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Domestic Partnership News Archive
December 07 - December 13, 2001




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




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Thursday, December 13, 2001

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Software company extends domestic partner benefits

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that the Washington software company Software AG has recently announced that they will be offering same-sex health benefits to its employees.

An increasing number of companies in the Washington area are now offering such coverage, despite the fact that a number companies are also looking to reduce their health care offerings. A recent Mercer survey revealed that, out of companies surveyed with more than 500 employees, 16 percent now offer same-sex coverage, compared to 12 percent last year, while for companies with over 20,000 workers or more, the rate has risen to 34 percent from 24 percent previously.

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Judge denies Pennsylvania woman from receiving benefits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Pennsylvania woman who claimed she was the common-law wife of an officer killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will not receive $130,000 in federal benefits, a judge ruled.

Sonia Rodriguez, of East Stroudsburg, contended that her 16-year relationship with Walter A. McNeil Sr., a police officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the World Trade Center, was effectively a common-law marriage. She argued that she is entitled her to a one-time federal grant for uniformed government workers killed on duty Sept. 11.

McNeil's adult daughter, Kim McNeil of Albany, N.Y., had fought Rodriguez's request. The judge's ruling means she will share the $130,000 federal grant with her 15-year-old half brother, Walter McNeil Jr., the son of Rodriguez and McNeil.

In her Nov. 30 ruling, Monroe County Judge Linda Wallach Miller said while Rodriguez and McNeil lived together for several years and had a son together, they never publicly spoke of an intention to marry, didn't wear wedding rings, maintained separate bank accounts and filed individual tax returns.


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Fund established for same-sex partner killed in Sept. 11 attacks

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a fund was established Thursday to assist the surviving partners of gays and lesbians killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The $141,000 fund, whose money was all donated, will be administered by the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. Depending on how many people file a claim by the Jan. 15 deadline, organizers expect surviving partners to get a gift of between $4,000 and $6,000.

Jennifer Middleton, staff attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said gay partners do not qualify for many benefits that are standard for married couples. She said they include money from state workers' compensation programs, Social Security benefits and some employee pension programs.

If there was no will left behind, gay survivors might have to fight for ownership of property, for access to retirement or savings accounts that both partners contributed to and for the right to handle the victim's estate, Middleton said.


Wednesday, December 12, 2001

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Connecticut city to offer domestic partner benefits to employees

A story published today by the Stamford Advocate reports that Stamford, Connecticut city managers are scheduled to vote on a new contract tomorrow that would offer medical benefits to same sex couples for the first time.

Domestic partner benefits will allow gay and lesbian employees living in committed relationships to put their significant others under their health plans.

The benefits are part of a tentative agreement recently reached between the city and 125 employees in the supervisor's union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, (AFSCME) Local 2657.

"It's pretty progressive in the public sector. The state does it but not many municipalities (do)," said Bill Stover, the city's director of human resources. "I'm glad that we put it on the table and had the opportunity to discuss it.   When you're competing for employees, every little advantage counts."

Only a handful of employees are expected to take advantage of the benefits and the cost should be minimal, he said.

In West Hartford, where same sex couples in one of the town's nine labor unions have been offered these benefits since 1998, only two of the 60 eligible employees use them, town officials said.

Only 225 of the state's 44,000 employees use the health-care option, according to the state comptroller's office.

Stamford's domestic partner benefits would be modeled after the state's program and would require applicants to provide evidence of a shared bank account, credit card, vehicle, home or a co-signed lease, Stover said,  and
they must plan to remain in the relationship indefinitely.

While some companies and municipalities offer these benefits to all couples in committed relationships, the city's program would only apply to same sex couples that cannot marry under state law.

If the contract is approved, Stover predicts it won't be long before other city employees ask for them.

"Now that it's out there with supervisors it's probably going to carry over to other bargaining units," he said.


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Netherlands releases same-sex marriage statistics

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that according to Netherlands' Central Bureau of Statistics, Dutch civil servants wed nearly 2,000 same-sex couples in the first six months after gay marriage was legalized this year.

