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Domestic Partnership News Archive
October 07 - October 13, 2001




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




<<   October 2001  >>

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Friday, October 12, 2001

D.C. domestic partner benefits moves forward

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to end a federal ban on the District's use of local tax dollars to extend health benefits to gay couples.

After the Democratic-controlled panel's near-party-line vote, 16 to 13, to approve the District's $5.3 billion fiscal 2002 budget with the change, Democratic aides said some Senate Republican leaders threatened to derail the spending plan by not permitting it to reach the Senate floor.

"The District of Columbia is substantially supported with federal moneys. They're fungible," Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), ranking committee Republican, said in opposing the measure. "They're spending United States taxpayer money on things that are contrary to the basic concepts" of many Americans.

The opposition comes as city leaders and friendly lawmakers have sought to roll back congressional restrictions and expand home rule, a push that includes legislation to shrink Congress's role in reviewing the city budget.

Yesterday, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairman of the Senate's Appropriations subcommittee on the District, led the effort to repeal the prohibition on the domestic partner benefit as well as congressional bans on the city's use of local funds for drug needle exchange programs, to lobby Congress and to support lawsuits to increase the District's voting representation.

"It's not the specifics of the issue, it's the principle that I believe," Landrieu said. "I hope that we can begin a new era here where the District is allowed to use their own money for their own laws. . . . This is as much about Cleveland and New Orleans as it is about Washington, D.C., that cities should make budgets and spend their own money as they want."

The domestic partner law would allow city employees to buy health insurance at group rates for their unmarried partners. It would allow same-sex and heterosexual couples who live together to register with the city and claim family status at health care facilities, nursing homes and adoption clinics. The law also would cover relatives or unrelated caregivers who live together.

Thursday, October 11, 2001

Commentator focuses on North Carolina anti-cohabitation law

A newspaper commentary written by columnist Don Hudson for The Charlotte Observer talks about the old North Carolina anti-cohabitation law that has been recently used by a local judge against a couple in Alexander county.The text of his article appears below:

An Alexander County man was convicted of breaking North Carolina's 1805 fornication and adultery law after a judge had him arrested during his live-in girlfriend's custody battle back in July. 

Don Hudson adds that it's good to see somebody paying attention to N.C.'s sex laws, even if they are narrowly focused and rarely enforced. He jokingly thinks that the good folks up in Taylorsville are going to start a new trend, that is couples living together but avoiding any intimate relationship with their partners.

The story goes like this: Jerry Ward and Wendy Gunter were living together with Gunter's two daughters. Gunter was arguing for sole custody of her daughters before District Judge Jimmy Myers in July.

Judge Myers, an ordained Methodist minister and a bachelor, got tough. Instead of giving her custody, he had a magistrate serve a bench warrant on Ward and Gunter, charging them with adultery.

"The court finds that this kind of behavior is not something that the state of North Carolina condones," Myers said in his ruling. "It is still against the law of the state."

The particular N.C. adultery law, Statute 14-184, says an unmarried man and woman who "lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together" are breaking the law.

In the couple's adultery trial, local attorney Joel Harbinson from Taylorsville argued that 143,680 North Carolinians have admitted in the recent 2000 census that they were cohabiting. His clients, he said were being singled out.

Harbinson, a Democratic county commissioner, noted that Mecklenburg County has not charged anyone with Statute 14-184 adultery in the five years from 1996 to 2000. Neither has Wake County, home to Raleigh and its politicians.

"They are doing something right down there," he chuckled. "They are adultery-free. I better come to Mecklenburg and see how the county commissioners are doing it."

Of course, Hudson adds, the statute doesn't say anything about one-night stands or a weeklong romp at the Grove Park Inn.  Hudson also goes on the notion that a good sex code is a lot like a good tax code. Draconian. Ambiguous. Timeless with plenty of loopholes.

Georgia’s Appeals Court tackle same-sex union case

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that an Atlanta, Georgia attorney argued before a three-judge panel of the state appeals court requesting that his clients (two lesbians who entered into a civil union in Vermont) should be recognized as legally married in Georgia.

Susan Freer, 36, of Atlanta, took the last name of her partner, Debra Freer, after the civil ceremony in Vermont. They consider themselves married and should be protected by the state's right-to-privacy law, said Adrian Lanser, Susan's attorney.

"Susan Freer has made a lifetime commitment to her spouse," Lanser told the state Court of Appeals panel. "If public policy doesn't applaud that, it should."

Vermont's same-sex unions extends the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples but are not recognized as legal marriages in any state.

The attorney representing Freer's ex-husband, Darian Burns, argued that only people of the opposite sex can be legally married in Georgia.

Currently, Burns has custody of the 12-year-old twins and 9-year-old boy. In September, he accused his ex-wife of violating their 1998 visitation agreement.

