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Domestic Partnership News Archive
November 01 - November 06, 2001

 

 

 
 

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

 

 

 

<<   November 2001  >>

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Tuesday, November 6, 2001

Canadian court to tackle issue on same-sex marriage

A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that gay and lesbian couples of Toronto were in court yesterday arguing they have the right to marry and that the current law discriminates against homosexuality.

The landmark case was put forward by eight same-sex couples who are asking the Ontario Superior Court to force the City of Toronto to issue them marriage licenses.

"It's time to look at the law and see that there's inequality," said Gail Donnelly, who attended court with her partner of three years.

 A second challenge involves the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, which wants to register with the Ontario government two same-sex marriages it performed.

The province's marriage registrar, who must sanction all marital unions, refused to recognize the gay couples as married.

A spokesperson for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, in court opposing the challenge, said marital vows should be restricted to heterosexual couples.

"Marriage should be between a man and woman," Gail Reid said on behalf of the Christian group. "I'm not saying that they should not have a relationship -- that's within their decision to do -- but as for marriage, it's between a man and a wife."

The legal arguments were expected to take five days. A similar case in British Columbia has already decided that while Canada discriminates against same-sex couples by refusing to allow them to marry, it is justified under the Charter of Rights.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Lousiana Supreme Court to address state's sodomy law

A story published today by the Southern Voice reports that the Louisiana Supreme Court has not decided when it  will hear the next round of arguments in the nine-year fight over portions of Louisiana's 196-year-old sodomy law.

"This is easily the longest running sodomy challenge in American history," said New Orleans attorney John Rawls, lead prosecutor in the case. "It has never taken any state nine years - or more - to make a final decision, and it's highly unusual that it has been so long between decisions this year."

In March, an Arkansas judge threw out that state's sodomy law, ruling that the government cannot single out same-sex couples for prosecution for consensual sex acts.

Louisiana filed its latest statements with the high court in September, and Rawls followed suit on Oct. 18. The Court could now decide a date for oral arguments "at any time," Rawls said.

The case started in criminal court in 1992; Rawls filed the pending civil case in 1994 on behalf of Louisiana Electorate of Gays & Lesbians. The case has volleyed back and forth between Orleans Parish District Court Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson and the state Supreme Court twice since Gill-Jefferson originally ruled the sodomy statute unconstitutional in March 1999.

But before the state Supreme Court hears the case, a change in the panel of judges will take place that could affect the final ruling on sodomy.

The makeup of the court shouldn't affect the state's argument for "leaving the sodomy law alone," said Assistant Attorney General Charles Braud.

"[The state is] not trying to argue that the law is right or wrong, but that the legislature, not the court system, should have  responsibility for keeping or repealing the law," Braud said. "The court itself has said as much."

The effort to repeal the "sodomy law" has seen action both in the judicial system and the state legislature this year. A plurality of the state House and Senate voted to overturn the law, but failed to clear all of the necessary hurdles to repeal the law.

How San Francisco’s equal-benefit law has impacted America

A story published today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that in the early months of 1996, Jeff Sheehy and fellow Milk Club members Geoff Kors and Carol Stuart drafted a proposal that would quickly turn into San Francisco's Equal Benefits Ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation.

Adopted by the Board of Supervisors five years ago today, the law requires companies doing business with the city to provide the same benefits to domestic partners, including same-sex couples, that they do for married couples. The effect since that day has been dynamic.

In San Francisco, more than 3,200 companies that do business with the city now offer domestic partner benefits, compared with 100 companies five years ago. About 44,000 employees have taken advantage of the benefits.

Nationally, 4,284 companies, colleges, universities, and state and local governments have offered or announced they would offer health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of their employees -- a far cry from 1996, when there were only a relative handful. 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.

Among the cities and counties that have replicated San Francisco's law: Los Angeles, Seattle, Berkeley, San Mateo County and Tumwater, Wash.

"It's been like a pebble thrown into a stream that has created a tidal wave, " Sheehy said.

However, conservative groups continue to oppose the expansion of domestic partner benefits around the country. A Massachusetts court overturned Boston's law granting benefits to domestic partners, and opponents are challenging a similar law in Washington state.

"Our underlying belief is that all of this is nothing more than an incremental movement towards legalizing homosexual marriage, to which we totally disagree," said Karen Holgate, spokeswoman for the Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento.

