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U.S. News Archive
July 01 - July 06, 2001



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

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Thursday, July 5, 2001

Minnesota enacts premarital education course prior to marriage vows

A story published today by USA Today reports that Minnesota has joined a handful of states offering to give couples a break on their marriage license fee if they take a premarital education course.

The state is offering to save newlyweds who take the classes $50 on their marriage licenses if they voluntarily participate on the 12-hour program. The classes includes communication and conflict management skills,and also a compatibility inventory.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura had previously vetoed similar legislation when it was presented in a bill by itself. But he was unable to veto it this time because it was part of a larger appropriations bill, says spokesman John Wodele. Ventura signed the bill Saturday.

Ventura has cited ''unnecessary government intervention'' in people's lives and discrimination against those who choose not to participate. ''The governor has not changed his mind,'' Wodele says.

Proponents of such laws hope they will help reduce the divorce rate and protect children, who do best in intact families.

The Minnesota law ''is a small incentive for people getting married to do the right thing, to prepare themselves for the most important decision of their lives, choosing a spouse,'' says Republican Minnesota Sen. Steve Dille, a major proponent of the bill.

''Almost everybody wants a marriage to last a lifetime,'' says William Doherty, a marriage and family therapist who testified for the legislation. ''But we know the first several years are the most unstable. It is possible to help couples prepare for having the kind of marriage they want.''

Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, applauds the goals of the new Minnesota law, but she disagrees with some of its provisions.

The requirements for who may teach the courses may be too restrictive, she says.

''Marriage education skills can be taught by trained lay educators,'' not just marriage therapists and others who can be costly, she says. And she questions the need for a ''marriage inventory'' that deals more with ''finding the right person'' than teaching skills for how to make marriage work.

Florida, Maryland and Oklahoma already reduce license fees for those taking premarital courses. The Minnesota law, is the only one that requires 12 hours of instruction and specifies the content of the courses. The law goes into effect on August 1.

Churches embracing non-traditional families

A story published today by the New Jersey Record reports that churches are quietly embracing growing numbers of non-traditional families, including those who only a generation ago might have been ostracized.

The signs are everywhere:

Gay and lesbian couples can now celebrate their unions at many Christian altars.

Churches provide day care for unmarried mothers.

A divorce no longer automatically ends the career of a minister, and divorced lay people hold key positions in many Christian churches.

The changes reflect the shift in family structure shown last month by the U.S. Census, which found that nearly 30 percent of what it defines as families with children are not traditional families headed by married parents.

The shift in attitudes is most evident in large mainline Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. However, conservative churches such as the Southern Baptist Convention or the Assemblies of God -- while preaching more traditional moralities -- also say they want to care for all the people who enter their doors.

The Rev. Susan Nagle of First Lutheran Church in Montclair said half the children in her parish are from non-traditional families.

"I have to be careful in how I use the word 'family,' to make sure that everyone is accepted and that people from the previous generations don't cluck their tongues at people who are different," she said.

Sometimes, church leaders don't even know if a family has gone through a divorce.

"We don't pry," said the Rev. Bertram Watkins of First Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood. "Where they are demographically is less important than whether they are committed to the church."

Some local churches forced themselves to go against the official positions of their denominations. For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) still disapproves of same-sex unions. But First Presbyterian and Trinity Church in West Orange, New Jersey is part of a large number of Presbyterian churches that, as part of the "More Light" movement, unites gay and lesbian couples. (Gay and lesbian couples are barred by law from marriage everywhere in the United States.)

One of the signs of the growing tolerance for non-traditional families in Roman Catholic churches is the fact that area priests know that remarried people often come forward to receive Holy Communion, though they are not supposed to do so. The greater harm, say many priests, would be to turn them away.

Protestant churches are even addressing the problems faced by couples planning second weddings. The Lutheran, the national magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently ran an article titled "Second Marriage" with helpful tips for a wedding of divorced people.

For a number of years, Episcopal churches in the diocese of Newark have also led the movement to accept homosexual couples.

