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Domestic Partnership News Archive
December 14 - December 20, 2001

 

 

 
 

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

 

 

 

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Thursday, December 20, 2001

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Domestic partner survivors face unique legal and emotional obstacles in coping with Sept. 11 attacks

A story released today by NBC News reports that the Sept. 11 attack has caused deep pain and suffering to everyone in the nation. Along with the same shock, loss and grief experienced by every family member and close friend who lost a loved one, same-sex survivors find themselves facing unique legal, financial and emotional obstacles they never imagined.

There are literally hundreds of legal protections and rights for families, but virtually all are based exclusively on marriage, and are not available to same-sex couples, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The main government programs set up as a safety net for situations like the World Trade Center disaster are Social Security and workers compensation, which provide basic support after the unexpected death of a breadwinner. But same-sex partners are not eligible for workers compensation or Social Security. Unlike husbands and wives, they will not be able to rely on any of the money their partner paid into the Social Security fund.

"These programs provide tens of thousands of dollars annually to families upon the death of a loved one, and yet are not available to survivors in our community because we don't fit the government's definition of 'family,'" says Joe Grabarz of New York's Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide civil rights and political advocacy organization that recently announced the establishment of the September 11 Gay & Lesbian Family Fund to assist the surviving families of gay and lesbian individuals killed in the terrorist attacks. The fund will be divided equally among the surviving partners and their families.

Then there is the matter of inheritance. Married spouses don't even have to think about it; if one dies, the other will inherit even if there is no will. Not so for same-sex partners. They are not automatically entitled to the homes or property they shared with their loved one. Nor does the partner have a husband or wife's automatic right to administer the victim's estate to decide who gets what.

Life insurance, too, is an issue. Ordinarily, collecting on a life insurance policy is not a problem for a same-sex partner who is designated as the beneficiary. Tom Miller, 51, assumed he'd have no problem collecting on the policy of his partner, Seamus ONeal.

ONeal worked for eSpeed, in a northeast corner office on the 105th floor of Tower No. 1.   Miller and ONeal had been together for three years, and ONeal's life insurance policy named Miller as the sole beneficiary. But when the twin towers collapsed, the company that carried ONeal's policy was itself devastated, and all the beneficiary forms were destroyed.

Miller submitted signed, notarized affidavits from ONeal's family members saying they knew he was the named beneficiary and they had no objections. After weeks of waiting, however, the insurance company informed him that it would not, after all, be able to give him the proceeds.

Instead, the insurance money would be given to ONeal's estate, which Miller has no control over.

Since Sept. 11, the Red Cross, the United Way and several other relief agencies have taken steps to assure that gay and lesbian partners are treated equally.

Also, New York Gov. George Pataki issued an Executive Order on Oct. 11 granting same-sex partners the same benefits as spouses from the New York State Crime Victims Board.

A new federal victim compensation program issued its eligibility rules Thursday, and, while not putting same sex-partners on equal footing with married spouses, it does, for the first time, open the door for same-sex partners to be recognized and compensated by the federal government.

 

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Minnesota lawmakers to decide separately on domestic partner benefits

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a bipartisan panel voted 7-5 today to allow the Minnesota House and Senate to decide for themselves whether legislative employees should be extended the same-sex benefits negotiated in a union contract for state workers.

"This really is more institutional, respecting the long-held tradition of the House and the Senate," said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. "I would think both the House and the Senate ... would want to protect that."

The move was a compromise, putting off the decision for now. The House and Senate rules committees will each decide later how they will handle those benefits for their lawmakers and staffs.

Republicans who control the House generally oppose same-sex coverage while DFLers who control the Senate favor the plan.

A separate group of 110 employees answer to both bodies. The fate of their coverage will be decided later by the Legislative Coordinating Commission, made up of six senators and six representatives.

The same-sex benefits were agreed to last month by the state and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, which represent more than half of the state government work force.

Legislators and nonunion legislative staff members normally adopt the health plan used by state employees.

But the same-sex language had provided a hangup.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said the moral and practical reasons that House Republicans voiced against extending same-sex insurance coverage to nearly 30,000 union members who negotiated the benefits with the state applied to themselves and their staff members.

"It's an issue I feel very strongly about," Sviggum said. "I not only speak to the rightness of the benefit."