Locally, the concerns were more financial than ideological.

"When it initially came out, we thought it would be horrendous," said Scott Hauge, founder of San Francisco Small Business Advocates and owner of a small insurance company in the Sunset District. "There was concern it would cause a lot of problems," namely businesses not being able to find insurance providers to cover domestic partners.

However, "Once you talked it out, it sounded like reasonable stuff," Hauge said. "Giving somebody time off because their partner died -- I really have a problem with people who have a problem with that."

In June, the ordinance survived its biggest legal challenge to date when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an airline industry lawsuit challenging its validity. A separate appeal by the airlines is pending.

Kim Mills, education director for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, estimates that just about 1 to 3 percent of the workforce that has access to the benefits uses them.

Mills attributes that to the fact that many unmarried couples are in two-earner families.

"If both halves have jobs, and access to health insurance, these benefits become something of a safety net," she said.

Another big deterrent: Benefits are considered taxable income, so unmarried couples get hit with higher tax bills if they share them. Not so with married couples.

Jean Harris, executive director of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality, a statewide lobbying group, said her group next year is going to try to persuade state legislators to adopt a state law similar to San Francisco's Equal Benefits Ordinance.

Dennis Aftergut, chief assistant San Francisco city attorney, who has defended the ordinance against legal challenges, said that would be right in line with one of his fondest hopes when he was arguing to preserve the law: that its protections be spread as far as possible.

"They say you can't legislate morality, but this experience shows that you can legislate equality," Aftergut said.

Alberta, Canada given more time to change discriminatory same-sex partner law

A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that Canada's Court of Queen's Bench has given the province of Alberta more time to change a law that discriminates against same-sex partners.

Last April a Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled that the Intestate Succession Act was unconstitutional because it excludes gays and lesbians from inheriting if a partner dies without a will.

Justice Del Perras ordered the province to change the law within nine months.

Following a closed court hearing Friday Perras agreed to give Premier Ralph Klein's government a five-month extension.

The Justice Department said it requested the delay because it wants to include the rights of same-sex couples to inherit in a broad review of Alberta family law set to begin in January.

The review is to include public hearings.

Saturday, November 3, 2001

Minnesota lawmakers to reject worker contracts over same-sex benefits

A story published today by the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Minnesota's two largest unions waged a 14-day strike before reaching tentative agreements on separate two-year contracts, a significant number of state representatives , however, are poised to reject the deal, setting up the possibility of another strike.

The single obstacle to House ratification is an insurance provision giving health and dental benefits to committed partners of gay and lesbian state employees.

"There's a great deal of concern in the House of Representatives about this new benefit, and there are many members who are going to be voting against ratification," said Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan.

"The consequences of this are potentially big because it reignites the possibility of a strike."

Ratification of the agreements in the DFL-controlled Senate is considered all but certain. But both houses must ratify the contracts for them to be valid.

The tentative contracts were reached Oct. 14 between the state and Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE). The two unions, representing more than half the state's 52,000 workers, went on strike Oct. 1 over wage and health care issues. The members of both unions also must ratify the contracts in votes taking place this month. Union leaders have said they expect them to be approved.

An earlier vote by the house taken on May 3 resulted in a 78-54 vote banning domestic partner benefits in state labor contracts. That provision never became law, but Pawlenty said it was a clear signal to the administration on where the House stood.

"The administration chose to thumb their nose at us and go ahead and negotiate it into the contract," Pawlenty said. "I thought that was fairly flippant behavior by the administration."

Of the 78 votes to ban same-sex-partner coverage in health and dental plans, 63 were Republican and 15 were DFL.

It will take a majority of the House, 68 votes, to ratify the contracts.

The heads of the two unions said they expect the House and Senate to ratify, though they acknowledge there is loud grumbling in the House.

"If you look historically, it will be [ratified]," said Jim Monroe, executive director of MAPE. "There's only one that wasn't, and it was an arbitration award for the troopers. And that was several years ago.

"We would hope that they would recognize that this is a negotiated item and part of an entire contract proposal," Monroe said.

Peter Benner, executive director of AFSCME, was more blunt.

"I don't think they want to put themselves in a position of retriggering a strike. The last time the strike was against the Ventura administration. I don't know why the House would want to say, 'Now you can go on strike against us, too.'"

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, says she expects the House to reject the contracts, judging by the May 3 vote banning domestic-partner coverage.

