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



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

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Monday, August 6, 2001

ACLU attorney comments on proposed constitutional amendment

A commentary written by Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney of the ACLU discusses the proposed constitutional amendment. The full article appears below.

In the guise of protecting tradition, the conservative right wing has created a new way to discriminate against gays and lesbians by proposing the Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The principal justification cited by the proponents of this amendment is that it will preserve what they regard as the traditional understanding of marriage.

But tradition by itself is not an important government purpose. If it were, sex discrimination would be quite permissible. Discrimination against women and minorities has a pedigree in tradition at least as long and time-honored as that of discrimination against same-sex couples in marriage. Yet, we seem to be able to move beyond discriminating on the basis of gender and race.

Truly, the core of this proposal is terribly flawed. By preventing same-sex couples from marrying, the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment will in no way strengthen or promote the institution of marriage. Such discrimination only makes the stability and benefits of marriage available to fewer people. This amendment is far from being carefully drawn, measured or centrist, as some claim it to be. In reality, it would eliminate an individual's liberty or a state's ability to adopt stronger civil rights protections.

When marital status was added to Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination, it was with both married and unmarried couples in mind. But the Federal Marriage Amendment would remove crucial protections against discrimination from any state law or local ordinance for unmarried couples -- heterosexual and homosexual alike.

The proposed amendment would go much further than prohibiting a civil marriage license to a same-sex couple -- which, like all other states, Michigan already does.

Currently, Michigan has no specific prohibitions on unmarried relatives, heterosexual couples and unrelated clergy members to adopt or provide foster care. Passage of this amendment would, however, undermine all existing laws in these areas and alter the ability of all unmarried individuals to provide a home for children.

Additionally, it would prevent our state government from passing any legislation that might provide domestic partnership recognition or benefits to unmarried couples, heterosexual or same-sex. For example, Ann Arbor's ordinance provision, which provides for the registration of domestic partners, would be rescinded and all local community governments would be prohibited from legally recognizing relationships outside of married, heterosexual couples.

The hardship that would result is undeniable since we live in a society that attaches enormous civil and legal consequences to marriage. For example, a person's ability to keep the home she or he has shared with a partner for 20 or more years could depend on their marriage status, especially if the partner dies without a valid will.

And a person's ability to care for a sick or dying partner in most health care facilities also depends on whether they are married.

Most state laws treat partners who are not married as strangers. It is fundamentally unfair to say on the one hand that you must marry to be treated as next of kin, and then to tell an entire class of Americans who are next of kin in every real sense that they may not marry or that their marriage will not be legally recognized.

During last year's presidential campaign, Vice President Dick Cheney, hardly a liberal gay-rights activist, said that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want. "I don't think that there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area," he said.

I agree. A committed, loving relationship between two consenting adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, poses no threat to the institutions of marriage and family. Our Constitution should never be carelessly tampered with to satisfy the intolerant and narrow-minded viewpoints of those who would deny all protections to the most personal decisions made by millions of families.

Saturday, August 4, 2001

Single-mother growth declines in Michigan

A story published by the Detroit News reports that the number of Michigan children living with single mothers was almost unchanged in the 1990s, reversing one of the state's most troubling social trends and adding fuel to the debate over the decade's welfare reforms.

Some researchers and conservative commentators say the numbers help prove the changes are accomplishing one of their big goals: slowing the formation of single-mother families.

But many experts warn it's too soon to say why single motherhood has stopped expanding. Critics argue the demographic shift is due not to policy change, but to other factors including the rise in single fatherhood, women choosing to remain childless and the unprecedented economic boom of the last decade. And not all single mothers have turned to welfare.

The debate is likely to get louder next year when Congress considers whether to reapprove or modify the 1996 welfare-reform law.

Whatever the reasons, the numbers released today are good news for a state that has struggled as much as any in the nation with the difficulties single moms face.

In 1990, among cities with 5,000 or more children, five Michigan cities were among the top 11 in the nation in the percentage of their children living with a single mom. Detroit, where 45.5 percent of children lived in such households, was by far the leader among large cities. In Detroit, Benton Harbor, Flint, Saginaw and Highland Park, the numbers rose explosively in the 1960s and '70s, and more slowly, but consistently, until 1990.

