lost their domestic partner in the attacks. "We have had some success. On the positive side, everyone we have contacted has been very receptive and sympathetic and saying they really want to do the right thing for everyone," Foreman said.

"On the negative side, what we're finding is most of these funds, including the Red Cross, had no written guidelines, at least that they could provide to govern the granting of benefits to gay survivors or common-law heterosexual partners or the children of people in either one of those situations," he said.

Domestic partners, however, still cannot receive government-funded relief in the forms of social security or worker's compensation, according to Foreman. "No matter what kind of work we do and no matter how successful we are with the Red Cross, with United Way, with these various relief funds, gay and lesbian survivors are still going to face a huge inequity," Foreman said. "No matter what work we do, we're not going to be able to get them to tap into the key long-term government supported programs."

Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said money should not be granted to homosexuals who lost partners in the attack.

"[Relief organizations] should be first giving priority to those widows who were at home with their babies, and those widowers who lost their wives," Sheldon said. "It should be given on the basis and priority of one man and one woman in a marital relationship.

Massachusetts’ group sues to block ballot question on marriage

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Massachusetts’ Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders wants the state's highest court to throw out two ballot questions that would restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD's staff attorney and lead counsel in the lawsuit, said the questions would limit the ability of state courts to recognize ''families'' that are not married couples, even though the state Constitution prohibits questions that limit court powers.

''These measures should never have been certified by the attorney general,'' said Levi. The lawsuit, filed in the Supreme Judicial Court, would overturn the Sept. 5 decision by Attorney General Thomas Reilly to certify the ballot questions.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office stands by its decision, which said the ballot questions were permissible because their ''main design'' was not to limit the courts' power.

Bryan Rudnick, chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage criticized GLAD's lawsuit. He said state residents, not ''activist judges and lawyers,'' should decide the question.

''This is a prime issue that the people of Massachusetts should decide for themselves,'' he said. ''Anybody who believes in our system of government should not have a problem with the people deciding this issue.''

Gay activists contended that the changes would deny same-sex couples economic benefits available to heterosexual married couples, including the the right of a surviving spouse to receive the pension of a deceased partner.

The ballot questions themselves say marriage should be defined more narrowly to enhance the stability and welfare of society and promote the interests of children.

Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, who joined the GLAD lawsuit, said the ballot question would do the opposite. He called it an effort to ''stigmatize families and children.''

''Government should be taking steps to support families, not tearing them down and throwing legal land mines in their way,'' Albano said.

In order for the questions to appear on the November 2002 ballot, supporters must still collect 57,100 signatures by Dec. 1 and another 9,517 by July 5.

British Columbia's High Court rejects petition on same-sex marriage

A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that the Supreme Court of British Columbia has found that while Canada discriminates against same-sex couples by refusing to allow them to marry, the discrimination is justified under the Charter of Rights.

Justice Ian Pitfield ruled that only politicians, not judges, can settle the matter. Judges can make only "incremental" changes to law, and recognizing same-sex marriages would be a major change, he wrote in a judgment released Wednesday. "A judge-made change to the legal nature of marriage would be much more than incremental," Pitfield wrote.

"The legal nature of marriage is so entrenched in our society, and the changes in law required so uncertain in the event same-sex marriages are to be recognized by the state, that Parliament or legislatures, and not the court, must make the (decision.)" Eight B.C. couples went to court arguing their marriages should be able to be recognized the same way as heterosexual marriages are.

A spokesman for the group said the couples will appeal.

In British Columbia and other provinces, same-sex partners have the same rights to spousal support, guardianship, adoption, pension entitlement and medical decision making as heterosexual couples.

And a bill now in Parliament would provide recognition of same-sex partners for immigration purposes.

Pitfield said he agreed with the submissions of EGALE, a national gay rights advocacy group, that public opinion "has shifted dramatically towards acceptance of sexual diversity."

Pitfield also agreed that by denying same-sex couples the ability to marry they are discriminated against.

But the judge said that is justified under the Charter of Rights because the main purpose for marriage is to provide a structure for the raising of children.

