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Domestic Partnership News Archive
January 21 - January 28, 2002




This page contains news for the period January 21, 2002 through January 28, 2002.




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Friday, January 25, 2002

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Georgia court rules civil unions are not marriage

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that a Georgia appeals court has ruled that Vermont's civil unions law does not create a partnership equal to marriage, the first test of the landmark law that gives some marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Susan Freer and her lesbian partner could not seek child-visitation rights because they are not married. The couple established a civil union in Vermont in 2000.

A visitation agreement with her ex-husband, Darian Burns, forbids the children to stay overnight with a parent who is living with someone to whom they are not married or related.

A judge severed her visitation rights in January 2001.

Mathew Staver, attorney for Burns, said Friday his client was elated by the ruling.

"He doesn't believe that lesbianism or homosexuality is appropriate to be displayed in an overnight setting in front of his children," Staver said.

Freer had argued that the women consider themselves married and should be protected by Georgia's right-to-privacy law.

Vermont's same-sex unions extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples, but are not recognized as legal marriages in any state. The Georgia Legislature has barred recognition of same-sex marriage.

The case could still be appealed to the state Supreme Court.


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British lawmakers oppose cohabitation bill

A story published today by the Guardian Unlimited reports that a bill introduced to the British parliament which would give cohabiting heterosexual and homosexual couples the same legal rights as married couples came under fire from Tories and the bishops as it was launched in the Lords today.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester of Herne Hill said his bid to remedy the lack of protection for cohabiting couples in English law and to give couples the opportunity to register a civil partnership, had broad public support.

But it was attacked during the second reading debate this morning as undermining the institution of marriage.

Lord Lester introduced his backbench civil partnerships bill, saying he hoped it would act as a "catalyst for a strongly positive response by the government so that we may secure at long last equal protection for unmarried couples".

He said: "The bill enables men and women to come together to form a caring relationship of mutual support protected by law.

Labor peer Lord Alli, arguing strongly in favor of the measure, said it was "not a controversial bill, it's a compassionate bill".

Thursday, January 24, 2002

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Domestic partner sues for unemployment benefits

A story released today by PlanetOut.com reports that s 38-year-old who left her job in Rochester, N.Y., to move to Virginia with her domestic partner has decided to fight for unemployment benefits rather than take New York state's "no" for an answer.

On Friday morning, Jeanne Newland and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union will ask Administrative Law Judge Allan Hymes to reevaluate state policies that grant unemployment benefits to individuals who quit their job in order to move with a spouse, but deny those same benefits to men and women who relocate with their domestic partners.

Newland left her job on excellent terms after her partner, Natasha Doty, got a new position in Richmond in late 2000. At first, the idea of applying for unemployment didn't enter her mind.

After six months of unsuccessfully landing a job, a neighbor suggested that she might be eligible for unemployment benefits. When Newland called the appropriate office in New York, a woman on the other line explained that the decision to follow a domestic partner was not considered "good cause" for leaving a job in New York state. If Newland had been married, the benefits would be hers, the official said, adding that an exception might be made if Newland was engaged to be married.

"And that," said Newland, "just didn't seem right, didn't seem fair. So I thought that maybe I could talk to someone to see if maybe anyone else agreed that someone should take a look at this."

In a 10-page legal memorandum, the ACLU bolsters its argument by citing the New York Court of Appeals opinion in the case of a man fighting eviction from the rent-controlled apartment he shared with his dead partner.

Statutes, wrote the court in that 1989 case, "are ordinarily interpreted so as to avoid objectionable consequences and to prevent hardship or injustice." The term "family," the court continued, "includes two adult lifetime partners whose relationship is long term and characterized by an emotional and financial commitment."


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British conservative party relaxes stand on same-sex couples rights

A story released today by the BBC News reports that Britain’s Conservative Party has signaled a change in its approach to gay and lesbian issues by calling for same-sex partners to be given some of the legal rights held by married couples.

