This page contains news for the period December 14, 2001 through December 20,
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December 20, 2001
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
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
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
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
Instead, the insurance money would be given to ONeal's estate, which Miller has no control
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.
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
Diehl's attorney, Mitchell Katine, said he will also see whether the Texas attorney
general could create a policy to prevent similar incidents.
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
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
"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."
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,
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."
Group challenges Massachusetts'
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
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
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
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
Massachusetts voters tricked into signing petition on gay
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
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
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
State universities offering same-sex benefits include Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne
State, Central, Eastern, Northern and Oakland.
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
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."
"Were deeply concerned about this bill because its 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
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
Sunday, December 16, 2001
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 universitys 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 were 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 universitys 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 UAs 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
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
"It will not increase premiums," Holt said. "It will increase the
universitys 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 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."