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

More employers are offering domestic partner benefits to their workers

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that according to a study by the nation’s largest gay and lesbian organization, the number of U.S. employers offering or planning to offer health insurance benefits to same-sex partners has increased by 20 percent in the last year to 4,284.

At least 712 employers added benefits from August 2000 through August 2001, according to a "State of the Workplace" study by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

"We believe employers are bringing their policies into line with the changing makeup of the American family," said Kim Mills, editor of the report.

The number of Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partner benefits has more than doubled in the past three years, from 61 in 1998 to 145 in 2001.

Starting next year, New York-based Corning Inc. will extend benefits to employees' same-sex domestic partners, the company announced last month. Gannett Co., the nation's largest newspaper publisher, said in August that it would offer full medical benefits to same-sex partners who live together. Massachusetts acting Gov. Jane Swift said in August she would extend some domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian state workers.

Despite the increased availability, "it may be too soon to tell what, if any, impact we might see from rising health insurance costs and the economic instability," said Daryl Herrschaft, an author of the report.

Kansas’ Sedgwick county domestic partner benefits stirs backlash

A story published today by the Wichita Eagle reports that when Sedgwick County employee Scott Sullivan found out the county would offer domestic partner benefits, he and his partner, Rex Rivers, began collecting paperwork to sign up.

"I was incredibly happy that we were going to get that, finally," said Sullivan, who runs the computers at the downtown tag office. He knew there would be an anti-gay backlash "and it blew my mind they (county officials) would put their jobs on the line to do what's right."

But elation turned to frustration when Sullivan found out that commissioners would probably vote today to revoke the benefits.

"It's really disappointing... to see them go ahead and then backpedal on it," Sullivan said. "It's politics at work."

The past few days have been a roller-coaster ride for commissioners, county employees and the community. Since the public learned Friday that the county was planning to offer domestic partner benefits, commissioners have been besieged with phone calls from angry constituents who say the policy would give government sanction to what they see as sinful unions, gay and straight.

Domestic partner benefits are common at large corporations nationwide and in government agencies in the Northeast and along the West Coast. Only a handful of jurisdictions in Middle America offer them, but those that do report that they are a good tool to recruit and retain high-quality employees -- the reason County Manager William Buchanan cited for offering them in Sedgwick County.

Sciortino, the commissioner most outspoken against domestic-partner benefits, said the estimated cost of providing benefits to domestic partners -- $15,000 -- is only a tiny percentage of the more than $12 million the county will spend next year to insure its employees.

But costs and benefits have not been the dominant issues.

Southern Baptists, Catholics and members of other religious groups have inundated commissioners with calls and e-mails opposing the policy.

"What we're trying to uphold is our Catholic faith tradition where the family is defined as a husband, wife and children," said the Rev. John Lanzrath, vice chancellor of the Wichita Diocese.

"People see this as an attack against the traditional understanding of the family. That's why there's been a tremendous outpouring of disagreement."

Sullivan, the county employee, said he was reared Methodist and later was a Southern Baptist for a time. He thinks religious organizations opposing domestic partner benefits are hypocritical.

"This had made me really happy," he said. "It really added to my peace of mind. They just intend to block it. There's no compassion there at all.

"If they want to really live up to their Christianity, they would live and let live," he said.

New Zealand’s new law gives domestic partners some rights as married couples

A story published today by the New Zealand Herald reports that marriages and de facto (domestic partner) relationships in New Zealand starting next year will be treated equally under the law not only if they hit the rocks but also on the death of a spouse.

Auckland family law specialist Antonia Fisher says that with about one-third of relationships likely to fail, a law encouraging people to face their financial responsibilities from romantic beginnings can only be good.

The legislation, which passed its final stages in Parliament last week, is believed to be the first in the world to lump wedlock in with de facto and same-sex relationships.

New Zealand's Catholic bishops say they support registering same-sex couples to afford them access to certain legal rights and benefits available to married partners, but they oppose blurring the clear distinction between marriage and other relationships.