The shift, part of the ongoing Tory drive to rehabilitate itself with the electorate, was praised by former party vice-chairman Steven Norris as a welcome step forward after the tone set during the Hague years.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said the Conservatives believe in marriage on practical grounds because it protects children but same-sex couples who could not marry had real grievances.

He wants issues to be addressed such as the right to be consulted if one partner needed a life-threatening operation, as well as rights to inherit assets or the tenancy of homes.

Politicians should not pontificate on morality, argued Mr. Letwin, who said his proposals were for practical, not moral reasons.

The Tory peer has, however, launched an attack on a bill that would give same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples many of the same legal rights as married people.

The bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Lester and backed by gay rights group Stonewall, would see the establishment of "civil partnerships", provides for the registration of the partnership and sets out the ensuing legal consequences.

Currently the rights enjoyed by married couples, such as the automatic right of inheritance in the event of a spouse dying or the right of succession to certain tenancies and to pension funds, are denied to non-married couples.

Lord Lester said: "The Bill enables men and women to come together to form a caring relationship of mutual support protected by law.

"It provides a fair and appropriate remedy for different family situations."

Lord Williams of Mostyn, the leader of the Lords, said that the government would "look very carefully" at the implications of setting up a scheme of civil partnership registration.

But Baroness Young said the bill makes civil partnerships "indistinguishable from marriage in virtually all respects".

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said he welcomed the fact that the Tories had "realized that their previous policy on same sex couples was inadequate and uncivilized".

"But their new position is clearly nonsense," he said.

"If Tories were either up to date or committed to civil rights they would, without compromising the sanctity and status of marriage, support the Liberal Democrat Civil Partnerships Bill."


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Virginia Housing Authority retreats from unwed couples loan proposal

A story released today by the Washington Post reports that Virginia's housing authority today killed a plan to extend state loans to same-sex and other unmarried couples by allowing them to pool their money to buy a home.

The proposal had drawn fierce opposition from conservative activists but had the support of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

Instead, the Virginia Housing Development Authority proposed rules to extend loans to single parents and make mortgages more accessible to the disabled and elderly, in an effort to make the program more broadly available.

"It's a compromise, an effort to come down somewhere in the middle and get us closer to meeting the affordable housing needs of the state," said Art Bowen, the agency's director of public policy.

Advocates for gay rights who attended today's meeting said they were disappointed that the authority backed away from its initial proposal.

William H. Leighty, Warner's chief of staff, had urged the board to extend the loan program to gay couples. But the board members, all but one of whom are appointees of former governor James S. Gilmore III (R), voted 6 to 1 to consider the revised rules. A final vote on the policy is expected this spring after a public hearing, officials said.

"We think it's important that the state continue its 300-year history of endorsing and encouraging marriage, which has the ability to procreate," said Victoria Cobb, director of legislative affairs for the Richmond-based Family Foundation, which lobbied against changes to the family rule.

By allowing unmarried couples to receive loans, the state would put itself at financial risk, Cobb said: If a relationship breaks up, there is no guarantee, as there would be in the case of divorce, that the loan would be repaid.

Del. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) filed a bill last week to write the family rule into state law. House Bill 1306 would go further than the housing agency's proposal today, prohibiting single parents from buying homes together.

Warner's spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls, declined to say whether Warner, despite his support for an expanded loan policy, would veto the McDougle bill. She called eliminating the family rule "the right thing to do."

"It would make homeownership possible for more Virginians, and that's the mission of the Housing Development Authority," she said.


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Domestic partner fighting to get a share of Sept. 11 fund


A story released today by the Newsday.com reports that Millie Cabrera and Pedro Checo had all the trappings of marriage - two sons; a jointly-owned Bayside apartment; a shared life but the couple had not taken the final step to marriage.

But since Pedro Checo was killed Sept. 11 on the 96th floor of Tower Two, Millie Cabrera wishes they'd had a quick ceremony at Queens Borough Hall. It would have made things much, much easier.

Instead, Cabrera, 33, has had to "fight tooth and nail," as she puts it, to prove her relationship with Checo, who was an archivist for Fiduciary Trust. Charities have put her "through hell," she says.