The 2000 census found 19.6 percent of Michigan children in single-mom households. The percentage is virtually unchanged since 1990, an amazing turnaround for a state where the number of such households more than doubled from 1970 to 1990. Percentages fell substantially in Detroit, Highland Park and Benton Harbor, but rose slightly in Flint and Saginaw.

Experts on child and family issues said the numbers are reason for optimism, because urban single-motherhood is one of the nation's most vexing social problems.

While many children of single mothers are happy, healthy and well cared-for, on average, they face obstacles much greater than those for other families. The children of single mothers are more likely to live in poverty, to be without health insurance, to fare poorly in school and to face trouble with the law more than other children.

To many conservatives, welfare policy was responsible for much of the problem. That's why the federal welfare-reform bill of 1996, and efforts in Michigan and other states, were crafted to eliminate the guarantee of benefits to all poor mothers. The thinking: Remove the guarantee of cash payments, make single motherhood that much less attractive an option, and women will begin to avoid it in larger numbers.

So, federal laws were changed to put time limits on cash benefits, and to force recipients to work or lose their benefits. In Michigan, the Engler administration pushed the end of general-assistance welfare through the Legislature in 1991; changes in 1994 forced recipients to get jobs or enroll in training programs.

Some researchers say those efforts are beginning to work.

In fact, there is evidence in more than just census numbers. A new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, also found a declining number of children living with single mothers in the '90s. The survey's authors used data from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, an annual nationwide sampling of the U.S. population.

The study found a decrease in children with single moms starting in 1995 -- just before federal welfare reform took effect.

But Allen Dupree, one of the study's authors, warns against jumping to conclusions.

"Anybody who writes definitively that welfare reform is responsible is overstating the data," Dupree said. "We have to be cautious -- there are a number of policies and factors at work."

Dupree and others point to several factors that could be contributing to the slowing growth in single motherhood:

 * The booming economy.

* The emergence of different family types.

* Social trends unconnected to welfare.

* The role of chance, instead of choice.

 * The difficulty in analyzing the numbers.

Friday, August 3, 2001

The hardships of being a single parent

A story published by the Union News reports that being a single parent is not an easy job to do. It's a demanding, full-time job and the hardest thing about it is that there is no letup.

"You don't have a backup and there is no point when you can take time off or tell someone else to take over. It can be wearing," said Anthony E. Wolf, a licensed clinical psychologist in Longmeadow and author of five books, including, "Why Did You Get a Divorce and When Can I Get a Hamster?"

Two things are critically important to a single parent's mental health, he said. They are to have some time alone, and to develop a support system.

Although it may require a lot of planning, "It really is important to try to build in time for yourself, so you are not alone with the kids 100 percent of the time," Wolf said.

Single parents often become overwhelmed and resentful due to the responsibility of having to make all the decisions about the children by themselves. "It is very useful and important to have a network of people to talk to. It can be composed of family or friends with children the same age, not so much to help you, but so that you don't feel so alone," Wolf said.

Many single parents also worry about not having an opposite sex person in the child's life. Not to worry, Wolf said.

"It's nice for kids to have a second parent as it gives them a different adult to have a long-term relationship with. But you don't need to worry about their development if there is not an opposite-sex person in their life," Wolf said. "Gender roles are developed more than adequately by the culture."

Since the amount of time and energy a single parent has is limited, "it means you have to look deep in your heart and decide what things are most important to you," Wolf said. "Many parents decide that school work is important, but that they can give up having children keep their feet off the couch or keep their rooms neat." It might be preferable if they did these things, but you'll be less stressed if you don't have so many expectations, he added.

Single parents also can have trouble dealing with sibling rivalry. "If you are going to intervene when your children are fighting, never take one child's side over another. Just separate them," Wolf said.

"The only exception is if there is potential harm involved, which doesn't mean hitting or pushing. Don't ever listen to their story of what went on, because then you are engaged. Just separate them and it will teach them to work things out themselves."