In January, a judge suspended the ex-wife's visitation rights. Susan Freer said she has not seen her sons in more than a year.

"What circumstances can justify depriving (the children) of the nurturing, support, kindness and love of their mother?" she said in a statement after the hearing.

The court did not indicate when it would rule.

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Same-sex benefits issue heats up Houston’s city council race

A story published today by the Houston Chronicle reports that Houston city council member, Annise Parker, has said she will actively campaign against the referendum measure that would ban benefits for same-sex partners of city employees.

It's perhaps little surprise, then, that gay issues are emerging as the most heated in her race with two challengers for the city council seat she is currently occupying.

James Neal, a right-of-way appraiser for the city's Public Works Department and a contender for Parker’s council seat, has made Parker's support of same-sex benefits the central issue of his campaign.

Neal said the money for these benefits could be better used for city employees as a whole.

"It's not that I'm against her group, but she's not representing all city employees and I'm pretty mad about it," Neal said.

Sylvia Ayres, who is also challenging Parker this year for the second time, said in her 1999 campaign that on the council, Parker focused too much on gay and lesbian issues.

Parker said she has focused on multiple issues during her two terms, and that she has no qualms about campaigning against a referendum that would prohibit the city from offering benefit packages for employees' same-sex domestic partners.

A vote to prevent same-sex benefits is "extremely backward," she said, and is "the wrong kind of image to send to the world."

Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Procter & Gamble restructures domestic partner benefits plan

A story published today by the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that starting the first of January, Procter & Gamble Co. will begin offering health and other benefits to domestic partners to its employees located in the United States.

Cincinnati-based company said it had dropped the requirement that half of a dependent's support come from the P&G employee, freeing both same-sex and opposite-sex partners to receive benefits.

“This is something that has become more available as a benefit in the U.S., and we believe it's the right thing to do,” spokeswoman Martha Depenbrock said.

The expansion should allow P&G to compete more effectively for both customers and employees, said Liz Winfeld, president of Common Ground, a Denver-based consulting firm specializing in workplace issues.

In this region, companies including Federated Department Stores Inc. also have made the change.

P&G started offering dependent benefits in 1999, but included the 50 percent support requirement, Ms. Depenbrock said. Under the new rules, the partners are required to have lived together for at least 12 months, and be neither married nor separated.

“We certainly believe this is consistent with our principles,” she said. “It recognizes that there have been significant changes in the makeup of today's family.”

Supporters of Sedgwick county domestic partner benefits accuse commissioners of manipulating it’s own agenda

A story published today by the Wichita Eagle reports that when retired Unitarian minister Greta Crosby heard what Sedgwick County commissioners were considering not allowing domestic-partner benefits for unmarried couples, she wrote a speech urging the officials to leave the benefits in place.

In the wake of the commissioners' quick and decisive 5-0 vote to revoke the benefits, Ms. Crosby never got to deliver her remarks and neither did anyone else who came to last Wednesday’s meeting to comment on the controversial issue itself.

"Had we had the opportunity to speak, the result might still have been the same," Crosby said. "But what I do know is the process would have been democratic."

Supporters of domestic-partner benefits are accusing the commission of manipulating its agenda so that only those opposed to the benefits had a chance to be heard.

A lawyer who specializes in open-government law says the commission might have violated citizens' constitutional right to petition their government.

Commissioner Carolyn McGinn, who is the board's chairwoman, said at Wednesday's meeting that the decision on domestic partner benefits was made "based on the pulse of the community" and that commissioners had heard enough from both sides to make a reasoned decision.

Later, McGinn apologized, saying the situation "was just mishandled."

The commissioners said they did not try to block the domestic partner benefits to county personnel then because they believed it to be a legitimate exercise of County Manager William Buchanan's administrative authority.

But the issue became public when The Eagle published a story Sept. 28 about the benefits. That touched off a firestorm of protest calls.

On Oct. 1, McGinn e-mailed her colleagues to say she was adding the issue to the Oct. 3 agenda. On Oct. 2, she decided that public comment would not be accepted at the meeting.

"Without giving the public the opportunity to discuss the issue with the board, it appears to be secretive, controlling and predetermined," said a letter sent after the meeting by Thomas Forster, vice president of the gay-rights group Wichita Pride Inc.

The League of Women Voters also found the commission's process disturbing, said Sharon Ailslieger, president of the Wichita chapter.

"If they're going to have something as controversial as this, they should have expected that people would want to have input," she said.

The situation is causing some to question whether the state's open-meeting law is adequate to protect the public's right to be heard. No one is disputing that the board complied with Kansas law. But it might have violated citizens' First Amendment rights, said James Ewert, a lawyer for the California Newspaper Publishers Association and an expert on open-government law.