And Cabrera's lawyer, Helen Macfarlane, fears her client won't be able to collect from the federal victims compensation fund. Macfarlane, who works in the Manhattan office of Shearman & Sterling, is among those representing World Trade Center victims pro bono. Last week, she wrote a letter to the compensation fund asking that its rules be changed to help people like Cabrera.

Under proposed rules of the federal compensation fund, domestic partners in states such as New York that do not recognize common law marriage will most likely not be eligible for compensation.

New York Governor, George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has already filed formal objections urging the fund's Special Master Kenneth Feinberg to recognize domestic partners - a term that includes both common-law spouses and same-sex partners.

Because the federal fund will be guided by state law, common-law spouses who lived in Pennsylvania would be entitled to money, while those from New York will not, Macfarlane said.


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West Hollywood to sever ties with credit union

A story published today by the Los Angeles Independent reports that West Hollywood has passed a resolution denouncing F&A Federal Credit Union for denying a West Hollywood employee from opening an account with her domestic partner. The city is now looking into possibilities of contracting with other credit unions for its staff.

"I'm overjoyed," said West Hollywood city receptionist Noosha Szutzer. "It was a horrible situation and they were very demeaning and offensive to us and I am glad something will be done about it so that no one has to go through that again."

Lengthy communication took place between West Hollywood and the F&A Federal Credit Union, and now the city of Los Angeles is also exploring in severing ties.

F&A's chairman of the board of directors, Arthur Moncrief, stated in a Nov. 29 letter that the field of membership definition did not include domestic partners, who are considered household members rather than immediate family.

Human resources manager Lunita Rodriguez says they are at an early phase of gathering information about credit unions and forming a committee to discuss options.

Rodriguez says they have come up with a list of credit unions that will provide the service that F&A would not.

West Hollywood councilman Jeffrey Prang says that it is "painfully clear that this is homophobia, painfully clear." He says F&A legally could extend the benefits but made a personal choice not to.

"I was outraged to think that in the face of overwhelming evidence, and a request from a client city, that they would say sorry we are not going to do it, we're all nice people, we just don't want you," Prang says.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

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Liverpool, England planning to introduce partnership registry

A story released today by Queercompany.com reports that Liverpool, England has become the latest English city to announce plans for a same-sex partnership register.

The City council has yet to vote on the proposal, but if it goes through it will follow the system that has proved so popular in London.

London's partnership register was introduced by Mayor Ken Livingstone last September. Officials in Liverpool are hoping to open the same-sex partnership register by the end of the year.

Aside from Liverpool, the cities of Brighton, Hove, Manchester and Newcastle are currently looking at setting up same-sex partnership registers. The British government is also currently examining to introduce a legally binding same-sex partnership registry.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

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British unmarried couples to get right to adopt

A story published today by The Independent (U.K.) says an all-party amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill is to be tabled when it returns to the House of Commons.

Under the current law only married couples or single people are allowed legally to adopt. Partners of unmarried people who have successfully adopted do not have full parental rights.

The amendment will allow couples who haven't married to legally adopt if they can prove they are in a permanent and stable relationship.

People must be aged over 21 and long-term provision must be in place for the adopted child if one of the couple leaves.

Tory MP Andrew Lansley, who is one of the sponsors of the amendment, says it was designed to open up opportunities for couples and to help find homes for children in care.

"The cross-party amendment is intended to extend the law to unmarried couples. Notwithstanding that marriage is the best circumstance to bring up a child, modern society understands that many unmarried couples are able to provide stable and loving homes for children." said Lansley.

"I will be putting a further amendment, which will define unmarried couples as a man and a woman living together in a stable relationship." he added.


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Massachusetts lawyers to boycott state bar dinner

A story published today by the Boston Business Journal reports that the Massachusetts Bar Association's decision to honor State Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood), the sponsor of a controversial bill to prohibit same-sex marriages, has divided the legal community.