He said the provision is discriminatory because it allowed unmarried same-sex partners coverage, but not unmarried opposite-sex partners. If the LCC had extended the provision to legislative employees, Sviggum said he expected lawsuits.

A House-Senate subcommittee recently deadlocked on the two union contracts, sending the issue to the full Legislature, which convenes Jan. 29. In the meantime, the contracts are to take effect on Friday.

Unlike the AFSCME and MAPE contracts, which need approval by the Legislature, a decision on coverage for legislators and staff is the prerogative of the Legislative Coordinating Commission.

The cost of the same-sex coverage for the two unions is estimated at $900,000 a year. Additional cost coverage for legislators and staff members would be negligible, said Greg Hubinger, director of the LCC.

 

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Newspaper Co. offers domestic partner benefits to employees

A story released today by the EditorandPublisher.com reports that domestic-partner benefits will be available to employees of North Jersey Media Group Inc. starting New Year’s Day.

North Jersey Media -- parent of The Record in Hackensack, N.J., the Herald News in West Paterson, N.J., and 28 weeklies -- will provide the same medical and dental benefits to homosexual and heterosexual domestic partners of its workers that are now offered to employees' spouses, according to benefits manager Cindy Grieco.

"It was requested by many employees," she said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

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Texas man refused by funeral home due to status of same-sex partner

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Houston man says he will ask state regulators to investigate a funeral home that refused to cremate his partner because of his sexual orientation.

David Diehl said a male employee at the Garden Oaks Funeral Home told him its policy was to refuse potential customers who were gay because state law does not recognize gay couples.

"He told me his boss would not let him extend me service. I had no rights," said Diehl. "The employee was very apologetic; it was clearly killing him to tell me that."

Texas law does not recognize gay partnerships as a marital or legal relationship that would establish the partner as next of kin.

Diehl's partner of 10 years, Bobbie Blanton, had designated in a will and in a separate legal directive that he wanted Diehl to control the disposition of his remains.

The Texas Health and Safety Code says just one of these legal documents would be enough to allow Diehl to legally request the cremation.

Ed Kubicek, chief of enforcement for the Texas Funeral Service Commission, said he doesn't know if the agency can help Diehl.

"Though this is a regulated industry, it still is a business. Like 'no shirt, no shoes, no service,' you have the right to refuse service," Kubicek said. He said he gets calls from funeral homes occasionally wondering if they can depend on a homosexual partner's wishes to conduct a cremation or burial.

Chet Robbins, executive director of the funeral commission, said he had never heard of someone turning away business based on a person's sexual orientation.

He said the commission will investigate when it receives Diehl's formal complaint later this week.

Diehl's attorney, Mitchell Katine, said he will also see whether the Texas attorney general could create a policy to prevent similar incidents.

 

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DNC chairman lambastes OPM director on domestic partner benefits issue


The office of Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe released today a press statement addressing the denial of the Republican party in providing health coverage to domestic partners of federal employees. The full statement appears below:

"I am profoundly disappointed in the Director of the Office of Personnel Management's (OPM) decision to exclude domestic partners of federal employees from the benefits of long term health care insurance. The OPM, whose Director, Republican appointee Kay Cole James, was given the authority by Congress to provide coverage and peace of mind to partners of   federal employees.

"These employees, who work on the front lines for the public good deserve to be afforded the same rights as the rest of America's working men and women, but the current Administration has chosen to deny their rights, and look the other way in their time of need. Republican appointee Kay Cole James' lack of leadership, and her willful denial of equal protections for America's working families, is shameful.

"The tragedies of September 11 helped bring to light the profound inequities faced by gay and lesbian Americans. The Democratic Party remains committed to working not only to correct those inequalities, but to forge new ground in ensuring that all Americans receive equal rights, equal protections, and equal benefits under the law."

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

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Firms slowly offering domestic partner health benefits to employees

A story published today by the San Francisco Examiner reports that according to a new survey from human resources consulting firm William M. Mercer, one in every six large companies now offers health care to their workers' same-sex domestic partners, up from one in eight big firms last year.

That's the largest one-year jump since Mercer began tracking the data in 1996, when just 6 percent of large firms made the benefits available compared with 16 percent today.

But the slowing economy threatens companies' ability to pay medical costs that are rising at several times the rate of general inflation, and many may back off plans to expand benefits to unmarried couples as a result, human resource experts said.

"We might see a slowdown in the momentum of companies offering domestic partner benefits ... until health care costs are under control," said Elizabeth Owens, Mercer's manager of state government affairs.

