University expands health plan to
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the University of Maine
System has broadened its health insurance coverage to include unmarried heterosexual
couples. The university was among the first in Maine to offer insurance for same-sex
couples, but it discovered that it was behind the curve in offering the same coverage to
unmarried heterosexual couples.
"We felt it was difficult to provide a logical answer as to why we had one
(covered) and not the other," said Chancellor Don McDowell of the University of Maine
The new policy is expected to triple the number of eligible, unmarried couples, said
Tracy Bigney, director of human resources.
The change needs approval from the Bureau of Insurance, which Bigney hopes will happen
within the next couple of months.
It was a change whose time had come, she said. "More and more employers are
expanding health insurance to cover this kind of family structure, so it's part of a
competitive compensation issue."
White House pushing abstinence plan
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that President George W. Bush is
planning a 33 percent increase to the budget on sexual abstinence programs that bar any
discussion of birth control or condoms to prevent pregnancy or AIDS.
Spending on "abstinence-only" education has been climbing over the last five
years as conservatives argue that teaching teenagers about contraception indirectly
condones teen sex. Critics say there is little evidence showing that abstinence programs
The president will propose $135 million for abstinence-only education next year, an
increase of $33 million, according to an administration official who spoke yesterday on
condition of anonymity.
The request fulfills a pledge Bush made while campaigning for president to spend as
much promoting abstinence as some have calculated the government spends educating teens
Proponents argue that the nation has spent considerable money on birth control
services, yet nearly 900,000 teenagers get pregnant each year and one in three American
babies is born to unmarried parents.
Intense debate over abstinence-only programs began in 1995 and 1996, when Congress was
writing the massive welfare overhaul. The final legislation included $50 million per year
for abstinence education, to be nearly matched by participating states. The money may not
be combined with programs that discuss the benefits of contraception.
Under the law, the programs must meet one of eight goals. Among them: teaching that sex
outside marriage probably would have harmful psychological and physical effects, how to
reject sexual advances and why drugs and alcohol make avoiding sex more difficult.
Uncomfortable with the program, many states used their money to run pro-virginity
campaigns or after-school programs that make little if any mention of sex or abstinence.
Conservatives in Congress complained that states were dodging the intent of the program
and created a new pool of abstinence-only money distributed directly by Health and Human
Services. This program is meant to pay for programs that overtly discuss the value of
According to the administration official, the Bush budget will ask Congress for
abstinence-only money in three pieces:
1) $50 million in grants to states through the welfare program.
2) $73 million, an increase of $33 million, in competitive HHS grants.
3) $12 million, the same as this year, for the Adolescent and Family Life program,
which provides money to states through a formula to work with teen mothers.
New Zealanders rushing to beat new
A story published today by the New Zealand Herald reports that couples in New Zealand
are rushing to protect their individual property before a new law comes into force that
will generally see property split in half if their relationship turns sour.
In the past month, family law specialists say, there has been a marked increase in
people wanting to contract out of the Property (Relationships) Act, which will replace the
Matrimonial Property Act on the first day of February.
The new act, which covers married, de facto husbands and wives and same-sex
partnerships of three years or more, will effectively split relationship property down the
middle, unless alternative legal arrangements have been agreed to by both parties.
Couples can put in writing the division of property they want should they split up or
one of them die. Each partner must receive independent advice before signing.
Family law specialist Simon Jefferson, whose firm Sheiff Angland has handled five times
as many property agreements this month, said it was mostly mature people, many in second
relationships with accumulated assets who wanted to order things in a way they were
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Ballot initiative to prohibit Maine domestic partners from receiving insurance benefits
A story released today by PlanetOut.com reports that Maine Secretary of State Dan
Gwadosky announced Tuesday that opposition groups have failed to get enough support to
force a vote prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving insurance and other benefits.
The ballot measure that would have repealed a recently enacted law which requires all
health insurers in Maine to sell policies with domestic partner benefits to any business
that asks for them.
The measure also contained a very dangerous provision aimed at prohibiting the state
from ever legally recognizing gay marriages or civil unions.