Several of Massachusetts’ largest law firms have told a lesbian and gay lawyers' group they will not purchase tables at the association's annual dinner this Friday, because it will honor Rogers, who chairs the house Ways and Means Committee, as the bar association's Legislator of the Year. The association's choice has drawn a firestorm of criticism from the Partners Group, which consists of 40 lesbian or gay partners of large firms and senior lawyers in business and government. The Partners Group objects to Rogers' sponsorship of House Bill 3375, which would invalidate same-sex marriages, said Joseph Barri, a senior partner at Hale and Dorr LLP and a member of the group.

Barri said besides Hale and Dorr, nine other firms are not buying tables: Bingham Dana LLP; Casner & Edwards LLP; Foley, Hoag & Eliot LLP; Goulston & Storrs PC; Palmer & Dodge LLP; Peabody & Arnold LLP; Perkins Smith & Cohen LLP; Ropes & Gray; Sullivan & Worcester LLP; and Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault LLP.

Earlier this month, the state bar association's president, Carol DiMento sent a letter to the membership defending the association's choice of Rogers. DiMento's letter said that while the association opposes the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, it is unwilling to use it as a litmus test in selecting the legislator of the year.


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DNC supports domestic partner inclusion in Social Security

A story released today by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reports that the task force is hailing the Democratic National Committee for passing a resolution that calls for equal treatment of same-sex partners under Social Security.

The resolution was passed at the DNC winter meeting in Washington, DC, states simply that "Social Security would be strengthened if same-sex partners were treated equally."

"In taking this historic and precedent-setting step, the Democratic National Committee has committed itself to equality for same-sex partners," said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of NGLTF. "Currently, our inability to access survivor benefits costs same-sex surviving partners approximately $100 million a year. We pay into the Social Security system our entire lives, yet in retirement we are denied funds to which we are entitled."

In a 1997 Princeton Survey Research Associates poll, 57 percent of Americans polled supported "equal rights for gays in terms of social security benefits for gay spouses."

"The tragedy on September 11th demonstrated the inequality of same-sex relationships in vivid detail as the surviving same-sex partners of those who died found themselves unable access the same benefits as heterosexual surviving partners," continued Jean. "This discrimination is wrong. Social Security and other programs need to be broadened to include access for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender families."


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Colombia moves slowly on domestic partners issue

A story released by IPS News reports that Colombians will have to wait until the next legislative session for lawmakers to vote on the issue of legalizing same-sex couples, and whether inheritance rights and social security benefits should be amended to include domestic partners.

If the bill survives the numerous parliamentary hurdles on the way to becoming a law, it would benefit approximately two million Colombians, half of whom live in stable relationships, according to social researcher José Fernando Serrano.

The legislation, which also covers inheritance rights and prison visit rights, was approved by the First Senate Commission. The full session of Congress is slated to take up the measure during the next legislative session, which begins in March.

Senator Córdoba, also a human rights activist, commented that the bill she proposed responds to the fact that in this country of 40 million people, "in nearly all households there is a homosexual, whether it is a son or daughter, aunt or uncle, or neighbor."

However, the legislative initiative has run up against strong opposition, with some politicians referring to gay couples as "pseudo-families".

Justice Minister Rómulo González Trujillo objected to the gay rights bill saying it violates Article 42 of the Constitution, which consecrates the family as a heterosexual institution.

The Constitutional Court utilized the same argument in rejecting the petitions of homosexuals seeking to adopt children or to register a partner for health insurance benefits.

The court did not recognize these rights because homosexual couples, as such, "are not families" and therefore may not claim the same benefits, according to the ruling.

"In Colombia, one can be homosexual, but must be quiet about it," said Manuel José Bermúdez, a leftist candidate for the Senate in the mid- 2002 elections.

The candidate for Senate says Congress is unlikely to pass a law that allows same-sex legal unions because the debate has entered the moral arena, meaning the Catholic Church could step in and block legislative action on the bill.

"It is a legal debate, not a moral one, which is why the discussion must be taken out of bed, out from between the sheets, and placed among civil rights," Bermúdez said.



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