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U.S. News Archive
April 21 - April 27, 2001



This page contains news for the period April 21, 2001 through April 27, 2001.  

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Thursday, April 26, 2001

AASP goes to the nation's capital

A story published today by the Hartford Courant reports that AASP, the latest civil rights group springing up in Southern California, will bring its new millennium message to the nation's capital next week: Equal rights under tax law for the country's 82 million "unmarrieds."

Call it the revenge of the Bridget Jones brigade, or a backlash to married and married-with-kids tax and workplace benefits. The nonprofit American Association for Single People is vowing to "break the silence" about discrimination against those without a marriage certificate.

"Something is bubbling up here," said Thomas F. Coleman, the association's director. "People are getting sick of hearing about `working families.' Employers don't hire working families, they hire working people."

The association is calling for changes in tax law that would allow unmarried couples to file joint tax returns and to qualify for tax deductions for children they may be rearing. It also wants Congress to ease taxes on the estates of single people and to revise the Social Security tax structure to give a break to single people.

"We're not trying to tell Congress what to do, we just want to focus on the concerns of unmarried people,'' he said, while legislators are considering tax reforms that include the repeal of the so-called marriage penalty and an examination of the Social Security system.

Last Monday, the association ran a nearly full-page ad in the Washington Post seeking members and outlining its concerns under the headline, "82 Million Unmarried Americans Deserve to Know Why."

Tax experts, however, say that some of the assertions made by the association are overblown, and that making generalizations about how any particular group is taxed is risky.

"Nothing is absolute - it's all gray,'' said Robert Fochi, a certified public accountant from South Glastonbury, Conn. "That's the way taxes are, and that's the way life is.

"There are so many variables that you can say just about anything, and you can be correct,'' he said.

For example, the association's assertion that the estates of unmarried people are taxed up to 60 percent while the estates of married people can pass tax-free to a surviving spouse is true, Fochi said.

However, the typical estate tax kicks in only when estate assets hit $675,000 or more, he said. For estate taxes to approach the 60 percent mentioned in the association's ad, the assets left would have to be in the range of $10 million to $17 million.

"We're not talking a lot of people,'' Fochi said.But Coleman argues that to avoid inequities, the tax code, as well as benefits plans offered by employers, should be "marital status neutral."

With the number of unmarried adults doubling over the past 30 years, Coleman says he hopes the association grows to become a voice for single people in much the same way the 34 million-member American Association for Retired People represents the elderly.

"Even AARP started around a kitchen table in Ojai, Calif.,'' he said, acknowledging, however, that unmarried people are a "moving target, a little harder to capture."


Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Georgia couple uses Vermont civil union to challenge Defense of Marriage Act

A story released today by CNS News reports that a year after Vermont became the first state in the union to grant marriage rights to same-sex partners, a lesbian couple is seeking to have a civil union they obtained in Vermont recognized in their home state of Georgia.

This is the first case of its kind where a person holding a Vermont civil union has attempted to enforce it outside of the state of Vermont, said Mathew Staver, president and general council of Liberty Council, a legal group.

When civil unions legislation was passed in Vermont a year ago this date, lawmakers rejected appeals to make state residency a requirement for couples to qualify.

Now a Georgia couple, Susan Burns and Debra Jean Freer, is asking a state appeals court to recognize a Vermont civil union. This is also the first challenge of the constitutionality of the federal Defense Of Marriage Act, Staver said.

When Susan Burns entered into a Vermont civil union with her lesbian partner, ex-husband Darian Burns filed a motion for contempt, saying she had violated the terms of their divorce by having her children visit her in the home she shares with her lesbian partner.

So far the state trial court has ruled in favor of the husband, stating that Georgia is not required to recognize the Vermont civil union. Last week the court of appeals for the state of Georgia accepted the case for review. Staver predicted the case will eventually go before the Georgia Supreme Court, and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the federal Defense Of Marriage Act, no state is required to recognize the relationship of another state in which same sex unions are sanctioned.

Since the civil union law went into effect last July, Vermont has issued more than 1,800 civil unions, less than 500 of which went to state residents.


Monday, April 23, 2001

Research shows that unwed parents have closer ties than expected

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that unmarried parents are usually romantically involved and often live with each other when their babies are born. This suggests that the prospects for marriage and stable family life may not be as dim as policy-makers have assumed, researchers say.

``The vast majority of unwed parents view themselves as families,'' concludes a paper by researchers at Columbia and Princeton universities being published Tuesday in the Children and Youth Services Review. ``At a minimum, policies designed to strengthen fragile families are consistent with parents' objectives and therefore, not foredoomed to failure.''

Researchers interviewed 3,600 unmarried parents -- plus 1,200 married parents as a comparison group -- at hospitals in 20 large cities. They plan to follow these families for at least four years to determine what factors push them closer together or pull them apart.

Policy makers are interested in these families partly because virtually all of the women who are on welfare -- or at risk of needing welfare -- are unmarried. Unwed parents and their children are considerably more likely to live in poverty and face more hardships than their married counterparts.

"The key is working with parents very soon after their babies are born -- when they are still involved romantically," said Sara McLanahan of Princeton University, a lead researcher on the Fragile Families project. ``We know that they break up very quickly,'' she said.

At the time of the child's birth, her research found:

 --48 percent of the unmarried parents were living together and another 34 percent were still involved romantically. Just 10 percent of the moms said they had little or no contact with the fathers of their children.

 --Three out of four dads visited the moms in the hospital, and 81 percent contributed money during pregnancy.