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson says that the new law is all about the division of property, rather than making moral judgments on whatever forms of relationship people choose to enter into.

She says it is simply a matter of fairness to ensure "relationship" property is distributed equitably in accordance with the equal status of men and women, and with anti-discrimination clauses of the Human Rights Act.

Until now, those in de facto relationships have been excluded from provisions of the 1976 Matrimonial Property Act enforceable through the Family Court, although they had limited rights under common law.

The matrimonial law provided married couples who divorced after three years with equal shares of the family home, cars and chattels unless there were extraordinary circumstances rendering such a division repugnant to justice.

Other matrimonial property, such as a holiday home or company shares, was to be shared equally unless one partner made a greater contribution to the marriage than the other.

If the marriage lasted less than three years, the division of property was determined in accordance with the contribution each spouse made to the partnership. Antonia Fisher says this principle also applied outside wedlock, but only under the common law concept of constructive trust.

In the new law, domestic partners will be treated the same as married couples, with an assumption that if they separate, they will receive an equal share of any property accumulated in the relationship.

But property owned before moving in with a partner and then kept separate from the relationship will be regarded as separate, unless the Family Court considers it part of your union.

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Kansas’ Sedgwick county commissioners to rescind domestic partner benefits to county employees

A story published today by the Wichita Eagle reports that Sedgwick County's new benefits for unmarried domestic partners which was approved by County manager William Buchanan won't likely last through the end of the week.

County commissioners placed the issue on the agenda for their Wednesday meeting and appear to have the votes to overturn County Manager William Buchanan's decision to offer employees the option of extending their insurance coverage to heterosexual or homosexual domestic partners.

Commissioners Carolyn McGinn and Ben Sciortino, the chair and vice-chair of the board, put the item on the agenda after all the commissioners received numerous phone calls and e-mails from constituents who say the policy gives official sanction to sinful unions, both gay and straight.

Sciortino and McGinn said last week that they oppose the policy because they think the county's health benefits should be reserved for employees and their immediate families only.

Commissioner Tim Norton said Monday that he originally was willing to defer to Buchanan and the county's human resources staff. But now, he said, he would probably vote to rescind the policy because that's what residents have told him they want.

"I don't know that this is the right time, or the right place, for us to be stepping out and taking a leadership role on a social issue like this," he said.

"Nationwide, it's been going on for a good while," Norton said. "But in the Midwest, we're probably a little far up on the curve. Whether you call it Midwest values or moral majority or whatever you call it, I think that's what you have to deal with in the Midwest."

Commissioner Tom Winters said last week that he would back Buchanan's action because it was within the manager's area of responsibility to make such changes.

The commissioners will take up the issue at their 9 a.m. Wednesday meeting at the County Courthouse.

Monday, October 1, 2001

Conservative group blasts Bush’s administration on gay issues

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that the conservative Family Research Council has issued a blistering critique of the Bush administration last week, accusing the White House of giving an "implicit endorsement" to the "homosexual political agenda."

The memo, written by Family Research Council President Ken Connor, detailed a "disturbing trend" in administration policy, evidenced most recently by a vote in Congress to lift the ban on domestic partner benefits for gay couples in the District.

"We lost this vote because 41 Republicans bolted to join 184 Democrats," the memo said.

Connor ticked off a list of offenses: letting openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who led the effort to lift the domestic partner benefits ban, speak at the GOP convention; naming former Massachusetts GOP governor Paul Cellucci, a "militant advocate of homosexual rights," ambassador to Canada; picking "prominent gay activist" Scott Evertz to head the White House AIDS office; and putting activist Donald Cappoccia on the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts.

The memo also criticized Secretary of State Colin Powell for presiding over the swearing in of "openly homosexual foreign service officer" Michael Guest to be ambassador to Romania and recognizing his partner of six years," Alex Nevarez , "who reportedly will live with the ambassador" in the official residence in Bucharest.

Gay rights activists criticized the timing of the memo. "There is a time and place for these types of debates," said Human Rights Campaign spokesman David Smith . "Now is not that time."

 

 

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