The gay marriage law that took effect on April 1 made the Netherlands the first country to grant gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, including the right to adopt children.

Same-sex marriages comprised 3.6 percent of all new marriages. In April, this figure was more than 6 percent as gays and lesbians rushed to take advantage of the new law, but it gradually stabilized at around 3 percent.

Sixteen percent of the people who married someone of the same-sex had earlier been in a heterosexual marriage. Most were divorced, and a few were widows or widowers.


Tuesday, December 11, 2001

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Minnesota state employee contract with same-sex benefits takes effect for now

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that new Minnesota contracts that extend benefits to same-sex partners of state employees will go into effect Dec. 21, after a legislative subcommittee that could have revoked them instead reached a tie vote Tuesday.

The 5-5 vote by the Subcommittee on Employee Relations extends the  benefits for now, though the full Legislature could rescind them when it meets in 2002.  Many House Republicans say they will oppose the contracts.The Legislature can vote the contracts up or down but not amend them.

During the subcommittee's meeting, Republicans criticized the contracts on both moral and financial grounds.

Rep. Dave Bishop, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the state can't afford the $165 million cost of the new agreements in the face of a predicted $2 billion shortfall.

The deals, covering about 30,000 employees, were achieved after a two-week strike by Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.

The strike was staged over proposed raises both unions deemed inadequate and changes to health care that required more out-of-pocket expenses.  The new benefits for committed partners of gay and lesbian employees didn't play into the strike.

Gov. Jesse Ventura proposed the domestic partner benefit before contract negotiations began this spring.  He has said it would help the state compete for employees because private businesses increasingly are offering similar benefits.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said that there is no way to prevent fraud and that there is no requirement that domestic partners must live together.

Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter said a couple would be required to sign an affidavit attesting to a committed relationship.

It is still susceptible to fraud, Knoblach said, and is in itself discriminatory.  If the state is to provide benefits for partners of gay workers, "why not sisters living together?"

Sen. Myron Orfield, DFL-Minneapolis, suggested that Knoblach and others were skirting the real reason for their opposition to same-sex benefits.

"Why don't we get down to the point of this and say we don't approve of this morally?" asked Orfield, who supports the same-sex benefits.  "Why don't we just say we don't want gay and lesbian people to have this right?"


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Proposed welfare plan could hurt gay and lesbian families

A story released today by PlanetOut.com reports that according to a report released by the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, welfare proposals advocated by Bush administration appointees could have a devastating effect on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families and individuals.

The report states that the welfare reform proposals could effectively bar children of GLBT parents and single or unmarried heterosexual parents from eligibility for benefits, like access to Head Start programs and low-interest student loans. Other initiatives could also ban GLBT people from adopting or accessing fertility clinics, make divorce much harder to obtain and stigmatize GLBT youth in the nation's schools.

"Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are placed at grave risk by welfare reform. These initiatives are fundamentally about family policy -- about promoting particular kinds of families while penalizing and stigmatizing others," said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"Welfare is an issue of concern to all of us, because how we treat the most vulnerable in our society says a lot about who we are," she said.


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New York tenants sue over rent-stabilization rules

A story published today by the New York Post reports that dozens of angry tenants protested outside a Brooklyn courthouse yesterday where a judge will consider whether state rent-stabilization rules give landlords too much power.

Several tenants' groups are suing the state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal over code changes that took effect last year which includes one that forces roommates to split their rent equally or risk eviction.

Advocates for upset tenants say the code gives landlords too much leeway on what they can charge and threatens the privacy of unmarried couples who could be forced to explain why one person contributes more to household expenses than another.

Edward Josephson, an attorney for the tenants' groups, said the changes make it too easy for landlords to get rid of renters in the city's 1 million rent-stabilized apartments.

"One could be a corporate lawyer, one could be a social worker, and the lawyer can't pay more than half the rent," he said. "Under the guise of protecting the roommate, they'll evict both [tenants]."