"That's a problem for me, personally," said the Rev. Sheila Duncan, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Passaic. But she adds, "What gets me over the hump is to remember that Jesus Christ was totally inclusive and did not want to turn people away."

Judaism also holds to traditional values of marriage and family life, but divorce is not a reason for a member of the congregation to leave most synagogues.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the governing body of Reform Judaism, declared a year ago that unions of same-sex couples were "worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual." But the group left it up to individual rabbis to decide whether to conduct such ceremonies.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Michigan college creates program to put single moms to work

A story published today by the Flint Journal reports that Baker College Academy is collaborating with the Family Independence Agency and Career Alliance Inc. on a program targets people attempting to move from the welfare rolls to employment with available day care for single women with children.

The academy is offering training in two fields this summer - patient care technician and medical insurance specialist. A truck driving training program was planned, but no students have signed up for that program.

The Baker College Early Learning Center Summer Camp provides day care, field trips and other activities for the children of participants.

"We wanted to focus on program offerings that could lead to employment," said Julianne Princinsky, Baker College's president. "And (Baker College, FIA and Career Alliance officials) looked at everything students would need."

Gerald McCarty, Baker's vice president of student services, said students who complete the program can earn $8-$10 per hour immediately. That figure can increase dramatically with additional training, he said.

"And employers often will add incentive pay for employees who show up every day and don't call in sick," he said.

Despite the lackluster overall economy, the competition for trained health care employees is intense, industry analysts say.

"I have employers calling me constantly looking for people," said Marsha Benedict, Baker's associate dean of health and human services.

Baker College Academy's architects say they designed the program with a focus on prepping students for a career, not just a temporary job to fulfill state work requirements for welfare recipients.

"The true escape from the cycle of poverty is to develop skills that are truly marketable," said Doug Williams, deputy director of the Genesee County FIA. "If the appropriate supports are brought together, ... the result will be independence."

Alicia Johnson, vice president of Career Alliance, said the academy is one part of a new "big picture" approach to addressing the community's needs. Career Alliance conducted an environmental scan that identified a number of problems, such as a workforce still rooted in an industrial economy.

"This is a tech age," she said. "There's a whole new level of skill that we have to address."

Tuesday , July 3, 2001

Minnesota judge stands firm on sodomy law decision

A story released today by Planet Out reports that a Minnesota judge ruled Monday that her previous ruling on the unconstitutionality of the state's sodomy law applies to all adults in the state.

In May, District Judge Delila Pierce said the law violated the constitutional right to privacy. This week, she gave the case class action standing, leaving no question that all adults in noncommercial settings are protected from the breach of rights, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the plaintiffs.

"There can be no question now: Minnesota's sodomy law has been struck down, and cannot be invoked anywhere in the state," said ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project staff attorney Leslie Cooper, who worked on the case with lawyers from the ACLU's Minnesota state affiliate.

"I think that clearly this is an issue that should be in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court, not decided by some district court judge," said attorney Greg Wersal. Wersal has accused Attorney General Mike Hatch's office of not handling the case well, and led an unsuccessful attempt to force a recall of Hatch's election.

"For centuries, sodomy laws have been used as a weapon against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, sometimes with very tragic results," said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Lorri Jean. "We commend those who have bravely fought to overturn this law, both at the legislative level and in the courts. Minnesota was the first state in the U.S. to pass a sexual orientation civil-rights law that included gender identity. Now, it is the latest state to reject an antiquated law that compromises our right to privacy."

Census reveals differences in single mother trend

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that according to the new census Asians are less likely than whites or blacks to have households headed by single mothers.

The share of Asian single-mother family households was lower than for whites and blacks in 15 of the 20 states released. All 50 states are scheduled to get their numbers by next month.

In Maryland, for example, 4.2 percent of Asian family households were headed by a single mother, compared to 6.6 percent of non-Hispanic white families and 25.1 percent of black families.

In New York, 4.4 percent of Asian family households were headed by a single mother, compared with 6.8 percent of non-Hispanic white families and 29.6 percent of black families.

Montana had one of the highest percentages of Asian single-mother homes at 10.4 percent. By comparison, one of the highest shares for black families was in Nebraska, where 34 percent were single-mother homes.