"You don't turn that many votes on that kind of an issue," she said, adding that she will vote against ratification.

Rep. Harry Mares, R-White Bear Lake, voted in May to ban domestic partner benefits in state contracts but said he probably will vote to ratify the agreements. "When we're dealing with a contract, I'm open to really looking at it," he said.

Friday, November 2, 2001

Salvation Army Oks domestic partner benefits

A story published today by the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Salvation Army announced yesterday that it would reverse its policy and offer domestic partners benefits to its workers, a move that will again allow the religious-based social service agency to compete for taxpayer money from San Francisco.

The Salvation Army severed ties with San Francisco city government in 1998 rather than comply with the city's landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance. The law requires city contractors to offer their employees with domestic partners -- gay or straight -- the same benefits as their married co-workers.

"I don't think there's been a theological shift," said Lt. Col. Bettie Love of the Salvation Army's Golden State Division. "I think there's been a new awareness of our world."

The new awareness hinges on an expanded definition of family. Before, the Salvation Army would allow workers to add only spouses and children to the benefits package. The new policy allows the benefits to be extended to any one adult in the household. That could be a domestic partner, a spouse, a roommate or another family member.

"This decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them, and is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years," said Col. Philip Needham, chief secretary for the Salvation Army's Western Corporation.

The new policy may take as long as two years to enact. It will cover the Salvation Army's Western Corporation, which includes 13 states. Love said she wouldn't be surprised if the Salvation Army's other branches followed.

Needham expects about 1 to 2 percent of the 10,000 Salvation Army employees in the Western Corporation to take advantage of the benefits. The extra cost will be picked up by the participating employees.

The agency's about-face came after the Washington Post reported in July on a leaked Salvation Army memo that said it would support the White House's faith-based initiative if the Bush administration agreed to exempt religious organizations that receive federal money from state and local laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. The back-room lobbying enraged civil rights groups. The White House and Salvation Army backed off.

Thursday, November 1, 2001

Washington protects property rights of unmarried survivor in long-term relationship

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday that gays may be entitled to the estates of partners who die without wills.

The decision came as the justices ordered a new trial for Frank Vasquez, who is claiming the $230,000 estate of his longtime partner. A lower court had found the claim invalid because same-sex marriage is illegal in Washington.

"Equitable claims are not dependent on the `legality' of the relationship between the parties, nor are they limited by the gender or sexual orientation of the parties,'' Justice Charles Johnson wrote in the unanimous decision.

Vasquez, 64, shared a house, business and financial assets with Robert Schwerzler until Schwerzler died without a will in 1995.

A trial judge ruled that Vasquez was entitled to the property under a legal concept that protects the interests of unmarried people in long-term relationships. An appeals court reversed the decision, saying the concept does not apply to same-sex couples because they cannot legally marry.

The state's highest court rejected that conclusion but ordered a new trial because some facts of the case are in dispute.

"It's a tremendous affirmation of one of the most basic principles,'' said Jenny Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay rights organization.

Malaysian Prime Minister says British gay ministers are not welcome in his country

A story released today by the BBC News reports that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad has warned that any gay British minister taking their male partner to Malaysia would be thrown out of the country.

The Malaysian strongman, whose former deputy Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on charges of sodomy and corruption, said it was unacceptable in his country for a minister to be homosexual even if it was accepted elsewhere.

Reacting to the comments, a spokesman said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw "strongly" believed private lives should remain private.

Mahathir told BBC Radio 4's Today program that other nations might have gay ministers because there was a difference in values.

"British people accept homosexual ministers but if they ever come here bringing their boyfriend along, we will throw them out."

"In other countries they can have ministers who are homosexual. That's okay - but not here."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Jack Straw strongly considers that people's private lives are private.

"Given Jack Straw's view there is no need for further comment."

Brian Coleman, the Conservative spokesman on equalities on the Greater London Assembly Member, registered his protest at Mr. Mahatir's remarks by tearing up his ticket for an event hosted by the Malaysian culture minister on Wednesday.

Mr. Coleman said: "I am sickened and disgusted to hear this draconian rubbish coming from the prime minister of a sophisticated country such as Malaysia.

"The fact that any politician anywhere can still make comments like this is unnerving, but for a country so keen to promote itself as a tourist destination it is astounding in equal measure."

 

 

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