Children also constantly test parents, and behavior problems can seem daunting to a parent who is alone. When a child refuses to do something, "Say what you have to say. Expect the child to talk back, but don't pick up on it," Wolf said. "If you do, the child will keep on talking back or pleading. If you respond to it, you are just pouring fuel onto the fire."

New York state single-parent households on the rise reflecting nationwide trend

A story published by the Poughkeepsie Journal reports that the number of single-parent households -- defined as those households made up of one adult with children younger than 18 -- grew between 1990 and 2000 at the local, state and national levels.

As a percentage of all families with children, married couples make up the bulk at 77 percent in Dutchess County, New York and 70 percent in Ulster, New York. That's down from 1990.

Women head of households with children account for 17 percent of all households in Dutchess County. Men, on the other hand, account for about 5.5 percent of the overall total.

But the number of single men with children in their homes increased more than 70 percent in the last decade while women-led households increased 20 percent since 1990.

The growth of single-parent households also means additional strains on families.

''The stresses on families right now are enormous, especially on single parents,'' said Susan West, executive vice president of Family Services Inc. ''People are just completely stressed to the max.''

Family experts said single parent families need ''concrete'' services -- child care, transportation, after-school programs and lunch programs.

And many single parents need such services to be accessible in terms of geography and time of day.

Ozie Williams said she has been separated for more than a decade, but only divorced for two years. She's raised her two sons without a father.

''It's extremely hard,'' she said. She worked long hours to ensure she kept her job, but she worked just as hard at being involved in her children's lives.

And while she worries about a role model for her sons, she said the separation brought peace and quiet into their lives.

''It's better for kids to be in a household without a lot of conflict,'' she said. ''I don't think parents should stay together for the kids' sake.''

Wisconsin lawmaker proposes Marriage 101 to be added to state's curriculum

A story published today by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that managing a family budget, conflict resolution skills and even diaper changing could join the quadratic equation and Shakespeare in Wisconsin's middle and high school curriculum under a provision in the new state budget.

Social scientists say the measure, which adds instruction in marriage and parental responsibility to Wisconsin classrooms, is part of a burgeoning national movement to encourage stronger family formation at a time when more students are being raised in single-parent homes.

Rep. Carol Owens (R-Oshkosh), who proposed the provision, says the intent is simply to bridge the "basic skills" gap between students who grow up in traditional households and those raised by one parent.

"There are some things that kids just aren't learning at home anymore," Owens said. "They can't balance a checkbook, and they don't know the skills that are necessary when it comes to a relationship like marriage."

Continuing a 30-year shift away from the "Ozzie and Harriet" family model, the number of single-parent households nationally grew 32% in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Wisconsin, the number of households headed by single fathers jumped 79.8%, to 42,757 from 23,779 in 1990. The number of single-mother households in the state falls below the national average of 7.2%, but the increase here in the past decade was 18.5%, to 128,952 from 108,819.

Owens said if schools teach students about human sexuality, they should take the short leap from there into marriage and parental responsibility, particularly when they're grooming a generation most familiar with the nuclear families viewed on TV.

Florida was the first state to require a course in relationships and marriage for all high school graduates, and similar programs exist in California and New York.

Under Owens' plan, the extra instruction would be woven into already existing health courses, and school boards would be left to determine the extent of their new programs. Gov. Scott McCallum is currently reviewing the budget and may veto several provisions before the final plan is developed.

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey, describes marriage and relationship education as a "work-in-progress."

"It isn't necessarily the magic-bullet solution to poverty or other chronic problems that affect a lot of people when marriage dissolves," she said. "But, on the other hand, the idea is a promising one."

North Carolina  singles group offers an alternative to meet people

A story published today by the Morning Star reports that like any other places, North Carolina offers an entire array of groups and organizations that would help singles meet and interact with other singles in the community.

"I have a rule. I never date anybody I meet at a bar because they're all freaks," says Johanna Klingenberger. "And people who say grocery stores are good places to meet men are crazy."

However, not everyone takes such a harsh view of the bar scene. Some liken light glistening off of liquor bottles to the light breaking in yon window where Juliet stands.