Workers' health care costs rose 11 percent on average this year -- the biggest leap in a decade -- after ballooning 8 percent last year, Mercer said. Costs grew to $4,924 per employee, up from $4,430 in 2000. Those sums are expected to rise in the double digits again next year by 12.7 percent.

A growing number of local ordinances requiring companies that do business in the community to offer same-sex health benefits could persuade firms to expand access despite the soft economy, said Kim Mills, education director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay and lesbian political organization.

"About 3,000, we think, can be attributed to equal benefits ordinances, with the vast majority to San Francisco and a smaller number to Seattle and Los Angeles."

Boston, Atlanta and New York City are considering their own ordinances, and eight states now mandate that contractors offer benefits to public sector employees after Vermont led the way in 1994.

With private companies, partners typically prove their domestic status by showing joint checking accounts or leases. But states such as California and Vermont require couples to enter into a legally binding agreement by registering for a civil union, Owens said.

A growing awareness and greater demand among workers may also offset companies' impulse to scale back initiatives that benefit gay workers the most, said Kristin Bowl, a spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resource Management.

"The opposite pressure, the pressure to take action, is fairly great now, too," Bowl said.

What's more, there's little financial incentive for holding out. Companies that offer domestic partner benefits typically don't see a significant impact on their bottom line, she said.

Some of the corporate giants who've championed equal benefits for gay partners include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Shell Oil and American Airlines, she said. Banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase, Fleet Boston, Schwab and E-Trade also have ramped up their offerings.

In the benefit's short history, two companies have eliminated existing domestic partner policies -- Ross Perot's Perot Systems and ExxonMobil, after the two companies merged and closed Mobil's policy to future domestic partners in 1999, Mills said.

Despite a likely slowdown in the number of firms starting new programs, the trend of providing health benefits for domestic partners will continue to grow in the long-term as companies compete for human capital, Bowl said.

Said Bowl: "They spent a lot of money to recruit talent and I don't think they want to burn bridges."

 

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Group challenges Massachusetts' anti-sodomy laws

A story released today by the Associated Press report that Boston attorney, Mark Merante and his partner are two of the ten plaintiffs, gay and straight, who is asking the Massachusetts Supreme Court to rule a  350 year-old Massachusetts sodomy law unconstitutional.

It's a law Merante is determined to wipe off the state's criminal code.

The anti-sodomy laws, which date to colonial times, establish penalties of up to 20 years for anal intercourse and 5 years for any ''unnatural and lascivious act,'' interpreted to mean oral sex.

While few people are charged with the statutes, they can be used to intimidate, according to Jennifer Levi, an attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the case.

Levi cited the case of a man arrested after having consensual sex with another adult in a secluded area of state-owned land in 1999.

Levi said police used the threat of the 20-year felony to pressure the man, identified as ''John Doe'' in court briefs, to admit to trespassing and engaging in ''open and gross lewdness.''  The man paid a $200 fine, but the charges were later dismissed.

The laws, even if rarely used, pose a ''pervasive and serious'' harm because they threaten government intrusion into the most intimate areas of a person's life, Levi said.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to overturn the laws arguing they violate the right to privacy, equal protection, freedom of expression and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The attorney general's office defended the laws during a hearing earlier this month before the Supreme Judicial Court.

Attorneys for the state argued that the laws are not used to target private sexual activity, but are useful in clamping down on public sex.

''All of the plaintiffs' constitutional arguments ... are grounded on the mistaken premise that the challenged laws apply to the private consensual conduct of adults,'' according to the brief submitted by Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

''There is no fundamental right for consenting adults to engage in sexual acts in public,'' Reilly said in the court document.

Others defend a stricter reading of the laws, arguing the state has an interest in regulating sexual acts even those conducted between consenting adults in private.

''(These laws) were written in a time when moral standards were clear and society and culture supported that a sexual union in its most natural form was a heterosexual union,'' said Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a conservative research and educational organization based in Newton.

''The state was just affirming what the (human) bodies had been created to do,'' he said.

Only 13 states, including Massachusetts, still have sodomy laws on the books, according to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national gay rights group.

If the Massachusetts Legislature is reluctant to repeal the laws, it's up to the courts to step in, Merante said.