"The hard work, diligence and education efforts of Maine activists paid off by
this divisive measure failing to gain enough signatures to qualify for the 2002
ballot," said Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign
California High court to take up same-sex adoption case
A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the California Supreme
Court agreed Tuesday to review a lower court's ruling that same-sex couples cannot
lawfully adopt children.
All seven justices of the high court agreed in their private weekly conference to
review a San Diego appellate court's October ruling that said the law does not authorize
such adoptions, of which there have been thousands.
The type of adoptions in question are so-called second-parent adoptions, in which a
biological parent's unmarried partner gains parental rights.
"We are all gratified and relieved that the court is going to review this
decision," said Jennifer Pizer, of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a gay
The case involves lesbian couple Annette Friskopp and Sharon Silverstein of San Diego.
Silverstein had a son through artificial insemination in 1996 and Friskopp won approval
from a county judge for a second-parent adoption.
Silverstein gave birth to another child in 1999 and Friskopp petitioned for adoption.
But the pair split up, and Silverstein sought to withdraw her consent for the adoption as
it was pending.
A trial judge said Silverstein had waited too long to withdraw the adoption consent.
But an appeals court said there was no law that even allowed the adoption.
The Supreme Court did not indicate when it would hear the case.
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Minnesota Senate extends
domestic partner benefits to Senate employees
A story released today by PioneerPlanet.com reports that gay and lesbian employees of the
Minnesota Senate will be permitted to extend health insurance and other benefits to their
In the first controversial issue of the 2002 legislative session, which convened today,
the Rules Committee voted 11-10 against a motion by Senate Minority Leader Dick Day,
R-Owatonna, to strip the domestic partner benefits from the insurance package for 224
Senate employees. Three outstate DFL senators voted with all the Republicans on the panel
to block the same-sex benefits.
Day said he believes it is discriminatory to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners
without also providing them to opposite-sex unmarried partners.
Last fall, Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration negotiated new contracts with the state's
two largest state employee unions that include same-sex domestic partner benefits.
Senate DFL Majority Leader Roger Moe, a 32-year legislative veteran from Erskine, said he
could not recall the Legislature ever failing to provide its workers the same benefits
negotiated with state employee unions.
House Republican leaders object to the same-sex partner benefits and will not extend them
to House employees.
The debate over domestic partners will be repeated in the full Legislature when the House
and Senate vote on whether to ratify the contracts for more than 29,000 state employees.
Canadian commission study says
government should remove restrictions on same-sex marriage
A story released today by the Canadian Press reports that according to a study released
by the Law Commission of Canada, the restrictions on same-sex marriage are discriminatory
and should be removed.
The independent government commission which advises the parliament on law reform
suggested that marriage should provide a framework in which people can express their
commitment to each other regardless of sexual orientation.
"There is no justification for maintaining the current distinctions between
same-sex and heterosexual conjugal unions in the light of current understandings of the
state's interests in marriage," says the study.
Two years ago Parliament revised several laws to ensure same-sex couples have the same
benefits and obligations as other common-law couples, but it excluded same-sex couples
from legal marriage.
That exclusion amounts to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said
Nathalie Des Rosiers, president of the commission.
Two provinces -- Quebec and Nova Scotia -- recognize civil unions for gays and
lesbians, but not marriage. Gay couples can adopt children in Nova Scotia, British
Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.
"If governments are to continue to maintain an institution called marriage, they
cannot do so in a discriminatory fashion," says the law commission.
New Zealand organization offers
fertility service to same-sex couples
A story released today by One News reports that New Zealands Family Planning has
started a new service in Auckland offering fertility services to same-sex couples wanting
to have children.
It has already met criticism from Christian Heritage Party leader Graham Capill, who
suggests that as a taxpayer-funded organization, Family Planning should concentrate on
helping childless married couples.
Christine Roke from Family Planning says that the entity is a medical organization
committed to providing a service to the whole community and finds it "difficult to
talk about" morals. "What we do is try to talk with people about what their
morals are," she says.
The service gives basic advice, providing information on where to go and then hands
them on to the experts, Roke says.
It is much the same service as offered to married or unmarried heterosexual couples.
The same rules apply to same sex couples seeking fertility advice as to other couples,
as the rules apply to biological fertility, not male-female exclusively.
Roke says Family Planning is supposed to provide services to everyone in the community,
and that is what it is doing.