"It depends on your goals," said Shawn Matthews, a bartender at Firebelly Lounge. "If you want someone easy to go with, fun and not serious, a bar is a great place."

"It's difficult to meet people if you don't like bars, that music beating down on you. (Singles clubs) take the pressure of a bar scene away," said Wayne Chalmers, president of the Wilmington Singles Club.

One of the reasons that organization was founded was to give people an alternative to their regular nightspots. Mr. Chalmers found that many people don't like the noise or eye-irritating smoke in bars. Some, cringe at the thought of gazing across the room at a mysterious figure only to lose focus in a thick haze of cigarette smoke.

Singles clubs, on the other hand, are a more wholesome option to bars but can still be a lot of fun. Mr. Chalmers' members go on picnics and to ball games, yet most of their activities center on dancing.

In one night, the group of single men and women, most in their 40s and 50s,will shag, line and ballroom dance to a DJ's selections.

The new SeaSide Singles group for ages 40 through 60 dines at local restaurants, takes field trips to free concerts, creates art and performs plays.

Co-coordinator of the group, Judy Bradley, has seen the benefits of getting to know strangers. Her parents met on a blind date.

If you've tried bars and singles clubs and are beginning to feel like the only option left is to become a hermit, you're wrong. One of the most popular ways to meet people other than at work or school is through organized activities such as city leagues, special interest clubs and volunteer work. Ms. Klinginberger meets some of her dates at work.

But if you just want to try your feet out for one evening, the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association (USABDA) frequently organizes dances that anyone can attend. They even hold a mini-class about an hour before the main event for those who need to dust off their dancing shoes.

"USABDA is for couples and singles, and young and old and everyone. It's a great choice if you didn't want to go to a bar. A good clean way to meet people," said Verna Jordan, original coordinator and adviser for this area's USABDA.

The YMCA, YWCA, Wilmington Recreation Division and other nonprofit organizations offer co-ed classes that range from kayaking and mountain climbing in the Blue Ridge to oil painting and yoga which is a good way to meet other singles who may share the same hobbies that you do.

Volunteer groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Vintage Values on Market owned by the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services also are great ways to meet people who share similar interests.

Thursday, August 2, 2001

Californians who filed head of household taxpayers may get audit letters from FTB

A story released today by Business Wire reports that according to the Franchise Tax Board (FTB), about 250,000 Californians will receive an audit letter requesting information to verify their use of the Head of Household tax filing status for 2000.

"The Head of Household filing status is a very favorable tax filing status. All qualified taxpayers should claim it to take advantage of the tax savings it affords," said State Controller and Chair of the Franchise Tax Board Kathleen Connell.

Annually, the FTB reviews returns claiming the Head of Household filing status because the qualifications for this filing status are commonly misunderstood. Many people who consider themselves the "head of their household," but do not meet the requirements, mistakenly use it. This filing status has lower tax rates and a higher standard deduction than the single filing status. It is intended to assist unmarried individuals who provide a home for a qualifying person, typically their child.

This audit program aims to ensure that the Head of Household filing status is used correctly. Those determined not to qualify are assessed additional tax by using the single or married filing separate filing statues. Taxpayers not responding to the letter are also subject to additional penalties. Of the more than 14 million tax returns filed in California each year, nearly two million claim the Head of Household filing status. Last year, the FTB determined that nearly 27,000 taxpayers did not qualify for this filing status.

Taxpayers who e-file their tax return have the option to voluntarily complete a Head of Household questionnaire and include it with their e-file return. Taxpayers who submit completed questionnaires may not receive audit letters.

Questions about the Head of Household filing status should request the FTB's Publication 1540, Tax Information for Head of Household, by calling the FTB at 800/338-0505 and entering code 934 or by visiting the FTB's Website at www.ftb.ca.gov.

Children before marriage, a common thing in America

A story published today by the Philadelphia Daily News reports that when basketball star Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia seventy-sixers marries longtime fiancée Tawanna Turner tomorrow, the couple's two children will be present, no doubt.