The data from census figures released so far to 20 states and the District of Columbia could refocus attention on long-noted cultural and socio-economic differences among racial and ethnic groups.

During the 1990s, many Asian Americans were new immigrants who typically come from traditionally more conservative, family centered backgrounds and ``do not really accept nontraditional households,'' said Sharon Lee, a sociology professor at Portland State University.

But that upbringing may also cause a possible undercount in Asian single-mother households, said Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality.

Nationally, there was a 25 percent increase between 1990 and 2000 in the category of ``female householder, no husband present with own children under 18,'' regardless of race.

The changing image of bachelor and bachelorette parties

A story published today by the Indianapolis Star reports that more often, today's brides and bridegrooms are bidding their single days goodbye with evenings to remember, instead of evenings you're too drunk to remember.

"In many ways so many things have changed, it's a miracle that the classic image of a bachelor party lasted as long as it did," says Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University.

Thompson and others point to a few major catalysts behind the change in celebrations: Older and more mature brides and bridegrooms, increased respect and power for women, and a desire to make the most of the increasingly diminished time we have to spend with friends.

"It used to be a man's last chance to go out and get drunk before the wife got a hold of the purse strings," says Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Bride's magazine.

The tradition persisted, of course. And relatively recently, women started joining in.

"Back then bachelorette parties made no sense because women were not supposed to be doing anything before marriage they were going to have to give up for marriage," says Thompson.

But at some point, girls' nights out started to rival the guys'. Though it's hard to come up with specific numbers, Bratten says that the modern bachelorette party has been around at least since she joined Bride's magazine 25 years ago.

"It's harmless," says Bratten, "a chance to go out, blow off steam and have some risqué fun."

But future spouses of both genders are opting for alternative celebrations. For the past five years Bratten has observed a trend toward "adventure-oriented" parties including laser tag, go-karting, or white-water rafting .

The trend toward adventure-oriented parties goes back to the "experiential" requirement in today's lifestyles, says Tom Julian, a trend analyst for the New York-based advertising agency Fallon McElligott. Whether they're in retail stores, restaurants or at a party, people want not just an excursion, but an experience.

"The one thing I have noticed is that the bachelor/bachelorette party ends up turning into a weekend event now," he says. "It becomes something about experiences and quality time and not about silly time."

Besides, today's brides and grooms are simply older than they used to be. The median age for both has been steadily creeping up since 1960, when brides were typically 20 years old and grooms around 23. Now the median age women are walking down the aisle is 25 , men wait until they're 27, according to the U.S. Census.

So for many of those about to walk down the aisle, the bar scene is getting stale.

Also, marriage is not quite the momentous occasion it used to be. With around 40 percent of engaged couples already living together, brides and grooms know each other better and have more of an existing commitment.

"People are getting married after knowing each other for five years, maybe living together for two," says Syracuse University's Thompson. "So going back to some stripper jumping out of a cake seems kind of ludicrous."

But still it’s almost obligatory that a groom's best man give him a bachelor party, says Thompson, so they're still around in some form. And many people still choose to go the stripper-in-a-cake route.

"I don't think those are going to ever go away," says Thompson. "As a matter of fact, I think a lot of people continue to have bachelor parties after they're married."

Monday, July 2, 2001

New York Court says homosexual students have valid claim against private university

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a medical school's policy of allowing married students but not homosexual partners to share college housing may violate New York City anti-discrimination statutes, the state's highest court ruled Monday.

The Court of Appeals ruled that a lesbian couple should be allowed to sue Yeshiva University for bias based on sexual orientation. The decision overturned two lower courts which found that the college's policy was not discriminatory because it applied to not only homosexual couples but also to unmarried heterosexual couples who sought to live together in student housing.

The court Monday sent the case back to a trial court. If the lesbian couple bringing the suit can show that Yeshiva's policy ''disproportionately burdens lesbians and gay men,'' then the university must prove under New York City statutes that it can justify its housing policies by showing they have a ''significant relationship to a significant business objective,'' the court said Monday.