Local governments can run into trouble when they don't tell the public what they're considering and don't offer the opportunity to comment at meetings, he said.

Sedgwick County Counselor Rich Euson declined comment, saying he would need to do some research before making any statement.

North Carolina man charged with cohabitation under rarely enforced adultery law

A story published today by the Charlotte Observer reports that a North Carolina judge has found an Alexander county man guilty of a rarely enforced 1805 adultery law but acquitted his former live-in girlfriend of the same charge.

The case, which District Judge Jimmy Myers brought to trial when he charged the couple with adultery during a July custody hearing.

The judge, a bachelor and ordained Methodist minister, based the charges on testimony showing Wendy Gunter and her boyfriend, Jerry Ward, were living together with Gunter's daughters.

Myers granted temporary custody to the girls' father and then summoned a magistrate to draw up warrants charging Gunter and Ward with adultery.

The adultery law prohibits a man and woman who aren't married to each other to "lewdly and lasciviously associate, bed and cohabit together." The misdemeanor offense is rarely prosecuted according to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Joel Harbinson, lawyer for Gunter and Ward asked District Judge James Harrill Jr. to dismiss the cases, saying the charges amounted to selective prosecution because most unmarried couples who live together are never charged with adultery. Harrill denied the request.

But since Harrill could find no evidence in the custody hearing transcripts that Gunter admitted to having sex with Ward, he found her not guilty of the charge.

Harrill ordered Ward to pay court costs of $90 but didn't punish him.

Myers wouldn't comment on the outcome of the cases, saying the judicial code of conduct prohibits him from criticizing another judge's decision. But he defended his pursuit of the charges. "That law is still on the books of the state of North Carolina." he added.

South African religious cleric decries gay adoptions

A story published today by Business Day (South Africa) reports that a South African Catholic bishop has said that his church will never approve of a court ruling that same gender couples may adopt children.

Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference spokesman Bishop Reginald Cawcutt said his church supported the rights and duties of a one-parent family and even the right of an individual to adopt.

"It is God's plan that a man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family. This notion of family should be considered the normal reference point," he said.

"A growing child has so many problems and difficulties to face. For an adoptive baby to be placed in a same-sex situation, with all its contradictions and questions, would, to my mind, only complicate that child's growth to maturity." Consequently the church could never approve of the court ruling, he said.

The bishop’s statement was sparked due to a recent court ruling by Judge Frans Kgomo which granted a recent application by Pretoria judge Anna-Marie de Vos and her life partner, Suzanne du Toit, declaring invalid and unconstitutional sections of the Child Care Act and Guardianship Act that prevented them from jointly adopting their two children.

Sunday, October 7, 2001

Aging domestic partners focusing on the future

A story published today by the Seattle Times reports that an estimated 1 million to 3 million people over age 65 in the United States are believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

"Very few people think of their old Aunt Millie at 85 years old as being a lesbian," said the Rev. Ken South, a policy fellow with the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force in Washington, D.C.

"There's also  fear that when we're at an age to become disabled and need help, we might have to go back in the closet," said Sally Friedman, a caregiver advocate with Senior Services of Seattle/King County.

However, it is important for doctors to know what social-support network their patients can count on. That's difficult if the patient is afraid to come out of the closet, she said.

"This is really a time of transition," said Ruth Baetz, a 51-year-old lesbian, licensed social worker and psychotherapist who counsels women in Seattle.

Studies show that life's challenges leave many older gays and lesbians emotionally hardy and equipped with solid coping skills. Still, given their experiences, older gays and lesbians tend to be more closeted.

Educational programs like Rainbow Train aim to improve the social-service and health-care community's response to gays and lesbians. For example, trainers recommend that waiting-room information should give some clue that the doctor is friendly to gays and lesbians. Also, care providers will be counseled not to make assumptions. Instead of asking "Are you married," they should ask: "Do you have a partner?"

The goal is not to force patients and clients out of the closet, but to make them feel it's a safe place to share health-care concerns, said Friedman.

Meanwhile, a new alternative is emerging: retirement communities marketed to gays. In Seattle, a long-awaited community center for lesbians and gays of all ages will open this fall in leased space on Pike Street. The long-range goal of the project's parent organization, Queen City Community Development, includes developing affordable senior housing for lesbians and gays.

Nationwide, about 15 specialty retirement communities are in various stages of development from Boston to Florida to Palm Springs Calif. They plan to offer everything from independent resort-style condominiums to assisted-living apartments that provide help with bathing and dressing to skilled nursing care.

In Bremerton, an eclectic 20-square-block community called Narrows Crossing is in the works. It's expected to include everything from condominiums to a senior-living facility. The promotional material targets gays and lesbians and anyone who appreciates inclusive approaches to community development.



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