''These laws are remnants of a time centuries ago,'' Merante said. ''Most people think they are sort of ridiculous...unfortunately the Legislature hasn't had the courage to repeal them.''

 

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Massachusetts voters tricked into signing petition on gay marriage issue

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that proponents of two different Massachusetts ballot referendums are trading barbs over allegations that voters who signed a petition supporting one ballot question were misled into signing the other.

Advocates for the horse meat ban claim that some voters were asked to sign their petition, and were then asked to sign the gay marriage question without a full explanation. In other cases, voters were told they were signing the horse question as they were offered the gay marriage question, they said.

Several complaints have been filed with Secretary of State William Galvin's office, and Attorney General Thomas Reilly has urged petition signers to be cautious and carefully check what they are signing.

"The allegations have been similar in that voters are being solicited to sign 'Petition A' (prohibiting the slaughter of horses) and then provided with 'Petition E' (relating to the marriage question)," Michelle Tassinari, legal counsel for Galvin's elections division, wrote to Reilly in a letter.

Backers of the marriage question, which would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, deny the allegations.

"We at no time used a bait and switch tactic," said Bryan Rudnick, chairman of Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage.

Darby Daoust said she felt was given misleading information about the petitions. After she signed the horse question, the man gathering signatures flipped up the bottom of a second petition and asked if she wanted to sign that too, saying it was about the benefits of marriage.

It was only after she lifted the page herself did she realize the question would ban gay marriages, she said.

"Our petition was allegedly being used to trick people into signing the marriage petition," said Susan Wagner of the group Save Our Horses. "We may end up with less signatures than we need."

Both groups hired Phoenix-based Ballot Access Company to gather signatures.

The marriage question proponents eventually submitted about 80,000 certified signatures, well above the necessary 57,100. The signatures for the question banning the slaughter of horses for human food are still being counted and may fall short.

Monday, December 17, 2001

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University president says school unlikely to offer domestic partner benefits to employees

A story published today by the Muskegon Chronicle reports that Michigan's Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray told employees that he is leaning against extending benefits to same-sex partners.

Murray's decision on the contentious issue which sparked controversy when first broached last year is expected to be announced within two weeks.

According to Kim Ranger, a information literacy coordinator and associate librarian at GVSU, Murray's decision on leaning against extending health and other benefits is due to opposition from the Legislature and the donor community

"I think all along we've been hopeful, but not optimistic," Ranger said. "We had scheduled an hour and he stayed for two. I felt like he really listened, but I also felt like the issue hasn't really touched his heart yet."

Murray succeeded longtime President Arend Lubbers this summer and said he would take another look at the issue that marred Lubbers' last year in office.

Lubbers decided to offer the benefits in the fall of 2000, but retreated after donors including Amway co-founder Richard DeVos and political leaders expressed strong opposition.

State universities offering same-sex benefits include Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Central, Eastern, Northern and Oakland.

 

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California bill proposes to legalize same-sex unions

A story released today by the WorldNetDaily.com reports that California lawmakers are preparing a bill that would establish Vermont-style civil unions for homosexuals in the Golden State.

Civil unions are the "final frontier in equal rights," Assemblyman Paul Koretz, the sponsor of the legislation, told a cheering group of homosexual rights advocates last month at Los Angeles City Hall. Koretz was speaking at the second hearing for his controversial bill, AB 1338. A vote is expected in January.

Koretz introduced AB 1338 last year, but pulled it from the legislative track and earmarked it as a two-year bill. His colleague in the California assembly, Jay LaSuer, insists that Koretz wanted another homosexual rights bill, AB 25, to pass first. That bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in October, gives unprecedented benefits to homosexuals who register with the state as domestic partners.

Nationwide, promoters of the traditional family are gearing up to defend marriage in California. If the bill becomes law it will have a major effect across the country, claimed Dimitri Kesari, director of state and local affairs for the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

"What happens in California today, fortunately or unfortunately, will happen around the country in 20 years," Kesari said. "California sort of sets things in motion for the rest of the country."

"We’re deeply concerned about this bill because it’s going to redefine marriage in California," said Karen Holgate, director of Capitol Resources Institute, a Sacramento-based pro-family group. "We are concerned about the message this is sending to children. The state of California will be telling our children that there is no difference between homosexual and heterosexual marriage. This bill will make a counterfeit of marriage."