Monday, December 10, 2001

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The changing structure of health benefits

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that according to a new survey by the William M. Mercer consulting firm, about one of every six large American company are offering domestic partner benefits.

The Mercer survey found  that the percentage of large employers, those with 500 or more workers, offering same-sex domestic-partner coverage rose to 16 percent this year from 12 percent in 2000. And among the largest companies, with at least 20,000 workers, the rate grew to 34 percent from 24 percent.

The survey of 2,800 employers also reported that with health-benefit costs rising more companies are dropping coverage for retired workers.

As recently as six years ago, 41 percent of large employers offered medical coverage to Medicare-eligible retirees. This year, 23 percent did, down  from 24 percent last year.

The survey confirmed what many employees discovered when they opened their new benefit enrollment packages this fall: They will be paying more for health insurance next year.

Nationally, the average per-employee cost of health benefits rose to $4,924 this year from $4,430 last year, the survey showed.

This year, smaller employers shifted more costs to their workers - increasing deductibles in preferred provider organization plans, for example, from $250 to $500 for individual coverage.

In the coming year, four of every 10 large employers plan to require employees to pay a higher percentage of the total costs, the survey found.

As for domestic-partner benefits, they have become an increasingly important tool in retaining and recruiting employees, said Tracy Cassidy, a principal in Mercer's Washington office.

 "The real reason employers consider this benefit is for competitive advantages," she said.  "It's also a demonstration of their commitment to diversity. And there's a potential to improve productivity or morale, particularly if there's a big demand for this type of coverage."

Cassidy, however, said  that the "tax implications" may discourage some employees from signing up for domestic-partner benefits. In the coming year, she said, more firms will likely give workers that option.  "Why? Because people are asking for it," she said.


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Canadian province to permit same-sex adoptions

A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that Canada’s Manitoba province will change its laws to permit gay and lesbian couples to adopt but exactly how remains uncertain, Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said Monday.

"It's one thing to have a recommendation that the legislation be changed, it's quite another challenge to make that change," he said.

A two-person review panel that looked into the situation ended up providing two interim reports, one from each member.

Family lawyer Jennifer Cooper recommends the government amend the law to give same-sex couples the right to adopt.

While a gay or lesbian individual in Manitoba may adopt, there is no way under law for a same-sex couple to have joint rights in the same way as a heterosexual couple.

However, Alvin Hamilton, a retired associate chief judge, says Manitoba should go further by allowing any two adults to jointly adopt a child.

Regardless, they agree that the law as it now stands would not withstand a charter challenge. For that reason,

Mackintosh has instructed government lawyers not to fight a challenge of the law in Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench mounted by four lesbian couples.

"How the legalities are worked out, I'll leave that to the counsel."

The minister promised legislation would be introduced during the current session of the legislature, which has adjourned until sometime in the new year.

Hamilton and Cooper are expected to provide a final report before the end of the year but Mackintosh isn't expecting major changes.

The two reports make 18 separate recommendations for changes to statutes to bring Manitoba's laws in accordance with the Constitution. Manitoba would be the eighth province or territory to make provision for same-sex couples to adopt.

Mackintosh defended his decision to move slowly by noting that two provinces which moved a little more quickly, Saskatchewan and Ontario, may face challenges of their legislation.


Sunday, December 9, 2001

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Swedish sperm donor ordered to pay child support

A story released today by Reuters reports that a Swedish court has ruled that a man who donated sperm for artificial insemination, enabling a lesbian couple to have three children, must pay child support after the two women separated.

The county court ruled that the man was undoubtedly the children's biological father and hence obliged to pay child support of 2,838 crowns ($265) per month after the women's 10-year relationship broke up.

The verdict poses a legal dilemma because under Swedish law a sperm donor is not regarded as the legal parent of children conceived with the help of his semen.  Sperm donors, however, are normally strictly anonymous, while in this case the man was a friend of the couple and his identity as the father is in no doubt.

The man has appealed.

Friday, December 7, 2001

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Atlanta's equal benefits ordinance approved by city council

A story released today by PlanetOut.com reports that the Atlanta City Council passed an equal benefits ordinance this week without preventing a possibility that the measure could shut down the city's business with most contractors next month.