That's because celebrity couples having children before marrying have gotten to be as common as, say, watching Iverson make a three-point shot.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie did it, as did Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Eddie Murphy and his wife, Nicole, and numerous others.

"There was a time when this was a rare occurrence," said Michael Broder, a Philadelphia-based psychologist and author of "The Art of Staying Together: A Couple's Guide to Intimacy and Respect." "There used to be a definite set of rules that very few people deviated from."

These days, in part because of evolving social values, the age-old practice of marrying first and becoming parents later has become almost passe in some circles.

Last year, nearly 1.4 million unmarried women gave birth - the highest number ever reported in the United States. Roughly a third of all births are to unmarried women.

"It's almost become the in thing to do," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who counsels some celebrity patients.

And that's cause for alarm among some family therapists, who worry about the message unmarried couples send their children.

"It's self-indulgent," said Tina Tessina, a licensed family therapist and author of "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again". "I see the fallout in my office every day."

But others, such as Susan Newman, a New Jersey-based social psychologist and author of 11 books on parenting, believe there's minimal effect on children.

"I don't think it makes a bit of difference," Newman said. "What really matters is that the child has caring, loving parents, attentive parents - especially today, with fewer people getting married and more and more people raising their children in a partnership."

Steven Carter, author of "Getting to Commitment: Overcoming the Eight Greatest Obstacles to Lasting Connection" and 18 other relationship books, thinks Iverson and Turner's decision to marry is based on the fact that "at some point, people eventually look at each other and say, 'I love you. You love me. We need to honor each other.' "

Regardless of why Iverson has decided to legalize his union with Turner, whom he met while he was in high school at Bethel, many applaud their move.

"It's not about how much you love someone," said Judith Sills, a Philadelphia-based relationship expert. "It's not about how great the sex got.. . .It's about reaching the point emotionally when you can make a decision that is for the best. It's about being a grownup.

"There's nothing greater that a man can give their children than the idea that he loves their mother and he's going to stand by her."

North Carolina woman sues man for luring her husband away

A story published by the Charlotte Observer reports that a woman from North Carolina has filed a civil lawsuit against a man she accuses of wrecking her marriage by having an affair with her husband.

Billie Jean Bonner's lawsuit joins a growing list of high-profile "alienation of affection" suits filed in North Carolina in recent years under case law allowing jilted husbands and wives to sue those they accuse of luring away their spouses.

Bonner's attorney, Lane Williamson of Charlotte, said this is the first case he can recall in which the alleged affair involved a same-sex relationship.

Bonner's lawsuit, filed Friday, says she was happily married for about 11 years until a relationship developed between her husband, Lawrence Culler, and the defendant, Marshall Morrow.

The lawsuit contends Morrow cultivated a relationship with Bonner's husband with the intent of destroying the marriage.

It also says Morrow and Culler met periodically for "clandestine trysts," at least one of which allegedly occurred at a house owned separately by Bonner. During these meetings, the lawsuit contends, the two men violated an N.C. "crime against nature" law forbidding same-sex intercourse.

The lawsuit says Bonner suffered unspecified serious and permanent injuries, including mental anguish, humiliation, loss of income from her professional practice as a jewelry broker and loss of Culler's companionship and affection. She is asking for a jury trial and damages of more than $10,000, according to the lawsuit.

North Carolina is one of nine states that still allows alienation of affection lawsuits. South Carolina, on the other hand, has repealed its alienation of affection law in 1992.

The N.C. House of Representatives in April has passed a bill to abolish such lawsuits, but the full Senate hasn't voted on it yet.

Book publisher refocuses its attention to single people

A story published by the Wall Street Journal reports that in a sign of changing priorities between the next generation and the last, romance book leader Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. is fiddling with its formula.

Harlequin has decided to make a play for its younger readership marketing a new line of novels geared for 18-34 year old women. Published under the name of Red Dress Ink, these stories are in the style of ""Bridget Jone’’s Diary"" where the female protagonist kisses a lot of frogs and happiness does not necessarily include Mr. Right and wedded bliss. Harlequin has traditionally churned out romance novels that are, in essence, the grownup version of happily-ever-after fairy tales, at the heart of which is marriage.


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