Holgate said she is particularly concerned about the attitude of some proponents of the bill. "The arrogance and disdain that Koretz and Sheila Kuehl are showing the voters of the state is unbelievable," she said. "Koretz has made it very clear that his bill will affect over 1,500 laws regarding marriage. The fact that these people care more about their agenda than they do the will of the people –– it just boggles the mind."

 

Sunday, December 16, 2001

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Palm Beach County sheriff offers domestic partner benefits plan to rank and file

A story published today by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office will offer medical benefits to gay and unmarried couples beginning next month.

Sheriff Ed Bieluch, a Democrat who was elected last year, made the decision for the agency's more than 3,000 employees because he determined it to be "the right thing to do," Undersheriff Ken Eggleston said on Thursday.

The coverage, which does not include life insurance, will be offered to both gay and straight domestic partners. It's a benefit that more than 5,000 other Palm Beach County employees outside the Sheriff's Office do not receive.

"Recognizing that a percentage of employees of the Sheriff's Office have domestic partners, this is the fair and appropriate thing to do," Eggleston said. "No one should be excluded from having insurance coverage in this day
and age."

The decision was lauded by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which has been fighting to get other agencies - especially county government - to do the same.

"We are thrilled," said Joe Fields, vice president of the council. "[Bieluch] has determined that it's a wonderful benefit to extend to his employees."

Fields said members of his organization were told by Bieluch during last year's sheriff's race that he wouldn't be opposed to including domestic partners in the health insurance plan.

"We look forward to encouraging other agencies to do the same," Fields said.

Although the city of Boca Raton does not offer benefits to same-sex couples, officials are studying the possibility of doing so, spokeswoman Constance Scott said.

It's a philosophy that appears to be gaining popularity in the private sector.

"It's definitely on the radar screen of a lot of different companies. It's really a philosophy decision for the company," said Suzanne Zagata-Meraz, spokeswoman for management consulting firm Hewitt Associates.

"It's not something you're seeing every single company do. It also depends on their employee population. We've found that a lot of companies start looking into this when employees bring it to their attention."

A Hewitt study released last year showed that the number of U.S. companies offering domestic partner benefits doubled since 1997, with 22 percent of companies extending partnership benefits.

At least 712 employers added domestic partner benefits between August 2000 and August 2001, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates equal rights for gays and lesbians.  As of August, 4,284 employees offered or planned to offer such benefits, according to the group's research.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2001

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University of Alabama to offer domestic partner benefits

A story published today by the Tuscaloosa News reports that the University of Alabama could become the first public university in the South to offer health benefits to same-sex couples. However, the plan would not cover unmarried heterosexual couples living together.

A proposal by the university’s Benefits Advisory Committee, composed of 21 faculty and staff members, would allow UA employees to place their same-sex domestic partners on their insurance coverage.

"This is a fundamental issue of fairness," said Sherianne Shuler, an assistant professor of communication studies at UA. "If we’re a university that says we value justice and diversity, then this is one way to show that."

A similar proposal was voted down last year. This year, the benefits committee approved the proposal by an 11-10 vote. The vote of the committee was largely split between professors and staff, with support for the proposal coming mostly from professors.

Much of the opposition to the proposal was on religious and moral grounds, though some voters had concerns that it could cause insurance premiums to increase.

The proposal is in the hands of Robert Wright, the university’s vice president for financial affairs. If Wright approves the proposal, it will then be forwarded to UA President Andrew Sorensen for a final decision.

Members of UA’’s Benefits Advisory Committee decided not to include opposite-sex benefits in their proposal on the grounds that it would have been too costly to the university.

John Petrovic, an assistant professor at the Capstone, said he favors the proposal but would have liked it to have included opposite-sex partners.

"People in loving relationships of all kinds deserve recognition," Petrovic said.

Wythe Holt, a UA law professor and a member of the faculty senate, said allowing employees to add domestic partners to their insurance would not drive up costs for everyone else.

"It will not increase premiums," Holt said. "It will increase the university’s health care costs, but not by much."

Employees would have to provide the university with documentation of financial co-dependence before they could place a domestic partner on their insurance policy, such as a copy of a jointly held mortgage, a joint bank account, ownership of an automobile or evidence of being the beneficiary of a will.

"They would have to swear they have a long-term, committed relationship," Holt said.

Holt said the proposal faces a hard fight to gain approval.

"There is going to be some strong opposition," he said. "This is a tough issue for a lot of people."

 

 

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