The case will have little or no practical effect on the two students who brought the suit since they both have graduated form the university and are no longer a couple. But it is still being pursued by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and other anti-discrimination groups.

Yeshiva, a Jewish university, did not claim that its student housing policy was based on any religious considerations. The Court of Appeals noted Monday that Yeshiva is subject to New York City statutes which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, disability, national origin, marital status and sexual orientation, even though it is a private university.

Women should start investing for their future

A story published today by the Indianapolis Star reports that there's a growing sentiment that gender actually does matter particularly when it comes to money.

The government is now focusing on women to have them start saving for the future, because if they don't, they're likely to end up too reliant on Social Security income when they're old -- and that's likely to leave them poor.

"The Social Security program treats all workers the same, but because of different life experiences, the real-world results are different" for women, says Larry Massanari, the agency's acting commissioner.

Massinari says more substantive factors also weigh against women's ability to save for retirement:

- They earn less on average than men.

- They often interrupt their careers for several years to raise children or care for aging parents, losing valuable nest-egg-building years.

- They live longer than men.

In other words, women need more money to finance more years of retirement, but they usually have much less saved.

Moreover, women are half as likely as men to have private pensions. And if they do have pensions, they're worth half as much as the average man's.

The result is that women are far more dependent on Social Security income when they're old, says Massanari.

That's a problem mainly because Social Security is designed as a safety net, not a complete source for retirement funding, Massanari notes. The current maximum Social Security benefit for someone who retires at age 65 is $1,536 per month -- $18,432 per year. The average benefit is considerably lower -- roughly $845 per month, or $10,140 per year.

The bottom line is that a disproportionate number of old people living in poverty are women. There is, however, a solution that is simple in theory, though often difficult in practice: Women need to save and invest as early and as aggressively as men.

Sunday, July 1, 2001

Study shows single people stay sharper mentally

A story released today by Online.ie news reports that a new study claims that single people stay mentally sharper at the end of their lives than those who are married.

The finding is surprising since being married is normally associated with better health.

The US researchers behind the study set out their findings in an article in the journal Health Psychology.

The researchers stated that "Presence of a spouse has generally been found to predict better health outcomes. However, in this older cohort, presence of a spouse may be associated with greater burdens for care of the spouse, which may have negative effects on cognition."

Almost 1,200 men and women aged between 70 and 79 were monitored for seven years as part of an investigation called the MacArthur Studies of Successful Aging.

A discovery from the same study showed that emotional support from a network of family and friends appeared to slow down mental decline.

"Emotional support was a significant, independent predictor of maintenance of better cognitive function over the follow-up, independent of other known risk factors for cognitive aging." said Dr. Teresa Seeman, from the University of California at Los Angeles, who helped conduct the study.

Those who reported frequent conflict and demands from social relationships also performed better mentally. This was thought to reflect the stimulating effect of participating in complex social interactions.

South shows an increase in numbers of unmarried couples

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the number of unmarried couples living together grew significantly faster in the South over the past decade than in the rest of the nation.

Two of the states with the highest increases in cohabitation - Tennessee and Arkansas - also ranked second and third nationally in divorce in a 1999 study.

Across the South, 1.25 million people declared themselves to be unmarried partners, according to the 2000 Census. That was nearly double the number in 1990. The increase in the South was 25 percent higher than  the rest of the nation.

"This is another way in which the South is being incorporated into the larger American culture," says Nancy Ammerman, a former professor of sociology of religion at Emory University in Atlanta. "There was a recycling of traditions when the region was very separate in its ways. You can't hold that same kind of position once you open to a broader array of cultural influences."

In North Carolina, a 113 percent increase was recorded in unmarried partners from 1990 to 2000. South Carolina on the other hand, had a 114percent increase.

Florida has the highest proportion of unmarried couples among Southern states.

Some social analysts say the region simply is catching up to the rest of the country. "The Southern Baptist teaching that wives should submit to their husbands is colliding with modern reality," says Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC Chapel Hill.

Douglas Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, said American mobility contributes to the sharp increase in cohabiting couples, especially in the suburban South, where a lot of residents are moving from other parts of the country.


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