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Domestic Partnership News Archive
October 14 - October 20, 2001




This page contains news for the period October 14, 2001 through October 20, 2001.




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Friday, October 19, 2001

Living arrangement could end alimony

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Florida divorce lawyer says a court ruling that a man could stop paying alimony to his former wife because she lived with her boyfriend will create dozens of similar cases and radically change Florida's alimony laws.

The S.C. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously earlier this month that Timothy Bryson of Columbia no longer has to pay $250 a month in alimony to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bryson.

She moved to Florida with her boyfriend 10 years ago. They bought a house together, the couple had a sexual relationship and Bryson's children called the boyfriend "Pa-Pa," the judges said.

The judges said the couple's relationship was essentially the same as a marriage.

The ruling reversed a Family Court judge's decision saying the payments should be reduced, instead ruling the payments should be stopped.

"Time and time again, I see ex-spouses drawing alimony checks, who have no incentive to remarry. They're being paid not to marry. You lose your alimony check if you marry them, so instead you move in with them."  said divorce lawyer Barry Bland. "There's been a lot of abuse on this issue, and this ruling likely will put an end to that abuse."

Timothy Bryson's lawyer, Mark Taylor of West Columbia, said he's gotten calls from lawyers across the state wanting to know how they can use the case in their proceedings.

How big of a precedent is unknown. The decision did not offer a broad definition of when a live-in relationship should be considered similar to a marriage for the purpose of ending alimony.

"That's going to be the test," Bland said. "How long is long enough?"

Bland predicted Family Court judges will issue a variety of rulings based on their own views.

"A fundamentalist judge might decide you're essentially married if you're staying together a weekend a month, whereas a very liberal judge might say you've got to have lived together for years," he said.

The state Supreme Court or the legislature eventually will have to step in and provide clarity, Bland said.

A bill by Rep. John Graham Altman, R-Charleston, would do that. The bill says alimony will be terminated when a spouse is living with someone in a relationship that's tantamount to marriage. The bill has not made it out of a House subcommittee.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

Australia's Victoria state gives equal rights to domestic partners

A story released today by the Australian Associated Press reports that the language in 43 Victorian acts of parliament has been updated so they do not offend same-sex couples.

Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the Statute Law Further Amendment (Relationships) Bill ended discrimination against same-sex couples by adopting the terms "spouse", "domestic partner" and "partner".

"These amendments will ensure same-sex couples receive the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, ending discrimination against one group of Victorians, but not at the expense of any other groups of discrimination," Mr. Hulls said in a statement.

"This landmark legislation underlines the Bracks government's commitment to safeguard the rights of all Victorians."

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Minnesota’s partner benefits to be taken up by state lawmakers

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that Minnesota’s labor contracts could come under more scrutiny than usual in the Legislature because of provisions that gives same-sex partners of state workers access to insurance benefits.

Besides rank-and-file union members, state legislators must ratify the contracts with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. The Legislature, which convenes in late January, can vote them up or down but not amend them.

The Republican-led House last session voted 78-54 in favor of an amendment to a state budget bill that blocked Gov. Jesse Ventura' s administration from offering the benefits in contract talks. The prohibition was never enacted because the DFL-controlled Senate wouldn' t go along.

The domestic partner provisions extend health and dental coverage to same-sex partners of state employees as long as they provide evidence of a committed relationship, such as a signed affidavit or proof of joint home ownership.

Children of same-sex partners would be covered dependents if the state employee establishes custody, said Peter Benner, executive director of AFSCME Council 6.

Benner said the contract also includes funeral leave to opposite-sex unmarried partners.

When Ventura first proposed the same-sex benefits last year, Department of Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter said they likely would cost about $1 million annually and be accessed by fewer than 1 percent of the state' s 52, 000-member work force.

Rep. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis DFLer, said any attempt to strike down the contracts over the provision would be foolish and a sign of intolerance.

"Most people are people of good will and good sense in the Legislature, " Dibble said. " Hopefully, they won' t let an extremist minority dictate the direction the Legislature takes in respect to the contracts."

Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, who worked to stop Ventura from being able to offer the benefits last year, argues that offering coverage to homosexual couples is morally wrong and cheapens marriage.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Vermont commission reviews state’s civil union law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that four Vermont couples out of 531 who have been joined in civil unions told a commission Tuesday of the ways large and small that their lives have changed since the law was enacted.

Their insurance rates have plummeted because they're viewed as legal spouses. They've found it easier to get health care as a couple because doctors have to recognize their legal relationship. Their friends and families even interact with them differently, affording their relationship greater emotional recognition.

The Civil Unions Review Commission is reviewing the law that grants most of the rights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage to gay and lesbian couples. It is charged with reporting back to the Legislature how well the law is working and particularly whether a separate section that grants some limited marital benefits to blood relatives should be expanded.

House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Peg Flory, R-Pittsford, told the commission that the House chose earlier this year not just to expand that part of the law but to get rid of civil unions and offer marital benefits to any couple who otherwise cannot legally marry.