 --Most mothers predicted good chances for marriage down the line: 78 percent of mothers who were living with the fathers said their chances of marrying were good or almost certain. And half of the moms who were involved romantically but not living with the dads said the same.

--69 percent of moms living with the dads, and 63 percent of other romantically linked moms said they believed that marriage is better for the kids.

``It doesn't look like their attitudes and values need to be changed very much,'' McLanahan said.

The research dispels the widespread belief that these unwed, usually poor parents have little if any potential as a couple, said Kristin Moore, senior scholar at Child Trends, who was not involved in this project.

``Many people thought that non-marital childbearing happens to teen-agers, happens to people who aren't in touch with one another and are no longer in love -- if they ever were, and who were not interested in marriage,'' she said.

In interviews soon after their babies are born, large numbers of mothers and fathers say they are interested in getting married.


Saturday, April 21, 2001

Single employees want equal flextime and more firms granting parity

A story published today by the Washington Post reports that two years ago, Myles Romero, a customer service manager for Ford Motor Co., who is single and does not have children wanted to rearrange his work life to make more time to teach aerobics, renovate old houses and pursue an MBA.

Looking enviously at the flexible schedules arranged by many parents at Ford, he suggested to his managers, that single people demands should not be treated any differently than the demands of people who happen to have kids. Afraid to losing him, his supervisor asked him to propose a plan.

Today, the 40-hour, four-day-a-week work arrangement Romero proposed is a standard flextime option at Ford. And the company has stopped asking employees to provide reasons for flextime requests. Taking time off for pottery classes is as valid a reason as caring for a child.

Three decades after mothers with small children began entering the workforce in large numbers, struggling to win workplace benefits and the flexibility to help them balance the demands of job and home, Romero and other childless workers nationwide have begun pressing companies for similar breaks.

In part, employers are responding to increasingly vocal nonparents of all ages who say they've had enough of America's obsession with families. Helped by a competitive labor market, these workers have persuaded employers to give them the same attention they see showered on working parents.

"The trend we're seeing is a definite targeting of work-life benefits" for each worker, said Richard Federico of Segal Co., a human resources consulting company in New York. "Those benefits aren't likely to disappear," he said, even as the economy slows.

The changes in the corporate world have taken place against the backdrop of a larger cultural war: A growing segment of the population calling itself "child free," or childless by choice, has taken on child-doting parents. The child-free forces argue that society needs to stop handing out perks to people simply because they're parents.

Many were galvanized into action last year by journalist Elinor Burkett, author of the controversial book "The Baby Boon," in which she argued that childless adults are unfairly shouldering the burden of paying for expensive goodies that flow mostly to middle-class parents.

The child-free's list of resentments is long: tax benefits for parents, health insurance coverage of infertility treatments, family-discount packages at resorts, co-workers who skip out of the office early to coach soccer games, even those signs reserving prime parking spots for expectant mothers or parents with young children.

These days, households without children are a widening majority, outnumbering those with children by about 2 to 1. As the labor market tightened in the 1990s and the cost of replacing workers rose, many companies found they had to accommodate every lifestyle and every phase of life.

In 1997, for example, only 6 percent of employers reported that they offered domestic partner benefits, which extend the same benefits an employee's spouse would receive to an employee's gay or lesbian life partner. Today, 16 percent of companies say they offer these benefits, according to a survey released last week by the Society for Human Resource Management.

More broadly, about 25 percent of companies offer "cafeteria-style" benefits, from which employees can pick from several programs depending on their lifestyles, up from 21 percent in 1997, the survey found.

Two years ago at Prudential, for instance, the company allowed one department to test a flexible schedule after the manager complained that his staff of highly valued tax experts was getting picked off by competitors.

Benefits such as subsidized day care meant little to these employees, most of whom were in their twenties, so Prudential let them come up with their own incentives.

The employees created a new schedule, with a compressed workweek and a rotating day off. The result: less turnover.

Prudential now offers this arrangement company-wide, part of a new benefits program that it began after a survey showed that many employees felt cheated by benefits aimed mostly at parents. The company even reworded its benefits brochures to use phrases like "working mother" sparingly so as not to snub singles and couples who have no children at home.

New Jersey Appeals Court limits lesbian partner's rights after breakup

A report released today by the Associated Press reports that a New Jersey Court of Appeals ruled that keeping a gay relationship secret can limit visitation or custody rights involving children if the relationship breaks up.

In a case involving two lesbian lawyers from northern New Jersey, the court turned down one of the women's request for visitation rights with her former lover's 7-year-old adopted daughter.

The court said the woman, identified in court papers only as "A.F." isn't entitled to a hearing to determine if she is considered a "psychological parent" to the child because there is no evidence the couple ever presented themselves as a family in public or to anyone who knew them.

"Both parties agree that defendant hid the romantic aspect of their relationship from family and friends, maintaining the appearance of a close, platonic friendship," the court said in a ruling. "If the parties did not hold themselves out to the world at large as a family, how then can a court conclude that plaintiff lived with defendant's child as part of a family unit?"

The ruling came a year after a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that granted lesbian partners visitation rights with the children of a former lover.

The appeals court noted the difference between that case and the one currently at issue. In the earlier case, the couple had been "married" in a civil commitment ceremony and presented themselves as a family to the world.

In the case decided Friday, the court noted that the women never lived together. A.F. lived in Union County, while the defendant, identified as "D.L.P." lived in Bergen County. The court recognized that A.F. had a role in the child's life, but likened it to that of a "nanny or baby sitter."


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