The measure, which passed by a 12-1 vote, requires city contractors to offer equal benefits for gays, lesbians and straight employees. The measure was sponsored by outgoing Councilman Michael Bond, who promised to pass the ordinance during his unsuccessful campaign. Bond lost the run-off election for council president to Cathy Woolard last week.

Bond admitted that it wasn't possible to amend the law during the 3-hour, year-end session to add waivers or extra time to make it easier for existing contractors to comply.  He reportedly persuaded the council to pass the law just two hours before the end of the session.

"If it remains unchanged, it would be very difficult for most business," said Bond.  "It was late (at night), and people just didn't have their thinking caps on."

Mayor Bill Campbell must decide by Tuesday whether to sign it, let it take effect without a signature or veto it.

Incoming mayor Shirley Franklin said she will wait for a determination on the measure's legality before taking action on it.


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Canada’s Quebec province to recognize same-sex unions

A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that Canada’s Quebec province is set to become the second province, after Nova Scotia, to recognize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Under the draft legislation introduced Friday, gay couples could have their union formally recognized by judges or consenting pastors. The proposed civil-union status would offer most of the legal benefits of marriage, including division of assets after a breakup, the right to see a partner's medical records, and automatic status as a beneficiary when a partner dies.

"We're aiming to erase the discrimination that exists in our laws and guarantee that same-sex couples have the same rights as others," Quebec Justice Minister Paul Begin said.

However, same-sex couples still wouldn't be able to marry because matrimony falls under federal jurisdiction. Also, the draft bill doesn't allow for adoption by same-sex couples.

The legislation should be adopted next spring after public hearings in January, said Begin.

Nova Scotia passed a similar bill in June. But unlike Quebec, gay couples can adopt in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.

In Quebec, same-sex adoptions could still be added to the legislation if they receive widespread support during the hearings, Begin added.

Civil unions also would include the rights that have been granted to same-sex Quebec couples since 1999, including health, tax and insurance benefits.

However, gay-rights advocates had a lukewarm response to the draft bill.

"If we don't get parenting rights we will be back in courts," said Irene Demczuk, co-ordinator for a same-sex advocacy coalition in Montreal.

Under the draft bill, one member of the same-sex civil union could still adopt a child - but not both, Begin said.

Currently in Quebec, one partner of a same-sex couple can adopt a child or both partners can bring into the relationship children from previous heterosexual relationships.

Demczuk said the current legislation would allow only one parent to act as a legal guardian, meaning the other parent couldn't represent the child in legal matters or school functions.

Begin noted that Quebecers massively favored most gay rights but were less enthusiastic about same-sex adoption.

He cited a June survey in which 75.6 percent of Quebec respondents said they favored same-sex marriages. Only 54 percent said they supported adoption by same-sex couples.


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Swedish government pushes for adoption rights for same-sex couples

A story released today by the Nordic Business Report reports that according to the Swedish government, same-sex couples should be given the right to adopt children and female couples should be allowed to use artificial insemination to conceive children.

Swedish officials from the social democratic government have proposed a new law that would give same-sex couples adoption rights. The new proposal has reportedly been presented by the government to left party and the green party.

According to Ekot, a Swedish radio program, the government wants to give same-sex couples who have registered their partnership the same right to be considered for international adoptions as heterosexual couples.

The proposal on adoption rights is apparently expected to be approved in the parliament as it is supported by the left party and the green party.


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California school district to add domestic partner benefits in policy

A story published today by the Daily New reports that the Antelope Valley Union High School District said Thursday they will try to expand their conflict-of-interest policy to cover unmarried domestic partners who live together.

The proposed change in the district's conflict-of-interest policy will go before the board next week, said Superintendent Robert Girolamo in a press conference at the district office.

If the change is approved, board members could not vote on pay increases for a relative or an unmarried live-in domestic partner unless the raise is proposed for an entire employee group that happens to include the person, Girolamo said.



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