The so-called reciprocal beneficiaries provisions included in the civil unions law, she said, did not go far enough. ''That was progress but I think it still has a lot of inequities,'' Flory said.

The four couples who testified said they appreciated civil unions but believed there were inequities in it, too, because only full marriage would give them the possibility of obtaining the federal benefits that flow to married couples.

Nonetheless, they said they had been pleased over the past year and a half to have their relationships recognized as they'd never been before.

Tom Robinson and Brian Moore, one of the four couples who spoke before the panel said that they felt greater security when Moore needed medical care and they had a civil union certificate to show the hospital, proving their relationship.

''The symbolism of marriage is so strong and the symbolism of civil unions is so strong,'' Robinson said.

Civil unions, however, have not worked out so well for all couples. Family Court Administrator Sally Fox told the commission that nine couples had filed for dissolutions since July 1, 2000.

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Defining family after the Sept. 11 aftermath

A story published today by the USA Today reports the tragedy of Sept. 11 has put fresh pressure on a sensitive issue in American social policy —— the definitions of "relative" and "family." Private charities such as the American Red Cross are responding liberally to gays, lesbians and their children among the survivors. But will a new federal fund to compensate survivors do so?

Some social policy experts say Congress and the courts ought to change or skirt marriage and adoption rules to recognize domestic partners and gay parents.

"It's a tragedy that changes the landscape. Something in me balks at the notion that we're going to say, 'You are mourning and devastated, but you don't qualify for help,' " says Jean Bethke Elsthain, ethics professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "Erring on the side of inclusivity and generosity is much closer to Christian understanding of the human person than a cramped and narrowly legalistic approach."

As the Justice Department prepares the rules and procedures, due by Dec. 22, for a special federal compensation fund designed to bail out the devastated airline industry, the fund is also intended to serve as an alternative to civil lawsuits for "relatives" of those killed and injured by the attacks. However, without marriage licenses or birth certificates or co-parent adoption paperwork, gay partners and parents have "no mechanism for establishing a legal relationship, (so) they will not be allowed to be compensated for their enormous losses," says Jennifer Middleton, a lawyer for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Unless a homosexual partner or parent is named in a will, "they will be out of luck," Demetrio predicts, "just the same as if their loved one were hit by a train. Theoretically, Ashcroft has carte blanche. But I don't believe he will promulgate any regulation that will fly in the face of traditional tort law."

Conservatives such as the Rev. Louis Sheldon, Traditional Values Coalition chairman, say that if the federal government joins charities in recognizing homosexual relationships on par with traditional one-man/one-woman marriage, gay groups will unquestionably seek to "redefine what marriage is and how marriage functions and who enters into marriage."

"Society has become more inclusive, recognizing surviving gay spouses and parents, but the legal community is still somewhat behind in accepting the proposition," says Franklin Bass, chairman of the New York State Bar Association aviation law section. He expects to see a fairly strict reading on who is eligible for compensation. "You can name anyone in the will, but if you leave your gay lover everything, it can still be challenged in a court and tossed out the window, depending on the statutes in your state," Bass says.

Leo Boyle, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which pushed to include help for families in the airline bailout legislation, also expects the federal fund will stick closely to past case law, state by state, when it comes to defining "family."

"There will need to be changes in legislation, state by state and nationally. What a heterosexual couple takes for granted is routinely, by law, denied to gay and lesbian families, and the events of 9-11 will show this to be irrational. Most people, even those who never thought about it before, will emotionally connect to this," says Joe Grabarz, deputy executive director for Empire State Pride Agenda, one of the nation's largest gay and lesbian political groups.

California governor signs new domestic partner law

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that California Governor Gray Davis signed  into law AB 25 with his signature on October 14, 2001. The new law is the largest expansion of domestic partners rights in the country.  It will add several new legal protections to eligible couples that register in the state of California as domestic partners.

The new law will provide partners, same-sex couples and opposite-sex senior couples, with more legal benefits and stronger protections beginning January 1st of 2002.

As enacted under AB 25, domestic partners who register with the Secretary of State will have the ability to:

Adopt a partner's child using the stepparent adoption process.
Relocate with a domestic partner without losing unemployment benefits.
Use sick leave to care for an ill partner or the child of a domestic partner.
Make medical decisions in the hospital or act as a conservator.
Be exempt from state income tax the health benefits provided to domestic partners.
File disability benefits on behalf of an incapacitated partner.
Sue for wrongful death as well as seek damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Administer a partner's estate.
Bequeath property to a domestic partner using the statutory will.
Continue health benefits for surviving partners of government employees and retirees.

Additionally, the new law will require health plans to offer domestic partner coverage to businesses and associations similar to coverage offered to dependents of employees and subscribers. This requirement will assist small and medium-sized employers that decide to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.

This measure will  also change the present law to allow opposite-sex couples to register as domestic partners if one or both of the partners are over the age of 62.   Under current law, opposite-sex couples may register only if both partners are over 62.



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